With the cost of food skyrocketing and continual concerns over food safety many Michigan homeowners have began to think about growing their own food, and that includes meat. For many people raising a beef steer or hog just won’t work but you might be able to raise your own chicken. It does take some planning and there are some important decisions you need to make.
Don’t expect to raise your own chicken for much less than what you can purchase it at the store. On a small scale, your cost to raise chickens for meat will probably be the same if not higher than purchasing chicken at the store. But you will have the satisfaction of knowing how the chickens were raised and in directly participating in growing your own food. This article discusses some decisions you should make before deciding to raise chickens for meat.
Do you have the right to raise chickens?
First you need to know if you can raise chickens at your home. You will need about 10 weeks tops to raise a batch of conventional, fast grower broiler chicks and it could be done inside an outbuilding. It won’t be too noisy but it can be a little smelly. If you want to raise pastured poultry or free range poultry, you’ll need more time and the chickens need secure pens outside.
You could take the chance and raise a quick group of chickens without official approval, they would probably be ready to butcher before you were forced to get rid of them. But you would probably get just that one chance, you may be told not to do it again. But it’s better to know you can legally raise chickens. That way you can invest in good equipment that will help you raise chicken for many years to come.
What’s your idea of good chicken?
If you want chicken that tastes just like store bought chicken and you just want the knowledge that it was raised humanely and without drugs you can purchase the same type of chickens that are raised commercially. These are Cornish – White Rock crosses. They are known by various names – Vantress- Hubbard Mountain, Jumbo Cornish cross etc. They are available from hatcheries year round, they grow very quickly and they produce lots of white breast meat.
These broilers can be raised on pasture or free range but they don’t really do well in those situations, they need high protein feed to keep their legs from deforming and they aren’t very active. You can raise broilers specially bred to be free ranged or pastured, but these can be hard to find and more expensive than conventional broiler hybrids. You can also purchase the male birds from some breeds of chickens typically called dual purpose breeds.
Males from any color of Rock chickens, new Hampshire Reds, Orpingtons of any color, pure Cornish of any color, Buckeyes, and Wyandottes are good choices of male birds that can provide a decent amount of meat in a decent amount of time. The males from the black sex-link cross, commonly called Shaver Blacks, are another good choice.
These breeds do better in outside conditions, but you will find that the meat produced will taste a bit differently than the meat from conventional broiler hybrids raised inside. Some people prefer the more flavorful meat. There is less breast meat in these birds and these breeds are generally available only in the spring and early summer.
Chickens that run around actively have somewhat tougher meat, meat that gets tougher the longer they are allowed to grow. You’ll need to butcher them at a smaller size to maintain tender meat. They take more feed and more time to produce a pound of meat than typical broiler crosses.
It takes about 8-10 weeks to raise hybrid broiler chicks to eating size. It takes 14- 20 weeks or more for other breeds. Don’t buy chickens listed as “fry pan specials” or cheap male chicks that come from lightweight egg producers or ornamental breeds. These will not provide good meat or a happy meat raising experience for you.
What kind of housing can you provide?
Each chick from hatch to 1 month needs about 6 square inches of floor space. After that conventional broilers need at least 18 square inches, until butchered. More active meat breeds need 2 square feet of floor space or more. All chickens need a dry home, protected from cold in the winter and too much heat in the summer.
You can raise conventional broiler chicks inside in a well lit corner of a barn or shed. The other breeds could also be raised this way with a little more space. If you are planning on housing the chickens outside you’ll need to plan for sturdy pens that keep out predators as well as the weather. It’s only practical to raise chickens outside in Michigan in the warmer months.
How many can you raise at a time?
Most hatcheries sell chicks in a minimum amount of 25 chicks. If you can combine an order with a friend a good first time meat chicken experience would be 10 chicks. Other wise you’ll probably be dealing with 25 chicks so figure floor space accordingly.
You get price breaks on ordering larger numbers of chicks. However chickens don’t “hold” well alive. When they are ready to butcher you’ll need to do it all pretty much at one time. How much chicken can your freezer hold? How much chicken are you willing to eat in about 6 months?
Who is going to do the butchering?
You can butcher at home. It’s messy and you will have lots of smelly waste to dispose of. If you would like to know more about the butchering procedure read the book Raising Chickens for Dummies. It is strongly recommended that you leave the butchering to someone else if you have close neighbors or squeamish children or spouse.
It’s easier and more convenient to have a professional do the butchering for you. This is generally quite inexpensive. Find out where chicken processors, (butchers) are in your area before you get the birds. Usually you need to have an appointment several weeks in advance.
Once you have decided on what kind of birds you want to buy, how you want to raise them, where you are going to house them and how you will butcher them you are ready to try some birds. If you need more information on the feeding and care of the birds please see the Raising Chickens for Dummies book, link above, and excerpt link below.
Keep good records of what you spend on raising your meat chickens. Start small to see if it’s something you enjoy doing. You may want to try several breeds and methods of raising meat birds that suit your taste and budget. If you find the work is too much you may be able to find a local chicken raiser to provide you good humanely raised chicken.
Here are some more articles on this site you may want to read.
To see excerpts from Raising Chickens for Dummies please go to