Raising Chickens For Meat
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Raising Chickens For Meat

Raising chickens for meat is a great way to be self-sustainable and provide your family with locally grown and raised protein. Besides being tastier than store bought chickens, home raised chickens lead a more natural life complete with fresh air, sunlight, grass, and bugs. If you are new to raising chickens or poultry for meat, don't worry! HatchingTime has egg incubator & hatcher and starter kits for every aspect and level of poultry keeping! 

Hatching Time. White chicken standing on grass with open beak to cool off.

Choosing a Meat Bird Breed/Variety

There are over a hundred varieties of egg-laying chickens to choose from, but when it comes to meat birds, the selection is more limited. You have a choice between meat breeds like the Cornish and Bresse. Dual purpose breeds that are good for both eggs and meat like the Jersey Giant, Australorp, Orpington, Rhode Island Red, and Plymouth Rock among others. Lastly, we have the commercial hybrids: the Cornish Cross (supermarket chicken), Red Rangers, Sasso, and Kosher Kings. Of all these breeds the Cornish Cross is the most popular. With an unbeatable feed-to-meat ratio and an 8 week turnaround from hatch to table, it is easy to see why they are the bird of choice for large-scale farmers. Some meat chicken breeds can be purchased as fertile hatching eggs. If you decide to get fertile hatching eggs make sure that you have a cabinet incubator. Many online hatcheries offer day-old meat bird chicks for sale year-round. The majority of hatcheries require you to purchase day-old meat bird chicks in quantities of 10-25 or in increments of 25. Regardless of the number of birds you raise make sure have a brooder, feeder, waterer, and coop for them. 

Hatching Time. Chicken being held by a person wearing a black jacket.Cornish Cross Chicken

 

Caring for Meat Birds   

Meat birds require a slightly different care regimen compared to layer breeds. First, meat birds should be fed a medicated feed for the first two weeks of life, then switched to a meat bird grower for the remainder of the growing period. Make sure that you give your meat birds adequate space to live as each meat bird should be allotted 2 - 4 square feet each. Overcrowding your meat birds will result in them being dirty and overheating, all of which can lead to stress and higher mortality rates. Make sure to place the feeder on one side of the pen and the waterer on the other side. You want the birds to have to get up and move for their food and water. Placing the food and water side by side will result in the chickens pairing themselves at the feeder and eating all day. Make sure to provide adequate protection from sun and rain for your birds as some breeds, including Cornish Cross, tend to be sparsely feathered by the 8 week processing point. If your birds get wet they could become chilled, get sick, and possibly die. 

Hatching Time. Chickens held by a person. 2 chickens are visible.

Housing Meat Birds 

There are many different ways to house your meat birds. Some people like to pasture their meat birds while others like to keep them in a permanent coop. If you pasture your meat birds, you will need to move them to fresh ground weekly. Rotating is done to reduce the complete depletion of a resource area and to allow the land to break down the poop left behind by the birds. You can raise your pastured poultry in movable coops, protected with electric fencing, or a paddock system. If you are raising a large number of meat birds you are definitely going to want to get yourself feed and water silos. These silos can hold 40 - 80 pounds of feed and up to 8 gallons of water. This ensures that your meat birds will have food and be hydrated around the clock. Consider adding a slatted floor area to the pen to encourage the birds to exercise their muscles by jumping up and down. 

Hatching Time. Black and white chicken in image with its head slightly turned.

Meat Bird Alternatives 

Some people prefer a more robust and active bird for the table. A great alternative to commercial meat birds are layer breed cockerels, the Leghorn in particular is an exceptional bird. Leghorn cockerels are robust, active, and lively birds. Like Leghorn pullets and hens, the cockerels have a great feed-to-meat ratio. Layer cockerels will dress out at 3.5 - 4.5 pounds at 16 - 20 weeks of age. Dual purpose cockerels are best processed when they are at least 6 months old to maximize the amount of meat. Layer cockerels make great fryers, while dual purpose cockerels can easily be a full meal for a medium sized family. Older hens, or hens that don't lay well, are another option for fresh chicken. Most regard older hens and roosters as stewing birds only good for soups and slow cooking. My experience has been that they need to be cooked at a slightly lower temperature than a supermarket bird. The meat will be firmer than what you're used to, but a good sharp knife makes for easy cutting. Get ready to experience the tastiest chicken ever!

Check out our article on processing poultry

  

Written by: 

Aryeh Wiesel Headshot

Aryeh Wiesel

Poultry Enthusiast & Expert
Aryeh is a 2023 Rutgers University graduate and majored in Agriculture & Food Systems Science. He hopes to get a job as a production manager in agriculture evaluating animals and plants. Aryeh has almost a decade of experience working with chickens and other poultry. At Aryeh's family's house in Central New Jersey, Aryeh has a small flock of chickens and pigeons. Besides his passion for poultry, Aryeh is also an avid phalaenopsis orchid grower. Aryeh met Hatching Time at the end of 2020 when doing poultry research with a Rutgers professor.