Learn how to slash your grocery budget and bring more sustainability to your homestead by raising backyard meat chickens. In this post I'm sharing everything you need to know from chick to butchering day.
The easiest way to eliminate your meat bill from the grocery store is to start raising meat that has the lowest cost of getting started.
Raising backyard chickens for meat provides you with hormone and chemical-free meat. It's also an excellent way to decrease your reliance on the grocery store.
If you have the space to raise more than your family will need in a year, you can also begin providing a great community-based mindset of helping others become less reliant on the food systems. Canning Chicken with this safe and easy method requires zero cooking ahead of time and is great for weeknight dinners.
This post is sponsored in part by Premier 1 Supplies. All information and opinions are my own.
What You Need to Raise Meat Birds?
You don't need anything too fancy in order to raise meat birds. We use something as simple as a chicken tractor that's tented with a tarp.
The chicken tractor is moveable which means our chickens can free-range and peck for bugs around our property.
If you have the space, free-ranging your meat chickens is a great option because you'll be reducing your feed bill. If predators are a concern, you may want to consider electric fence netting.
Which Chicken Breed is Best for Meat?
We prefer to get Cornish Cross meat chickens because at full butchering weight (after 8 weeks) they average 5-6 pounds each.
This means you're getting a great source of protein to feed your family, but you can also put your meat birds to work!
They are phenomenal when allowed into a fall garden to do your “cleanup”. As they eat away any remaining produce, they'll leave behind their droppings which will break down over the winter and fertilize next year's garden.
Caring for Meat Chickens
If you're raising your meat birds in a portable chicken tractor, you'll want to move the tractor once a day.
This can be extremely beneficial for the homesteader, as mentioned above by reducing the fly population, but it is also great for the home gardener. Chicken poop is extremely high in nitrogen which is great for crop growth.
If used in large amounts, chicken poop cannot be “hot” or fresh when applied to plants as it will actually burn the roots of the plants.
But in small increments or while the meat chickens are free-ranging in a pasture, this small amount is extremely beneficial both for the garden and pasture.
We have 44 meat chickens and they all start out (after the brooder) in one chicken tractor that's partially covered with a tarp. This allows them to be out of the elements or getting sunshine as needed.
When the chickens get a little larger, we will divide them in half into two chicken tractors so they have adequate space to move around.
Before purchasing meat chicks, it's important to have their space planned out ahead of time. I have an entire blog post dedicated to teaching how to care for meat chicks from the time you bring them home for the first six weeks, so check that post out as well.
But meat birds are a great choice if you don't have much land. Although using a mobile chicken tractor and moving the birds each day will reduce your feed bill because they'll be able to peck and scratch for bugs, it's not mandatory.
If you happen to have cattle and are using rotational grazing practices as was recommended by Joel Salatin in this podcast, then it's great to allow your birds to follow in the rotation of the cows because they'll eat any fly larvae leftover, drastically reducing a fly issue.
We also like to let them peck, scratch and poop around the perimeter of our garden to help eliminate pest problems as well as allow the rain to wash their manure down into our garden soil.
Each bird will require approximately 2 square feet per bird. This can be less when they're small, but as they reach full size this is the average amount per bird when raising healthy chickens.
You want to make sure, especially with meat birds, that they have ample protein. Because they're growing so fast, this is a must. We feed them a meat bird formulation of chicken feed to ensure they're getting adequate growth.
It's also important to keep their water topped off at all times.
With your meat birds, you'll want to be sure to remove their food at night. The benefit of using a breed like Cornish Cross is that they grow very rapidly, but they also don't like to stop eating.
If you don't remove their food they'll eat around the clock and gain weight too fast causing issues.
Where to Buy Meat Chicks
For multiple years now we have purchased our meat chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery. They have the best viability and we haven't had nearly the number of deaths as we had when using other hatcheries.
We also like to get all of our meat chicken supplies (such as heat plates, feeders, waterers, etc.) from Premier 1 Supplies.
How Long Do You Raise Meat Chickens?
If you're raising male meat birds it only takes eight weeks from chick to harvest.
For female meat birds, they take ten weeks to get to full processing weight.
Whether male or female, eight to ten weeks is a pretty fast turnaround and will require much less overhead feed cost compared to raising pigs or beef cattle.
You don't want to push the meat birds much beyond this 8-10 week mark (depending on the gender of the bird), if you go much beyond a week from this time period, you risk losing birds due to stress or other issues.
So, having your butchering process figured out ahead of time is important.
Butchering Meat Chickens
When it comes to the butchering process, this is something you'll want to consider before bringing your birds home.
For the most cost savings, it's ideal to be able to butcher the chickens yourself. I have an entire tutorial on how to butcher meat chickens at home. That post goes into all the details.
There are also options for mobile butchering operations that will come to you and butcher all your chickens, then take them back to the butcher shop for processing.
Some mobile butchering operations actually bring all the equipment needed for processing with them and will butcher, process, and wrap your birds onsite. They usually have a per-bird fee for this service.
You can also look into renting butchering equipment if you happen to a place close by that offers that.
We're still building up our butchering supplies, so what I love to do is ask neighbors or other homesteaders that I know are also raising their own meat chickens, they're usually happy to share or barter the use of their equipment.
We recently did this by loaning out our wood splitter in return for a chicken plucker from a neighbor of ours. This is one more way we're building community sufficiency vs. self-sufficiency.
If you're not quite ready to jump into raising your own meat chickens, you can often find local farmers to you who are raising meat birds for sale to locals.
There is a high demand for this since grocery store supply chains have been interrupted in the past couple of years. It's my strong encouragement to establish these relationships now and not wait until you're out of meat completely before stocking your freezers for the year.
Related Articles You May Enjoy
- Planning Your Livestock for a Year's Worth of Meat (Per Person)
- 10 Tips on Raising Chickens for Meat
- Raising Chickens for Profit
- Decoding mRNA in Meat
- Raising Backyard Chickens (Egg-Laying Hens)
- Breeding Chickens Naturally: Selective Breeding for Eggs & Chicks
- Raising Baby Chicks – Beginners Guide for the First 6 Weeks
- Integrating New Chicks to Existing Flocks Q&A Chicken Raising
- How to Butcher a Chicken at Home
- Raising American Guinea Hogs
- American Guinea Hogs – Were They Worth It?
- 12 Tips on How to Raise Pigs for Meat
- A Guide to Raising Goats
- Raising Sheep for Fiber & Naturally Dyeing Wool
- Everything You Need to Know About Raising Rabbits for Meat