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By December 4, 2012 Read More →

Consider Raising Meat Chickens

All photos by Stephanie Dayle ©2013

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:

All photos by Stephanie Dayle ©2013

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.

Cost:

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:

All photos by Stephanie Dayle ©2013

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.

All photos by Stephanie Dayle ©2013



About the Author:

Stephanie is a writer for the American Preppers Network, a small local paper and for her blog, The Home Front. She is also the credited writer of "Emergency Bag Essentials (Swatchbook): Everything You Need to Bug Out" to be released in August 2014. "I write articles based on my own experience about emergency preparedness, self-sufficiency, homesteading, food preservation and life around the farmstead. I grew up in a very rural area where I learned to garden, the art of canning, to hunt and fish, and to raise my own animals for food. Yes, families such as mine still do exist! I also spent 6 years volunteering for the local county Search and Rescue group where I learned a variety of survival skills and a little bit about law enforcement protocol. " "As a general rule of principle do not write articles about information that I have only read - if I am writing about something it's because of I have done it myself and gone to great lengths to provide you with the facts. I also have a full time job with an hour commute - my alter egos are as a Marketing Director, and an amateur photographer. " To connect with me --> click on one of the many little square social media buttons below!

22 Comments on "Consider Raising Meat Chickens"

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  1. Cathy P says:

    We started with hens for eggs 3 years ago. Last year we raised 12 chickens for meat as a “learning experience”. The meat is so much better than what you buy in the grocery store! We did 25 meat birds this year. Between canning some meat and freezing the rest prepackaged for specific meals, we will have enough chicken meat for the entire year

  2. John Fowler says:

    Planning on turning a small storage shed into a chicken coup. Going to raise dual use chickens. Probably Golden Reds for eggs and meat!

  3. I’m inside city limits and can have 3 hens no roosters. But think I can raise a few without getting cought(anachist that I am) to use for meat.

  4. Joey Alvarez says:

    Working on my chicken coop myself…also planning for any food shortage one day… Built my water well. Stacks of wood for boiling water and barbecuing. Just finished my fence . Planning on raising goats and a few cows.lots of work!!!! But, i enjoy it!

  5. Pete Shoults says:

    I can butcher a chicken so fast I am separating giblets while the muscles are still twitching.

  6. We are going to, as soon as we get moved. :) Excited.

  7. Is there a way to print your pages so that I can keep the info, but NOT all the advertisements?

    • Cheryl – towards the bottom of the article you can click on the “share” button and there will be a print option. This will give you a nice looking organized printed page but the ads will still be there, although I think it looks better than just hitting “file print”. Perhaps someone from APN Admin can offer another suggestion?  

  8. When we move we’re going to start with rabbits.

  9. Terry Wilson says:

    Wish we could, but for now, we’re just hoping the city council will let us get some layers.

  10. Bruce Petty says:

    Stephanie pretty much on point. But from a prepper perspective dual purpose birds would be better because the meat birds cannot reproduce. That said last year I raised 20 Cornish hens and in seven weeks I had 17 birds that dressed out between 4.5lb -5lb. I have two large freezers so I froze them and during the winter I will pressure can the meat to insure long life.

    • Good point Bruce, there was an article or two on that subject done earlier this year on APN so I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes by going over it again here – but I have another chicken article in the works that will explain how I personally resolve that issue.

      Who knows? Maybe it will help someone else out there. So much of chickens & prepping depends on your situation, what your can afford to do, and where you live that one solution doesn’t fit all needs. I have seen some pretty creative chicken set ups though!

  11. Shane Tharp says:

    We also raise them for meat. Go online and look up chicken plucker. It is a really handy item to build.

  12. This is a great article however here are a couple other tips. The chicken blood can be placed around the garden to ward off deer, they dont like the smell of blood. I raise White Leg horn’s as they are a bigger bird and you get more meat. You do not need a rooster to get eggs however if you have a few good layers then throw a rooster in and train one hen to set. She will need a periodic visit from the rooster before she sets on anther batch of eggs, or you can buy an incubator, no power then back to the setting hen.

  13. One other tip, I dont pluck the chickens I just skin them like you would a rabbit takes less time and for me its just easier.

    • You are right about that Kevin. It even is a little more health to ditch the skin. However if you like to have some birds to rotisserie or BBQ in the summer keeping the skin on is essential to those cooking methods. Also I like the flavor and fat that it adds to chicken stock. We do both, we will set aside 7-8 nice sized roosters and pluck those – the ones we can, or save for baking we just skin. SAVES alot of time and resources that way. Thanks for letting everyone know! 

  14. Brian Heppner says:

    I was going to make a small pen out of an old swing set a frame. Could I leave them in that set up all the time?  I was going to move it around each day.  What do you recommend for feed?  Non GMO feed runs the cost up considerably?  Thoughts?

    • Hi Brain,

      That sounds like a great idea for a pen. I have seen a few done online that way – and the people seem real happy with them. Great way to reuse the kid’s old swing set.  As far as feed………..

      It’s just going to depend on what’s available in YOUR area. And its kind of a tricky subject anyways as some crops, like wheat, are not GMO (there really is technically NO ‘GMO’ wheat seed on the market) but it is so hybridized and tinkered with by un-natural means that it should be classified as GMO, in my never humble opinion. So, you could get “non-GMO” feed that still has modern hybridized wheat in it.  It’s the same for several other crops.  When I researched the issue and discovered that – I decided that I would just stick feed that is ‘organic’ and natural.  That way at least I am avoiding all the chemicals.  

      But if you are determined to go strictly non-GMO start talking to the feed and farm stores in your area and ask them if they have anything non-GMO and price out all their other stuff just incase.  If they don’t have any, likely someone will know where you can get some.  I am a little bit spoiled as there are several livestock food mills very close to where I live.  If all else fails you can try mixing your own feed.  I have seen lots of folks go that route – it just takes a little bit more planing and research. If there is a mill in your area – you may be able to take your grain to them and they will mill it, and mix it for you.  Again thats easy for me because I live in a farm community where that is a common practice  – not just for poultry feed but for cattle feed too. But your best bet is to start asking around. Good Luck!   

  15. Howdy and thank you for all the great reads!
    we raise and breed chickens for eggs, meat, show, and sale. Throughout all the years of butchering our own home grown meat, we had never canned any of our chicken. We are going to start but need some insight on canning meat , the process and the longevity of stored chicken meat. This March we hatched out 40 chicks and 2/3s of them are male. We keep the best males for breeding pens and either eat or sell the fryers at the local farmers market. This year we can and prep.
    We would sure appreciate your input or anyone else who has done this and have special recipes to make the canned chicken a better meal. Thank you so much for your time! Chet and Berta Hupp, Duncan, Arizona



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