Photo Essay of the Life of a Chicken: From Newly Hatched to Adult
What This Photo Essay Is About
It is my desire to show you what goes on in the life of a chick raised for meat purposes. I will show you the life progress of 100 "barbecue special" chicks from the Murray McMurray Hatchery. This means the batch includes jumbo Cornish rock chicks, as well as Cornish roaster chicks.
These birds are not going to grow up to be beautiful egg-layers. They will turn into slightly disgusting eating machines, designed to be eaten in turn. Furthermore, they are hybrids, and will not successfully produce offspring of their own.
If you'd rather not know how this food is raised, please skip this article.
Note: The methods of caring for these chicks shown here do not necessarily parallel commercial practices. This is a privately owned farm, and is not a "battery" operation.
Week One: Feeding and Caring for Chickens
The home for the chicks has been carefully prepared. Miss Heather, their caretaker, has cleaned the chicken house carefully, sanitizing the walls and floor so the new chicks cannot get disease or possible illness left from the last batch. Every precaution has been taken to ensure the chicks' home will be bright, healthy, and comfortable. We use wood shavings on the floor to make it warm and comfortable. These are bought in bags. Rice hulls can also be used.
The chicks are shipped in cardboard boxes by U.S. mail to Miss Heather's local post office, and she must pick them up there before bringing them home.
She has prepared an enclosure of old window screens to ensure the chicks do not range too far from the brooder and heat lamp. These items will do the work of a mother hen's wings until they are old enough to brave the world. They arrive happy, healthy, warm, and dry.
They are fed commercial chick starter, which is a formulation of different grains and proteins, designed to get new chicks off to the best start possible.
To prepare the chicks for their new life, we show them where their water and food is by dipping their beaks in each. Three tablespoons of sugar are added to each quart of clean water to provide the chicks with energy to recover from shipping.
These chicks grow extremely fast compared to most other breeds. They are, therefore, provided with vitamins in powdered form, which can be sprinkled on their food or in their water. Because they grow so fast and are so gluttonous, their food must be taken away each afternoon to keep them from overeating. If they are allowed to overeat, they develop congestive heart failure, and also problems with their legs (they don't bear their own weight well, and the legs can break). If their food is not religiously regulated, even if their conditions are otherwise healthy, they become lethargic and do nothing but lie about near their food trays.
Beginning on the third day, something called "baby grit" is sprinkled on their food. Even baby chicks have gizzards, so sand is given them to help them digest their food.
With 100 chicks, their enclosure must be cleaned every two days, otherwise, they develop respiratory problems from the ammonia they produce.
Week Two: Getting Real Feathers
This week they are braver, and don't look so much like balls of down. They use their wings a bit when they run. The temperature is reduced by 5 degrees per week, until 70 degrees F is reached.
They love to eat! Presently, the 100 of them eat about 1 to 1 1/4 gallons of Chick Starter per day. Each week, their food intake increases dramatically. They also need the whole chicken house to roam in.
Their water must be kept clean and changed at least once a day. Sugar is no longer needed. More feeders and waterers are needed, though, as the chicks should not have to compete for space.
Week Three: Looking Lanky
They now eat at least 2 1/2 gallons of feed per day. Miss Heather puts away the small feeders, and replaces them with two trays that are four-feet long. Miss Heather also picks greens and weeds for them to eat.
They have begun to grow taller, and they stand up straighter. In short, they begin looking like chickens. At this stage, they are a bit stalky, and their feathers are patchy. They have plenty of sunlight and do not peck each other, but they may need a window opened for ventilation.
Week Four: Growing Longer Feathers
At this point, they are eating about four gallons of feed per day. Their protein needs increase from 18% protein to 22%. Miss Heather quit using sawdust on the floor, as they go through a lot of it now and seem comfortable without it.
Yes, chickens stink. At this point, it takes about 45 minutes per day to care for them.
Week Five: They Are Getting Bulk and Their Combs Begin to Stand Up
They are mature enough that they can be let out into their yard. Miss Heather has many predators who would love to share her chicks with her, or they might have been let out sooner.
They can now pick their own greens. Chicks can be great weed whackers! They now eat from the two long feeders plus some round rubber feed pans, and consume 25 lbs. of grain per day.
Although these chicks are more active than some previous batches, they still tire easily. Here they are shown resting half-way up their ramp.
Miss Heather must now clean their house about every 36 hours. She uses the manure in her garden compost pile.
Week Six: Some Are Ready to Roast
They now eat 35 lbs. of feed per day. Miss Heather must go to the grain mill at least twice a week to haul home the 50 lb. sacks.
Chickens have no manners and crowd into their feed pans, pecking and shoving. Miss Heather cleans their house every 24 hours, and they require 1 1/2 to 2 hours of care per day.
This one was napping in a feed pan before I approached. At this size, it would be possible to butcher some of the males to roast. They would dress out at 3-4 lbs. The hens are smaller.
Week 7: Stiff Legs and Lots of Feed
Some of the roosters are getting awfully heavy for their legs. 4 of the 100 birds are having trouble. The problem seems to be something similar to a sprain.
These 4 are a bit stiff when they get up. One rooster, in particular, has trouble all the time now. He will be butchered early. However, one hen stays beside him and tries as much as she can to encourage him to get up and go outside, and to smile.
These birds are still not nearly as active as the laying hens. The hens eat down most of their weeds, as well as forage outside their pen.
Here is the Polish Buff chick. I love him! He won't be butchered. Miss Heather always keeps her "off" chicks. They produce vivid offspring when she chooses to hatch her own eggs.
Here are the various feeders Miss Heather uses at this stage. What quantity! The barrels are full of millet for the laying hens. The chicks go through more than six gallons of water each day, and Miss Heather hauls away 5-6 gallons of manure daily.
Here is the tote Miss Heather got from the feedmill this week to extend the time between trips to town for feed. It holds a good mixture of grains.
The tote is roughly the size of a big pallet, and holds 1,500 lbs. of feed.
Week 8: Down the Home Stretch
This black laying hen seems confused about what she is. I hope she figures it out by the time her friends here are through.
The birds often pair up. It is sweet to watch their friendships.
They love to sun themselves, lying in small groups near the windows, and of course, outside in their yard. Can you see how much bigger this rooster is than the hens?
Miss Heather takes their feed away in the mid-afternoon. The feed ration has stayed about the same for the last 2 weeks, yet manure output has gone from 5 gallons per day to 7.
Immediately after their pans are taken, the birds hunt and peck for missed grain while lying down. They have gained 2-3 lbs. each over the last 2 weeks and are ready to be butchered.
Week 9 (and the 11th Hour): Time to Say Your Goodbyes, All
They are content as ever, eating, drinking, and making merry. It is midday, so many are resting indoors.
The FinaleClick thumbnail to view full-size
Day-by-Day Chicken Embryo Development
Would you consider raising your own chickens for food?
Questions & Answers
© 2009 Joilene Rasmussen