How To Raise Meat Chickens Fast So You Don’t Waste Money

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Alright, y’all let’s talk about how to raise meat chickens. And by meat chickens I mean those big round ugly white birds called cornish rock cross, or cornish cross, or some variation of that. 

Learning how to raise broilers can be a fun experience… buttttt….. you better be prepared for what it’s like….

Meat chicks 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 promise you I am not exaggerating. But the upside is you don’t have to deal with them for long.

how to raise meat chickens blog post intro image

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. 

What You Need To Know BEFORE You Get Into How To Raise Meat Chickens

Their speed of growth is out of this world.

The cornish 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. This speed is really tough though. 9 weeks should be the goal for a homesteader or someone raising them on their backyard farm.

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 8-9 weeks instead.

meat chicken

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. Or a large pen with about 2-3 square feet per bird. That way you don’t have to move them again until they are ready to butcher.

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. 

Chicken tractors are also an option to get your chickens outside for some time. But keep in mind that a chicken tractor is not predator-proof. You will need to make sure you close up your meat chickens at night. You are going to have to move it EVERY DAY if you don’t want that patch of grass to be completely destroyed.

Other Dual Purpose Birds

There are several breeds of meat chickens that some people recommend but here is the issue. Most of these are dual-purpose breed or still grow much slower than cornish crosses and will cost you more in the long run. The meat is often not as tender and the birds need to be cooked a lot longer. Especially if they are heritage breeds.

These breeds are:

  • freedom rangers
  • New Hampshires
  • Rhode island reds
  • Red rangers
  • Black Australorp
Dual purpose chicken

The Best Time Of Year To Raise Meat Birds Efficiently

This is something that will help you save on feed costs. Think about the time of year and the weather that comes with it.You do not want to be raising day-old chicks or meat birds in the cold weather. It will slow down weight gain big time.

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 Fahrenheit 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. Cooling them down with fans was a trick we could use if our meat projects were going to be overweight close to the weigh-in day.

So make sure that the average day and night time temps stay above 70 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 and your meat chickens need a heat source for part of the day but not the whole time.

Woods 0165 Brooder Lamp with Bulb Guard,10.5 Inch Reflector and 6 Foot Cord (250 Watt

Fosmon C-10707US Outdoor 15A 24-Hour Mechanical Light Timer

2 Pack 250 Watts R40 Red Heat lamp Light Bulbs

Just 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 and the chickens get overheated and die. While they are sensitive to cool temps they also overheat easily because of their weight.

If they get too hot this will also slow down their food intake.

Meat Chicken Growing Tips

Here are some tips I have learned over the years that will help you with your bird’s 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 cornish cross bird’s growth to the next level find a lamp you can turn on to extend the daylight hours for them up to 16-18hrs per day. Make sure that if the temperatures are over 80 degrees you only use the light bulb you would use in your house NOT the heat lamp bulbs.

group of meat chickens grazing

Make the meat firm and not too fatty.

Now here is a tip that I learned while showing in 4h. The cornish cross 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.

Just make sure that the ramp is not slick because these birds are not as adaptable to balance as other chicken breeds. You do not what them to slip or fall off and break a leg which is totally possible.

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.

one meat chicken sitting in the yard

How And What To Feed Meat Chickens 

The type of feed maters for fast growth you want to feed the highest percent of protein content 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. The 5-8% difference in protein can mean the difference between you getting a 6-7 pound bird at butcher time or having a bird that weighs 9-10 pounds at the butcher.

Keeping clean water available at all times is a must. These birds drink a lot and need water to help stay cool in the really hot months. 

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 but then you also run the risk of them being smaller. 

The other thing I could recommend is to make sure that wild birds can’t get to where the feed is for the batch of meat chickens. The chicken feed will attract the wild birds and you will be feeding all the local sparrows as well as your meat chickens.

crumble chicken feed

Three Things That Will Sound Good But Slow The Rate Of Growth

Kitchen Scraps

Using alternative feed sources is ok once in a while but the more you feed them anything but high protein feed the slower they will grow because they only have so much room to eat. And if they are taking up room with kitchen scraps they will be eating less high-protein food..

Organic Feed

Organic feed is all well and good but the problem with that is most often it comes in an average of 25% protein. This will slow down the rate of growth but also cost you significantly more feed to grow the birds to weight.

Pasture Raised

Letting your birds’ free range to an extent is ok but you have to limit own far they can go. These birds are very large and if they get overheated and even have a heart attack. They will also be out raising on other things which is ok but then they are not taking the time to eat the high protein food you are providing.

This is one of those pick your battles kind of things. If you are growing chickens to simply have the experience of raising your own meat chickens then by all means do what you feel is best.

But if your goal is to be efficient. Then you need to cut the fluff and keep your birds focused on growing.

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Ideal Butcher Age

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. Which is the biggest reason for all of these speedy growth tips.

How Much Do Meat Chickens Eat Per Day

Lets do some math. It takes about 15 pounds of total high protein feed to get a broiler chicken to a butcher weight of 9 pounds.

You raise them for 9 weeks, which equates to 63 days.

15 divided by 63 is 0.238 or one-quarter pound per day. Now obviously they will eat most of that in their last few weeks of life.

So how much will this cost you to raise them?

Number of birdsPounds Of FeedHow Many Bags Of Feed @ 50LBSCost Per Bag $24Total Cost + 7% Sales tax
1 Meat Chicken15 pounds of feed3.33 of a bag (1/3rd)$8$8.56
10 Meat Birds150 pounds of feed4 (You would need a smidge more than 3 bags$96$102.72
15 Meat Birds225 pounds of feed5 bags$120$128.40
25 Meat Birds375 pounds of feed8 bags$192$205.44

Keep in mind this is assuming that you are following best practices and trying to keep the chickens from getting cold or scared and burning unnecessary food for other reasons besides growing.

Where To Get Your Cornish Cross Meat Chicks

While most of the time I recommend getting them from a hatchery for multiple reasons which you can read about here. Getting baby chicks for meat from a feed store is fine because they are not going to be around super long and you are wanting them to produce meat. Not egg production. So if the store gets the gender wrong you aren’t out a lot of money and most meat chickens come as straight run (not sexed) anyway.

white meat chicken

How Much Space Do Meat Chickens Need

Knowing how much space per bird to provide your birds is an important factor in their health and growth.

Chickens raised for meat usually reach butcher weight between 8-12 weeks depending on the breed, feed, and temperature. As a general rule of thumb, you will need roughly 2 square feet per bird in the brooder.

Providing ample space will help keep them from becoming stressed which can lead to poor growth or even cannibalism.

It’s important to provide enough space for your chicken’s well-being as well as provide enough room for feeders and water. You don’t have to worry about roosting because these hybrid chickens are not capable of roosting once they get to be large and top-heavy. It’s not worth the risk of them falling off and breaking a leg or their neck.

meat chickens

How To Set Up A Brooding Area

Just like any other chick you need to have a warm place with lots of bedding and a heat lamp ready to go. You should keep them at 90-95 degrees for the first week then reduce the temperature by 5 degrees until the temperatures reach 75 degrees. You don’t want to let it get much colder than that because that will slow down the growth.

Can you keep meat birds with laying hens?

Raising chickens has become more popular in recent years, and for good reason! Not only are they a sustainable source of food. If you’re thinking about adding chickens to your farm or homestead and you are wondering if you can keep meat birds with laying hens?

The answer is yes and no. While there is not health reason why you can’t It depends on the stages of growth and there are going to be some disadvantages to keeping them together.

  • Keeping meat chickens with laying hens while they are still chicks is not a good idea because almost every other breed of chicken grows so much slower than the meat chickens. And these meat chickens are VERY clumsy. The meat birds will just bump into your other chicks and cause internal damage. Its not on purpose just how they are. You will lose more chickens than if you kept them separate. 
  • What if your laying hens are full grown? – This is going to be much less of an issue but the main drawback is your high-protein chick starter is going to cost quite a bit more than laying chicken feed. Depending on the number of hens you have you are going to be costing yourself a whole lot more un-nessicaraly. As well as you might run into issues with your meat birds not getting as much food because of the other chickens. Causing them to not make weight.

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Is it worth it to raise chickens for meat?

Here is the thing. It depends on what brand or what type of grocery store you are buying your chicken meat from. If you are buying it from whole foods or you are paying for high-end organic meat. Then yes it probably is worth raising your own chickens for meat. 

But if you are like most people are buying the chicken with the lowest price tag. Then it can work out to costing you more to raise it yourself. 

The average meat bird will get you 6 pounds of weight after it is butchered assuming you got it to 9-10 pounds before butcher. Keep in mind there is still some bone in that amount. 

meat chickens laying on the ground

Cost To Raise A Meat Chicken

  • One meat chick = 4.20
  • Total feed cost – 15 Pounds Of Feed (.62 per pound) = 9.30
  • Butcher fee = $3-$5

TOTAL = At minimum it is going to cost you $16.50 for one chicken.

If your bird gets to be 6 pounds that cost 2.75 per pound. So it’s right on the edge of if it’s worth it. 

Do Meat Chickens Lay Eggs

Yes, they can! Meat chickens, or broiler chickens, are a special breed of chicken that is raised as food. These birds are bred to grow quickly and provide large amounts of meat for human consumption. 

However, these birds often have health issues and lay WAY LESS often than egg-laying breeds. Like 50-100 eggs if you are lucky. 

These fast-growing birds are not meant to live super long so having good strong bodies really isn’t a concern. The other issue with this breed laying eggs is they are developed to grow fast and produce meat. So you have to keep this breed slender if you want them to reproduce. Most often they are so large their legs give out on them after about 12-14 weeks sold much less being capable of breeding. 

large meat chickens sitting

How long does it take to raise chickens for meat?

Ideally, you want to have your meat chickens ready to butcher at 9 weeks of age. But you can take up to 12 weeks. After that, it’s not worth it.

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.