Alright, y’all let’s talk about how to raise meat chickens. And by meat chickens I mean those big round ugly white birds.
Learning how to raise broilers can be a fun experience… buttttt….. you better be prepared for what it is like….
They grow extremely fast, are very messy, and are not the nicest looking bird once they lose all their down. They are the pigs of the chicken species.
I was one of those 4Her’s who got their hands into every possible animal project her parents would let her do.
ppssttt Ex-4Her pro tip: Most counties have some kind of auction for the 4-H kids to sell their projects. If you are short on space and don’t want to be stuck with the project for a long period of time like beef cattle then a broiler project is your best route.
Know This Before We Get Into How To Raise Meat Chickens
Their speed of growth is out of this world.
The Cornish Rock Cross was developed to be ready for market extremely fast. Depending on what percentage of protein is in the feed that you use. They can be ready to butcher as early as 6 or 7 weeks old.
Now remember that likely you don’t have access to everything that the pros do and they are just that. Professional meat bird raisers.
So expect your birds to make it to butcher weight around 8 weeks instead.
If you have 5-10 birds they will only fit in tubs for maybe the first 5 to 6 days. After that, they will need something much larger like a kiddy pool.
One option that worked well for us is asking your local grocer for one of those cardboard bins that watermelons or pumpkins come in. Then after the birds are gone you can just drag the mess out to the burn pile and light it up.
Time Of Year Is Key To Raise Meat Birds Efficiently
This is something that will help save you feed. Think about the time of year and the weather that comes with it.
The broilers don’t get a whole lot of feathers. Some will even have bare undersides. If the temps are anything less than 75 degrees they are going to put energy into keeping warm.
They will be eating more feed and it will go straight to keeping warm. Not towards their growth.
So make sure that the average day and night time temps stay above 75 to keep them from getting cold. Or you will just be wasting your efforts.
You can add a heat lamp with a heat bulb on a timer like these linked below. If you are in a season of the year where the temps fluctuate drastically then make sure you can pay close attention to them. You don’t want to accidentally forget to turn the heat off and the temps reach 75-80 degrees.
Broiler Growing Tips
Here are some tips I have learned over the years that will help you with your birds growth.
Use the light to your advantage.
The more light your broilers are exposed to the more they will stay awake and eat.
So if you want to take your bird’s growth to the next level find a lamp you can turn on to extend the daylight hours for them up to 18hrs per day. Make sure that if the temperatures are over 80 degrees that you only use the light bulb you would use in your house NOT the heat lamp bulbs.
Broilers are very easily overheated so you don’t want to cook your chickens on accident. If they get to hot this will also slow down their food intake.
Make the meat firm not to fatty.
Now here is a tip that I learned while showing in 4h. The birds are judged on the firmness of the breast as well as their size. So to keep their meat from feeling “squishy” you can put their feed on raisers with ramps going up to the feed. This will help them get a little exercise and not burn too much of the feed off.
If you are using these birds as a 4-H project then the last two weeks before the show switch the birds to a finisher feed.
How And What To Feed Your Meat Birds
Find the highest percent of protein you can get (above 25%) and they will grow very quickly. In some areas, you can find a feed that is more than 30% protein.
Keeping fresh water available at all times is a must.
As far as the feed availability, it is up to you if you want to just give the recommended amount or keep the feeder full and they can eat whenever they want. The more you feed them the faster they will grow. But that also gets to be expensive. So you can feed them the recommended amount and whatever size they get to be is what they will butcher at.
Once the birds hit 9 weeks their feed to meat conversions start to die off. So it is best to try and get them ready to butcher at or before 9 weeks. Wich is the biggest reason for all of these speedy growth tips.
Feed Consumption Chart
The chart below will help you figure out how much feed you can plan on going through with per bird as well as with 25, 50, and 100 birds.
|Age||Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Week 5||Week 6||Week 7||Week 8||Week 9||Total # of Bags|
|One Bird||4.2 oz.||9.2 oz.||3.7 oz.||18.8 oz.||26.1 oz.||34.5 oz.||38.5 oz.||42.6 oz.||46.5 oz.||14.63 lbs.|
|25 Birds||6.56 lbs.||14.38 lbs.||21.41 lbs.||29.28 lbs.||40.78 lbs.||53.91 lbs.||60.16 lbs.||66.56 lbs.||72.66 lbs.||7.32 bags|
|50 Birds||13.13 lbs.||28.75 lbs.||42.81 lbs.||58.75 lbs.||81.56 lbs.||107.81 lbs.||120.31 lbs.||133.13 lbs.||145.31 lbs.||14.63 bags|
|100 Birds||26.25 lbs.||57.5 lbs.||85.63 lbs.||117.5 lbs.||163.13 lbs.||215.63 lbs.||240.63 lbs.||266.25 lbs.||290.63 lbs.||29.26 bags|
For how to butcher your chickens yourself read this post by Jill Wigner from The Prairie Homestead.
Raising meat birds is a great first project for 4h projects or even an easy and less time consuming way to produce your own meat if you want to start doing that. You don’t have to care for the animals through the winter and after about two months of work you can have a lot of meat for your freezer.