Interested in raising your own meat chickens? You will find tons of information online when looking for meat chickens.
There are lots of choices of breeds each with special characteristics that are appealing. It’s enough to make you wonder how am I going to choose?
The easiest chicken to raise for meat is the White Cornish Cross Broilers, which are also referred to as “broilers”. Broilers grow very quickly, are easy to order and are easy to process, even for a beginner.
White Cornish Cross broilers are the best broilers for a beginner to raise. They are fast growing, easy to care for, easy to order and easy to pluck. Not to mention, great to eat and super easy to cook!
I raised some Red Rangers and Cornish Cross broilers together, read about it here. Spoiler alert: I definitely prefer the Cornish Cross (white) broilers, the are just easier!
Broilers are certainly listed but so are multiple other breeds. The normal breeds just seem a bit boring at first glance, so why choose broilers?
It’s true broilers are common and there is a reason for their popularity.
Before you get too fancy and over complicated hashing this out consider going simple and basic for your first few batches of meat chickens.
You will be glad you chose to start your journey into meat chickens with broilers.
If you decide to raise a more specialized breed later you will have the experience of raising the broilers to make the following batches of any chicken breed more likely to succeed.
Broilers are fast and easy care
The reason broilers are the best meat chicken is easy, they are fast growing, easy to find and easy to process.
First off you can have the chicks shipped right to your house or if the hatchery is close to you go pick them up yourself. They will be in a box that will easily fit in your car.
Your birds will need supplemental heat for a few weeks but other than that they are easy keepers-just fill the feeders and waterers and add bedding as needed.
Broilers reach processing weight smoking fast-just 7 weeks! You will be able to tell they are growing by picking one up on day 3 or 4.
Compare their weight now to how light they felt when you first brought them home. The weight gain of these little guys will surprise you!
Broilers are a hybrid, not a breed
Broilers are actually not a specific breed of chicken. They are a hybrid-meaning they are a cross between two or more parent breeds to create offspring that has the best traits of the parent breeds.
The parent lines of the broiler started with a naturally double breasted Cornish rooster line paired with tall, larger boned white Plymouth Rock hens.
These crosses were started in the 1930’s and by the 1960’s were the dominant the meat chicken produced in the United States.
If you are looking to raise a specific breed of chickens consider my article 20 Of The Calmest Chicken Breeds. None of these birds will grow as fast as the broilers but since they are purebred they will reproduce themselves.
Broilers eat 22% feed and grass
Broilers are fed a premixed ground feed that contains 22% protein. The feed is generally made of finely ground corn, soybean meal and a mineral and vitamin mix formulated specifically for poultry.
Once the chicks get to three weeks of age the protein can be dropped down to 20%.
Since protein is the most expensive component of your broiler feed ration reducing the protein as the birds grow will save you some money on feed.
Broiler feed is higher in protein than the feed for the traditional chicken breeds because broilers grow so much faster than other breeds.
Broilers always need to be fed some ground feed to get all of the nutrients and energy they need for optimal growth and health.
Having your broilers on pasture is a great for the birds and will reduce your feed costs. However, even on pasture these super fast growing birds still must have ground feed available to meet their daily energy needs.
Like all chickens, broilers are adventurous eaters. In addition to their ground feed they love to eat grass, bugs, insects, and nearly anything from your garden.
An additional benefit-super green grass
Along with your broilers doing a lot of eating, comes an equivalent amount of pooping.
If you decide to move the broilers through your yard, not only will they eat the grass, saving you money on feed, they will also put down free fertilizer at the same time. That is a deal!
Give it a few weeks and the places you had the broilers eat will regrow as beautiful green grass, due to the extra nitrogen the birds put down for you. Not to mention, all of the bugs they ate while grazing as well!
Animal manure from certain animals can be a good source of nitrogen for amending soil. Chicken manure is the most commonly used high-nitrogen livestock manure.https://www.homefortheharvest.com/how-to-add-nitrogen-to-soil/
Keep broilers for 7-8 weeks
In most cases broilers are kept until they are 7-8 weeks old. All broilers should be processed by the time they are 9 weeks old.
You can start processing a few at a time starting at 6 weeks or so to give yourself some practice with butchering. You can start to butcher them as soon as you feel they are big enough-think Cornish Hen size.
We like broilers on the bigger side, so we wait until they are closer to 7-8 pounds live weight before processing them.
You can broilers at home
Home processing (butchering) your broilers actually isn’t difficult to do. You use normal items that any household that cooks (even a little) will already have on hand.
All you really need is a sharp knife and some hot water, plus a table or counter to work at. Processing is messy so be sure to set up outside.
Once you get into bigger batches or start growing for other households you should consider upgrading to some poultry processing equipment.
A plucker will make your life tons easier on processing day. A plucker will take all the feathers off the bird in just 30 seconds or so. Nice!
No plucker or it’s backordered and not coming in time? Read How To Pluck Chickens Without A Plucker, this is how we pluck chickens. If we are butchering a batch of chickens, we use the plucker, if not, we pluck by hand.
For scalding, we just use the hot water from our water heater.
Scalding means dunking the dead bird in hot water. This opens the pores of in the skin making the feathers easier to pull out.
Our method (hot water in a bucket) works just fine but I do have to admit a dedicated scalder would be welcome on processing day.
Order your broiler chicks any time of year
Broiler chicks are available most of the year and can be ordered from many places.
If there is a hatchery or a store that will order the chicks for you to pick up yourself this is the best option. Here is a link to the broilers available at our local hatchery, to give you an idea of your options.
Shipping chicks is done all the time and any we have had shipped in looked good.
If you have the option, pick up the chicks. It is less stressful for them and gets them started on feed and settled in at your place one day sooner than anything that would come in the mail.
Check out my article How To Choose A Hatchery for a look at some things you should consider before buying your birds.
A word of caution up front- before you place your chick order make sure you have an appointment with the processor!
Do not order chicks then hope the processor will be able to fit you into their busy schedule.
Because these birds grow so fast ordering without a processing appointment will come back to haunt you. Please check with the processor first!
How much space does each broiler need?
Each broiler will need 3 square feet of floor space at maturity. Most people will start the birds off in a smaller sectioned off area of the pen then expand out this pen as the birds grow.
How many chicks should I start with?
The minimum I would get is 25 chicks at a time. Remember when you first get the chicks they need to be kept at 95 degrees. A few birds by themselves will not be able to maintain body heat so they can easily get chilled and possibly die.