Should You raise Meat Birds?

If you're interested in raising chickens for meat, not eggs, you'll need to do things a little bit differently. There are some additional steps to consider as well -- for one, slaughtering, processing or butchering the birds when they are fully grown to market size. Chickens raised for meat are commonly called "meat birds" and are usually a different breed from laying hens.

This is the critical first step, before you actually get the chicks. Consider whether you really want to raise meat birds. They're very different from laying hens. You'll have a lot (usually 50 or more, although you could just raise a few) of fast-growing birds, which means a lot of poop. And the biggest question to answer: can you handle saying goodbye in six to eight short weeks? Whether you slaughter them on-farm or take them to be processed, if you're a new farmer, you will need to face this reality, or be a vegetarian farmer. It's up to you - but it's cruel to meat birds to let them live longer than a few months as they are heavy-breasted and can die of heart failure if they grow too big.

If you decide you want to raise pastured poultry, whether for eggs or meat, you'll need to provide your chickens with fresh grass, bugs, weeds and such to eat. How? By making sure they always have a new patch of grass to munch.

When I first started raising chickens, I didn't understand the different options. What was electric fencing for? How often would I have to move it? Did they need a chicken tractor too? Could they be raised in just a chicken tractor with no outside pasture? I found the answers and want to share them with you as you venture into the world of keeping chickens.

How to Choose a Meat Bird Breed

Meat birds are truly a breed apart from laying hens. Although a hundred years ago, laying hens were truly dual-purpose, meaning most people kept a flock of hens and roosters and killed older birds as needed for meat, older chickens tend to be tough and stringy, better for stew or soup than a roast chicken like we eat today.

Cornish Rocks, which are a cross between a Cornish and a White Rock, are the typical meat bird breed, used in factory farms all over the US and on many small family farm operations as well (both pastured and conventional). They are extremely efficient converters of feed to muscle. However, other breeds more suited to pasture are also becoming available.

You will need a coop for your chickens, just like for your laying hens. Coops for meat birds are often larger so that you can raise 50, 100, or more birds at a time. Many people raise meat birds just during the summer season, so they can often be more temporary shelters like hoop houses or tarps. You will need to make sure your birds have protection from rain and wind. They don't need roosts because meat birds don't really like to roost. If you're pasturing your chickens, you will want to have something movable or use a day ranging method (see below).

Raising Meat Birds on Pasture

You can keep your chickens in a coop with just a small run attached, but I love raising my meat birds on pasture. The meat is higher in omega-3s, and the birds are just happier in my opinion. I love raising the Freedom Rangers and watching them forage for bugs and chomp on grass every single day. I will even let my birds run out of feed for a little bit so that they have a day when they are highly motivated to forage.

Backyard Chickens – The 5 Best Breeds For Meat Chickens

Choosing A Meat Chicken

With the growing popularity of raising backyard chickens comes an increasing interest in raising meat chickens.  Dual-purpose chickens, those yielding both eggs and meat, are the most popular. But many backyard chicken farmers are turning to meat chickens for their better flavor.

Just like with egg layers, a different result comes with each breed so, choosing one depends on what you’re looking to achieve.

This is a review of what I consider the 5 best chicken breeds to raise for meat.

Broilers

Broilers are chickens raised specifically for meat. They grow much faster than egg laying hens or dual purpose breeds. Most broilers have a fast growth rate with a high feed conversion ratio and low activity levels. In five weeks, broilers can reach a dressed weight of 4-5 pounds. Dual-purpose breeds, usually raised for both meat and egg production, are smaller with a slower growth rate.

Cornish Cross – The Cornish Cross is an excellent, fast growing broiler. Harvest time for a 4 pound broiler is normally 7 to 8 weeks. Their body make-up is superb, with broad breasts, large legs and thighs and a rich yellow skin.

Jersey Giant – Originating in the United States, this bird was developed to replace the turkey. A purebred chicken, the Giant’s weight averages 11-13 pounds. Jersey Giants grow at a slower rate than other meat birds, about 6 months to full maturity, making them undesirable to commercial industry. While originally a meat chicken, today, the Giant is prized as a dual-purpose bird, laying extra-large brown eggs.

Heritage / Heirloom

When describing Heritage chickens, the words heirloom, old-fashion and antique come to mind. The American Poultry Association began defining these breeds in 1873; setting standards for birds as being well adapted to various climates, hardy and long-lived and reproducing at a rate to provide a protein source to the growing nation.  As chicken breeding became industrialized, these breeds were replaced by fast growing hybrids. Today, more than three dozen chicken breeds are listed as in danger of extinction. To avoid irrevocable loss caused by the extinction of a breed, The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy sets standards for marketing these as Heritage.

I love Heritage breeds preferring them to the newer, fast growing breeds. They are large meaty chickens and many also produce a nice amount of eggs. I usually buy my Heritage breeds on line since they are harder to find locally than what more popular breeds are.

Below is a listing of the breeds which qualify as Heritage:

Campine, Chantecler, Crevecoeur, Holland, Modern Game, Nankin, Redcap, Russian Orloff, Spanish, Sultan, Sumatra, Yokohama, Andalusian, Buckeye, Buttercup, Cubalaya, Delaware, Dorking, Faverolles, Java, Lakenvelder, Langshan, Malay, Phoenix, Ancona, Aseel, Brahma, Catalana, Cochin, Cornish , Dominique , Hamburg, Houdan, Jersey Giant , La Fleche, Minorca, New Hampshire , Old English Game, Polish, Rhode Island White, Sebright , Shamo, Australorp, Leghorn- Non-industrial, Orpington, Plymouth Rock , Rhode Island Red – Non industrial , Sussex, Wyandotte , Araucana, Iowa Blue, Lamona, Manx Rumpy (Persian Rumpless), Naked Neck (Turken).

My preferred Heritage breeds:

Delaware – A heavy bodied bird, the male can weigh up to 8.5 pounds and a female, 6.5 pounds. Originating from the U.S., the Delaware is hardy in heat and cold and matures quickly. The meat is delicious and the hens lay jumbo eggs. Delawares have calm and friendly dispositions Dorking – This relatively calm bird is nonaggressive so it does well around children and small dogs. Another dual-purpose chicken, the Dorking is a superior table fowl with tender flesh and meaty breasts and wings. Dorkings are productive winter layers, providing a steady egg supply when other breeds are not laying. Good broody hens and excellent mothers, they stay with their chicks much longer than other breeds.

Buckeye – This is the only American breed exclusively created by a woman; developed by Mrs. Nettie Metcalf of Warren, Ohio. This dual-purpose breed is very cold weather hardy and adapts to various living conditions. However, because they are very active, they do not do well in confined spaces, adapting best to free-range. Hens lay medium-sized brown eggs and weigh an average of 6.5 pounds; roosters average 9 pounds.

References of this article provided by: Nancy The back yard chicken farmer

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