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Raising chickens for meat

There are many reasons to consider raising chickens for meat. The fact that they are small means that they are very easy to butcher, with no specialty equipment required. Even on a small property, you can raise a few chickens, and even better, you can either butcher them all at once, or just do a few at a time as you need them, which is far more flexible than larger animals like beef cattle, which can fill several freezers in one go.

eight acres: raising chickens for meat
one of our cross-bred roosters nearly ready for butchering
 
If you do decide to raise chickens for meat, you have the option of buying “meat chickens”, or simply butchering chickens from your flock. For the second option, it is better if you can keep a dual purpose breed, so that you have larger hens that also lay well. While culling the old hens will provide you with a few meals, the meat can be a little tough. Ideally you would hatch and raise chicks from your flock and cull the roosters at 4-6 months old. Of course this assumes that you can keep roosters.

 I think this is where specific “meat chickens” can be useful. These chickens are bred to grow very quickly and you will cull them before they start to crow, so you can keep them even if you’re in an area that doesn’t allow roosters. Personally, I find them a little creepy, here's a great summary about raising meat chickens. The fact that they physically can’t survive past 3-4 months old makes me uncomfortable, so while we can keep roosters I would prefer the second option.

I also like to know that we are self-sufficient for chickens. We do occasionally buy a few pullets or roosters to add genetics to our flock, but currently three quarters of our hens were hatched in our incubator from our own eggs. If you choose to raise meat chickens you are tied to buying chicks from the meat chicken industry. To me that means tacitly supporting an industry that keeps thousands of barely mobile chickens in barns with no access to the outside world.

eight acres: raising chickens for meat
a rooster with some of our hens in the background, all hatched by us

I haven’t personally compared the meat from “meat chickens” to our cross-bred random roosters. I do know that the meat from our roosters is tastier and darker because the birds free range and are very active. Meat chickens are bred to produce large breasts and are by nature relatively inactive. I have read that while meat from free ranging meat chickens is tastier than meat from confined animal feeding operations (CAFO), it is not as tasty as meat from heritage breed chickens.

Meat chickens are bred to convert food to meat as quickly as possible, and as such, they are ready to harvest earlier and will not cost as much to feed over their lifetime as a heritage breed chicken. However, I consider that while our heritage roosters eat more in their 6 month life, they also provide us with other “services” including lawn mowing, pest control, fertilising eggs, distributing manure over the paddock and generally providing hilarious entertainment as they chase and dance in an attempt to attract the hens.
eight acres: raising chickens for meat
a couple of our hens

There are perfectly good reasons to keep meat chickens, so if that’s what you want to do, go for it! But I hope I also made the case to incorporate chicken meat in your overall chicken strategy and become self-sufficient for chickens in the process if you are lucky enough to be in a position to keep roosters.

What do you think?  Do you raise chickens for meat?  Have you raised "meat chickens"?  How do they compare?



By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at} gmail.com.




What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.


Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor


Comments

  1. Yes, the meat chickens thing makes me feel uncomfortable too, and I think about it every time I buy free range chicken from the shops. I much prefer to keep a flock of cross bred animals, eat the roosters that we don't need and the hens as they get old :)

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  2. Chickens for the table is something we have on the list for next year, I will be looking for all round birds, I had thought about buying in fertilised eggs and incubating them, also I will compare buying in chicks and raising them havent made any desicions about breeds yet.

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  3. Having done both the meat is the tastiest from heritage breeds but meat chickens are still way tastier than supermarket chickens. The meat chickens are kind of creepy but when allowed access to the outdoors and grass they are less creepy than the ones in CAFO's.

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  4. I love that you are so concerned about animal welfare! We just keep layers, and probably always will do only that, because I don't either I or my husband could handle the butchering. But what you are doing is the right thing. I hate the fact that meat birds are bred to grow so quickly and so large that their legs and heart can't even support their bodies. I'm pinning this.

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  5. We processed ours a couple of months ago - this was our first attempt and went pretty well. The first bird took us about 40 minutes to pluck and inviscerate, but we had it down to about 15 minutes by the 5th bird. We made up a killing cone, and that worked really well. Our birds were a bit older, all a bit over 12 months, and I found that they are a bit tough, so I need to use a slow cooker or pressure cooker. We were given 24 light sussex eggs recently, which I used the incubator to hatch, and we ended up with 18 out of the hatch, which has been our best success so far. We are planning on processing the roosters at about 6 months, so I will be interested to see how that goes. A couple of years ago I could never have imagined being able to process our own birds, but we have definitely become tougher since being on the farm!

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  6. We do both. Because we already have the infrastructure for our egg layers, adding in some meat birds was easy. We order 15-20 each spring and raise them along with the rest of the flock. treat them like chickens (free range, coop roosting at night, keep with heritage birds, etc) and they act like chickens. While the tend to waddle a little more towards then end we have lost very few and it fills the freezer quickly.

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Thanks, I appreciate all your comments, suggestions and questions, but I don't always get time to reply right away. If you need me to reply personally to a question, please leave your email address in the comment or in your profile, or email me directly on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com

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