Raising chickens for meat

Oct 27 2014 0 Comments Tags: butcher, chickens

There are many reasons to consider raising chickens for meat. The fact that they are small means that they are very easy to butcher, with no specialty equipment required. Even on a small property, you can raise a few chickens, and even better, you can either butcher them all at once, or just do a few at a time as you need them, which is far more flexible than larger animals like beef cattle, which can fill several freezers in one go.
eight acres: raising chickens for meat
one of our cross-bred roosters nearly ready for butchering
 
If you do decide to raise chickens for meat, you have the option of buying “meat chickens”, or simply butchering chickens from your flock. For the second option, it is better if you can keep a dual purpose breed, so that you have larger hens that also lay well. While culling the old hens will provide you with a few meals, the meat can be a little tough. Ideally you would hatch and raise chicks from your flock and cull the roosters at 4-6 months old. Of course this assumes that you can keep roosters.
 I think this is where specific “meat chickens” can be useful. These chickens are bred to grow very quickly and you will cull them before they start to crow, so you can keep them even if you’re in an area that doesn’t allow roosters. Personally, I find them a little creepy, here's a great summary about raising meat chickens. The fact that they physically can’t survive past 3-4 months old makes me uncomfortable, so while we can keep roosters I would prefer the second option.

I also like to know that we are self-sufficient for chickens. We do occasionally buy a few pullets or roosters to add genetics to our flock, but currently three quarters of our hens were hatched in our incubator from our own eggs. If you choose to raise meat chickens you are tied to buying chicks from the meat chicken industry. To me that means tacitly supporting an industry that keeps thousands of barely mobile chickens in barns with no access to the outside world.
eight acres: raising chickens for meat
a rooster with some of our hens in the background, all hatched by us

I haven’t personally compared the meat from “meat chickens” to our cross-bred random roosters. I do know that the meat from our roosters is tastier and darker because the birds free range and are very active. Meat chickens are bred to produce large breasts and are by nature relatively inactive. I have read that while meat from free ranging meat chickens is tastier than meat from confined animal feeding operations (CAFO), it is not as tasty as meat from heritage breed chickens.

Meat chickens are bred to convert food to meat as quickly as possible, and as such, they are ready to harvest earlier and will not cost as much to feed over their lifetime as a heritage breed chicken. However, I consider that while our heritage roosters eat more in their 6 month life, they also provide us with other “services” including lawn mowing, pest control, fertilising eggs, distributing manure over the paddock and generally providing hilarious entertainment as they chase and dance in an attempt to attract the hens.

eight acres: raising chickens for meat
a couple of our hens

There are perfectly good reasons to keep meat chickens, so if that’s what you want to do, go for it! But I hope I also made the case to incorporate chicken meat in your overall chicken strategy and become self-sufficient for chickens in the process if you are lucky enough to be in a position to keep roosters.
What do you think?  Do you raise chickens for meat?  Have you raised "meat chickens"?  How do they compare?
      

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