- Introduction to Raising Meat Chickens
- Getting Started With Raising Meat Chickens
- Housing and Equipment
- Feeding and Nutrition
- Health and Disease Prevention
- Growth and Development
- Processing and Butchering
- Potential Obstacles of Raising Meat Chickens
- Conclusion to Raising Meat Chickens
Introduction to Raising Meat Chickens
Raising your own chickens for meat is an excellent way to provide your family with fresh, healthy, and affordable protein. Unlike meat from the grocery store, you’ll know exactly what’s in yours. In this guide, I will discuss the key steps to raising meat chickens successfully so you can save money.
Raising your own meat chickens is an incredibly rewarding experience if you approach it carefully and with the right knowledge. In this post, I’ll share the key lessons I’ve learned over many years of trial and error raising meat birds from day-old chicks to the table.
The Benefits of Raising Meat Chickens
Raising backyard meat chickens provides a source of fresh and organic meat. It also allows you to have complete control over how your food is raised.
Also, you will save money by raising your own poultry. Commercially raised organic chicken can be quite expensive.
So whether you’ve been dabbling with the idea or have already started your journey, read on to discover why raising your own meat birds might just be the perfect addition to your lifestyle.
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Understanding the Responsibilities
Raising meat chickens might seem like an easy way to save money and have fresh eggs or meat on hand. However, it’s important to understand the commitment and responsibilities that come with caring for a flock of chickens before diving in.
As someone who has raised meat birds for over twelve years, both successfully and through trial and error, I’ve learned a lot about what it truly takes to properly care for chickens in a backyard homestead.
In this blog post, I will share what I’ve learned about the realistic day-to-day responsibilities of keeping chickens, the long-term commitment it entails beyond the novelty of getting babies, and how to do so affordably and ensure the health and happiness of your meat birds.
If you’re considering getting chickens but want to be sure you understand what you’re signing up for, keep reading for the dos and don’ts of successfully raising meat chickens on a budget.
Getting Started With Raising Meat Chickens
Before deciding to raise meat chickens, you’ll need to do some research and preparation.
This includes understanding local ordinances for keeping chickens in your area, obtaining any necessary permits or licenses, and checking with your homeowner’s association if applicable.
Choosing the Right Chicken Breed
Choosing the right breed of chicken is crucial to your success.
When selecting a breed, consider factors such as growth rate, feed conversion rate, and overall meat quality. Some common meat breeds include Cornish Cross, Jersey Giant, and Freedom Rangers. These chickens grow relatively fast. I use Cornish Cross meat chicks because they grow the quickest and easiest to pluck.
You could consider dual-purpose chicken breeds, sometimes called heritage breeds. Barred Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, and Buff Orpingtons, are some examples. They usually take much longer to grow, however.
Each breed may have its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to do your research on the different meat chicken breeds before making a decision.
Setting Up a Suitable Brooder Area
Setting up a brooder area is paramount to your flock’s health and well-being. A brooder area should be a warm and safe space for your chicks to grow and thrive before they are ready to venture out into the coop.
Determine the size by the amount of birds you plan on raising. Chicks need 6-7 inches of space per bird. You can set up your brooder in a garage, solarium, chicken coop, or other safe area that is big enough.
Ensure that there is ample space for your chicks to move around and that temperatures are regulated using a heat source and thermometer. The chicks should be moving about freely.
If chicks are piled up under the heat lamps, then you need to move the lamp closer. If the chicks are avoiding the area under the heat lamp, then that means it’s too hot for them and the lamp should be moved up.
Additionally, consider using materials such as straw and pine shavings to absorb moisture and promote good hygiene. Chicks poop a lot!
Tip: if your brooder is box-shaped, take some cardboard and round the corners to prevent chicks from piling up in the corner and suffocating fellow chicks.
Selecting Quality Chicks
You can purchase chicks is at your local feed store or Tractor Supply. When it comes time to select chicks for your flock, it’s important to know what to look for to ensure that you’re getting quality meat birds.
Examine the chicks closely for any signs of illness or disease. Healthy meat chicks will be active, alert, and energetic.
Additionally, take note of their feathers – are they fluffy and full, or are there bare patches? Good feathering is a sign of a healthy bird.
Ordering Your Chicks Online
Ordering meat chicks online is a good idea and has never been easier! With just a few clicks, you can have fluffy, adorable baby chicks delivered right to your local post office.
Not only does ordering online save time, but it also offers a wider selection of breeds to choose from.
Also, many online hatcheries offer guarantees on the health and quality of their birds, giving you peace of mind.
Note: hatcheries usually give you a few spare chicks in case any chicks come dead on arrival. Don’t be alarmed if this happens. Expect it.
Tip: I take each chick out and dip their beaks in warm vitamin water. This helps get their body temperature up a bit and also encourages the chick to start drinking on their own. They will start eating feed on their own. They don’t eat much on the first day. They will sleep a lot.
Housing and Equipment
Proper housing and equipment are essential for the health and well-being of your chicks.
Designing a Coop
When it comes to raising meat chickens, having a well-designed coop is essential.
A good coop for meat chickens should include features such as adequate ventilation, easy-to-clean surfaces, and enough space for the birds to move around comfortably.
You’ll also want to ensure that the coop is secure and has strong fencing or electric fencing to protect against predators like foxes, coyotes, and raccoons.
Alternative Housing: PVC Chicken Structure
PVC Chicken structures are made from PVC pipes and fittings. These structures are lightweight, easy to erect, and can be customized for any size.
If you install wheels on it, the structure can become a chicken tractor that you can move around.
Have good fencing to protect your poultry from predators. I fence in a roomy area that allows the meat birds the opportunity to forage for bugs and walk around. In my experience, the birds have a better quality of life than being stuck in a chicken coop all day.
Essential Equipment for Raising Meat Chickens
The heat source is only required in the beginning until your chicks grow in their feathers and cold weather has passed, usually around 4 weeks of age. You’ll need small feeders and waterers when your chicks are small. You’ll need to transition them to larger feeders and waterers when they outgrow the brooder.
I made a trough for a large feeder. I use a PVC pipe cut length-wise on top of a wooden frame. It’s one of the cheapest and best ways to feel a bunch of birds. I use one for my egg layers too.
Ensuring Proper Ventilation and Temperature Control
Proper ventilation and temperature control are key factors in keeping your meat chickens healthy and thriving.
A well-ventilated coop will allow for proper fresh air circulation, preventing the buildup of harmful gases such as ammonia.
Feeding and Nutrition
One of the most important aspects of raising broiler chickens is providing them with proper nutrition.
Selecting the Right Feed
When it comes to raising meat chickens, selecting the right chicken feed is crucial for their growth and overall health. You want to ensure that they are receiving the necessary nutrients to promote rapid muscle development and weight gain.
It’s important to look for chick starter feed that has high protein content and is low in carbohydrates. I feed my chickens organic food.
Establishing a Feeding Schedule
Establish a feeding schedule right away. This promotes healthy eating habits and ensures the birds are receiving enough food.
As a general rule, feed your chicks starter feed for the first 4-6 weeks, then transition them to grower feed until they reach their desired weight. After that, switch them to a finisher feed until they are ready for processing.
Supplementing with Vitamins and Minerals
Consider incorporating supplements such as vitamins and minerals to ensure your chicks are receiving a balanced diet. I use a product called Sav-a-Chick Electrolytes. I use this for the first week.
Also, I get probiotics from the same company to help the chickens’ digestive systems. I use this for the first week as well. These both get added to the birds’ waterers.
Health and Disease Prevention
In addition to proper nutrition, it’s also important to prioritize the health and well-being of your meat chickens.
Implementing Biosecurity Measures
By creating a biosecurity plan, you can avoid the spread of harmful pathogens and potential health issues in your chickens.
Simple measures like keeping your coop clean, monitoring your flock for signs of injury or illness, restricting access to your property, and disinfecting tools and equipment can help keep your chickens healthy and prevent the spread of disease.
I don’t get carried away with this, but I disinfect the waterers and feeders from the year before in a diluted bleach solution. I also scrape and sweep out the brooder areas.
I free range my flock of meat birds in a fenced-in area. Their housing is a netted PVC structure, so I don’t need to worry about cleaning the outside coop.
One thing I learned is to be careful about accepting chickens from others. One time a friend gave me a few egg layers. I ended up losing almost all of my laying hens to disease. Because of this I do not accept birds anymore from others.
Recognizing Common Health Issues of Your Meat Chickens
Meat chickens, also known as broilers, are bred to grow rapidly and reach a large size in a short amount of time. This can make them more susceptible to health issues such as heart failure, leg problems, and respiratory distress.
It is important to closely monitor your broiler flock for signs of illness or lameness and address any concerns immediately.
The biggest issue I have faced is leg problems. A chicken with leg problems will not walk properly.
I always have my eye out for this problem and I immediately separate the birds when they show any signs of difficulty walking. Sometimes they recover and can go back with the others. Most times they are permanently separated to protect them from further injury.
I use a separate smaller structure for these birds. I successfully raise these birds, whom I call “lamies”, until processing time. The key is to separate them immediately before they get pecked on or trampled on by the other birds.
Sometimes the lame birds are so bad they need to unfortunately be put down because they won’t be able to make it comfortably to processing time.
I believe in giving my birds a great quality of life and that means even the “lamies”. It does require an extra amount of time if you choose this. It also will require an extra feeder and waterer, as well as a separate area just for them.
I have found that this practice allows me to have great satisfaction in caring for these birds and saves me money because that extra meat didn’t go to waste. Last year I had 8 lamies and I was able to process 7 of them.
Growth and Development
It’s important to adjust feed and waterers according to the age of your broiler flock. A general guideline is to have a feeder with enough space for each bird and to refill it every day.
Adjusting Feed as Chickens Mature
As your broiler chickens continue to grow, their dietary needs will change. The amount of feed they require will increase as they become larger and more active.
It is important to regularly adjust their feed rations based on their age and size to ensure proper growth and development.
During the first few weeks, chicks should have access to starter feed which is high in protein (22-24%). This will help them develop strong muscles and feathers.
As they mature, you can gradually switch to a grower feed (18% protein) and then to a finisher feed (16% protein) in the last few weeks before processing.
It is important to monitor your chickens’ weight and adjust their feed accordingly. Also, at about 4-5 weeks old, they should be feathered out enough to be transitioned to a chicken coop or chicken structure.
If they are consistently gaining too much weight, you may need to reduce the amount of feed or switch to a lower protein diet. On the other hand, if they are not gaining enough weight, you may need to increase the amount of feed or switch to a higher protein diet.
Properly Watering Your Birds
In addition to a balanced diet, providing clean and fresh water is essential for the health and growth of your broiler chickens. Like humans, chickens require water to maintain their bodily functions and stay hydrated.
It’s especially important to not let your meat birds run out of water during the very hot summer days. Lack of water can lead to heat stress, which can cause serious health issues for your birds.
I use two 5-gallon capacity waterers and I still have to sometimes fill them up a couple of times a day. If you have a lot of birds, use more waterers which will cut down on the amount of times you need to refill them.
Preparing for Processing Day
As your broiler chickens approach their processing date, it’s important to prepare them and your equipment for a stress-free and efficient harvest. Here are some tips to follow:
- Set up a humane killing station: This could be a killing cone or a homemade killing setup.
- Check your equipment: Make sure all of your processing equipment is clean and in good working condition. This includes knives, scissors, plucking machine, scalder (a metal garbage can works), and any other tools you will need for the job.
- Prepare a chilling station: After the birds are killed and cleaned, they need to be chilled as soon as possible. Set up a large container, such as a cooler, filled with ice and water for this purpose.
- Have packaging materials ready: Whether you’re using plastic bags, shrink wrap, or butcher paper, make sure you have enough packaging material.
- Make sure you have enough freezer space. I usually do a good clean-out right before chicken killing time.
- Stay organized: With so much going on during processing day, it’s important to stay organized.
If you’ve ever needed to pluck the feathers off a bird for processing, you’ll definitely appreciate having a Whizbang Chicken Plucker. We built one with using the developer’s plan book.
The plucker was easy to build. I can’t imagine plucking out 70-80 birds’ feathers by hand. This gadget is amazing and is a must in my opinion.
Processing and Butchering
Processing and butchering is an important step in the journey of raising poultry for meat. It’s the final step before your birds end up on your dinner table, and it requires careful planning and preparation to ensure a successful and stress-free harvest.
Knowing When Chickens Are Ready for Processing
Some signs that a chicken is ready for processing include weight gain, physical maturity, and the development of certain physical features like the reddening of the comb.
I usually do the chicken processing in batches. Not all the chickens will be the same size, especially if you have a mixed run of both males and females. Even if you only have male birds, there will be some birds bigger than others.
I start processing my first batch when the birds are about 6-7 pounds. They’re usually around 10-12 weeks old.
I do the next batch about a week later. This gives me enough time to process the last batch before processing another.
I did 3 batches last year. I started with 69 birds and processed 60 in all. The year before, I started with 83 birds and processed 80.
Proper Humane Processing Techniques
Here are some tips for proper processing techniques:
- Use a sharp knife or specialized poultry processing tool to minimize pain and discomfort for the chicken.
- Always handle the chicken gently and calmly to avoid causing unnecessary stress.
- Make sure the kill cone is appropriately sized for the chicken to avoid causing injury or discomfort during the processing.
- Bleed out the chicken quickly and efficiently to minimize suffering.
- Monitor the chicken’s movements and make sure it is fully deceased before proceeding with butchering.
- Remove the feet and the internal organs.
- Wash the bird down thoroughly.
- Cover and place the chickens in large containers and keep them in the refrigerator for 2-4 days to age the meat, which tenderizes it.
Butchering, Packaging, and Storing Meat
After the processing is complete, it’s important to properly butcher, package, and store the meat. Here are some tips:
- Use clean tools and surfaces when butchering to avoid contamination.
- You can freeze whole chickens or cut them into legs, quarters, wings, chicken back, and breast meat.
- Package the meat in air-tight containers or bags to prevent spoilage.
- Label and date the packaged meat for easier organization in storage.
- Store the meat in a freezer set to 0°F (-18°C) or below, as this is the optimal temperature for preserving frozen meats.
Tips for the Chicken Backs
When you cut up the meat, you have the bonus chicken back. You can use the backs of the chickens to make stock. Here are some tips:
- Put the chicken backs in a large pot and cover them with water.
- Add flavorings such as vegetables, herbs, and spices to enhance the taste of the stock.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for at least 4 hours.
- Strain the broth.
- Pressure Can or freeze your chicken stock.
Note: I usually freeze the backs until the chicken butchering is over. Then I can start the process of making the stock and canning it.
Related post: Is Canning Worth it: Essential Home Canning Tips
Potential Obstacles of Raising Meat Chickens
It’s important to note that raising meat chickens also comes with its challenges. You may face unexpected obstacles such as predators, disease outbreaks, or unfavorable weather conditions.
Don’t let these setbacks discourage you. Instead, view them as opportunities for learning and improvement for the next time.
Conclusion to Raising Meat Chickens
Raising meat chickens can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience for any backyard chicken enthusiast.
Recap of Key Points
In conclusion, raising broiler chickens provides a much better food source than store-bought chicken. It’s a rewarding and fulfilling experience for those interested in frugal and self-sufficient living.
I have covered many important aspects of raising these birds, including getting started, housing and equipment, feeding and nutrition, health and disease prevention, growth and development, as well as processing and butchering.
As you embark on your journey of raising meat chickens, don’t be afraid to try new techniques or learn from others in the community. Attend local workshops or join online forums where you can exchange ideas with other farmers who share your passion.
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And most importantly, enjoy the process! Raising animals for your own food is a meaningful way to connect with nature while providing nourishing meals for yourself and your loved ones.
With hard work, dedication, and my thorough guide by your side, there’s no doubt that you’ll soon become an expert in raising your own poultry.
Encouragement in Raising Meat Chickens
Raising meat chickens is not an easy task. As you embark on this journey, remind yourself of the potential rewards that come with hard work and dedication.
Not only will you have a sustainable source of high-quality chicken meat for your family, but you’ll also have the satisfaction of raising meat chickens and knowing that you played a crucial role in their growth and development.
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