Well, it took two all-day sessions with Paul helping me, but we got all of the broilers processed. Just in time, for the turkey poults arrive next Wednesday. Now that I'm done with the broilers for the year, here is what I learned:
1. It's absolutely imperative to actually get the birds out on pasture, the earlier the better.
2. Bedding was a huge hidden cost that I forgot to take into account when I figured my costs. It takes two bales of shavings (costing $5-$7 each, depending on quality) to cover the floor of the brooder. Those two bales would have easily been enough for the two week minimum that the chicks need to spend in the brooder, however, as the chickens grew they produced more and more waste, and thus needed more and more bedding. Next year I will already have the broiler pen (since I absolutely have to get it built for the turkeys), so it won't be a problem. In the future, I will require myself to have additional field pens completed before the chicks are ordered.
3. They grow incredibly fast, and the next size of feeders and waterers need to be ready to be put into use at mininum notice. This year, I was always scrambling to keep up with the chicks' increasing appetites.
4. Now that I've personally slaughtered 45 chickens, I have a pretty good handle on how to do it. Next time I need to force myself to get them all slaughtered in a timely manner, so that I don't have to keep feeding them for months past the typical 8 weeks. I've also realized that since we have very little space to work, a scalder is useless without an automatic picker. It does no good to scald several chickens at once when there's only room for one person to pluck them. So we'll have to keep doing everything by hand until we can cough up the $600 to buy a basic scalder/picker set (or until we find used ones that we can afford). Until we have that, I don't think it will be possible to raise more than one pen of chickens (75-90) at a time.
5. Cornish cross chickens really can't stand high heat once they're more than about a month old. Most of our 30 losses were due to really hot days where they just keeled over. Getting them out on pasture should help with that.
Hopefully I'm now past the steep part of the learning curve, and next year will run more smoothly.
10 hours ago