Our first batch of chicks was a straight run (male and female mixed) of 25 birds ordered through a hatchery. That was our first mistake. Hatcheries raise birds for quantity not quality. I want to be in the business of quality. We lost a few chicks in the first few weeks, which isn't necessarily unexpected. It happens. The brooder was the perfect temp, the chicks weren't crowding and piling (which can suffocate the ones on bottom).
They were being fed a diet of fermented and sprouted seeds and grains (sprouts have significantly more protein than unsprouted grains and seeds. Meat chickens need to be feed a diet higher in protein than your layers). They had water with ACV to boost their immune systems. We purchased 'red rangers' because the hatcheries claim they are closer, genetically, to traditional chickens and not the Cornish X meat birds. I raised rangers last year that we let them, well, range. They wandered the yard with our laying flock (mostly because they were great escape artists and broke out of even pen! I had movable fencing for them in 2014). After losing a meat chicken every couple of days I was worried. By the time we were down to 10 birds I knew we would be taking a trip out to our local poultry guy. I told him what was going on and he told me that was my second mistake. I fed them real food. If they can't eat *real food* why would we want to eat them?? (there are many people who think, for some reason, that birds need commercial feed. I'm sure God made them to eat real food. For chickens, that means bugs and seeds and grains and berries and whatever they find in the compost pile. Not soy and corn meal.)
My husband and I already feeling led to raise heritage breed chickens. Chicken breeds used during the Great Depression and earlier for meat and eggs both. Dual purpose birds with a long history. Chickens bred for quality and not quantity.
To fast forward a bit, we ended up with 11 White Brahmas (which I love!) to keep 3 as layers and the rest as meat. We purchased an assortment of 17 other dual purpose and heritage breed birds including buff brahmas, some lavender orpingtons, wyandots, olive eggers (not for meat!), and australorps. (we may keep a few to expand our laying flock and sell more eggs)
We had our first losses to predators in our 6 years of keeping backyard chickens. We lost a few to weather (we had some flooding rains and high winds). We lost nearly an entire batch of meat chickens. We have 4 left. Unfortunately we'll be unable to sell an freezer birds this year. I'm thankful for the opportunity to raise some heritage birds and see how we like them. We do not mind sacrificing genetically-engineered size and short time to maturity to raise safe, happy, healthy meat for we feel safe feeding to our family.