Interesting fact about us: we do not love chickens. I know they’re all the rage right now, but honestly, we just don’t get the appeal. Chickens are…kind of gross. And it’s very difficult (if not impossible? but please correct me if I’m wrong!), to spend less money feeding and keeping layers than you can make selling eggs. Anyway, all that to say, raising meat chickens was another story! They’re still kind of gross and only cute for the first week or two, but we felt like the reward of this project was well worth it. Here are a few things we learned during our first year raising meat chickens!
3 Things to Know About Raising Meat Chickens
During our first year raising meat chickens, some of the most important lessons we learned were these:
- Choose the right breed
- Buy or build a safe, portable chicken tractor
- Think through your processing plan in advance
What breed of meat chickens is best?
While Cornish Cross are some of the most popular meat chickens, we chose to raise Freedom Rangers. Cornish Cross are popular mainly because they grow very quickly. They’re generally ready for processing by 6-8 weeks.
Freedom Rangers grow a bit slower, but tend to have a lot less health problems than Cornish Crosses. They’re great foragers (eating more nutrients, which in turn go to your plate!), and the risk of serious injury or death is much lower than with other breeds. Cornish Crosses commonly suffer from heart attacks and broken legs, which generally aren’t a problem with Freedom Rangers.
We raised our Freedom Rangers for 10-12 weeks. The roosters were ready at 10 weeks, while the hens needed a couple more weeks to grow. When packaged and ready for the freezer, most of them weighed about 5-6 lbs.
We purchased our birds through Freedom Ranger Hatchery.
What kind of chicken tractor is best for meat chickens?
The top qualities that we really appreciated in our chicken tractor are a sturdy base made with 2x4s, enough space for 25+ birds, ease of mobility, and a wide enough door for us to easily fit through.
We were fortunate to be able to find a great deal on a chicken tractor on Facebook Marketplace, but you could easily build one yourself, too!
We started out by keeping our birds in a large, metal trough inside the chicken tractor with a heat lamp. This kept them warm enough and protected from predators. When they started jumping onto the edges of the trough after a few weeks, we took it out and let them have the full space. At this point, we moved the tractor generally every two days.
Check out how the grass looks now on the spaces that were most-used by the chickens! They are seriously amazing at fertilizing! Moving them often also allowed them to have clean ground and to get plenty of extra nutrition from foraging the new spaces.
How much space do meat chickens need?
2 square feet per bird is the recommended amount of space for keeping meat chickens.
Think about your processing plan in advance
If you plan to take your birds to a processor when you’re finished raising them, you’ll definitely want to get this on the calendar WAY in advance. A lot of processors are booked months out, and you don’t want to get stuck with a bunch of birds and no plan (or have to wait too long and watch your birds have heart attacks). In addition, make sure you know the current cost of processing, especially if you plan to sell any of your birds (like everything, it tends to increase!).
We processed our birds at home, so fortunately we didn’t have to plan too far in advance. Other than renting a plucker, we were able to do the rest with basic supplies.
As a side note, we TOTALLY recommend renting a plucker! It saved a ton of time! We’ve processed chickens with my parents before, and plucking them by hand always takes forever.
Supplies you’ll need to process your meat chickens at home:
Here’s what we used to process chickens in the backyard:
- Sharp knives. You’ll need knives for both killing and gutting.
- Kill cones. We found that kill cones worked well. They hold the chicken upside down while you cut the carotid artery.
- A large pot for boiling water.
- Propane burner – for heating the water
- Thermometer. You’ll want the water to be between 130* and 170* for dunking your chickens before plucking them. We scalded ours for 30-60 seconds. Too short, and they won’t pluck. Too long, and the skin will start to break.
- A tall table or surface. Make sure you have a surface tall enough that you can comfortably cut birds on it without bending over too much.
- Cutting boards.
- A large cooler. We kept our birds in a cooler filled with ice water until we were finished and ready to bag them all.
- Ice for the cooler.
- Large Ziplock bags or a vacuum sealer.
- A hose or two. You’ll need a water supply for rinsing birds and for your plucker, if you choose to rent one.
- Buckets or cardboard boxes. Keep a few buckets or boxes handy for throwing feathers and other discardable parts into.
What’s the cost per bird of raising meat chickens?
After everything was said and done, it cost us approximately $11.50 per bird to raise our 25 meat chickens. This included the cost of the chicks, feed, and processing at home. Each bird weighed approximately 5-6 pounds processed.
Here’s the breakdown of our cost:
- Chicks – $1.80 x 25 = $45
- Shavings – $7.50
- Broiler feed – $210
- Chicken plucker rental – $25
- Total cost – $11.50 per bird
The cost of having healthy chickens and knowing exactly what went into them was well worth it!
What questions do you have about raising meat birds?
Have you been wondering whether or not you should raise your own meat birds?
We loved our experience raising these birds and look forward to doing it next year and learning more!
What questions have been holding you back from raising your own meat birds at home?