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Growing Meat Chickens At Home And How To Save On Food Costs

We are growing our own meat birds this year and ended up with very large, healthy chickens at a reduced cost compared to grocery store meat. Here are some things we learned along the way.


First of all, meat birds are going to grow fast. They are ready to harvest in 8 to 10 weeks. We kept ours for 12 weeks but they were semi free ranging and very healthy birds. But we will get into that later.


Broiler chickens are bred to eat a lot and grow fast. They need a high protein diet and access to food 24/7. They do not move around much so they convert all their food into muscle. A typical broiler chicken will convert 2 pounds of food into one pound of meat.


Raising Cornish Cross Meat Birds


At $13 for a 40 pound bag of meat bird starter feed that amounts to about 10 pounds of food for a 5 pound chicken. This means you are going to pay about $3.25 per bird for food during its life. We paid $1.99 a bird at the store when we bought the chicks. This means our chickens cost about $5.25 when ready to harvest.


Compare this to grocery store costs and its about the same. But our birds are healthy and we control what they eat. They are semi free ranged which adds to their value. There was no medication, no hormones and no by products fed to our birds. This adds value to the meat.


We use NatureWise natural meat bird starter at 22% protein. We start the chicks out in the brooder for the first two or three weeks. During this time they have 24/7 access to the chick starter feed and lots of water.


After they are a bit stronger they can go outside during the day. After three weeks meat birds no longer need heat at night even down to 50 degrees in our experience. These birds have a high metabolism and they are generally warmer than standard chicks.


We put the chickens out in a large pen each day to free range. The pen protects them from predators but allows them to eat bugs and greens. This also gives them a bit of exercise. In the chicken coop they birds will lay by the food container and just eat all day without moving. Outside they are encouraged to move around a bit and search for food. We move the pen around each day or so to give them fresh greens.


This also has the added benefit of fertilizing the ground and improving our lawn. Plus it reduces work load and cost even further. We use less bedding and do not have to clean out the chicken coop as much.


We only give them a quart of food in the morning and one in the afternoon. They get the rest of their food from nature.


In the chicken coop roughly 10 birds will eat about 1.5 gallons of food a day. Outside they only eat about 2 quarts a day due to free ranging. This cuts our cost in third.


Our chickens were quite healthy when dressed out. They were also huge because we kept the first batch for 12 weeks. The chicken breasts were so large that a single one feeds my wife and I for 3 meals. That is six servings on a single chicken breast.


The meat birds get tough fast though so our first batch needed to age a bit before eating them. Sitting the meat in the fridge a few days will soften the meat. Or you can slow cook it for a very fine meal.


Cornish Cross meat birds are also very friendly and gentle birds. I have not seen a pecking order or any fighting between birds even when we mix different age birds together. We can put 3 week old chicks in with larger 6 week old birds with no problem. When larger they are clumsy and awkward though and may step on one another or bully their way to the food using their bulk to move others out of the way.


Our chickens quickly learn the routine and happily run to us in the morning waiting to go outside into the free ranging area. In the evening they run to the edge of the pen wanting to be carried back to the chicken coop for the night.


Cornish Cross Broilers will never fly. They are too heavy and grow too fast for their wings to develop enough. They are also quite happy to stay where you put them. If one happens to escape, it will not go far away from the others. Usually they try to get right back in. Our birds will run to us and chirp, asking to be put back inside the pen when we approach.


In our experience 6 to 10 broilers will use about three gallons of water per day during warmer days. As stated above, they will eat about 6 quarts of food a day when left in the chicken coop. But outside they use a third of that food.


Compare this to our normal barnyard chickens which only eat six quarts of food every few days. We can fill their 3 gallon feed container and leave them for a week with no problem before it needs refilling.


We kept our birds much longer than commercial birds. But then again, our birds were healthy and got a lot of exercise so they grew a little bit slower. They happily flapped their wings and ran around each morning when we put them out. We also dressed them out at a much larger size than normal. Our first batch was an experiment.


Generally they say you should keep the birds until their legs break and then dress them out. Well our birds were strong and healthy when we dressed them out at 12 weeks. But at this point they were eating and drinking way more than others and it was a chore just keeping them. I figure they dressed out at about 7 or 8 pounds.


We found one broken wing and one broken leg when dressing them out. But this could have happened when they flopped around after lopping their heads off. The birds run and flop a lot due to nerves at this time. We did find one unhealthy liver out of the bunch. Generally broilers can be unhealthy due to their fast growing rate. Their organs cannot keep up with their growth and there can be a lot of health issues and sudden death among meat birds.


We were fortunate in having very healthy birds though. I think this is mostly due to the fresh air, food and exercise they got.


Our experience with Cornish Cross meat birds has been very good this year. We are now raising our third batch and will most likely get a fourth soon. We hope to provide our own meat through the entire year.


The meat from our birds is also very fresh and healthy. There was nothing added. Nothing injected into the eat after processing as you find in commercial meat birds. Both the taste and smell of the meat is different from commercial birds. And it is so good for you.


Next year we will most likely continue on with Cornish Rock Cross broilers during the spring. By then we hope that our dual purpose birds will be laying enough eggs for us to hatch out a new batch for next fall.


You can watch today's video here: Free Ranging Meat Bird Broiler Chickens Reduced Feed Cost & Improved Health


While you are over there please subscribe to my YouTube channel and follow our daily videos as we strive to become self sufficient and off the grid on a budget.

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Troy Reid


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