Have you ever wanted to try raising meat chickens for your family? Learn some of the ups and downs from blogger Kaylee Vaughn’s experiences.
After several years of owning and raising chickens, we decided that it was time to try our hand at raising meat chickens. In the past, we had raised and home-butchered some of the roosters that had been hatched on our homestead. However, we had never purposefully raised chickens for meat. We rarely eat meat, because we choose to only eat meat if we know how it was raised and processed. So the addition of our own meat chickens was very intriguing to us and seemed like the next logical step in our chicken-raising adventures.
Here’s a look at our first experience raising meat chickens:
After a lot of back-and-forth, we decided to on Red Rangers. Rangers are a heritage breed of meat chickens, so they develop more slowly than a hybrid like a Cornish Cross. Because of this, we knew that we would have them longer than the typical 8-9 weeks that it takes to grow a hybrid meat chicken to butcher weight. This means that we would also be spending more more money on them because we would be feeding them for longer.
While there are some disadvantages to the Red Ranger breed, there are also several advantages. Rangers are a more of a well-rounded bird than the Cornish Cross. Since the Cornish are bred specifically to gain weight quickly, it can cause health issues with their heart and legs. Rangers, on the other hand, are generally very hardy birds that are fully feathered. Because of this, Rangers can more easily tolerate heat and cold. They are also wonderful foragers, which makes them a good choice to be raised in pastures and chicken tractors.
We ultimately wanted birds that would be happy and healthy during their lives, no matter how short. Because of this, we decided to raise Rangers so that they could forage and so that we could hopefully avoid health issues.
Getting our meat chickens:
We decided to start of slowly, with just 10 meat chickens to see what we thought of the process. We ordered our Red Rangers, along with some other chicks, from Meyer’s Hatchery. They arrived in the mail on May 1st. They all seemed very healthy and happy. However, one of them did end up dying the following day. I believe it was stress-related and not caused by an illness. This was actually the only health problem that we experienced with our meat chickens. We have ordered many times from Meyer’s and have always been happy with their service and quality.
Housing & feeding our meat chickens:
We are lucky to have two coops. We use the larger coop as our primary coop to house our adult laying hens. The smaller coop is used for chickens that need to separated, young chicks that are not ready to be introduced to the flock, and for broody hens that are sitting on hatching eggs. We ended up using this smaller coop to house our meat chickens, even though our original plan was to have them in the pasture with the goats. Unfortunately, we just didn’t have time to get a proper coop and feeding area set up in the pasture for them. But the smaller coop suited them just fine!
We feed all of our laying hens a whole grain feed rather than pellets or crumble and decided to do the same with out meat chickens. Luckily, we have a local family-run mill nearby that sells non-GMO, corn-free and and soy-free whole grain feeds. They even have one specially formulated at 20% protein for broilers, which is what we fed our meat chickens.
Once the chicks were large enough to be out in the “chicken yard” with the other chickens, we began letting the out each day to free range. They absolutely loved it and would zoom all over the yard! Watching them run and enjoy their lives made me happy that we had chosen such a hardy breed that was able to free-range.
Processing the meat chickens:
In the past, we have butchered several of our roosters at home. While we don’t mind the process, it is a bit of an undertaking. If you’ve ever plucked a few birds, you’ll understand what I’m talking about! Because of this, we decided that we wanted to have the birds professionally processed.
We are lucky to have several small family-owned butchers in our area. The one we chose does an amazing job at a very reasonable price. It only cost us $5 per bird, which is well worth all the time and work it saved us! This butcher also offers specialty processing (spatchcocking, etc.) for a higher price. They will also save the organs and feet to return to you after processing, if you choose to do so.
We ended up processing our meat chickens when they were just over 12 weeks. We were honestly a little worried that we had waited too long because most of them were quite large! However, the butcher said that they were perfect! He was, however, shocked with how well-filled out they were for Rangers. He said they were the best Rangers that he had seen all year – which made us quite proud!
Our smallest chicken weighed in at a little over 4 pounds. The largest one was actually just over 6 pounds! We were hoping that they would be around the 5-pound mark and we weren’t disappointed!
Overall, I’m very glad that we raised meat chickens! As the processing day approached, I found that I wasn’t sad at all to see the chickens go. I personally think that they aren’t nearly as endearing as egg laying breeds. I also took comfort in knowing that they had a wonderful and happy life!
Maybe it’s because we raised them, but I find that the taste of our meat chickens is out of this world – especially compared to commercially-raised meat chickens! They are so tender and have a wonderful flavor. Even my non-chicken loving family members agreed!
All things considered, I think that we will definitely be raising more meat chickens soon! The process was actually very simple! I think that the next time around, we will order 25-30 birds. And hopefully we will have a better coop built in the pasture so that they can free-range in a larger area. Other than that, I wouldn’t change anything!
If you have the space, time and resources, I would highly recommend that you think about raising your own meat chickens! Even if you don’t have a lot of space, meat chickens offer a great way to begin increasing your self-sufficiency by raising your own food.
Kaylee Vaughn is a suburban homesteader, caring for chickens, goats, and a large garden on a little less than an acre. She and her family strive to create the most efficient homestead possible in the small space we have available. Her chickens are not only beautiful yard ornaments, but also a vital part of their homestead management practices! “We utilize them to produce manure, control pests, turn compost, and more.” Kaylee’s nick-named them “the gardeners” because they are always in the garden, working hard – and redecorating on occasion, too! You can follow Kaylee through her website.