How To Raise Chickens for Meat
Updated: Dec 7, 2021
With all these crazy times related to Covid 19, you might have noticed the lack of meat at your grocery store butcher counter. I've noticed a few times that I could only find 1 cut, or a cut not done correctly in the butcher's haste. Are you frustrated with not finding what you need, or want to ensure your families food supply? Raising chickens for meat might be for you!
If you already have chickens for eggs this won’t be too big of a stretch for you, but it is a different way of raising birds. You have quite a few breeds to choose from. Red Rangers grow slower and smaller but the flavor is absolutely mouth watering. They are also preferable for a free range situation. Cornish Cross grow the largest the fastest and are more feed efficient. They do great in confinement as well. There are a ton of other breeds to choose from, and don’t overlook the dual purpose layers either! Many hatcheries even sell bundles of roosters from egg laying breeds because they also make great eating.
On our ranch we grow Cornish Cross for meat. The cornish cross is a cross between Leghorns and Cornish. These babies grow FAST so be ready! In six to eight weeks you'll be plucking.
We start them like any other chick in a brooder with lots of feed, water, and heat. We feed a chick starter crumble for the first 2 weeks, followed by a meat bird crumble until harvest. Because these chickens grow so fast, they’re prone to horrible leg problems. The breast muscle is growing faster than their little legs can support. We supplement their crumble by feeding greens 1-2 times a week. We chop up romaine lettuce, mustard greens, carrot greens, and other green produce for them. Make sure you pull the crumble when feeding the greens because they will much prefer the crumble. Greens like mustard or carrot are high in calcium, and those little legs need it to support the weight. We find that with this feeding schedule we avoid most, if not all, leg problems.
Another thing to consider is that these birds are major couch potatoes. If they can sit and be pampered, they will. Keep moving their feed and water around their pen. Make them get off their little feathered tushies and walk...even if it’s just to the feeder. This will also help avoid leg problems by giving them a little exercise. They’re pretty slow for chickens as well. You’ll have no problem catching them up if needed. Contrastly this makes for a painfully slow trip if they escape their pen and you need to herd them back in.
At 6 weeks of age you want to start weighing them to see if their ready to be harvested. We harvest when they’re approximately 7-8 pounds. During processing you could lose 1 -2 pounds of weight. The easiest way I found to weight them in by using a hanging game scale. A canvas or light fabric tote bag is the perfect size to hold a chicken. I throw the bag over their head and pick it up. These birds are quite hardy and can tolerate a little tussle in the bag without any problem. Then pop the bag on the scale hook and you’re good to go. The roosters of the lot will be ready right around 6 weeks of age. You can harvest the hens at the same time if you want a smaller chicken. I keep the hens back until 8 weeks so all of my birds are about the same size in the freezer. Breaking up harvest days also makes it easier on you. It takes about 45 minutes to processing a chicken start to finish.
We just harvested a flock of 15. Overall we feed 200 pounds of feed (50 pounds chick starter and 150 pounds meat bird crumble) This was for 8 rooster over 6 weeks and 7 hens for 8 weeks. The average price was $7.50 per bird, that’s actually quite a savings since my local grocery store carries whole pasture raised birds for $4.99 a pound! Knowing how my food lived and what it ate is priceless!
Have more questions? Let us know! Check out our blog post on how to break down a whole chicken.