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Easiest Duck To Raise For Meat: What To Feed Your Ducklings And How Fast They Will Grow


Ducklings in the brooder, the white ones are Pekins, the bigger brown ones are Rouens and the smaller chocolate brown ones are Khaki Campbells.

Ducks are easy to raise and some breeds grow very quickly. Why don’t more people raise ducks? They are missing the opportunity here. Let’s get cracking so you can start raising some of your own ducks!

The easiest duck breed to raise for meat is the Pekin.  Pekin ducks are fast growing, easy care, economically priced and commonly available.

To be honest, ducks are overlooked as a backyard bird!

That’s a lot of families missing out on a great choice for home grown meat (and eggs if you keep them a bit longer)! An added bonus, ducks are much easier to fence in than a flock of chickens!

Is Raising Ducks For Meat Worth It? goes over a budget, including processing costs for you to work through to see if raising meat ducks is a good plan for you.

The other myth about duck raising is that you need a pond. Nope, you don’t!

We have raised ducks, all kinds of breeds, for years and never have had a pond. Don’t worry about it, just give them plenty of water and they are good to go.

The best meat duck option is a Pekin

Pekin drake on grass in late winter
One of our Pekin drakes, out and about in late winter.

You’ll have quite a few breed choices and some decisions to make regarding which characteristics are the most important to you as a beginner.

Duck breeds have different characteristics

Think about the specifics of what you need and want from your ducks before you buy.

Before you look at the catalog, make a list of what you want and are willing to do and what you do not want and are not willing to do.

For example: ducks that will reach a certain carcass size or will be good meat producers and good egg layers. Pick the things that are important to you.

It’s easy to get side tracked by great pictures of ducks that may not be your best choice, but had a super description and picture!

We made a list and chose to get Pekins

Why did we choose to get Pekins? This is our list of the things we needed and wanted from the ducks.

  • We wanted a breed that would grow fast
  • We wanted ducklings that we could pick up directly from the hatchery
  • We wanted a finished bird that would yield a nice meaty carcass
  • We needed the duck to be easy to process
  • We planned to keep the females to start a laying flock so they need to be good egg layers

When we thought about all these characteristics that we wanted to have in our ducks the answer was easy-Pekins.

Pekins are nervous “chatty” ducks

mature Pekin duck walking in grass
Rear view of a mature Pekin, you can easily see the width of her body. She’s suspicious since I have a camera instead of a feed bucket!

The only thing about Pekins that some people, especially small acreage duck raisers might not like, is that they are more nervous and tend to be louder than other duck breeds.

Anything out of the ordinary has them quacking an announcement that something is up. Mature Pekins tend to “talk” quite a bit when you go into their pen to feed them.

Keep your ducklings in a brooder

Your new ducklings will need a place that is safe from predators, has plentiful food, water and bedding material, and is warm.

Brooding Ducklings For Beginners shows you how to set up for your ducklings so they get off to a great start.

Just like all other baby poultry you get for your farm ducklings will need a heated and safe area to live. This heated and secure area is called a brooder.

Most people will section off a small area of the shed or garage to keep the ducklings together so none wander off and get chilled or lost.

New babies on the farm (not just ducklings) have a knack for getting themselves into trouble but are usually very poor at getting themselves out of trouble.

Your job is to set up the brooder area so the ducklings will be comfortable, safe and secure.

Duckings in the brooder. You can see the pen is secure (predator resistant wire) and there are multiple feeders so all ducks can eat at once.
Ducklings in the brooder at two weeks old. The white ones are Pekins. Mixing different breeds of ducks together to raise them in the brooder is perfectly fine.

Ducklings need heat and protection

A heat source must be provided to your ducklings because like all young poultry the ducklings will not be able produce enough heat to stay warm by themselves until they get older.

The heat lamps are a substitute for the warmth mom would provide if the ducklings were hatched out by a duck hen.

Another benefit to keeping ducklings in brooder is safety. The brooder area is secure.

All baby poultry ducklings included are an easy target for any predator including the domestic ones-specifically your dog or cat. Other predators that would like duckling for an easy lunch include rats, hawks, and raccoons.

Since the Pekins will grow so quickly they won’t remain an easy target for too long but you must be aware of the possibility of predation.

Pekin drake
One of our Pekin drakes. You can tell that he is a drake by looking at his tail. The top feathers curling up means that he is a he!

Ducklings eat a 22% feed

Ducklings eat a premixed ground feed that is 22% protein. The feed is made up of ground corn, soybean meal, and a supplement containing minerals and vitamins.

Make sure you get feed formulated for growing ducklings, not mature ducks. The ducklings need the extra protein.

To get the best growth from your ducklings you will need to make sure they have plentiful food and water at all times. You should go in the brooder multiple times a day to feed and check on your ducklings.

Do they still have food and water left from last time you fed them? If not put in more feeders and waterers or just come back to check them and refill more frequently.

Pekin ducklings finish at 7 weeks

Pekin ducks reach processing weight rather quickly. When ducks are well tended they will be ready for slaughter at 7 weeks yielding a 3.5-4 pound processed bird.

Since Pekins are the fastest growing ducks, other breeds of ducks will take longer to reach processing weight than Pekins.

Keep in mind that processing for ducks needs to be done at specific weeks of age to avoid having a ton of pin feathers to deal with.

Pin feathers are the new little regrowing feathers that are just popping through the skin. Pin feathers are harder to get out so make plucking take a lot longer.

Scheduling your butchering days in week 7, 12, or 18 will minimize pin feathers and make processing easier and faster.

Ducks are friendly

Ducks are very friendly. Ducks that are free roaming will learn to come to you or the barn when called if you consistently feed them in the spot you want them to return to.

When we go outside to do chores our ducks start milling around us and quacking as soon as they see one of us has a bucket.

Multiple breeds of ducks be mixed together

Different breeds of ducks can be mixed together. Actually the ducks won’t mind at all but you might.

Ducks readily cross breed

First of all, ducks cross breed frequently, unless the breeds are kept completely separate. Cross bred ducks are great, as long as it is fine with you.

In a mixed group, all ducklings need the high protein feed

Secondly, your Pekins will be on a feed formulated for fast growth. This means it will be a bit more pricey than a feed formulated for a slower growing breed or mature ducks.

The other ducks will love the richer feed but it will be wasting some of your money!

If you want a description of other duck breeds to consider raising along with your Pekins read my article 16 Duck Breeds For Eggs And Meat.

If you only have a few ducklings of each breed in the brooder, feed the all the ducklings with the 22% feed.

It is better to waste a bit of protein than to have some of the ducklings, especially the fastest growers, not getting enough energy or nutrients.

pair of Saxony ducks
This is a pair of Saxony ducks.

Metzer Farms is a wonderful resource regarding duck information, this is a link to their duck breed comparison chart, to get you started. Check them out and be sure to read the blog section for tips on raising ducks.

Related Questions

How to you tell male and female ducks apart?

The easiest way to tell male from female is to wait until they are full grown and you will see the top feather on the tail of the males will curl. Males also tend to be the fastest to grow.

What do I use the duck fat for?

Duck fat is great to use in cooking! Try using your duck fat next time you make skillet fried potatoes. You’ll be glad you did.

Do Cows Have Horns? Answers To Common Questions About Horns


horned cow eating hay off of the ground

Ever wonder why some cows have horns and some do not? You can look out at a field of grazing cattle and not see a single set of horns in the group.

Yet in other settings, every animal out there, both male and female, will be sporting a good size pair of horns. Maybe even a crazy big set of horns! How can that be? What exactly makes cattle grow horns?

Both male and female cattle can grow horns, but not all cattle will grow horns. Whether or not a cow has horns depends upon her genetics.

Getting Started With Beef Cattle is an article I wrote to help you figure out where to start when you want to get going with raising your own beef.

There are many different breeds of cattle originating and developed with and for all areas of the world.

Different colors, coat patterns, body sizes and temperaments yet some are horned and some are not.

What is the reason why some cattle grow horns and others don’t?

Yearling Longhorn steer
This is a yearling Longhorn steer, He already has quite a bit of horn growth considering that he is just about a year old.

Cows inherit horn growing ability

The simple reason cows have horns is because she got the horned gene from both of her parents. Most purebred cattle in the world are born with the ability to naturally grow horns.

When a cow is in a situation where she has to take care of herself with little or no help from humans having a set of horns can easily mean the difference between surviving and death.

Even though cows are big they are still a target for predators.

She is an especially easy target when she has a new baby (the new baby is called a calf).

Her new calf is a bit slow and a little clumsy especially for the first day or so presenting a much easier target than an adult for a hungry predator.

A cow with horns is called a cow

Actually a cow is called a cow when she has a calf. Before she has a calf she is called a heifer.

Horns have nothing to do with the terms used to describe her. It is all about her age and if she has given birth.

Genetics determine horn shape

Shape and size of horns are determined by genetics. Just like you will look a lot like your relatives so will a cow and her horns.

Generally breeds that come from a warmer climate have longer horns.

Longer horns also seem to go with a slimmer body shape of the typical cows in that area. Examples of these thinner built cows with longer horns are the Ankole-Watusi from central Africa or the Texas Longhorn.

On the other hand cattle that are have a wider build and are overall more stocky tend to grow smaller horns.

Think most common beef breeds like the Horned Hereford and nearly all dairy breeds including Holstein and Jersey.

This is our family cow, Aleene, with her new calf. The calf is horned, but you can’t see horns because they haven’t started growing yet. That will happen as he gets bigger.

Horns start growing after birth

The small bump you can feel but not see because it is covered with hair is the horn bud. The horn bud is the place where the horn will grow from as the calf gets older.

Horns start growing right away so when the calf gets older she can take start to take care of protecting herself.

Not all bulls can grow horns

No not all bulls can or will grow horns. The sex of the animal has nothing to do with the ability to grow horns.

Bulls or cows growing horns (or not) is completely genetic.

Cattle have horns, not antlers!

Horns and antlers are terms that are commonly interchanged. Aside from the fact that they are both on the head of the animal in question, horns and antlers are really two very different things.

Horns are permanent and grow with age

Horns have a substantial blood supply and are directly connected to the sinus cavities of the cow. If not removed or broken, horns are a permanent part of the animal.

Horns have a bony core that contains a network of air spaces. These air spaces continue to expand from the skull towards the tip of the horn as the cow gets older.

The Demeter Association has an interesting pdf about Why Cows Have Horns, if you want to read a biodynamic approach to cattle and horns.

Antlers are completely regrown every year

Antlers are a bony growth that is regenerated every year.

The antlers are covered with a living skin called velvet when they first form. The animal then rubs off the velvet layer leaving the bony core we recognize as antlers.

Each year the antlers grow bigger and in most cases have more tips branching off the main part of the antler to give the antlers a more impressive look as the animal ages-think Whitetail Deer.

Cattle can be dehorned

Some people choose to have the horns removed from their cattle.

Common reasons for having horns removed are to be able to keep more animals in a smaller space and to prevent the more aggressive cows from injuring an meeker herd mate.

The easiest way to remove horns is with disbudding iron. This must be done when the calf and the horn buds are small.

It is possible to remove the horns on adult size cattle. As mentioned above horns are alive and have a blood supply, so this is a job for a vet.

Polled cattle can not grow horns

Polled cattle do not have the ability to grow horns. Polled is the term used to describe a cow that will not grow horns. She does not have the genes that will tell her body to grow horns.

Having cattle that are naturally polled is economically important to the farmer and is a big factor in bull selection. If you want polled calves the easiest way to get them is by using a polled bull.

Even if the cow has horns genetically using a genetically 100% polled bull (homozygous polled) will make all of the calves he sires polled because to grow horns a calf needs the horned gene from both parents.

A calf with horned genes from mom and homozygous polled genes from dad will always be polled. Even if the calf is genetically half polled half horned it will always look polled.

Want more information on interesting aspects of cattle, especially cattle behavior? Consider reading my article Why Do Cattle: Eat Dirt, Stampede, Bellow And More.

Related Questions

Can a cow have and udder and horns?

Cows can have an udder and horns. Having horns or not having horns if she has had a calf she will have an udder and be able to milk.

Will the horns grow back if after being removed?

Horns will not grow back. Once a cow has her horns removed, or if the horns are broken off, she will never grow horns again.

Can a cow with no horns have a calf that will grow horns?

Removing the horns from a cow does not change her genetics. Genes determine if a cow grows horns, not physical appearance.

Buying Feeder Pigs? Where To Get Pigs You’ll Love


Feeder pigs sleeping in their nest

Ready to get your first feeder pigs yet not really sure what to do? You came to the right place! I can help you with some of the basics so you can be more confident your new enterprise will start well.

Feeder pigs can be purchased from a local small farmer, online ads or an auction. Local feeder pigs are your best option, since most auctions sell feeder pigs in larger groups.

Pigs are one of the best choices for raising your own meat. They grow fairly quickly and yield quite a bit of meat for your efforts.

Pigs also are one of the easiest animals to keep because they can be penned up just about anywhere you have some space. Good air flow and some sunshine and they will be happy.

Consider reading my article The Cheapest Meat Animal To Raise where I list out a comparison of common meat animals and see how a feeder pigs compares on total cost and price per pound of meat.

This is a talking head style video where I go over the things you need to look for when buying feeder pigs.

Where to get a feeder pig

Feeder pigs can be purchased at the farm where they were born or at a livestock auction. Both choices have advantages and disadvantages.

Buy feeder pigs from a farm, if you can

Purchasing your first feeder pigs from the farmer will give you a good idea of how he raises his pigs so you will know what your pig is used to.

Have these pigs been outside or kept inside?

Try to get pigs from a farm that is raising their pigs the way you plan to raise yours. This will make the transition to your farm easier on the pig.

If the only pig farms in your area are CAFO’s (confinement farms), not those.

First off, I doubt they have feeder pigs available for sale to the public and secondly, these are not the type of pigs you are looking for.

When I write local pig farm, I mean hands on family farmer, not an industrial pork production facility that happens to be close to your house.

piglets on grass
Some of our feeder pigs. They are a cross from a mixed breed white sow and a Berkshire boar. I love the colors!

Feeder pigs sell at livestock auctions

We have weekly livestock auctions in our area so this is the easiest choice for us.

If you decide to go to an auction get there early so you have time to look around. Be sure to listen to the announcements at the beginning of the sale.

If you can’t attend the auction and are not overly picky about what you get, the auction has a buyer that can bid for you.

Call the auction and see what they can set up for you.

You’ll need to have a top price that you are willing to pay and a pen ready for the pigs when the hauler brings them, if you are not picking them up yourself.

Buy healthy, spunky feeder pigs

No matter where you decide to purchase your feeder pigs make sure the pigs look healthy. They should be spunky, well grown and not have any obvious health problems.

Which breed of feeder pig is best?

The best breed of feeder pig is a hot topic. Everyone seems to have their favorite choice or is excited to try out for themselves a breed they read about online.

Best Breed Of Pigs For Beginners goes into more detail about why some breeds are easier to raise than others.

Get cross breed feeder pigs

However, the best breed for you to start with is actually a cross breed. Cross bred animals are generally a little bit tougher and faster growing than an purebred animal.

The most common cross bred feeder pig available is called a “blue butt”, which are piglets from a white sow bred to a colored boar.

This type of cross produces white bodied pigs with light bluish grey spots on the back/butt.

Blue butts are a commonly available and reasonably priced feeder pig that would work great as your first pig to raise for meat.

The specific cross doesn’t matter but you’ll be best served by getting pigs that other people are growing in your area.

You can get fancy later once you have some experience.

Feeder pig prices will vary

You can plan on spending $50 per feeder pig at an auction. This is for an three month old or so cross bred pig.

Prices will change, sometimes drastically change, with the seasons and the current demand.

Feeder pig prices are higher in the spring

In our area the prices for feeder pigs are highest in the spring when all the kids are buying pigs to take to the county fair.

Fair pig buyers tend to raise the prices of all feeder pigs at the auction simply because of increased demand equals a higher price.

Check out the local auction reports for the current prices in your area so you can know what to expect to pay.

If you go to a farm for your pig expect to pay a bit more per pig. It is more time consuming to sell pigs to individuals, so the pigs are priced accordingly.

Buy at least two feeder pigs

Another aspect of price to consider is that pigs are herd animals and like to have company of other pigs. If you can get at least two so your pigs will be happy.

Berkshire cross pigs eating grass
Some of our pigs eating grass. These pigs are a Berkshire cross. They are growing very well for us and finishing out really nice, wide and meaty.

Feeder pigs eat a mixed ground feed

Feeder pigs are fed a ground feed containing corn, soybean meal and a premix supplement that contains all of the minerals and nutrients they need to grow at the optimal rate for their size.

Feed for your feeder pigs will be available at most any farm store. Just read the labels to match the feed with the size of your pigs.

Start your pigs on a 16% feed

Most people will start their pigs out on an 16% protein feed then as the pigs get older you can go to a lower protein (less expensive) feed.

Your pigs should have feed and water at all times. Keep their feeder full. Free choice feeding gets your feeder pigs to market weight the fastest.

Pigs love snacks like hay and garden scraps

Pigs will also eat hay, grass, bugs, and garden scraps. They love to have a few extras to eat now and again.

These extras should not replace the ground feed, but can add interest to the diet and keep your porkers happy.

Feeder pigs take 4 months to finish

If you purchased your pigs at 60 pounds they will finish out for you in about 3.5 months from purchase. The final weight you are shooting for here is 250 pounds.

Most pigs reach the 250 pound processing weight at 5 to 6 months old. If you like your pigs larger (we do) it will take longer to reach processing weight.

We like 300+ pounders, so we plan on the pigs taking longer, more like 4.5-5 months from feeder pig size.

Comfortable pigs will gain weight faster

When your pigs are stressed it will take them longer to reach their finished weight.

Any stressful conditions including weather like a crazy hot spell or a super cold snap will effect the comfort and therefore the growth of your pigs.

Berkshire cross feeder pigs eating out of the bulk feeder.
A litter of Berkshire cross feeder pigs learning to use the bulk feeder.

You determine the ideal finishing weight

I just sold a few market hogs that were over 300 pounds, 305 to be exact. What on earth was I thinking letting them get that big? Great question, actually!

Those pigs were purposely feed longer than normal to have more body fat at butchering because, at least around here, people like to have a fat hog to grind in with their deer.

Many Amish families that buy a market hog every fall for home butchering also like to keep their pigs to heavier weights in order to get more lard.

The main point here is you get to choose. Think about what it is that you want most and feed your pigs accordingly.

Most people would be butchering around the 250 pound mark, for a nice balance between fat cover and good size cuts of meat.

You can butcher your pigs at home

Yes, you can butcher your pigs at home! There is plenty of information available online, our first time we used the directions in a book-worked great!

My husband is a deer hunter and we had been processing our own poultry for years, so this was the next big step for us.

Now that we have home butchered both pigs and cattle, we are wondering why it took us this long to try this at home!

Honestly, it’s not that hard. Just have some help the first time and you’ll be good to go!

Here are a few basics to have ready before you start. First off you will need to kill the pig, no surprise there!

We use a .22 because that is convenient for us, use whatever is most comfortable for you. You will also need sharp knives to skin it and a loader tractor with a chain.

The tractor is needed because you will be butchering the pig when it is 250 pounds you will need a way to lift up the carcass.

We use the loader on our tractor by attaching the pig to a chain once it has bled out. If you have deer hunting experience then no problem-you’ve got this.

Important Note: Have all of your supplies laid out and ready before you start dealing with the pig.

The skinning, if you are doing it, needs to be done immediately. The more time you waste, the more the skin cools, the harder it is to get off!

You’ll get 120 pounds of meat from a 250 pound pig

Your pigs will dress out at 72% of slaughter weight. So from a 250 pound pig you can plan on getting a 180 pound carcass.

The difference in weight is from the parts you don’t keep like intestines, skin and head.

Pork does not need to hang, like beef, so it can be put in the freezer right away.

Once you start cutting up the carcass into freezer ready pieces you will lose a bit more weight in trim and oddments that you don’t want to keep, resulting in 120 pounds of meat.

This is an average number, so specialty breeds will vary with a fatter pig will yielding less and a wider, meatier pig will yield more.

Related Questions

Can I keep a feeder pig as a pet?

Yes but be aware that the adult size of a farm pig is 500 plus pounds. If you want a pet pig that will stay smaller get a pot bellied pig or smaller yet a mini pig.

Can I keep a feeder pig in my yard?

Yes as long as it is legal in your area and you are willing to let the pig root up your yard.

Easiest Chicken To Raise For Meat: With Tips (And Mistakes To Avoid)


oven ready broiler

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.

Info graphic showing the reasons to raise your own chickens, specifically broilers.

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

pastured broilers eating feed

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.

A lovely blue colored hen, a nice sized bird but not a broiler
This hen is a nice meaty chicken, but not a broiler!
Traditional breed chickens, like this one, are completely different to cook.

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

mixed broilers eating grass
Here is our last batch of broilers with their pen buddy and orphan gosling. The broilers are a mix of Cornish Cross and Red Ranger birds. I definitely preferred the Cornish Cross!

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!

Related Questions

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.

Why Do Sheep Need Shearing? A Beginners Overview


Shearing sheep, we just set up in an open alleyway of the barn.

Wondering why sheep need shearing? Why can’t they just keep their wool all year and farmers and ranchers would have less work to do? Let’s look into it!

Sheep need shearing to remove wool that will not naturally shed. Shearing wool keeps the sheep more comfortable in the warm weather and helps the sheep stay clean throughout the rest of the year.

Spring shearing is crucial to the heath of your flock. Timely shearing sets up the ewes for a successful lambing season and gives you an up close inspection of the sheep one at a time.

When your sheep have all of their wool on it is hard to get a close look at them to make sure they are happy and healthy as possible.

Easiest Breeds Of Sheep To Raise will go over my best recommendations for sheep that are beginner friendly.

Is she keeping on weight or is she too fat? She might be closer to lambing than you thought so you can put her in the soon to lamb pen so you can keep a close eye on her.

Rams also benefit from individual care and the close inspection you can make now that their wool is off since for most of the year the wool obscures your view.

With the wool removed you can easily see his body condition (how fat or thin he is). How does he look?

If he’s not performing as well as you would like you can start your search for a replacement ram with plenty of time to consider your options before breeding season starts.

11 Breeds Of Sheep With Black Faces is an interesting look at some sheep with a bit of color, since ours are all white but one!

Sheep that are the same size look very different once they are shorn. The front two sheep would be very similar in body size.

Take a look at the picture above. Those front two ewe lambs are about the same age and weight. It sure doesn’t look like it in that picture!

It’s crazy the difference that shearing makes in the appearance of a sheep.

Determine when to shear based on wool growth and weather

The wool (called the fleece) of a sheep needs shearing at least once a year. For most sheep this is the case.

Normally shearing is scheduled at a month or so before spring lambing.

Spring is the traditional choice for shearing to give the lambs the best chance of successfully finding the udder and nursing as soon after birth as possible.

Breeds with longer fleeces of 6-12 inches need shearing more often to keep the fleece in top condition. Both spring and fall shearing is needed for these guys and gals.

When To Shear Sheep goes over some of the things a flock owner needs to take into consideration when scheduling the shearer.

wool bag full of wool, The Sheep Game (YouTube)
Wool being bagged up after shearing. Image from The Sheep Game (YouTube)

Long wool breeds such as Lincoln or Cotswold require multiple shearings per year (usually two) to keep the fleece from matting together.

The tangled fleece will not overly bother the sheep but it will make a big difference to the farmer.

Tangles and matting will make the fleece unusable for the handspinners and crafters that want to purchase these fleeces.

Specialty wool is in high demand and commands a good price, but only if the fleece is in top condition.

Not all breeds of sheep need shearing

Not all breeds need shearing because not all breeds of sheep have wool!

Sheep without wool to shear are called hair sheep. Common examples of hair sheep breeds are Katahdins and Dorpers.

At first glance hair sheep might be mistaken for goats especially if you thought all sheep have a woolly exterior.

Hair sheep do grow a more wool like coat in the winter to keep warm. In the spring they shed this woolly insulation to spend the summer with a hair coat.

Sheep are shorn with clippers

Most people shear with clippers. These are the same type of clippers as a barber would use but much bigger and more durable.

How To Set Up Clippers goes over the specifics of setting up your comb and cutter to shear.

The clippers have two sets of blades. The bottom set is called the comb.

The comb is a stationary blade that glides through the wool to hold the wool upright so it can be cut by the top blade.

The top blade is called the cutter. The cutter is the only blade on clipper that moves.

The cutter travels quickly back and forth over the comb. This is the movement that actually cuts the fibers of the fleece.

The blades on both the top and bottom need replaced when they start to dull. Blades can be sharpened and used repeatedly.

The number of sheep you can shear per set of blades varies widely depending upon if the fleece is clean and dry or wet and/or dirty.

Some types of wool also seem to dull blades faster than others.

Shearing does not hurt the sheep!

Shearing does not hurt the sheep! Most sheep don’t like being held -just like most of our barn cats!

The first picture in this article is my husband shearing one of our sheep. We make our living off of these animals.

Healthy, happy animals have better lives and give us better results. It just doesn’t make sense for us to put a lot of time and effort into hurting our flock.

The one most likely to get hurt during shearing is actually the person. Sheep can be feisty. Remember you only have one hand free to hold the sheep. The other hand has the clippers!

Here is some footage of the shearer we hired, Brian Dreffs, of Michigan, to shear for us. It went great!

Shearing costs $5.00 per head

Most shearers will charge around $5 each to shear and s/he takes the wool. Keep in mind if you only have a few sheep the cost will be higher as s/he will probably have a minimum charge per job.

The minimum charge per flock is reasonable because coming to you means not going to other possibly bigger flocks today.

You can keep your wool if you would like, all of it or just a few specially chosen fleeces. Be sure to tell your shearer ahead of time.

Keeping the wool will raise the price per head charged to you because the shearer being able to sell the wool is figured into your cost.

Ask other flock owners in your area. What are they paying and who does the best job?

Here’s a look at a shearing contractor site in Australia, it gives you a look at the business side of shearing.

You can shear your own sheep!

Heck, yes! You sure can shear your own sheep! Everyone who is shearing now had to learn and start at the beginning just like you.

Shearing your own sheep is challenging. Once you get the hang of positioning the sheep and get comfortable with the clippers you will get faster.

Like everything else this is a skill that takes time and practice to master.

When you decide to give shearing a try yourself the supplies shouldn’t be too hard to find.

Many livestock supply stores will have clippers and blades on hand or they are easily ordered. There are also tons of detailed videos online to get you started off right.

Sheep 101: Shearing has an interesting overview of most aspects of shearing, if you are looking for more information.

Related Questions

How long does it take to shear a sheep?

Most people can with experience can shear a sheep in about 5 minutes. It depends upon skill level of the shearer and the condition and attitude of the sheep during shearing.

How much money is the wool worth?

Most sheep farmers would get 20-30 cents per pound of wool. Prices do change year to year but that is normal. Our wool this year averaged 31 cents per pound with a range of 7-77 cents per pound.

Unfortunately, this year 2020, our wool sold for $0.02 per pound, yikes!

If you are selling wool to handspinners or crafters I have seen as much as $75 a fleece for specific breeds or special colors.

How much does the wool from a sheep weigh?

Depending upon breed anywhere from 3-20 pounds per year.

Do Sheep Ruin Pastures? Keeping Sheep And Pastures Healthy


Ewes grazing in the late summer/early fall

Sheep look great out grazing in a pasture! I love to see happy sheep eating grass. But is grazing sheep on your pasture really good for the pasture plants and the soil underneath?

Sheep do not ruin pastures. Properly managed sheep improve pasture quality and performance. However, mismanagement of any grazing animals, including sheep, can and will degrade pastured land.

For some reason, there seem to be two common (and opposing) answers to sheep and pastures:

  1. Sheep are good for pastures
  2. Sheep are really bad for or are ruining pastures.

Wow, those two statements are polar opposites! It sounds like something is missing here, which one is true?

The missing part is management. Poor management can indeed ruin a pasture.

This has nothing to do with the animals, of course, sheep or other wise, it has to do with the people managing, actually mismanaging, the sheep and the land.

How do we move our sheep and fence them in, year round? Check out ElectroNet 9/35/12 For Sheep for all the details on the things we love and the things we aren’t too keen on with this netting.

We use electric netting to move our sheep across the pasture.

The flip side is that good management can and will improve a pasture, again not having anything to do with the livestock in this case being sheep.

The eaters of the pasture are helping to improve the pasture due to the management of their movements. This could be cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, etc.

Now that we know the sheep are just eaters and the results really come from the management, what do we need to do to make our pastures healthy and productive?

This will depend on your situation, of course, but there are basic ideas that apply to all grazing. Let’s get started!

Consider the needs of the pasture land

  • Number of sheep your selected area can support vs how many sheep you plan to graze
  • What type of pasture grasses are you managing to promote or discourage
  • How to tell by pasture condition when sheep need to move
  • What to do when you do not have more grass for your sheep

Know the number of sheep your pasture can support

The more sheep you have on your pasture the higher the output of the pasture is going to need to be to support your animals.

The ability of your pasture to produce forage (forage is a catch all term for plants the sheep could eat) is the biggest variable you will have to consider.

Forage production changes based on weather and seasons of the year.

The only way to determine what works for you, your sheep and your land is to try and see what happens on your farm then adjust as needed.

The “Perfect” Sheep Pasture is an article by Ulf Kintzel going over what he noticed about his pastures when he moved to his farm and how he decided to change what was growing in them to better suit his flock.

Ewes grazing in the winter. Since there is not much grass here, they are getting fed hay. This grass will grow like crazy in the spring.
Sheep grazing in late winter.

Actually, this is the reason I used the picture above. Not a lot of grass to be seen. So true, but look closely, there’s snow.

This picture is from late February and we live in Ohio. Our grass stops growing in October.

The pasture still having grass for the sheep to eat in February means we kept them off of it in the grazing season so there would be growth left to eat in the winter.

Small Acreage And Backyard Sheep will go over sheep on a smaller scale, even backyard sized.

Move sheep to a new pasture based on the grass

Move your sheep to new grass when the pasture they have has been mostly eaten, not completely eaten to the ground. Leaving some grass stubble allows the grass to regrow more quickly.

How long each move will support your sheep depends upon the size of the move and how the forage is growing in that specific area.

We have moves that are two days worth of grass and some that are the same size that are one day’s worth of grass. It depends upon where we are at on the farm.

When your sheep are done grazing in a pasture is determined by what grasses and other forages you are trying to promote and which ones you are trying to discourage.

Some forages do well with being grazed down to a shorter plant length- bluegrass and white clover are two easy examples. These two forages seem to do well with multiple grazings down to a shorter height.

The trade off when you manage your pasture for shorter growth is total forage production for that area is less than if you managed the pasture for taller forages.

There is nothing wrong with utilizing the shorter forages as long as the plants are growing well and keeping the the soil covered.

Increase rest time before regrazing

If you want to have the most growth in a pasture you must manage the grazing periods to allow the forages to grow to full height before turning in the sheep.

Once the sheep have fully grazed down the area they need to be moved off to another area.

This pasture must be rested until the plants are at full height again then the sheep can come back into this pasture.

Only allowing the sheep to graze taller forages promotes plants like orchard grass and red clover. These taller forages produce much more eating per acre for your sheep than the shorter forages.

The trade off here is that the longer rest period is mandatory to keep these taller growth plants healthy.

Frequent repeated grazings to a short height will weaken these taller growth forages so they will not be able to out compete the shorter forages.

Move sheep when grass is half eaten

You will need to move the sheep to a new pasture when about half of the forage in the current pasture is eaten or in the case of the taller forages knocked over.

If the sheep have shaved the grass down to nothing, they have been there too long and you are reducing the total production of the pasture for the year.

Leaving some growth helps the forage regrowth faster for the next grazing.

The time your flock can spend in an area changes with the weather and season of the year. Forage growth animal nutritional needs and soil conditions are always changing.

Spend time in the pasture with your sheep

Head on out and spend some time with the flock and see how they are doing.

Are the sheep happily grazing? How does the grass look? Is the ground handling the foot traffic easily?

Move the sheep as needed according to your situation. Each year, season, flock of sheep, and pasture has specific needs.

Your job is to coordinate all this together for the best possible results with the healthiest sheep and pastures.

If you find that you have plenty of pasture, or maybe a bit too much, consider making some hay off of your extra to use later in the non growing season.

This is a great “problem” to have! My article How Do You Make Hay? will get you started.

Out of sheep pasture? Make a sacrifice area

This is a tough situation to be in for any livestock owner but it can and does happen. You now have to make the decision of which aspect of your farm to prioritize.

How Many Bales Of Hay For Sheep? will help you figure up your flock’s hay usage for when you are short on grass.

You have two options.

Option 1: Let the sheep in a pasture that is not rested enough and hope for the best.

The good news here is the sheep will have plenty of opportunity to move around and eat the little sprouts of regrowth coming up off the the recently grazed forages.

Sheep love the tender new growth and will gobble it right up.

The bad news is eating the newly sprouted regrowth is hard on the plants in your pasture.

It depletes their energy stores making them weaker and less able to compete for growing space and nutrients.

Option 2. Make a sacrifice area.

A sacrifice area is a small part of the pasture that you section off to keep the sheep away from the rest of the pastures.

The sacrifice area you will keep the sheep in is “sacrificed” to maintain the quality and production ability of the rest of your land.

You will need to feed and water your sheep in the sacrifice area.

Sometimes the pasture needs protected from the sheep to keep them from overgrazing an area. Other times to prevent damaging the soil structure.

Lots of sheep trotting around on soggy ground compacts the soil. Compacted soil does not have the air spaces needed for microorganisms, worms or roots to thrive so it can not grow the best forages for your sheep.

Once acceptable pasture conditions return the sheep can be put back out to pasture.

The sacrifice area can be renovated to be productive again or kept as a reserve space to be ready next season if these less than ideal conditions are common in your area.

Final Thoughts

Management decisions regarding your pastures and sheep need to be tailored to your specific farm and the needs of your sheep.

Remember, you are seeing the results of your previous choices. If you like what you see keep up the good work! If you don’t like what you see make some changes!

Get out to the pasture. Spend some time with your sheep. Adjust as you learn. Enjoy the opportunity.