Raising Chickens For Meat

answering questions about raising chickens for meat

First, let me say that I know this article is not the light-hearted subject matter I usually share.  That being said, I hope you still read the post as I have to tell you that I am so grateful we have the ability to take the responsibility for raising some of what we eat.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, I believe that if we personally choose to eat meat then we need to take the responsibility to at least consciously consume - a.k.a. knowing where our meat is coming from and supporting humanely
raised animals if possible.  We are fortunate in being able to take it a step further and raising our own chickens.

Eating humanely raised, pastured animals is expensive.  There's no question about it.  And once you begin raising animals for yourself you see how everything adds up.  Quickly.  I came to the realization of why the local farmers in our area have to charge what they do per pound for their chicken right after our first batch of meat birds were processed.  If we wanted to raise birds to sell we would have to charge the same.  So, one of the ways we make this affordable is to raise them ourselves.

We've had a lot of questions from many of you since we began raising our own meat birds and there are a lot of misconceptions.  I wrote an article back in 2014 about raising meat birds and with today's article I'm hoping to answer some of the additional questions you may have, particularly if your considering raising your own.



1. Raising Your Own Chickens For Meat Must Save You A Lot of Money
     Yes and No.  You have to factor in at least your actual costs, even if you don't want to factor in time & labor.  The cost of the chicks, feed {even for free-range we use supplemental feed}, and processing {if you aren't processing yourself} are actual costs.  For us here is the breakdown of our most recent flock:
  • 31 chicks @ $1.75 each = $52.50 {they only charged us for 30 and we picked them up so there is not a shipping cost}
  • Feed - $91.00
  • Processing/dividing/bagging - $155.00
Grand total = $298.50 divided by 31 birds = $9.63 each.  Our chickens, this time, average 6 pounds a piece bringing the cost to approx. $1.60 per pound.  What a difference in the season they are raised!  Our spring-raised birds averaged much larger - about 9 pounds each.

So, if you're comparing to retail costs, yes, it certainly saves money.  I don't know anyplace where you can buy organic chicken at that cost.  However, if you're comparing it to "regular" supermarket chicken and/or factoring in labor cost, it's not as much of a savings as people may initially think.

2.  What if I change my mind when it's time for slaughter?
     Well, this really isn't an option.  It certainly depends on which breed you raise, but the typical meat birds, Cornish Cross, are genetically programmed for a life span of 2 months or less.  They will end up passing on their own within that timeframe.  Additionally, at about 8 weeks they begin to have trouble breathing & walking.  It is ideal to slaughter them before the 8th week in order to ensure the best quality of life.  If you are concerned you may change your mind, you can look at this one of two ways: 
One, definitely choose the Cornish Cross because they are only 6-7 weeks old when they are processed which means a bit less attachment,
OR
two, choose a dual breed bird so that if you do change your mind, you can keep them around for egg laying.  The only problem with option two is that they are around for much longer which means you get to see their personality develop and it becomes much tougher to keep the emotions out of it.

3.  Raising my own chickens for meat means they are humanely raised from beginning to end.
     This statement may not be entirely true.  If you want to delve into the depths of how animals in our country are treated, you have to look at everyone who touches the animal.  It can depend on your hatchery {if you're using one} as there are some that have been known to treat chicks very poorly.  It also can depend on your processor {if it's not you} and whether or not they will treat your chickens with respect during their final moments.  You can ask to see how birds are processed when deciding who to go with, although often times you don't have many people in the area willing to commercially process chickens.  If you want to have chickens raised humanely from beginning to end, you would want to consider hatching your own, raising them, and then slaughtering them yourself.
     Regardless, if you are raising the birds yourself you can at least be assured that their general quality of life is hundreds of times better than any chicken you are buying in the grocery store where the average chicken never {ever} sees the light of day and is kept confined in a small space.

4.  All Cornish cross chickens do is sit around a feed trough and eat, so do I need to provide them room to roam?
     While this is true that their main concern is sitting and eating, they are still active enough to be interested in eating worms/grass/weeds/veggie bits, etc.  Additionally, it's all about raising animals humanely, and giving them access to greenery and some room to roam which will provide them the best possible quality of life.

5.  I raise layer hens so I'm sure I can just add a few birds for meat to the flock?
     Raising layer hens and the hybrid birds that are bred specifically for meat are slightly different.  Here are a few ways they differ: 
  • they require regular maintenance {they go through a TON of food and water}
  • they stink more than layer hens {literally}
  • the chicks grow fast but are still susceptible to being pecked and bullied by the layer hens as well as injuring themselves as they attempt to establish a pecking order
  • they do not defend themselves well {actually, at all} and, therefore, they need to be very well protected from predators.  even more so than your layers who can at least run.
  • meat birds will not grow very fast on layer feed which is fine but remember that a Cornish Cross bird will only live up to 2 months, regardless of size

It's not an easy decision, the one as to whether or not you will raise your own meat.  There are so many factors including cost, labor, and emotions.  But in the end, if you can do it, you have peace of mind that the food on your family's dinner table was treated humanely and had the best possible life it could.  Not to mention that you know what it ate which, in turn, you are also consuming.  And the biggest factor {in my book} is that you are no longer financially supporting those who do not raise their animals with the same philosophy.  It's all about voting with your dollars.



Additional Posts on Chicken-Keeping:
Raising Chickens For Meat: How They Differ From Laying Hens
Chicken Coop 101:  13 Lessons We Learned Building Our Coop
The Chicken Coop at Cobble Hill Farm


6 comments:

Liz said...

Great post! We are going to try meat birds for the first time next year. We will have to process our own, no processing near us. Thats the part that I am trying to ready myself for!

Farmer Liz said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing what you've learnt. Personally I haven't tried raising meat chickens, we just hatch a bunch of eggs from our laying hens each year, and keep the hens. The roosters we raise up to about 6 months old and then keep one or two for our flock and slaughter the rest. This probably isn't as economical, but solves a few problems outlined in your post (what if you get attached? how does the hatchery handle the chicks?). I think meat birds are great of people in areas where they can't keep a rooster, as we have to wait for ours to grow up enough and they are all crowing by then! Meat chickens are slaughtered before they start to crow.

daisy g said...

Very informative. We can see raising birds in our future, but I don't think we will ever be ready to process them ourselves. Thanks for sharing!

Megan @ Restoring the Roost said...

Wonderful and informative post! We'd like to start raising meat birds soon because the whole, organic or even "smart" chickens are still $15-$20 per bird at the grocery store. If I can raise them for $10 each per bird it would be worth it. We currently have a laying flock of Dominiques and we process a few of those for meat, but we don't have enough extras to supply us with meat all year.

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Liz - thank you! Yes, it's a bit difficult to prepare yourself for the processing that first time.

Farmer Liz - well a great use of resources! We've processed a rooster and a few egg layers that were just downright mean but we just didn't get much meat from them at all. Thanks so much for your comments!

Daisy - yes, that's the part of it that is very difficult. And messy.....

Megan - thank you! You're reason for eventually raising meat birds is exactly why we started - to afford eating organic poultry. Hopefully you'll be on your way soon!!

Romilda Gareth said...

Thanks