I think I’m going to raise meat birds this spring.
- I’ve been tempted by photos and catalogues offering little chicks once too often. You’re getting those catalogues in the mailbox and photos in your news feed, too, aren’t you? Doesn’t it make you think of spring and new life and the sound of little “peeps”?
- I’ve raised turkeys from poults—my reading and conferring with other meat bird growers indicate to me that raising meat chickens is similar. They eat a lot, grow quickly, drink lots of water and don’t do much else. Well, except get rid of the food and water.
- My family and I prefer to know where the meat on our plate comes from—we like to know the farmers. And, we like chicken. Why not become the farmers that raise the chicken that ends up on our table?
- I have room to raise the little birds, shelter for older birds and time to accomplish the project before raising turkeys for Thanksgiving again. Chicks begin their stay here on our little homestead in a cardboard encircled brooder pen, under a heat lamp in our garage. If I order these chicks to arrive toward the end of April, they will be able to go into the chicken tractor by the end of May, or even a little before. The chicken tractor isn’t huge, but it will hold a dozen birds, especially since it is easily moved on a daily basis. It can be tarped off on rainy days and cool nights. And as for time—meat birds are ready to be dispatched in about 8 weeks. Little turkeys won’t be coming here until late summer.
So, now that I am quite sure I have the knowledge, references and experience to tackle the project; the logistics of time and place worked out –what’s next?
- Deciding what breed to raise: for this first time raising chickens for meat, I’m going to order the Cornish-Rock cross birds that are bred specifically for meat. Over the years, birds I’ve raised for layers have been “dual-purpose”, and so roosters have been automatically named “Stew” and sent to the freezer. Cornish Cross grow quickly, do not develop personalities and will not be named. Read more about choosing this breed in THIS ARTICLE from Mother Earth News.
- Process them myself or send them out—ok, here it comes. I am not, nor can I be, an entirely self-sufficient homesteader. I have butchered chickens. Yes, I have—I’ve done it all from holding feed the night before, to boiling water in the morning and cutting up later in the day. I will not be butchering these birds. I will need to find a reputable local butcher before I order the birds.
- Feed. The layer hens receive organic feed pellets, along with their diet of greens and summertime yard gleanings. The turkeys received organic feed, too. These meat birds will, as well. My thoughts on this are—if I’m going to put the time into raising the birds because I want healthy birds—they are going to receive the best feed I can find. One big lesson we learned while raising turkeys was to find more than one store in the area that sells organic feed. We will start by feeding them starter, switch to grower and then end up with grower/finisher—with maybe some scratch or corn thrown in at the end.
Shelter, feed, plenty of water. What did I forget?