Raising meat chickens is a lot like raising regular chickens. You’re actually just raising a regular chicken with the purpose of eating it one day instead of the chicken being a layer their whole life. There are only a few differences and we can talk about them now!
5 main points for homesteading beginners on how to raise meat chickens.
When raising meat chickens, you can raise them to be broilers/fryers or roasters (real terms used by the USDA). In lamens terms, broilers/fryers are usually cooked any way you want and roasters are whole roasted due to their age.
Best meat chickens when choosing a breed
The stereotypical meat chicken is the Cornish Cross. This breed is commonly white and bred to grow very quickly, sometimes not being able to support their own weight.
Some folks say raising Cornish Cross chickens aren’t a great breed because of their rapid growth preventing them from living a “regular chicken life” pecking, scratching and clucking around.
Other folks love raising them. I suppose it’s just a case of personal preference.
Other common meat birds are Freedom Rangers, Buff Orpingtons, and Jersey Giants. You can read about other meat chickens in this article by Morning Chores.
When I started looking for meat chickens, I knew I didn’t want to raise Cornish Crosses because of how abnormally large they get. I wanted a dual-purpose chicken that would still be able to function like a regular, healthy hen and roo. I starting raising Dixie Rainbows as my meat chicken and I’ll never switch!
Dixie Rainbows are a dual-purpose chicken that lays a sufficient amount of eggs. They grow to be plump and live their lives like a normal chicken while doing it. You can read more about them here.
What is the difference between meat chickens and egg chickens?
There are many different types of chickens to choose from so it can be pretty overwhelming when you’re just starting out raising meat birds.
The only difference between meat chickens and eggs chickens are some are best raised for meat because of their larger size and some are better served as layers because of their smaller size.
Do meat chickens lay eggs?
The simple answer is yes, all hens will lay eggs eventually whether your intended purpose for them is meat or eggs.
The difference is you’ll likely butcher chickens your raising for meat (before 7 and 9 weeks) before they begin to lay eggs. I’d always recommended a dual-purpose chicken for the best of both worlds.
How much room do meat chickens need?
While raising meat chickens, you need the same required items when raising layers or any other type of chicken. Meat chickens are a chicken; a living, breathing animal.
Chickens typically need 2 x 3 square feet of space inside the coop and 8 x 10 outside the coop. If you think about it, the saying “you are what you eat from your head to your feet” is totally true.
If you’re giving your laying hens space to roam and forage because you eat their eggs, you should be giving your meat hens the same option because you’ll be eating…well, them.
Neglecting your chickens and not providing them enough space can cause disease, pecking and stress, even cannibalism.
Make sure they have the space they need in the hen house, fresh, clean water, and fresh food at all times. Your chickens will also need laying boxes in the case you’re late to plan butcher day (it happens).
The feed requirements might be the largest difference between raising meat hens and laying hens, and even then, everyone does it differently. I know flock owners who start their meat chickens as chicks and immediately feed them meat bird feed.
Some folks start their chicks on the regular medicated chick starter and, once ready, switch them to the meat bird feed (pellets or crumbles are fine).
The way I raise my Dixie Rainbow meat chickens is the exact same way I raise all my chicks and chickens, laying or meat. I’ve never given them meat bird feed and, once they’re at market age, I’m pleased with the result.
Also, I like to give my chicks medicated chick starter because it helps prevent coccidiosis.
As usual, when raising livestock, you’ll need to find out what works best for you and your flock. I choose to give my meat hens room to roam and feed them as I would my laying flock.
Last, you need to be mindful when raising meat chickens. How close are your neighbors? Is it legal for you to have chickens? Check your zoning, local ordinances, rules and regulations before investing time and money.
Some neighborhoods do not allow roosters, especially neighborhoods that have an HMO. Roosters can be noisy so check with your neighbors and any HMO you have.
Are you going to butcher the chickens yourself or is there a butcher nearby?
Meat chickens are typically at market weight somewhere between 7 and 9 weeks to be used as a “broiler”. Any older then the chicken is considered a “roaster”.
You want to have a plan before your chickens reach market weight so that you’re not scrambling to figure out what to do. If you’ve never butchered a chicken, watch videos or see if there’s someone in your area that might help you and teach you how to.
The Prairie Homestead has a really wonderful (but graphic) article with step-by-step instructions and pictures on how to butcher a chicken.
Terms to know when raising meat chickens
- Broiler: Meat chickens 6-10 weeks of age
- Fryers: Meat chickens 7-10 weeks of age
- Roaster: Older Meat chickens about 3-5 months
- Market Age: The age and weight when the bird is ready to be butchered
For other chicken terms, check out Tractor Supply’s list of Chicken Terms to To Know. Do you raise meat chickens? What kind? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Raising meat chickens for beginners: Summary
Raising meat chickens is beginning to be more and more common as the years go by. Folks are learning that we don’t always know what’s in our food or where it came from.
My best advice is to not let the thought of culling an animal intimidate you! I never thought I could do it, but I did. And you can, too!