Raising chickens for meat can be extremely rewarding as well as delicious. Knowing what to expect throughout the process of raising meat birds is important. Often times people have a bad experience because they don't understand how the care of meat birds differs from heritage meat birds or laying hens. No worries, I lay it all out for you in this guide on how to raise chickens for meat below!
Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #256 10 Tips on Raising Chickens for Meat, of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen, and life you want for your family and homestead.
Let me tell you, meat chickens are quite a different experience than our laying hens. When we first started raising meat birds we purchased ours from a local farming store as chicks. More recently though I've purchased them from a mail-order, McMurray Hatchery.
1. Meat Chicken Breeds
There are two camps when it comes to meat chickens. Some swear by heritage or dual-purpose breed and others raise what we consider meat bird breeds, like Cornish X or White Cornish broilers.
Dual-purpose breed chickens take longer to raise, resulting in a higher cost on feed, and an older bird by the time they're ready to butcher. This isn't all bad, as they're easier to come by, can be used as a dual-purpose chicken, for both eggs and meat.
What are the best meat chicken breeds?
Cornish Cross are a hybrid chicken, meaning they've been raised specifically for meat. Meat birds are ready to butcher at just eight to ten weeks of age. Hybrid chickens are NOT Frankenstein chickens. I often hear people refer to them as such and it drives me a little bit crazy because it's false information.
I'm all about staying away from genetically modified foods, but there's a very big difference between GMO and hybrid breeding, both with our garden seeds as well as animals. Cornish cross have been specifically bred to come to weight really fast. The advantage is you're not feeding them as long which means less in feed costs. You have a full-size bird able to be butchered much faster. This also means you don't have to take care of them over a longer period of time.
- Jumbo Cornish Cross (aka Jumbo Cornish X Rock): We decided to go with the Jumbo Cornish Cross which is a cross between the regular Cornish chicken and a White Rock chicken. They have been bred because they have really large breasts…there's a lot of meat and they come to weight really fast.
Males will dress out at three to four pounds in six to eight weeks. Females take about a week and a half longer to reach that same size. Dressed out is when they have been butchered, gutted, and feathers removed. I like my whole birds when they're dressed out to weigh between five to eight pounds (our Jumbo Cornish Cross from McMurray averaged 5 to 6 lbs at eight weeks old).
We let our meat chickens go between eight to ten weeks before butchering. As of this writing, I recently received my order of meat birds. You can see how I set them up and deal with pasty butt, which is a thing that happens with new chicks, in my YouTube video below you can see how to treat it.
- Cornish Roaster: takes longer to mature than the Jumbo Cornish Cross but they have large breasts, big thighs, and yellow skin. They're a bit slower on growth so that can help with potential leg problems that you can have with Jumbo Cornish Cross.
- Cornish Game Hen: These are much smaller with a live weight around two and a half pounds. I bring them up because they have that Cornish name and people get confused.
- White Jersey Giant: Primarily a meat bird due to the large frame. It's a bit slower to mature than the rocks and reds. They can be used as a dual-purpose which means you can get them to size and butcher them or you can use them as an egg-layer.
When to Butcher Meat Birds
You do not want to let your Cornish mature to the age where they could begin laying eggs. They are not dual-purpose and need to be butchered between eight to ten weeks. Occasionally you can push it to eleven or twelve weeks, but then you're really pushing it. They've specifically been bred to get to weight really fast and they're heavy eaters.
Most of the time they will have either leg failure or organ failure. Because they grow so fast, and if you let them go beyond where they should be butchered, their legs will break and they can't support themselves. They could also have heart attacks. Their organs cannot support the weight that they would put on if you don't butcher them when you're supposed to.
I want to be really clear when you get a Cornish breed as a meat bird, you need to be committed to butcher them between eight to ten weeks of age. They will suffer if you change your mind. We take very good care of them and butcher very humanely. We treat them just like we would our other chickens as far as their care. When we go through the butchering process it is done in a manner where we try to keep the chicken as comfortable and calm as possible.
Dual-Purpose Heritage Meat Bird Breeds
So while the Cornish breeds cannot be grown out to maturity, the dual-purpose breeds can. Dual-purpose will take longer to get to weight so you're going to have to feed them for longer and put more time into raising them.
If you decide you want to breed your own chickens going forward without having to get hybrids, they can be a really great option. You can butcher some when they get to size and the rest you can let mature and become egg layers.
- Buff Orpington: Buffs are one of my favorite laying hens. Mine has been the most docile and kindest birds and has been broody hatching out new batches of chickens for me when I needed to replenish my laying hen stock. They have larger breasts, are plump, and have a good amount of meat on their bones. Personality and temperament wise they are just the friendliest and sweetest.
- Barred Rock (aka Plymouth Rock)
- Buff Rock
- Black Giant
- White Giant
- Delaware Broiler
- Ginger Broiler
- Murray's Big Red Broiler: An updated version of an old favorite, which I've heard a lot about but haven't raised myself yet. And that's the Red Ranger. The Murray's Big Red Broiler is a new cross that produces a table bird in twelve weeks. Not that many more weeks from the Cornish Cross. This bird you don't have to watch for organ and leg failure like you do with the cornish. I may try this bird next year.
- New Hampshire
- Sussex: I have some Sussex hens right now in my laying flock.
- Red Ranger
2. How Many Meat Birds Do You Need
When you order online through a mail-order hatchery, there are minimums because there must be so many chicks in the box to retain their body heat during the shipping process. We usually get 25 at a time but you can get them in smaller batches.
With getting 25 we figured that's two whole birds a month. You may or may not eat more chicken than that. Because we also raise our own beef, pork, and fish for salmon and go crabbing we feel that this is a good number for our family.
3. How to heat meat chicks
I made sure not to get them too early since I live in a climate that can be really cold out. When chicks only have their down, they need a heat lamp to keep warm.
It's also important to have them in a pen or area without corners. Chicks can become trapped in corners and trampled by the other birds. They'll need the heat lamp until their feathers come in, usually about two to three weeks.
We do not use heat lamps with our full-grown chickens…they go just fine all year long, even in winter, without any supplemental heat.
I don't advocate using a heat lamp to force your birds to lay all year either. However, when you have baby chickens, you have to use a heat source or they will die. There are other options like heat plates, but I don't have one so I'm using what I do have.
For more details, be sure to check out my beginners guide to Raising Baby Chicks for the First 6 Weeks. This applies to chicks that are being raised as egg layers as well as meat birds. Those first six weeks are the same regardless.
It's the beginning of May and I just received my order of meat chicks. The reason I'm pointing this out is that I don't want to get them too early because of cold weather, but I also don't want to get them too late. They don't deal well with the major heat of summer either. Because they're big birds and get up to their weight quickly, they don't move very well so they can get heat stroke easier than any other breed, especially as they're getting close to being butchering size. They're also smellier. They poop more because they eat more.
Plus, as summer rolls on and it gets hotter and hotter, we have other things that have more work to do on the homestead. We don't want to be doing as much physical work because it is so hot out and so we don't want to be dealing with our meat birds, quite honestly, as we move into July and August, which is really hot here (or what we in the North consider hot, you southern folk may laugh at my hot summer temps).
4. How Much to Feed Meat Chickens
Another reason I chose the breed I did was because of food costs. I don't know, and none of us do, with all this covid-19 stuff going on right now, what will and won't be available.
According to University of Kentucky Agriculture Extension Office a flock of 25 meat birds weighing 5 pounds at butcher time will go through 5 fifty-pound bags of feed.
My local granary, which is about an hour and twenty minutes from us, I can get organic very freshly milled feed. At the time I ordered my meat birds we were just going into the shelter at home so I didn't know how long certain businesses could stay open and serve the public. So I calculated out and bought the amount of feed I would need to raise the meat birds from chick to eight weeks of age.
If you're used to raising regular laying hens, be prepared to feed much more often and a lot more feed. Our hens will go through their feed in about four days. The meat chickens will go through the same amount in about a day. Granted, we had about twice as many meat chickens, but they were young and not full grown.
To help them not get too big too fast you have to take their feed away at night. Basically you have to monitor what they're eating. I put their feed out in the morning, usually around 7 AM and then I go out at around 8 PM and take it away.
We choose to feed unmedicated organic meat bird feed, which is between 20 and 24% protein.
For tips on keeping feed costs down, check out Stocking Up on Animal Feed (+ How Much to Feed Animals).
5. Keep the Water Full
Just like their feed, they go through a lot more water. Be sure they have plenty of freshwater in their pen. Be sure to give them water when you first get them too.
6. Meat Bird Shelter
Be sure they have shade, they're lazy. There's no nice way to put this. Like I mentioned earlier, meat chickens don't move around like our laying hens. Their feed and water needs to be close by.
They lay around a lot. Their bodies are larger and as they grow, they can't stay standing for long periods of time. Be sure they have shade, their feathers are slower to come in and they have light skin. If you let them out into a run or pasture, keep food and water in the coop and where they're ranging.
7. Stick to Your Initial Decision
I touched on this earlier. Don't back out. Once you have the meat chickens, do not change your mind about butchering them. They're bred to be raised to a maximum of ten weeks. If you go over this, their legs will break and give out due to the weight of their bodies. Or they'll have heart failure. The whole point of raising your own meat is to be humane, don't let them suffer because you got cold feet.
8. Keep Their Pens Clean
Don't stuff your birds into a tiny living area. Be sure they have room to move about. If they can run around on pasture, that is best. If not, be sure there's enough space for them to spread out and you keep it clean.
9. Have the Butchering Equipment Ready BEFORE It's Butchering Day
Mark the calendar. Count out from when you purchased the chickens to their full maturity date of eight to ten weeks. Many county extension offices have chicken butchering equipment for rent, but you have to reserve it in advance. Be sure you book it in advance for your set time frame. It only costs $25 to rent the equipment and we get to keep it for 48 hours.
10. Don't Become Attached
Anytime we're raising animals for food, we don't think of them as pets. We don't name them. We do make sure they're cared for and treated humanely. Our children know upfront the animals are for food. We don't lie, fib, or try to hide the fact. Our children are very well adjusted with the fact we raise our own food and they know what that entails.
For those of you who don't eat meat, I respect your decision, please respect my decision to raise livestock for meat.
Here's How to Butcher a Chicken at Home
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How to Butcher a Chicken at Home
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These are really helpful and thoughtful tips! I’ve never thought about raising meat chickens, but with grocery prices and all the added hormones, it sounds like a good option.
They actually don’t use hormones to raise commercial chickens. ?
This sounds exactly that same as what we do, this our second time and we bought more than the 1st time because everyone that ate our chickens said they taste so much better than store bought. SO Fresh even after being frozen. Good luck!
Melissa K. Norris
Glad to know I’m in good company. I’m super excited and we are already planning on doing about 30 next time. 🙂
Melissa K. Norris
Meat chickens are different, but yes, with the cost of chicken and all the nasty stuff, we’re doing more and more at home. I’d love to hear if you decide to “grow” some of your own meat.
Funny thing, our neighbor has a few hens and the wife & I were talking about it earlier today- I didn’t even know there was a different between hens and meat chicken (more research for us!).
Regular feed is expensive and organic feed is about double that cost. Those chickens will consume about 2 lbs of feed per lb of live weight at harvest time (about 3.5 to 6 lbs +). So a 6 lbs bird will eat about 12 lbs +/- of feed during its lifetime on earth. Do not expect to beat store prices for the torture factory raised chickens. However, you will have quality meat that has not been cheated on ( unless you do the cheating or feed supplier does). Best of luck on your venture.
One thing you can do to reduce your cost is to supplement your feed with home grown. Even lawn clippings (from non-treated lawns, of course) can be a good way to expand their diet. Definitely something to think about when considering raising your own meat. We choose to raise our own, and when we run out, we just go vegetarian for awhile! The alternative just isn’t worth it for us.
Melissa K. Norris
Thanks for the tips. We do let our chickens range when possible (we’re home and can keep they coyotes at bay) and I feed them kitchen scraps as well. I agree with you, alternate meat from the stores these days is too scary.
How many lbs is a “big”bag and where can you find the best deal on organic feed? We are seriously considering meat chickens so I am trying to estimate the cost and I am having a hard time finding quality feed at a reasonable price while also not knowing how much to plan on needing. Thanks
I consider 50lbs to be a good size bag of feed. We have a local farmer supply store about 40 miles from us that had organic feed. It was about $25 a bag last year. I’d check at the feed stores around you. I know some people order from Azure standard, but we don’t have a drop zone where we live so we’re not able to use them.
We started with 30 Cornish crosses about 3 weeks ago. We are also using organic chick feed. I am able to get ours at orschelins
… A 40 lb bag usually runs around $ 12 a bag, maybe cheaper when they have it on sale.
That’s a great price, Jennifer!
Melissa K. Norris
Great point, Robert It won’t be as cheap as store bought “regular” chicken, but still cheaper than store bough organic chicken. 🙂 We can get a large bag of organic feed for about $23 dollars, which is spendy, but worth it I think.
Melissa K. Norris
Thanks for your tips. We don’t have a hatchery near us so we bought from our local feed store. When we weighed the cost of raising the other breeds it didn’t fit in our budget. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with the Cornish Broiler cross, but everyone has to make these decisions for themselves. We used an old pond form in our pump house with a heat lamp for our chicks and then moved them into the coop with a run when they were big enough. Congrats on your years of chicken raising. 🙂 It’s such a great feeling to know where and how your food is kept.
Melissa K. Norris
Some chickens are dual purpose, meaning they can be both a “meat” chicken and a layer, but they do require a longer growing time before they reach the butchering weight.
I would encourage anyone who is looking for chickens to do a LOT of research on what breed to get. Personally, I don’t care for raising birds that will die of heart failure or have broken legs from their own weight if left too long. That seems too unnatural to me. We chose Rhode Island Reds because they are good multi-purpose birds (I hope, first time doing it 🙂 and heavy layers as well (we will keep a few for eggs). However, buying from a local store is not my first choice. They have already been through an awful lot by the time they get to a store, and their mortality rate is not very good, in my opinion. A better option is to find a hatchery and have them shipped (if they are too far to drive to). We have dealt with two different hatcheries now, and they are excellent. The chicks arrive in good condition, and they send out replacements if you lose any chicks within the first day or so. Also, I’m sure you’ve probably covered the set-up needed for chicks, but if you haven’t, please do. It’s a lot more challenging that it sounds to set up a place for them that is warm enough, can be kept clean, is safe from predators (including rats if you’re using a barn) etc. We have been raising chickens off and on for several years now, and this year is definitely our best yet (thanks in part to great blogs like this…)
We have four hens (max allowed in our town). Raising chicken for meat is our next step. I would go with the White Cornish broilers because of the number of chickens allowable. I could have a faster turnover rate over a heritage breed. Interested in Part 2.
The slower growing variety of Cornish x Rocks does not tend to have the skeletal nor cardio-vascular problems the faster growing variety develops.
We acquired some of these a few years back and crossed them with our various dual purpose chickens. After several generations of rooster selection and hen culling we have an eclectic collection of hens that lay well, will set and raise a brood of fairly quick growing meaty chicks that are ready for butcher about the time the hen dumps them. (10 to 13 weeks).
Hens are the best way to raise chicks. The naturally raised are a lot tougher than their brooder cousins when it comes to scratching out a living and tolerating chilly weather. They also tend to be a little tougher after grilling too.
Americuh…you are my hero! That’s exactly what I want to do! I’d love to know what breed(s) you use for your cross(es) I think part of the “sustainability” equation for ME is not having to buy the chicks every time. I’ve raised three generations of dual purpose chickens in the last 4 years, and have only bought the original 6 chicks…a “mistake”(turned out not to be!!!) rooster in the first batch made it all possible. I haven’t had to buy eggs in almost 4 years, and I’ve given away more than I can count! 🙂 I’d like to be able to do the same thing with meat birds…where the only “cost” will be the feed (and freezer bags ;-)).
We have been raising meat chickens for several years now. We have raised the Cornish Crosses and a heritage breed meat chicken which the breed escapes me. The heritage breed took twice as long the finish and turned out to have much more fat, which we didn’t care for. We currently are raising 100 crosses. I built several10′ x10′ x 24″ cages that are half covered half open. We hang a 5 gallon waterer in each one and place a 10′ piece of gutter full of feed. We move the cage each morning, this gives the chickens fresh grass to eat and a clean area and it fertilizes the pasture. We bought a Featherman plucker and kill stand, my wife and I can process 25 to 30 birds a day. That’s killing to freezer. We raise Scottish Highland cattle, Large black hogs, turkeys, 40 layers, and a milk cow. We totally enjoy raising these animals but we dread doing these meat chickens every year. They smell horrible, no personality, eat and drink like there’s no tomorrow but they taste soooo good and we know what they were fed and how they were treated. If you want to take these animals on be prepared for large amounts of manure and feed expense, these birds do not forage like layers do. Good luck!
I would love to see a pic of your cages, this sounds like something i need to do! You don’t happen to be in sw MI, do you??
Just curious, when you do that many birds in a day…are you letting them rest in a fridge for 24-36-48 hours before freezing? We can usually only tackle about 12-15 a day as we are doing by hand as a family of four. We find it difficult to find enough fridge space to let them rest. We have found them to be tough if we freeze them right away without rest. Any thoughts?
Here’s our butchering post but I’ve found that we freeze same day and then let them rest the 24 to 48 hours when we thaw them before cooking. They do need to rest but we do it on the other side and haven’t had tough birds. https://melissaknorris.com/how-to-butcher-chickens-part-2-of-raising-meat-chickens/
I did meat chickens for the first time this past fall. I chose cornish x hens, ordered 50 of them. I think I ended up with 46 at butcher time. I took them to a butcher, didn’t want to mess wih it myself, we had butchered a few of our hens before and it isn’t an easy task.
If you think you’re going to be saving $ by doing this, think again!! I went into it knowing I would not be saving $ by raising my own meat birds, but instead I went into it for the sole purpose of knowing what I was eating!! I purchased all my feed from a feed mill, so much cheaper than tsc, etc. I did sell a about a dozen of my birds after butcher, to help recoup some of the cost of butchering, also so I could get an idea of whether or not I wanted to make a small business out of this…
I will be doing this again this year, I love having good, healthy meat in the fridge! I’m thinking I will do 100 cornish x’s this year. But I will be making adjustments in my feeding, water & coop system this time.
Good luck to all who try and feed good, healthy meats to their families c:
Kelli @ The Sustainable Couple
Loved this post 🙂 We just got our first flock of laying hens. Excited for the fall when they begin to lay. I found you on the Homestead Blog Hop. You should link up to Mostly Homemade Mondays – I think you would fit right in!
We raised freedom rangers last fall and will be raising another batch soon. They are a French meat breed and are slower growing. Harvest is 10 to 12 weeks. I work at a farm and they raise both cornish x and freedom rangers. They are raised in moveable chicken tractors that are moved to fresh grass every 24 hours. The freedom rangers act more like chickens (walk around and range, fly, etc.). The cornish just lie around and it’s hard to get them up and moving when the tractor is moved. They only raise the cornish because the restaurants request them. The freedom rangers are sold at the farmer’s markets. We’re looking into trying dual purpose heritage breeds. I have a friend who raises jersey giants for meat and eggs. The roosters are harvested at about 12 weeks.
Melissa K. Norris
The freedom rangers sound like a great breed and one we’ll look into. Thanks for sharing.
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Great article…poultry is one of the key staples we suggest in our Grow Your Own Groceries system. Would you be interested in me sending you a complimentary copy for your review?
I have raised australorps for eggs and they are a meat bird too. I hope to butcher a new flock one of these days! Have you heard of this breed in comparison to the multipurpose rhode island reds or others?
Also, in my research about butchering chickens, i watched a video about the chemicals released into the meat at the time you kill the bird. This woman held her chicken in her arms, stroked it, covered its face and broke its neck (if i remember correctly) by quickly bending it. Native Americans also have a beautiful tradition they taught me of thanking the lLord and the chicken for giving its life for us. The woman on the video said reducing the stress before death decreased the stress hormones released into the meat. Then she followed your procedure. What do you think about this method?
I am trying to improve my homesteading skills as best i can through organic gardening, composting, preserving our harvest, and raising chickens while working and keeping busy serving the Lord and my neighbors and family!
Thank you for your blog! I enjoy your posts!
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We built our coop and got our first layers just this year (15 birds). I’ve been chronicling our journey on my blog page. We’re planning on meat birds for next year. We’ll probably start with another 15 or so for our first time out. We’ve been researching breeds and have been considering Freedom Rangers, so Heather’s comments are of interest also. This is a great article, and I’ll be watching for the next one. I have friends and family that butcher meat birds, but it’s always great to see how others do it.
That’s great you have your first laying hens. I love learning from others, too.
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Good article, Melissa. I’d just like to add a few suggestions. You mention the feather plucker you use. People I’ve talked to who butcher their own, say that a plucker is just a great thing. Plucking is so arduous, that some say that without a plucker, they’d give up meat chickens.
One of the problems with heritage meat birds (according to a friend who tried it) is that they get old enough to do the territorial thing, esp the males, who, as adults will kill each other. All the pecking and attacking means stress for the birds. The extra feed is an issue, too.
I’ve raised cornish x for 8 yrs. They are, indeed, messy, nasty birds, and raising them is a chore, but it’s over in 7 1/2 weeks. My birds are 5 – 7 lbs and taste great. I use all plant (no animal) feed with no antibiotics, but is not organic. I will try organic next time. We use a small, local, family business, poultry processor in Oregon , so I don’t butcher mine (yay!). Thee people go amazingly fast, 4 chickens are done in 10 minutes and then they shrink wrap each whole bird in a nice, round ball easy for freezing.
I’ve found that properly aging and freezing the processed birds definitely adds to the tenderness of the meat. First, I give lots of water (no food for 20 hours) till the end. Dehydrated birds can make for tough meat. I then keep my shrink wrapped birds in ice filled coolers for 48 hours. Then I clear whole shelves in the upright freezer and turn it down to its coldest setting. I then put only as many birds in so that they don’t touch and have a 1 1/2 – 2 inch space between them. Once they’re frozen solid, the next batch goes in the same way. When all are frozen solid, I return the freezer to it’s normal cold setting. The aging allows the bird’s enzymes to tenderize the meat, and the super cold freezer and bird spacing allows the birds to freeze fast, making smaller crystals in the meat. Slow freezing creates larger crystals, which means tougher birds. That’s the theory anyway.
All this is more work, but our chickens are, in fact, more tender as a result. Since I didn’t do any of this until the 4th year, I’m able to compare before and after. Finally, I also date my birds and mark their weight.
Thanks so much for the tips on the resting period, with holding food and water, and your freezing practices. I’ll be trying out those tips next spring!
It will be interesting to see if you notice any tenderness difference. I did, but that doesn’t mean you will. I think the aging (which goes up to 72 hours for some of my birds, since I stagger them into the freezer) is the most important. Tho keeping water to the end is dang easy even if it doesn’t help.
Also, I do one other thing, putting 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar per gallon.in drinking water. Don’t know if it does any good, but it’s a common folk technique. Supposedly, the right ph is considered a tenderizer and it helps with mites. No empirical results on this whatsoever, but I still do it, since it’s easy.
We raised chickens for eggs for about 5 years (until we moved and couldn’t have chickens at our new house). My Mom also grew up on a farm in the 30’s and 40’s and informed me that water was always the most important factor in egg production. Our chickens survived below zero temps here in Southwest Michigan and the easiest way I found to keep them watered when it was that cold was having 2 Heated Pet Bowls and while production did drop in winter, it never fell as low as our neighbor’s chickens.
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Thank you for the article, it should be a great help to those wanting to raise their own. My question is about tip #6. Have you actually experienced the leg breaking or heart failure? This is an often seen rumor online, but has never been my experience. I have raised Cornish crosses free range along side my dual purpose breeds for a number of years now, and have never experienced any of the problems many people claim to have. The do grow much faster and do get much larger, making them an excellent meat breed. But they are perfectly capable of walking, foraging, even flying. I believe the “mandatory butchering by 10 weeks” mantra to be a silly rumor. I have had Cornish crosses in my flock that last all summer before I get around to butchering them, some that even live long enough to lay large, white, tasty eggs. No legs broken, no heart attacks, just a little slower moving than everyone else. I also do not believe they need a high protein diet as is often reported; they do great on whatever you feed your other hens, they just want more of it.
I had one chick with a broken leg the day we brought them home. The night before we butchered I had one full grown chicken die in the coop from what I’m assuming was heart failure, but without a vet to confirm, I don’t know for sure. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
I realize this is an old post but I thought worth a try reaching out! I am coming into the 8th week and had one who could no longer walk, I was taking her several times a day to get water, she died in between those watering after about 2 days. Have you ever butchered those chickens. Or the ones that seem to die from a heart attack? Or do you toss them out and move on?! Seems like such a waste to get to 7 weeks and be throwing away a full size bird.
Thank you for taking the time to write this. It’s very informative. I plan on using Buff brahmas in the spring. I couldn’t bring myself to raise the hybrid chickens. Any animal that people have “created” whose legs break just because it’s full grown is hideous. I’d also like to hatch my own chicks someday and if you can’t even raise them old enough to lay eggs, it’s a little pointless. In fact, I’m not even sure how they get Cornish eggs! Lol thanks again. All your articles are great!
Melissa, great article! I’ve read in other places that it’s not advantageous to raise a “multi-purpose” chicken; that you either want meat birds, or laying birds. Do you find that to be true? I’ve bookmarked the Freedom Ranger site for meat birds. What breed do you raise for meat? Thanks so much! I really enjoy receiving your emails and reading your articles. I don’t know if I’ll see the response to this unless I come back to this page. Do you know?
We went with the White Cornish broilers, a meat bird, for our first set. The size of the finished bird was perfect and they were finished growing before the majority of our summer work took over. I think we’ll do them again this year and maybe try a few Freedom Ranger meat birds to see the difference.
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[…] first batch of meat chickens last year and are doubling our numbers this year. Here’s how to raise meat chickens and how to butcher […]
I have just begun raising insects! They are easy to care for and very nutritious. I have just started so it’s my first generation of insects, so we are waiting to find out how they taste.
What insects are you raising? I’ve never done that.
just got done butchering rhode island reds – will never buy them again. It was said that they would reach 8 – 10 lbs but most barely reached 4. They had plenty of space, fresh veggies, and organic feed and corn. On the other hand we got some “fancies” just for the fun of it and were extremely impressed by a breed called Pioneer – don’t know if there is another name or not but. It reached easy 8-10 lbs was easy to butcher/clean and very little fat. We will be looking at doing these in the future. 45 birds butchered 13 to go…
Sue, thanks so much for the info. Our Rhode Island Reds are wonderful egg layers, but even at a year old, they’re a small bird. I’ll have to look into the Pioneer breed, I haven’t heard of them but love the name! Good job on the butchering!
We have raised Cornish X’s several times and have had a few of them die. Some things I have discovered is to not let them overeat. You will see when you go to feed them that they are Totally different than your egg laying flock. These guys will attack their feed bowl like a bunch of hungry zombies on Walking Dead. I mean, if this is your first time raising these guys it’s a little bit shocking. Resist the impulse to over feed. We’ve had a couple at first have leg problems and we have had one basically just have a heart attack because of too rapid weight growth. So don’t feel like you have to keep their feeder full all day. You could fill it continuously and they would eat everything. Hope this helps some people.
We are picking up our first (ever)meat chickens on this Thursday… I pre-purchased the food today so we could focus on only transferring the chickens to the brooder. I just read NOT to get the medicated feed, however when I purchased it today they didn’t ask and the bag says medicated on it. They didn’t really ask. Should I return it?
It’s up to you. I don’t do medicated feed in the animals I’m eating because I don’t want extra antibiotics, and unless they’re sick, they don’t need antibiotics or medicine either. I personally always buy non-medicated feed. Congrats on your first batch of meat chickens!!
Medicated feed for poultry does NOT contain antibiotics. It is amprolium, which is an agent that prevents coccidiosis. This product prevents the bacteria from taking in nutrition but does not affect the birds or humans at all. It is nothing like antibiotics!!! If chicks get coccidiosis you can loose the entire batch within hours to a day. As the birds get older they build their own immunity but as babies they are sensitive to it and moreso if they’re not being raised by a mama hen. Amprolium won’t cause any harm to them or you. If you want to use organic that’s another story but don’t be afraid of medicated chick starter!
Also as a side note putting hormones in meat has been illegal in the USA from the 1960s. There is all kinds of stuff wrong with our meat production in this country but hormones just isn’t one. Just to clarify. Other stuff yes and mistreatment certainly… great job to all of you raising your own, whatever way you find that works best for you
Thank you….I’m almost ready to butcher
Thanks for your input, it was very helpful
Just found your website, and very interested in learning more about raising chickens and also growing organic vegetables.
In regards to chickens, I know that purely organic feed is of utmost importance, but is it ok to feed meat chickens organic,
non-GMO corn and soy? If not, what is the healthiest diet to feed chickens to make them optimal for us to eat?
Hi Paulette, you want to make sure that your meat chickens are getting a high enough protein diet, they need 23% protein the first 3 weeks and then 20% protein after that. If you purchase a meat chicken feed specifically it will be formulated for you. I buy an organic meat chicken blend, but you can add in meal worms for additional protein if needed, along with fresh greens. I supplement with fresh greens, but the protein is important to growth and development.
Great post! Thanks! Lots of great information! I’m wondering, though…if the chickens have to be butchered by 8-10 weeks, how do they propagate them? Dont they have to let at least a few of em grow to laying(and covering) age to get the fertilized eggs? I’ve been raising and letting my broody propagate my own back yard flock of layers for 4 years now, and we’re about to move to some much bigger property where I hope to start raising meat birds in addition to my layers. I dont want to have to buy chicks every time…not only to save money, but also if I can hatch my own, I know even more about where they came from and exactly what I’m eating. Any ideas on how to do this with meat birds? I dont want to deal with a bunch of broken legs and heart attacks along the way to replenishing our own flock(s). Thanks!
They’re a hybrid, so they’re breeding a different rooster and hen together (not breeding straight pairs of cornish cross) So you’d need two different breeds in order to do so at home.
Been raising meats for years cornishx raised red ranges 1 year not as meaty and a little tougher although we may give them another try. I built a Wizbang chicken plucked makes butcher day much faster we did over 60 last year in about 6 hours. One thing some dont think about is ice water to cool carcasses before package and freezer.
arthur J perrea
I raise 100 last year and at 2 months and 1 day they dress out between 8 and 9 lbs they were fed broiler grower and free range .tomorrow going to butcher 100 more they are 1 month 19 days old as last years were too big for 2 of us
And don’t name them! ♀️
VIETORY SIZAKELE KHOMALO
Where can i buy, and the cost price of 25 hicks