Raising Chickens For Meat: How They Differ From Egg Layers


My intention is not to get into the specifics of the full meat bird process.  Instead, we raised chickens for meat for the first time this year, and I wanted to share the bits that we learned through our experience.  After reading many articles online we decided to give it a go ourselves to see if it was right for us.

Our main reason for raising chickens for meat was to ensure we knew how our birds were raised.  If we're going to choose to eat meat, we feel a responsibility to try and provide our own food source where we can.  Raising meat birds was relatively easy, cost-effective, and something we will continue to do.

We raised 12 Cornish Cross birds.  Our total cost, including chicks, feed and processing was $108.00.  That divided by 12 birds comes to $9.00 per bird.  We lost 2 birds who died prematurely, but the remaining flock weighed, on average, 7 pounds, bringing our cost to just over a dollar per pound.  Not bad for organically and humanely raised chicken!  Although, my husband assisted in the processing of this batch, future batches will be processed by a local processor we trust because we simply don't have the equipment to process them quickly at home.

We've raised layer hens for quite a few years, so we knew there would certainly be differences.  For our first batch we decided to use the housing/equipment we currently had, rather than try to anticipate what our needs would be, so we could learn with the first batch how we wanted to raise future batches.  This proved to be a great idea since what we originally thought we needed has changed now that we've actually raised them.


Here are a few of the differences between meat birds and layers:


1.  They Grow Fast
Fast!  Depending on the breed and how/what you feed, the Cornish Cross are typically ready in 6-8 weeks {although they can go as long as 10 weeks} and other breeds are typically ready in 10-13 weeks.  Every aspect of their life is quicker than layers.  They go from heated brooder to outside in 3-4 weeks and from there they grow daily.


2.  They Eat and Drink A Lot
Obviously, if they are growing quickly then they are eating and drinking quite a bit, but I point this out because we gave our meat birds the same size feeder and waterer as the layer birds which proved to be insufficient.  The waterer, in particular, was not large enough.  As they grew, they ran out of water while we were at work which meant we needed to provide them more.  Not a big deal - lesson learned.  They literally eat and drink all day.

3.  They May Need Extra Assistance
There is a thought out there that chickens are not the brightest.  I don't necessarily believe that, but I will say that Cornish Cross chickens seem to have about half the intelligence as your average layer.  I'm not pointing this out for any reason other than to suggest you want to make sure you check on them during simple times such as night-time.  They may forget to go inside at night.  Additionally, if you have them in a chicken tractor, while layers will walk with the tractor as you move it, Cornish Cross chickens don't all understand this concept.  You may need help in moving them - someone to move the tractor and someone to keep them moving.

4.  No Roosts Are Needed
Particularly the Cornish Cross, they are just too big and heavy for roosts.  They will likely only injure themselves, so it's best to skip the roost.


5.  They Tire Easily
Because they grow so quickly and get quite large, they tire quickly and take many breaks.  The excitement, for instance, of bringing new feed or treats goes quickly from jumping and flying to sitting and resting.

6.  They Do Not Take Extreme Temp's Well
For this reason many people have chosen not to raise them in Winter and we have also chosen not to raise them in the heat of summer.  They pant constantly and are just uncomfortable.  Alternatively, we will likely do larger Spring and Fall batches.

7.  You Can't Chicken Out
Birds who are "meat birds" will not live long lives.  Simply put - when they are done, they are done.  You can't decide halfway through raising them that you'll keep them as pets because they just won't live much longer than 10 weeks.  They are a specific cross of breeds that allow them to get big quickly which also means their internal organs will begin to shut down if they aren't processed in the 6-12 week window.  You certainly don't want to see a chicken struggling to stay alive, so before you take on raising birds for meat, make sure you are ready for the full process, and if you aren't processing them yourself, have that all lined up prior.

What about you?  Have you raised chickens for meat?  What types of lessons have you learned?

Additional Chicken-Keeping Posts:
Raising Chickens For Meat
When Will My Chickens Start Laying?
Using Diatomaceous Earth For Chicken Health
Chicken Coop 101:  13 Lessons We Learned Building Our Coop
The Chicken Coop at Cobble Hill Farm

4 comments:

Liz said...

Great facts to know! We have been looking at raising meat birds. But we can't find anywhere to butcher them. And we really don't have any place to do it ourselves. Thanks for sharing this!

daisy g said...

I didn't realize there were so many differences. Good to know. I think we might want to raise meat chickens, but would send out for processing. Knowing we are giving them a good home for the few short weeks they are on this earth feels like the right thing to do. Thanks for the lesson!

Big Rigs 'n Lil' Cookies said...

I am curious to see hear what you think of the meat. Our first year we raised a variety of Cornish that grew very very fast. I was not pleased at all with the meat. This year, for meat purposes, I tried to other breeds to see if we like them better. They were just butchered today, so I will be trying them soon.

Holly Johnson said...

Great post! We're looking into raising meat chickens possibly next Spring. We have 11 layers already. Do you have to keep the meat birds separated from the layers because they eat constantly and need a different type of feed or can they all be together? Our layers free range in our fenced in backyard right now and eat some chicken feed, scratch that I make, kitchen scraps and whatever they find in the yard.