How to Raise Meat Chickens at Home
Do you want to raise meat chickens to supply your own humanely raised protein? Maybe you wonder how safe the meat from your grocery store is. I’ve been raising my own meat chickens for years and I want to help you get started too!
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Best Feed for Meat Chickens
To get your hybrid meat chickens up to butcher weight quickly, you’ll want to feed them a good quality meat producer feed. The formula contains a higher protein (21 to 22% minimum protein) content than chick starter, all-flock, or layer feed.
Most meat producer rations are formulated for feeding on day 1 all the way up to processing. Here is the feed I use for raising meat chickens, so you can take a look at the nutritional information. (Not an affiliate link.)
When raising dual-purpose birds, you may feed the young flock regular chick starter feed for the first 3 to 4 months. At that point, you may switch to an ‘all-flock’ feed until the pullets begin laying and the cockerels are butchered.
I have not noticed an appreciable difference in weight gain in dual-purpose or heritage birds when fed meat producer feed in place of chick starter and all-flock rations.
Other Things Your Meat Chickens Need…
Besides a good quality meat producer feed, you need to make sure your chickens have the following:
- Clean water at all times
- Proper temperatures
- Secure coop that is draft-free but well ventilated
- Clean bedding
- Grit, if they eat food other than crumbles or pellets
- Probiotics and electrolytes may be helpful
- Room to stretch and exercise
For a complete guide to raising healthy baby chicks, check How to Care for Day Old Chicks!
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Cornish x Rock vs Heritage Meat Chickens
There are a lot of misconceptions about Cornish x Rock (aka Cornish x or Cornish cross) chickens. I’ve heard them called Frankenbirds and GMO chickens…they are neither. If you wish to raise meat chickens these are the most popular birds for that purpose.
Cornish x are actually produced by hybridizing chickens, resulting in a bird that is the genetic offspring of several distinct breeds.
The hatcheries guard their secrets very closely so that hobby farmers aren’t able to copy them and come up with a home raised Cornish x.
The breeds used in this hybridizing program include White Plymouth Rock and Dark Cornish, but that’s as far as I’m privy to the whole operation.
Why raise Cornish x for meat? Mainly because they grow fast and produce a nice-sized, tender roasting bird in 6 to 8 weeks on less feed.
This means that the cost of raising these birds is lower and the result is a meaty bird…just what consumers want. This is the kind of chicken you buy in the grocery store.
Raising Heritage Chickens for Meat
On the opposite end of the spectrum are heritage breeds. These are dual-purpose chickens that lay a decent number of eggs and the extra roosters will grow out to dressing size in about 6 months.
If you want to raise chickens for meat and have your heart set on a heritage breed, I recommend the Plymouth Barred Rock or the Plymouth White Rock (one of the breeds used in Cornish x Rock hybrids). The young roosters reach butcher weight in 5 to 6 months and are meatier than many breeds.
The problem with raising heritage breeds for meat is mainly the length of time needed to grow them out, and the cost of the feed they consume in the process.
Some folks swear that these chickens are more flavorful than the Cornish x, and others swear that these heritage birds are tough and stringy.
I’ve butchered many chickens, from the tender Cornish X and Black Broilers to old stewing hens and young roosters. I find it to be true that the older a chicken is when you butcher it, the tougher and more flavorful the meat will be.
Although I have never tried this, and I don’t think it is humane, some farmers caponize their young roosters. This process is done by removing the testicals of a cockerel through a surgical opening between the ribs. Mortality rates may be quite high due to infections. The process causes capons to put their energy into weight gain rather than fighting with their flock mates.
Hybrid Black Broiler Chickens for Meat
One year I raised Black Broiler chicks rather than the Cornish X to process and freeze for the winter. I had a rather high mortality rate when the chicks first arrived. This may have been due to the shipping distance.
I got tired of feeding these birds after 4 months and butchered them for the freezer. The largest weighed less than 3 pounds. The meat was good, but they were not as economical to raise for meat compared to the Cornish x.
The feathers were black, which made the dressed birds appear less appetizing. Many people prefer not to have little black feather shafts in the skin or their dressed chickens.
The Black Broilers were probably a bit faster growing than some heritage breeds, but they paled in comparison to the Cornish X.
There is another hybrid available called ‘Freedom Rangers,’ but from the reading I’ve done, these hybrids are similar to Cornish X. They are slower growing and have brown feathers, so keep that in mind if you are thinking about trying them. I can’t speak from experience since I haven’t tried raising the Freedom Rangers.
Raising Cornish X for Meat Production
I normally raise Cornish x Rock for my meat chickens. I can expect to have birds dressed out around 5 or 6 pounds each at about 8 weeks of age.
This allows me to grow out meat chickens and have them in the freezer quickly.
Best Method for Raising Cornish x Rock
When raising hybrid Cornish x Rock meat birds, there are some things to keep in mind.
- They need to have their food and water in easy reach. If they have a coop with access to pasture, be sure that they have food and water in the coop and outside in the pasture. If the sun is too hot on them, they will stay in the shade of their coop rather than go searching for water outside.
- Don’t give them roosting bars. Roosting on bars can cause a thick spot or blister to form on the breast of these birds.
- Be sure they have a shady place to rest. Their feathers won’t cover their skin and they are susceptible to sunburn.
- Follow the hatcheries instructions for feeding. They may eat too much if they have unlimited access to food. Hatcheries will give instructions for taking their feed away in the evening to prevent overeating and heart attacks.
- Don’t ‘chicken out’ when it is time to butcher them. Although I have kept Cornish X as Laying Hens, they are not as feed efficient as laying breeds.
A More Humane Way to Do Chicken
Although some folks think that raising Cornish X chickens is not humane, I don’t see it the same way. Raising your own chickens at home allows you the opportunity to raise them in clean conditions with access to pasture and fresh food.
You have the ability to butcher any bird early if they are getting too heavy for their skeletal structure. I am happy to know where my chicken comes from and that it isn’t mistreated or fed antibiotics before I eat it.
f you are a proponent of ‘slow food’ or heritage breeds, by all means, order some good old fashioned dual-purpose breed chickens. I have found the Buff Orpington, Barred Rock, and Black Australorp to be fine birds for eating.
Order straight run so you’ll have some laying hens too. Just be prepared to keep your roosters around for about 5 to 6 months if you want a decent-sized chicken for dinner.
If you would prefer to raise a quick flock of meat birds in about 2 months and have a lot of tender breast meat, then Cornish X are probably your best bet.
Do you raise your own meat chickens? What is your favorite breed? Leave a comment!
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