How to Raise Meat Chickens
When my husband and I first started raising chickens, we decided to raise some meat chickens as well. We wanted to see what the “hype” was about. Through the journey, I have discovered that raising meat chickens is a relatively simple and easy process that anyone could do.
Where to Buy Meat Chickens:
Meat chickens can be purchased online through producers who normally ship “regular” chickens. I purchased my meat birds from Murray McMurray Hatchery. If you buy your birds from your local hardware store or local farmer, usually they do not sell meat birds. Most meat birds are hybrids that have been specially engineered to mature quickly specifically for its meat.
When buying meat chickens, look for a type specifically labeled “meat bird”. More than likely you will purchase breeds called either Jumbo Cornish Rock or Cornish Roaster. The Jumbo Cornish Rock is a bird that has been crossed with a Cornish chicken and a white rock chicken.
Once purchased, the chickens will be shipped to you via mail. You simply have to go to the Post Office to pick up your baby chicks.
How Long Does a Meat Chicken take to Mature?
You can raise both female and male meat birds. Typically, Jumbo Cornish Rock males grow to their full mature size within 6-8 weeks. Females take a little longer at 9 1/2 weeks. Cornish Roaster females grow to maturity within 8-9 weeks and males at 12 weeks. It is recommended to butcher the chickens as soon as they reach full maturity.
Be forewarned: if you do not butcher a chicken at its maturity and allow the chickens to keep growing, the chickens could die from a heart attack. This is due to the massive weight gain the chickens sustain. Their poor little legs can’t handle the weight.
Do Meat Chickens Lay Eggs?
Meat chickens do not typically lay eggs as they are specially bred for their meat and not their egg-laying prowess. As you will be butchering the chickens at their full maturity of 8 weeks, there’s not enough time for the chickens to grow old enough to lay eggs. These types of chickens are also not recommended to be bred at home.
When do chickens start laying eggs?
How Big do Meat Chickens Get?
The Jumbo Cornish Rock grows to be about 3-4 pounds. A female Cornish Roaster grows to 3-4 pounds and a male grows to 8-9 pounds.
Is Raising Meat Chickens Cost Effective?
I believe so. The cost for one male meat bird is $3.60, but the prices are lower if you purchase more birds at a time. For 26-50 male meat birds, the cost is $3.06.
Chick starter feed for a 50 pound bag is approximately $13.50. Chick finisher feed for a 50 pound bag is approximately $14.00. You should only need one bag of each depending on how many chickens are purchased. It’s estimated that a chick will eat 1 pound of feed per week. That comes to $0.28 per week per chicken.
If you raise the chickens for 10 weeks, the cost of feed comes to $2.80 per chicken. So, the total cost of raising meat chickens (if you purchase less than 26) is $6.40 per chicken. If you purchase 26-50, the total cost is $5.86 per chicken.
Of course, I am also calculating that you already have the necessary tools of a heat lamp, waterer, wood chips, shelter, etc. Those are the overhead costs that I have not included in this calculation.
How do you Raise Meat Chickens?
From personal experience, meat chickens could not be any easier to raise. If you already raise chickens, then you know that raising chickens is a simple and easy process. You can read about how I got started raising chickens here. But believe it or not, meat chickens are even easier.
Once you receive your meat chickens in the mail, they need to be raised the same as any other chickens. At first, the meat chickens look just like any other baby chick. But soon you will see that meat chickens rapidly outgrow regular chickens.
Due to the fact that you have baby chicks, they need a box to live in with a heat lamp for warmth. The feed should be broiler starter feed for the first 1-3 weeks. Then the chicks should be switched to broiler finisher feed from week 3 to butcher time.
As always, ensure that the chickens always have access to an adequate water supply. You will be amazed at the amount of food and water that these birds intake. That is a part of the rapid growth process.
Meat chickens quickly grow to be quite large. Each bird should have at least 3 square feet of space to move around in to avoid overcrowding.
How Smart are Chickens?
My Story Raising Meat Chickens:
My husband and I purchased 3 meat birds to find out how we liked the process and to test the waters raising meat chickens. We received our 3 meat birds along with our other 25 baby chicks together in the mail in early May.
We didn’t treat our meat birds any differently from the rest of the chickens. They grew up together eating the same food and drinking the same water. The only difference is that you can visibly see the meat birds growing twice as fast as the other chickens. As they kind of look gangly and like a large child, I affectionately dubbed the meat chickens “Chubster”.
In the video, you can see how large Chubster is compared to the other chicks at only 3 weeks old.
Raising Meat Chickens:
We received the chicks in early May and by June it was very hot. Meat birds do not do well in the heat. As this was our first year raising chickens, we did not have our coop built yet (not smart by the way). As such, we raised our chicks in the garage.
This was beneficial for Chubster because the garage was cooler than outside. We also installed several fans to blow cool air on the birds during the day and night. Chubster would plop himself down in front of the fan and not move all day except to eat. You could visibly see him struggling to breathe in the heat and pant to cool himself down.
As a side note, now that I think about it, I have no idea whether my meat birds were male or female. Apparently I didn’t bother to check the sex. In my mind, the three birds were all called Chubster and were all male. In the end, it really made no difference.
As Chubster grew bigger and bigger, we noticed that his legs grew larger and thicker. Due to this fact, Chubster did not walk around a lot. Mostly he sat in front of the food and ate all day long.
By the time 8 weeks rolled around, Chubster hardly walked around at all. He did not like to leave the garage, as it was too far a walk to get to the grass (and probably too far away from the food). In the end, he was such a large bird and I felt that it would be a mercy to put him out of his misery. I don’t like killing my birds, but poor Chubster needed a mercy killing. Chubster never did get to experience life living in a chicken coop.
How to Transfer Chickens to a New Coop the Correct Way
(*Beware, a headless chicken photo is coming up in two paragraphs if you have a weak stomach*)
Maybe you have a strong stomach and don’t mind butchering chickens. I’m grateful because I have a mother-in-law who grew up butchering chickens in Mexico, so she came along to help me out.
Actually, help me out is the wrong term. My mother-in-law did the whole thing while I hid in the bathroom (I’m a wimp). She butchered our three meat birds by chopping off the heads and letting them bleed out in a bucket.
Plucking the Chickens:
Then my mother-in-law taught me how to pluck the birds. We took boiling water and poured it over the birds (but not too much because it will cook the skin). Then you pluck the feathers off the birds. I should note that meat birds do not have as many feathers as normal chickens. So the process went rather quickly.
My mother-in-law chopped the chickens into sections that day (for which I’m eternally grateful) and I got to learn from the best. The chicken pieces were stockpiled into both of our freezers for our eating enjoyment.
Side note: I’ve since learned that after killing chickens, you should leave the chickens to bleed out and rest for a couple of days before chopping the meat into sections. This will give you juicer pieces of meat. Advice for next time.
Raising Meat Chickens:
And that’s it. That is the story of how we raised Chubster. A relatively simple and easy process that I would do again. It’s cheaper to raise meat chickens yourself than to buy a whole bird at the market. Plus, you know that the birds you raised are organic and chemical free. It’s self-sustainable and a fact of homestead life.
What about you? Have you raised meat chickens? What was your experience?
Why you need a Rooster