When most people think of raising chickens, they immediately think about fresh-laid eggs. There’s nothing more delicious than an egg you collected just that day, fried or scrambled in a pan and served for breakfast.
But don’t forget, chickens can also be raised for meat. You’ll find that the process of raising chickens for meat is a bit different than laying hens, but it’s not too difficult to master! Read on to find everything you know about the best meat chickens possible!
Should You Raise Meat Chickens?
If you’re considering whether or not to raise meat chickens, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- You’ll be raising a lot of chickens, so you’ll need more space.
- The birds grow quickly, reaching maturity in 2 to 6 months. Once they reach maturity, they need to be harvested. Do you have a place to store all the chicken meat, or a way to sell it?
- Can you slaughter the chickens yourself? Is there a processing plant near you?
- Can you afford the high cost of raising lots of meat chickens?
Once you feel you can answer these questions satisfactorily, it’s time to move on to choosing the right meat chicken breeds.
Egg vs. Meat Chicken Breeds
Just like you would raise different breeds of dogs for different purposes (indoor pets, watchdogs, outdoor pets, etc.), you need to choose the right meat chicken breeds for your purposes.
If your goal is to raise laying hens, most people opt for breeds like:
- Hy-Line Brown
- Golden Comet
- Cherry Egger
- Rhode Island Reds
- Plymouth Rocks
- California White
If, however, you want to raise chickens for meat, here are the best meat chickens to consider:
- Dorking – If you want calm birds, the Dorking is the Heritage chicken for you. It’s a non-aggressive bird that is great for both kids and other pets, and you’ll find the breasts and wings of the Dorking are both meaty and tender. The laying hens provide eggs during the winter (unlike most other hens), and you’ll find that they are excellent broody hens.
- Cornish Cross – This Broiler chicken (a breed raised specifically for meat) grows very quickly, and you’ll find that the chicken can usually be harvested within 8 weeks. The skin is rich and yellow, their thighs and legs are very large, and you get broad breasts from these delicious chickens.
- Delaware — These Heritage chickens can weigh as much as 6.5 to 8.5 pounds, depending on whether the chickens are male or female. These chickens come from a cold climate, so they can handle cold as well as heat. They mature quickly, the hens lay huge eggs, and they tend to be fairly calm, mild-mannered birds. Best of all, their meat is delicious!
- Jersey Giant – This is one of the best meat chickens around, as it’s HUGE! It was actually bred to replace turkey, and it can grow up to 13 pounds. They grow more slowly (maturity is only reached after about 6 months), but they lay huge eggs. While they may not be ideal for commercial harvesting, you can fatten up these birds for a special dinner!
- Buckeye – This is a dual-purpose chicken, bred both for eggs and for meat. It’s one of the hardiest chickens around, and it can adapt to both cold and hot weather with ease. They are best as free-range chickens, as they are fairly active birds. The roosters can grow up to 9 pounds, but the hens only reach 6.5 pounds. Thankfully, they lay lots of medium-sized eggs!
If you’re looking into the best meat chicken breeds, these are the ones to consider!
Raising Chickens for Meat: How it’s Done
If you’re wondering how to raise chickens for meat, below you’ll find out everything you need to know:
Before You Buy Chicks…
First, you need to have a chicken brooder set up. This is the place where the chicks will spend the first three weeks of their lives.
- Be warm
- Provide fresh air
- Protect them from predators
The chicks will each need about ¾ square feet of space, and you’ll need a heat lamp to keep the temperature steady. Cover the floor of the brooder with roughly 4 inches of litter (newspaper or wood shavings are best), and install a small waterer.
For the first week of the chicks’ lives, the temperature in the brooder should stay around 95 degrees. Next week, turn the heat down to 85 degrees. Continue to reduce the temperature by five degrees every week, stopping once you reach 70 degrees.
You should feed the chicks starter feed, along with a bit of chick grit–all served on a paper plate. This will deliver all the nutrients they need and help to speed up the growing process. They’ll find the food easily, but you may need to dip the chicks’ beaks in the water to show there where it is and how to drink.
Keep an eye on the chicks. If they huddle together beneath the heat lamp, turn up the temperature. If they avoid the light, they’re too hot.
Watch out for pasty butt, a common problem among broiler chicks. When they poop, sometimes the feces get stuck on the feathers around their butts. This stops them from pooping, and can lead to serious problems–even death. If you see any chicks with poop crusted around their butts, wash them and check on them to ensure they are eliminating waste properly.
At around 3 weeks, it’s time for the chicks to move out and live in a coop. They’re still young, but their feathers will transform from yellow to white. They can change from starter feed to grower/finisher feed, and you can use a chick feeder rather than a paper plate.
You’ll need to make sure your chicks have at least 2 square feet of space each. A chicken tractor makes for a great home for your new chicks!
Once the chicks reach the age of 4 to 5 weeks, their growth will be much more visible.
They’ll need plenty of heat to encourage them to eat, so keep the heat lamp on at night. If you can raise the chickens in summer, the summer heat will get them eating.
If the summer is too hot, freeze jugs of water and place them in the coop. The chickens will sleep next to the jugs to stay warm, preventing overheating (a common problem among broilers).
By the time your chickens reach 6 to 8 weeks, they’re ready to be processed. They should weigh around 5 to 6 pounds by the time they’re ready, and if they don’t make weight, let them keep growing for another week or so.
Raising chickens for meat is a bit different than raising chickens for eggs, but it’s not all that difficult. You’ll find that you can raise chickens for your dinner table easily thanks to the information above!