Are you one of those that don’t like to rely on the grocery store for your chicken meat? Maybe you want to be more self sufficient when it comes to your chicken consumption? I will show you how we raise chickens for meat!
We raise chickens for meat every year for our family needs. This means we don’t have to rely on the grocery store for chicken. We know what kind of life our chickens had and what they ate. Also, we know how they were butchered.
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Heritage vs Hybrid
A heritage breed chicken is one that farmers used in the old days. They are usually a dual purpose bird, meaning you can get eggs and meat from them. Unfortunately, heritage breeds are not usually huge birds. These types of chickens also take longer to get to butcher age (usually 12-20 weeks).
A hybrid breed chicken is one that has been bred over the years to be much larger. These are usually used by modern day chicken farms and are what you see in stores. Unfortunately, most of these birds have lost some of the original traits/characteristics from their ancestors such as the ability to naturally breed, become broody/hatch eggs, adapt to cold/heat, etc. These are the fastest to get to butcher age (6-10 weeks).
Which one to raise is completely up to you.
We chose heritage breeds of chickens so we can hatch our own future chickens rather than order new a new batch of them every year.
Breed of Chickens
Which breed of chickens to go with depends on Heritage or Hybrid.
For the heritage types of chickens, there are so many different breeds to choose from. There are different sizes, color of eggs, size of eggs, adaptability to cold vs heat, etc.
For the hybrid types of chickens, your options become very limited.
There are many hatcheries you can search through to see which options would best suit your family.
We have a mixed flock of heritage chickens we raise that include:
- Rhode Island Red
- Barred Rock
- Black Star
- Bantam (small breed)
- and some that we don’t even know what breed they are
How Many Chickens to Raise For Meat Each Year
How many chickens to raise for meat depends on:
- Family size
- How much chicken your family eats in a year
- Space to raise chickens
- Local laws/rules/HOAs
We are a family of 5 right now who eats chicken 1-2 times per month, and has over 1 acre of room for chickens. Given this information, I can calculate that we would need 12-24 chickens per year for our meat consumption. I would go towards the higher end of those numbers to account for company staying for dinner, or extra chicken recipes you make through out the year.
Starting with Chicks
We started out by buying chicks from a local feed store a couple years back, and have been hatching our own chickens since then. When hatching chicks, you never know how many males vs females will hatch. People will say it is usually 50/50, and depending on the batch, that is around what we find to be true (give or take a few either way).
Our females will be raised for egg laying and/or to sell to those looking for females.
Our males will be raised to sell, to keep as breeding stock, and/or (mostly) for meat chickens.
Being that we raise heritage breed chickens, it does take a bit longer for our chickens to reach butcher weight. We like to butcher after week 20 if possible, just to give them to needed time.
Before you buy feed for these birds, you need to decide right now if you are wanting to raise them organic or not organic. The organic feed is usually a higher quality but is much higher in cost than traditional chicken feed.
For the chicks, we use chick start as their food. This is a very small crumble so it is easy for them to eat and digest. I use chick starter feed until they are around 6 weeks old.
With the chick start, there is organic and non-medicated, traditional and non-medicated, or traditional and medicated. This decision is also up to your personal preferences.
After they hit 6 weeks old, we move them onto “big chicken” feed. For us, this consists of kitchen/garden/yard scraps/plants/weeds, chicken scratch, and meat bird feed. The corn on the scratch will help the roosters put on some extra weight. They eat this combination of food until butcher day.
Some people also ferment their feed, which means they soak it for a couple days prior to feeding the chickens. I have yet to do this but it is on my list to try.
Usually, if you raise more than 1 rooster (male chicken) with hens (female chickens), the roosters will fight, which could end in deaths.
Once we are able to sex our chickens, we separate the hens and roosters. We have a giant pen we call the “Bachelor Pad” where we keep only roosters. Since there are no hens in there, the fighting is at a minimum.
These roosters will require at least 5 sq. feet of space per bird. This is the bare minimum. I always like to give lots of extra space if I can! 15-25 sq. feet per bird is the most humane spacing people give to make sure they live a happy and healthy life.
They will also require a roosting area because they like to sleep on a roost.
Roosters will not need nesting boxes (obviously) because they don’t lay eggs.
Once the chickens reach butcher weight, it is “freezer camp” time! That is a whole other process to be explained later.