Raising Meat Chickens


Even though the first day of winter was only a short time ago, it is time to start planning to raise meat chickens during the coming spring.

If you’re still straddling the fence, I hope this article helps you decide if raising meat chickens in your backyard is for you. Even if you live in an urban area, chances are good you can still raise chickens for meat.

First Things First

Food processing, whether fruits and vegetables or meat, increases self-reliance. It also ensures your chickens are raised humanely in a clean, cage-free environment.

Supplying your family with natural organic meat, free from growth hormones and antibiotics, is essential for raising meat chickens in a backyard. Add the fantastic taste of farm-fresh chicken meat, and you’ll wonder why you never raised your own.

Not everyone wants to or can raise meat chickens. Some cities and suburban areas may not allow backyard chickens; if they do, the number of chickens may be limited. Others may not have the space or have neighbors who object to raising chickens.

Then, there is the last aspect of raising meat chickens. After putting the work and effort into preparing your chickens for the table, can you process them? You can take them to a processor, but even this might not be easy.

I won’t lie to you. The first butchering is hard for most backyard chicken farmers. Some find it more difficult than others do, making it the first and most important consideration before raising meat chickens.

If your area allows chickens, you have the space for them, and you’re okay with the emotional aspect of butchering, consider giving it a shot. For many of you, you’ll be glad you did.

Let’s Begin

Once you’ve decided raising meat chickens is for you, research the breeds. There are different meat breeds and dual-purpose breeds that are good for egg laying and meat production. Deciding which breed to buy is an essential first step.

For your first batch of meat chickens, start small, keeping your group to no more than five or six. A good rule of thumb is to buy one or two extra chicks since it is common for a chick or two to die.

Keep your choices simple by staying with a well-known breed like the Cornish Cross. They are inexpensive and available at most local feed stores or online hatcheries.

The Cornish Cross

There is a lot of negative discussion about this breed, causing most first-time backyard chicken farmers to pass them up. I’ve seen many horror stories about the Cornish Cross. There’s a lot of concern over the birds supporting their weight and heart attacks.

From experience, if done correctly, Cornish Cross chickens are easy to raise without any health issues. We’ve successfully raised many Cornish Cross flocks and consider this bird a great meat flock for beginners.

The two mistakes flock owners make are overfeeding and not butchering soon enough. When our Cornish reaches three weeks old, we only feed them during the day, removing their food at night. If food is left out, these birds continually eat, causing them to gain too much weight too quickly.

The Cornish Cross’ constant eating contributes to their rapid growth, making them ready to butcher at eight weeks. Removing their food at night helps slow the growth process.

While you can butcher any time you want, we recommend eight weeks. You’ll get a bigger bird by waiting longer than eight weeks and not cutting back their feed, but they’ll also have health problems. The 8-week butchering time frame is two weeks less than other meat chicken breeds and at least one or two months before the dual-purpose breeds are ready. By following these suggestions, you should do great with raising the Cornish Cross.

The Cost of Raising Meat Chickens in a Backyard

No matter which breed you buy, keep costs under $10 per bird. Costs include the cost of the bird, shipping, and feed.

By choosing the right breed, raising meat chickens in a backyard costs much less than you think. If your backyard chicken farm is already set up, the only cost is your chicks, feed, and possibly the brooder.

If you don’t have a brooder, you can make one reasonably cheap using repurposed items. Your basic brooder needs are a container to keep the chicks in, a heat light, bedding, feeders, and waterers.

For the container, anything with high sides to keep the chicks in and provide a safe environment will do. We bought a used stock tank for $25 at our local feed store. The tank gives us a safe place for all our new chicks for years to come. You can also use plastic kiddie pools or a sturdy cardboard box.

Brooder Supplies

Whatever you use, all brooders must have the following characteristics:

🐣 Brooder Supplies Checklist 🐥
  • Enough space for each chick to easily move around
  • Safe from any sharp objects or safety hazards
  • Easy to clean or discard, like a cardboard box (Cornish crosses poop a lot)
  • Easy to move
  • Heat source – I recommend the EcoGlow for low-cost operation
  • Easy to reach food and water*
Brought to You by thebackyardchickenfarmer.com 🌱

Water containers must not be too deep because your chicks can drown. For new chicks, I recommend a water nipple system or a drown-proof waterer made explicitly for young chicks, like a mason jar waterer.

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After Cornish Cross chicks are past the brooder age, about three weeks, you can move them to a larger area as long as they are not showing any signs of illness. For other breeds, usually, six weeks is an excellent time to start moving them.

No matter what breed you choose, you must separate young chicks from older chickens and give them time to acclimate with the flock before mixing them.

Our chickens are part-time free rangers. However, we rarely let the Cornish free range since, quite honestly, they are lousy foragers. If we let them free range from leaving the brooder to processing time, they might get better, but we have never tested that theory. Our other breeds can free-range once we know they can get along with the older chickens.

Butchering Time

When raising chickens for food, we respect the birds for giving their life to nourish our family. We follow the path of many Native American practices of giving thanks to each animal that dies so that we may have sustenance.

Our respect for each animal includes a happy, healthy life, a never-ending supply of fresh food and water, and clean and roomy living areas. For our meat chickens, we minimize stress to the birds as much as possible by butchering quickly and efficiently using a cone system.

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Once butchered, we use almost every part of the chicken. The meat, of course, is for human consumption, and we add the feet, organs, and bones to chicken stock. After making stock, we further utilize leftover bones by putting them in the burn pile or fireplace, then mixing the ashes in with the garden soil.

I was exposed to raising poultry, from incubation to butchering, at a young age. Learning to raise and, eventually, butcher teaches compassion while showing a meal’s value. This lifestyle has taught us and our family thankfulness for even the most minor things. What many people take for granted, like where our food comes from and under what conditions, we understand and respect.

When to Start

Winter is the time to start planning and gathering materials for raising meat chickens in a backyard. Just researching and deciding on a breed to raise takes time. Then, if you’re brand new to raising meat chickens or any chickens, you need time to build housing, buy supplies, and prepare the area for your flock.

If you live farther south, like us, you can start your flock indoors in early to mid-March and have a batch of Cornish Crosses ready to butcher by May. We butcher at two different times during the year: before the end of June and at the end of October to the first of November. We don’t like the messy business of butchering chickens during the summer heat. So try planning your flock of meat chickens around the seasons where you live. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

Raising meat chickens is time-consuming and, at times, hard work. My husband and I work full-time, yet we can support a small urban homestead with 25 laying hens and at least ten meat chickens yearly. We feed them, see to their needs, and butcher them when the time comes. And in our spare time, we garden and preserve much of our food.

I feel confident that if we can do it, so can others. It’s not always easy, but you’ll find the pros far outweigh the cons.

16 thoughts on “Raising Meat Chickens”

  1. Since I separate my birds, I feed my hen’s laying pellets and all my chickens get the table scraps and I let them free range a lot.

    One thing to remember with heirloom breeds like the Delaware, they do take much longer to go from egg to table size. But I personally think it is worth the prepared planning for this, not only from a humane standpoint but a non chemical standpoint as well.

    Meat chickens need high protein diets especially the first 8 weeks so some people supplement with whey. So look for the food with the highest protein. Some people recommend feeding them meat. I do not hold to this idea as I think it encourages carnivorous behavior.

  2. Delaware are an old heirloom breed, originating in 1940; no growth hormones. Here is a short blurb with pictures of the Delaware. They are a bigger chicken but not too big fly the distance you are referring to.


  3. One more question about these birds…if our main reason for growing them is to have meat birds by way of eggs and hens hatching/growing….what should i feed the birds. They will obviously lay eggs, and we will eat the eggs when we dont want babies….but should they get fed layer or broiler feed. I order my feed from Sunrise Farms. They recommend feeding their broiler feed after starter as the in between feed.
    What do you suggest as the diet for these birds?

  4. We just processed a dozen Red Rangers. It was our first time and that was what we chose to try it all out on. We would like to process another round, but we want a chicken that is Heirloom and not bred to grow super fast, but not be super slow either. The main thing is to try to stay as clean as possible, going alongside out organic/non gmo eating. In reading this blog post…it appears that a Delaware is your favorite for growing for meat. Would it be considered a “natural” breed….and to make sure I understand your comments….
    1) this breed is considered Heirloom, and not hormone induced in order to create big birds quickly
    2) great birds for cold and hot
    3) roosters can live a while, and breed with hens….even if i only have 2 hens of this breed (so i can keep them in a separate place from my other 12 layers and not risk cross breeding)will they be too heavy to fly up into their nitetime house….i have a smaller house I used up until a month ago for my other birds and they flew up abt 4 feet to get into the house to lay eggs or sleep
    4) will be broody enough to sit on eggs and take care of babies
    5) will produce good meat
    6) are the roosters mean, can they be trusted with my kids

    Thx much!

  5. Thank you for this article! A question about the cornish crosses, I have been buying mine from a commercial hatchery but I want to start breeding them myself… do they live long enough to breed? Or are they not “designed” genetically to live to breeding age?

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