I would like to take a stab at convincing anyone who is able, to raise meat chickens. Not so much for the sake of prepping, but for the sake of self-reliance, although, you can never go wrong learning to raise your own food as an emergency preparedness skill.
If you are a meat eater, like me, raising meat chickens reconnects you to your food supply and increases your level of self-reliance. It makes you fully realize the work, the love, and the effort that goes into your food. I understand a lot of you live in the city and can only have a limited number of chickens, if any at all, so I respect your decision to keep only laying hens if you can. But, if you do live where it is allowed and you have the space please consider giving it a try.
All things are connected and you can fully appreciate it, when you see it, do it, and smell it first-hand. Raising one batch of your own meat chickens will make you think twice about reaching for that hormone enriched wrapped chicken meat on the shelf. Not because you feel sorry for it, but because for the first time you truly know that your chicken tastes like real chicken, and you may begin to wonder why that chicken on the shelf does not. You may start to compare the life your chickens lived to those of commercially raised ones. My meat chickens live a pampered happy life; and are not ‘easy’ to care for. When asked by my friend, “How can you work so hard for something you are just going to kill in the end?” My answer is, “I live in service to my animals as they will die in service to me.”
How to Begin:
Start with a small group of meat chickens – don’t worry about ordering anything fancy. When your local feed store gets some Cornish cross chicks in go get a handful of those, if you want five chickens to put in your freezer get six or seven of them because a chick or two may die despite your best efforts that’s just the way it goes. If they all live, you can sell extras at market price to your friends or family and recover some of your costs. Cornish cross chicks are one of the most popular breeds to get for meat chickens, and are widely available and inexpensive. Try to keep costs under $10 per bird (that includes the chicks, shipping, AND feed). The cost of the chick matters; think of this not as a hobby, but to provide for yourself on a very limited budget.
There is so much negative information on the internet on this type of chicken that I often see first time meat chicken buyers skip over them. The truth is, they are probably the easiest to raise. Most of the problems with this type of chicken (technically it is a hybrid not a real breed) are caused by people waiting too long to butcher them and/or over feeding them. An easy way to avoid overfeeding them is after they are several weeks old, to give them food during the day and remove it at night. When to butcher them is purely up to you. So if you can avoid those two pitfalls you should do really well with them.
Cornish cross birds grow fast, so they cost less to feed them – most Cornish cross birds are ready for butchering at around 8 weeks, if you have raised them correctly. This is usually a good couple weeks before other meat breeds are ready, and a month or two earlier (if not more) than most “dual purpose” breed birds. This is why they eat all the time, and this is also why they are usually more cost-effective to raise. If you wait longer to butcher you will get a bigger bird, but then you will have to deal with the problems people write about on the internet. After you’ve raised a batch and decided that you can handle the process – then explore other breeds.
There is very little that you will need to purchase for your birds besides plenty of food, a heat light and maybe some bedding. You can make feeders and waterers from repurposed materials - to see an article on that click here. You can keep your chicks in old stock tanks, or kiddie pools, and you can make a makeshift chicken pen or chicken tractor fairly cheaply. However, in my honest opinion, free ranging these birds is over rated – these chickens are bred to grow fast off of store-bought food, not grass and bugs. It seems to me free ranging Cornish X birds make the owners far more happy than the chickens. When I turn mine out they never seem that interested in scratching or hunting for bugs like my layer hens and they usually follow me around in hopes I will give them food from the sack, it’s not going to hurt them or make them “less healthy” to keep them in their pen. Just make sure their food is of good quality and that they always have lots of clean fresh water.
Many different Uses:
When I butcher the birds I do so quickly to minimize stress. I use a block, or a cone and I don’t make the others watch. You can catch the blood in a bucket and add it to your garden. You can save all the random parts, if not for you (I so love chicken hearts, livers, and gizzards – even the feet are eatable) then for your dog or cat’s food. Their manure is scraped from the pen and composted, then later added back into the garden which will produce some of the garden scraps I will feed to the chickens next year.
When you cook one of your birds, you turn the carcass into chicken broth that will make lovely homemade soups. The only thing left of them will be a pile of bones which you can dry in your oven or BBQ and turn into bone meal – that can also go back in the garden. Hardly anything is wasted with each part of the process supporting something else.
Raising your own food teaches children AND adults many lessons, some that would be invaluable during a long-term emergency. It teaches you nothing ever works right the first try and it teaches you humility and how to adapt. It teaches you responsibility and the true value of a meal. It also teaches you compassion and to be thankful for even little things, and that even the most trusted dog can benefit from a good fence. Meat chickens are time-consuming and just like anything else, nothing is free, and good things come with hard work. My Hubby and I work full-time jobs and we are still able to raise a small batch of 25 and get them butchered, so maybe you can too. This winter, start thinking about what you may need to accommodate a small batch of meat chickens in the spring. Acquire and make things slowly so you get best prices on materials, then, when February comes around and you hear that familiar peeping sound in your local feed and farm supply stores, you’ll be ready.