On todays episode of "what I wish I would have known before we..." I'm going give my honest review of what went right (and wrong) during our first season of raising meat chickens.
- Was it worth it?
- Will we do it again?
- 5 things I wish we'd known before raising meat birds
- What materials we used
- What type of foods do meat birds eat?
- How much do meat birds eat from start to finish?
- What is the process for growing meat chickens?
- How do you process meat chickens?
I'm not going to keep you in suspense, the short answer is YES! While we will be making a few small changes next time, overall Aaron and I are pretty darn pleased with ourselves! We will absolutely be doing this again next year.
As an amazon associate, this post contains affiliate links, which means I make a small commission at no extra cost to you. See my full disclosure here.
5 THINGS I WISH I WOULD HAVE KNOWN BEFORE RAISING MEAT CHICKENS
- Meat birds are NOT the same as laying hens. We have enjoyed backyard chickens for almost ten years, and let me just tell you that raising meat chickens is a wildly different experience! When our laying hens were chicks, they loved roaming around in the grass and pecking at bugs. We would play with them and they were interactive and showed lots of personality. As the weeks rolled by, our laying hens grew into beautiful and healthy chickens. The meat birds, not so much. Cornish Cross are very low energy birds. Normal day to day activities seemed to exhaust them. Once they started to grow, it was incredible how fast they matured into massive, lazy, unattractive chickens.
- Budget plenty of time to run outside and double check that the meat birds have plenty of food and water. I have never seen chickens blow through their rations as fast as these Cornish X meat birds! It's truly amazing.
- Chickens raised for meat are not as hearty as other chicken varieties. We lost a chicken at four weeks due to a sudden fluctuation in the temperature that put it under stress. A few weeks later, we lost another chicken and several more developed respiratory sneezing and coughing after a few days of rain.
- The whole process goes very fast! We received the chicks at two days old and they were in the freezer by six and a half weeks. We had planned on butchering at eight weeks, but they were growing so rapidly and we had a free weekend, so we were able to process them sooner. The finished weight ranged between 3.5-6.5 pounds.
materials needed for raising meat chickens
At the bare minimum, meat birds require a safe shelter, heat, water and food. We built a mobile chicken tractor that we were able to keep the birds on fresh grass throughout their life cycle. While this isn't necessary, pastured chickens produce better meat and tend to be more healthy. They are able to scratch, peck and eat grass and tiny bugs. While meat chickens are not as active as regular hens, they still have a bit of spunk and benefit from the fresh air and grass.
When purchasing a chicken feeder and waterer, I recommend getting the biggest options available. We ordered 50 birds and I was filling up the 3-gallon waterer once a day in the beginning, and 2-3 times a day the last few weeks. Chickens in general are also incredibly messy. Finding a waterer with an option for hanging it off the ground or propping it up on a paver is also beneficial.
What type of food do chickens eat?
Just like normal chicks, baby meat chickens eat chick starter until fully feathered, between weeks two and three. You can choose between medicated chick starter and non-medicated starter. We personally use non-medicated chicken feed.
Once the chicks are ready to switch feed, we put them on a chicken grower blend. This feed has a protein content between 16-18% and less calcium than traditional laying hen chicken feed. When a hen is laying eggs, they need extra minerals and calcium to produce eggs. We aren't concerned about egg production when raising meat chickens, so this isn't necessary.
How much food do meat birds eat from start to finish?
A general rule of thumb is that fifty broiler chicks will eat 110 pounds of feed in their six week life. This is an average of 4.4 pounds of grower feed per bird. If your bag of grower feed weighs 50 pounds and costs $21.99, each bird will eat approximately $1.93 worth of feed. Also, keep in mind the the cost of chicken feed is rising steadily this year. We purchased as many bags as we thought we would need when we ordered the chickens to try and avoid the inflation.
This seems to be higher than the standard industry guesstimate, but we found it to be closer to $2.45 worth of feed per bird.
We also supplemented with chicken scratch and keeping them on fresh grass (and all of the bugs that includes).
An additional expense was the freezer storage bags and custom labels. By the time we fed the bird for six weeks and processed it ourselves, we came in at a total cost right around $6 per bird.
How do you process meat chickens?
Raising meat chickens is just the first part of this journey. Once the chickens are fully grown, the next step in the process is butchering and preserving the meat.
We chose to harvest the chickens ourselves, but many people take their chicken to a processor and pay to have them killed, cleaned and frozen. Depending on your area, there may be a traveling butcher who will come to your property and process the birds on site.
If you chose to harvest the birds on your own, you will need the following centers:
- kill area | where the bird is dispatched. This typically looks like metal cones that the chicken is placed in upside down and the bird's throat is cut. The blood will drain into a bucket placed underneath the cone.
- boil | A large stockpot of water is brought to a boil over a propane heater. The chicken is dipped into the water for about a minute to loosen the feathers for plucking.
- plucker | This can be done by hand or machine. When we are processing 1-2 birds, we will pluck by hand. Plucking by hand is a lot of work and takes quite a while. When we processed our meat birds, our Yardbird Plucker was a lifesaver! The bird is placed into the drum and rubber "fingers" gently remove the feathers in less than a minute. It is splurge, but absolutely worth every penny!
- eviscerating | We moved a metal table outside and my husband and I removed the organs, necks and wing tips from the chicken carcasses. We had bowls of ice water for the hearts, livers and feet to be processed and used later.
- ice bath, pink water | This is a large cooler filled with ice water and one half cup of vinegar where the chicken carcasses go immediately after eviscerating. This allows the chickens to cool quickly before going into the final ice bath.
- ice bath, clear water | Once the carcasses have soaked in the pink water for for at least ten minutes, they are ready to be put into the final ice bath. This water stays pretty clean because the chickens are fully prepped and ready to be packaged.
- packaging | We used poultry freezer bags to store the birds in the freezer. It starts of a big, generous size, then shrinks to tightly fit the carcass after being dipped in boiling water.
Get my Free Guide for Raising Chicks E-Book and learn everything you need to know to get started on your backyard chicken journey!