Raising meat chickens is a lot like raising regular chickens. In fact, it’s almost exactly the same AND super easy!
You’re actually just raising a regular backyard chicken with the purpose of eating it one day instead of the chicken being a layer their whole life. There are a few differences you should know about when preparing to raise your own meat.
5 main points for homesteading beginners on how to raise 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. The older your chickens get, the tougher the meat will become. This rule of thumb is accurate for all homegrown meat.
Best meat chickens when choosing a breed
One of the most typical meat chicken breeds 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. Choosing from heritage breeds is always something to consider as they’re not only versatile but also beautiful.
When I started looking at meat chicken breeds, 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’ve been pretty happy with them.
Dixie Rainbows are a dual-purpose chicken that lay a sufficient amount of eggs and grow to be 6-8lbs are maturity. Not only do Dixie Rainbows Chickens grow to be plump enough to be a meat chicken, but they also live their lives like a normal backyard chicken while doing it.
If you’d like to know a little more about Dixie Rainbows, I’ve prepared a complete guide for you here.
What is the difference between meat chickens and egg chickens?
There are many different types of chickens to choose from. It can be pretty overwhelming when you’re just starting out raising meat birds.
The only difference between meat chickens and egg layers is some are best raised for meat because of their larger size, and some are better served as layers because of their smaller size. Additionally, some chickens grow at a much slower rate than others.
If you’re raising an animal with the intentions of eating it one day, it’s better to choose one that will provide the most sustenance.
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 you’re raising for meat before they begin to lay eggs, often by 7 to 9 weeks. I’d always recommended a dual-purpose chicken for the best of both worlds.
If you care less about eggs in your household, then don’t worry about finding a good dual-purpose chicken unless you plan to hatch your own eggs.
In this case, I suggest having a small flock for eggs and a separate flock your raise out for good meat.
How much room do meat chickens need?
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.
If your flock is living in dirty conditions and contract a parasite, for example, you have to often treat them with antibiotics to get rid of them. Since you’re cutting meat chickens lifespan short, it’s best to make sure they don’t need to be treated with medication before cull day.
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 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. If you’re not able to give your chickens more space than required, or unfortunately less space than they should have, I suggest providing chicks medicated feed in the beginning.
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 because of noise ordinances, especially neighborhoods that have an HMO. Check with your neighbors and any HMO you have before bringing any type of livestock home.
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 to learn or see if there’s someone in your area that knows how to butcher a chicken and might be willing to teach you.
As a starting point, 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
- 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.
Raising meat chickens for beginners: Summary
It is becoming far more common as the years go by for folks to raise their own meat; especially easy farm animals for beginners like chickens. In fact, when the global health pandemic of 2020 started, farm stores around the country were selling out of chicks.
Folks are learning that we don’t always know what’s in our food, where it comes from and that we are ultimately at the mercy of distributors for it unless we grow it ourselves.
I’ve raised chickens for years and my best advice is don’t let the thought of culling an animal intimidate you! I never thought I could do it, but I did. And you can, too! So I want to know – do you raise meat chickens? What kind? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
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