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How To Raise Meat Chickens For Beginners

Dream of growing your own food, and raising your own meat? Ready to turn your dream into reality and jump into the world of raising meat chickens? Meat chickens are a great way to raise your own food and make a wonderful family or 4H project. 

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Guide To Raise Meat Chickens For Beginner’s

So you want to raise meat chickens, but maybe you aren’t really sure about how to do that or what you’ll need- or if it’s worth it for that matter? Let’s look at the logistics of raising meat chickens and see if it’s right for you.

Why You Should Raise Meat Chickens

There are many pros when it comes to raising your own meat, here are a few of our reasons for raising our own meat:

  • Homegrown meat – it’s so rewarding to grow and raise your own food, and being invested in it.
  • You know where your food came from!
  • You know what your food was fed.
  • You know what is in your meat.
  • You know how it was cared for. 

Is It Worth It To Raise Meat Chickens?

We’ve raised meat chickens several times over the years and generally, we didn’t save money comparing the end cost with that of what a chicken at the grocery store costs. However, we did get large, delicious, chickens that were free from soy. We knew exactly where our meat was coming from, how it was raised, and what it was fed. At some point, you have to decide if you raising meat chickens is worth the investment to you. 

With the soaring costs of meat at the grocery store and the trouble finding certain cuts of meat, we love knowing that we don’t have to rely on the store to keep our family fed. So to us,  it’s worth it to raise meat chickens. If you want to raise meat chickens to save money that probably isn’t going to happen, but if you are looking for delicious, farm-to-table meat it may be worth the investment for you like it was for us. 

Cost To Raise Meat Chickens

The exact cost of raising meat chickens is going to vary on what you need to care for them, what breed of meat chicken you buy, how many you raise, and the cost of feed in your area. Feed prices have gone up quite a bit in the last year so the end cost of raising meat birds is changing rapidly. 

To figure out the cost of raising meat chickens:

  • Price of the meat chickens
  • Shavings or bedding
  • Feed
  • Supplies (feeder, waterer, fence, etc.)
  • Processing (hiring someone to do it for you or the equipment/supplies to do it yourself)

Always do your research and compare prices!

The Cons Of Raising Meat Chicks

How you raise meat chickens is different than raising laying hens so it does have its own set of cons. When it comes to raising meat chickens you really need to have a plan in place before taking the plunge and buying some:

  • Meat chickens eat way more than laying chickens. 
  • Meat chickens can be quite stinky so you need to move the pen or clean it regularly.
  • Meat chickens are very lazy, not super bright, and extremely vulnerable to predators. 
  • Meat chickens require food with higher protein levels, but those levels come with a larger price tag.

Types Of Meat Chickens

There are lots of breeds out there that you can raise as meat chickens including many dual-purpose breeds you can raise for both meat and eggs. Here are some of the most common meat chicken breeds: 

Cornish Cross – 

These meat birds are super fast-growing, and one of our go-to breeds when we raise meat chickens. They can reach a weight of 12 lbs in 6-8 weeks of time. Because of their fast growth rate they are one of the most preferred choices among commercial meat producers and backyard chicken keepers. These chickens have broad breasts, large thighs, and legs, with an enriched yellow skin. This breed has lots of white meat and requires lots of feed. This breed should not be kept for breeding pairs. 

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Jersey Giants –

Jersey Giants can be kept as a meat chicken or a laying chicken, they come from the United States and were developed to replace the classic turkey. Purebred Jersey Giants weigh around 11-13 pounds on average, they also grow slower which means you are going to have to feed them for longer. These chickens are calm and docile by nature while the male Giants are considered slightly aggressive. They also lay extra large brown eggs. They weigh in typically at 10-13 lbs for 16-21 weeks.

Bresse –

Bresse chickens are white birds with bright blue feet, that are fairly large in size and very expensive. Breese chickens are a popular breed famous for being the best tasting and tender meat chickens in the world. These birds can be kept as both layers and meat birds, which means once you invest in breeding pairs the only cost to you is to feed them. They on average way 5-7 lbs and ready to harvest in 16-20 weeks.

Orpington –

Orpingtons are another dual-purpose breed that can be kept for both meat and eggs. We raise Orpingtons for eggs, they are a large, docile breed that lays brown eggs. They grow to an average weight of 7-8 pounds for the female, and roosters 12 lbs in 18-24 weeks. They have an amazing flavor and tenderness to their meat.

Freedom Rangers –

These meat birds were specifically bred for the pesticide-free meat market. These chickens thrive on low-protein feeds and are better at foraging than the Cornish Crosses. This makes them the perfect chicken for free-ranging or roaming around in a large pen. They can survive off of field bugs and corn feed and be perfect for the dinner table. On average they can weigh 5-6 lbs and are ready to harvest in 9-11 weeks.

How To Raise Meat Chickens

Now that you are armed with the knowledge of what it takes to raise meat chickens let’s talk about raising them. Meat chickens are different than laying chickens so you’ll need to do things a bit differently. 

What Do You Need To Raise Meat Chickens?

To raise meat chickens you’re going to need a few things:

  • A Pen – you’ll need a secure, predator-proof pen or tractor to raise meat chickens in. 
  • Brooder – to house your baby meat chickens.
  • Brooder Heat Lamp 
  • A Feeder and waterer – you’ll need one big enough to take care of the meat chickens you plan to raise.
  • Meat chickens should be fed a 20% protein chick starter during their first 3 weeks of life.
  • At 4 weeks old you’ll need to switch over to an 18% protein grower feed. 

How Much Space Do Meat Chickens Need?

When you raise meat chickens, you will need to provide your birds with 6 to 10 inches of feeder space and at least 4 square feet of space per chicken. If you are free-ranging birds, offer 5 to 10 square feet of outdoor space per bird.

Can You Raise Meat Chickens And Layers Together

It’s best to raise meat chickens away from your other poultry to help reduce stress and the risk of disease.

How To Feed Meat Chickens 

During their first week, your meat chickens will need a lot of protein for proper growth, free-choice is perfectly fine at this age. Meat chickens should be fed a 20% protein chick starter during their first 3 weeks of life. Then, they can be switched over to an 18% protein grower feed.

After a week, feed your chickens 12 hours on (free-choice) and 12 hours off. Make sure you remove the food during the off hours to prevent over-eating.

At three weeks, switch your meat chickens over to a grower/or broiler formula and provide them with grit to help them digest their food. 

Make sure you keep the feeder and waterer off the ground slightly and on different sides of the coop. 

 

Raising Meat Chickens In Your Backyard

Meat chickens can be raised in your backyard successfully, just bear in mind they will need maintenance to keep them from smelling.  Make sure you place them far enough away from your neighbor’s that they won’t be bothered by your meat birds. 

Raising Meat Chickens On Pasture

A common way to raise meat chickens on pasture involves putting 75-100 three- to four-week-old chicks in movable tractors. These floorless pens are then moved daily by sliding them along the ground, providing fresh pasture. The meat chickens also receive a ration of grower feed.

How Long Does It Take To Raise Meat Chickens

How long it takes to raise meat chickens is really going to depend on what breed you get, cornish cross (also known as broiler, cornish, or cornish x) will be faster while a dual-purpose breed will take much longer. 


 

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