Raising your own meat doesn’t have to be complicated. With a few weeks of work you can raise a year’s worth of meat chickens to fill your freezer with pastured meat! If you’ve been wanting to jump into raising your family’s own meat, chickens might be the perfect fit for you.
Why Would I Want to Raise a Year’s Worth of Meat Chickens?
Raising meat chickens is a worthwhile endeavor that will fill your freezer with meat from your own land! They don’t need a lot of space, and some breeds take just 8 weeks to reach maturity. When you raise your own meat chickens, you can control every input. When you control what they eat and the quality of life they have, you control the meat your family is eating.
Chickens raised conventionally on commercial farms are not inherently “bad”, but unless you visit the farm you are getting your grocery store chicken from, you will never know 100% of the life they lead. You may choose to grow chickens on pasture with the ability to stretch their legs and eat bugs and grass. Perhaps you’ll choose to feed them organic feed only. You might not even be able to find a chicken of this quality at your local store, and if you do it could cost you big.
Raising your own meat chickens isn’t free, but you’ll make up for the cost and sweat equity in a product you might not otherwise have available to you. You and your family will make memories, love the animals that feed you, and spend time doing something valuable beyond dollars with your summers!
How do I Get Started Raising Chickens for Meat?
Establishing your goals for the end product will help guide you to what breed would be right to raise a year’s worth of chickens for meat, which will decide the equipment, feed, and how long you’ll have your birds before sending them to freezer camp. I knew I’d be feeding family members who might not be excited about the chicken on their plate coming from my front yard, so I wanted an end product that was at least similar to grocery store chicken in appearance when plated. I also wanted a bird with a quick grow out time so that the texture of the meat would be the most tender. The final quality I was looking for was a chicken that had a high feed conversion rate that would give the largest yield.
With all of these goals in mind, we decided to go with the Cornish Cross breed. If you have different goals in mind, look up breeds that will be more compatible for you! The beauty of raising your own meat is that you can control the inputs, outcome, and quality of life for the animals that will eventually feed your family.
How Much Chicken Does Your Family Need?
Are you eating whole chickens or meals with specific cuts? Think about how many times per week, then month, your family eats chicken. How many pounds of chicken per month do you need? An average Cornish Cross chicken yields 4-6 pounds of meat after butchering. To be on the safe side, divide the pounds of meat you’ll need per year by a 4 pound bird, and that will give you the number of chickens you’ll need to raise a year’s worth of meat chickens.
How Long Does it Take to Raise a Year’s Worth of Meat Chickens?
Depending on the breed of chickens you choose grow out times can vary. The time it takes to “grow out” a meat chicken is from hatch to freezer. Many grow surprisingly quickly, which means with just a few short weeks of work, you can fill your freezer with a whole year’s worth of pastured meat.
A Cornish Cross chicken is ready to be butchered between 8 and 10 weeks. It was one of the reasons we chose them.
A Freedom Ranger can take 9 to 12 weeks because they will spend more time foraging instead of eating feed you provide.
Another option is to purchase a dual purpose bird (bred for both meat and eggs) to raise. These breeds can take substantially longer to grow out, meaning they’ll be under your care for closer to 16 to 20 weeks.
Where do I Find Chickens to Raise for Meat?
Now that you’ve chosen the breed of chicken you’d like to raise, you need to find the birds to bring home! This task might seem daunting if you’ve never purchased a farm animal before. I had no idea where to look at first either!
Farm Supply Stores
If you live in an area with a farm supply store, there are a few times of year they will have chicks available. Visit and don’t be afraid to ask for more information. When do the chicks usually come in? What kind of breeds will you have available? Can I place a custom order through you? Is there a minimum or maximum number of chicks I can buy? These kinds of questions will help you decide if this is the place you’d like to buy from. Keep in mind, though, that most of the flexibility is up to the store itself.
Local Sellers Online or In Person
If you live in a rural area you might have a robust community of chicken keepers available to you. Facebook could be a great place to connect and find a mentor who has chickens you’re looking for to purchase. This is a wonderful option if you’re wanting someone to walk with you through the process of raising your chickens for the first time.
Online Hatcheries (by mail)
Lastly, there are chicken hatcheries that will actually ship you chickens specifically to raise for meat. If you find one locally, most have the option for pickup. However, getting them by mail is surprisingly fast and easy. Hatcheries will have robust information available about their practices and the breeds available to help you make an informed decision. You can select from many different breeds of day old chicks. Once you’ve found one, they will ship to you in 1-3 days to your local post office. When the chicks arrive, the post office will notify you that your own little box of fluffy chicks is ready to come home!
We live in rural ohio and decided to purchase from Meyer Hatchery. You can check out their site here. They have lots of information on breeds, care, keeping, and all things chicken rearing! We have purchased both Cornish Cross and Buckeye breed chickens from Meyer Hatchery, and have been very happy with the health of the chicks every time.
What do I Need to Raise Meat Chickens?
Brooder for Baby Chicks
Baby chicks don’t have the ability to regulate their own body temperature. You’ll be responsible for keeping them warm and dry, which means you’ll need a secure place for them to sleep. You will also need to provide bedding and a heat source. Chicks need about 1/2 square feet of space each. If you are only raising a few, you can even brood them for the first few weeks in something like a rubbermaid tote! Some farm supply stores sell bottomless cardboard brooders that are easily set up and taken down when you need them.
We raise batches of 25 chicks at a time. We built a brooder that transitions to a moveable coop for the pasture once they are ready to move outside. The brooder/tractor is 3′ tall, 4′ wide, and 6′ long with a hinged lid on top to access the chicks, and eventually the grown up chickens.
The heat source can be a heat lamp or a brooder plate. Heat lamps are cheaper, but a brooder plate may be a safer option. Brooder plates are more expensive, but pose almost no fire risk whatsoever.
Food and Water
Chicks need access to water 24/7. Waterers can be purchased at your local farm supply store or online. We use one that screws to the bottom of a mason jar for the first 2 weeks. Then they upgrade to a lager waterer that they use until it’s time to butcher. Your chicks will need a chick starter feed then can move to a grower feed at 3 weeks old. Some breeds are recommended a 12 hour on, 12 hour off feeding schedule. Look up the breed you choose to find out if this is necessary. The feed we use is a chick starter/grower so they get this for the entire time we are raising them.
In addition to using store-bought feed, there are also a few ways you can supplement their food and cut down on costs even further.
I wrote this post on the cost of feeding chickens as well as ways you can save some money doing so.
When your chicks are fully feathered, they’ll be ready to move out of the brooder into their outside housing. For Cornish Cross this is about 3 weeks old. For the dual purpose breeds this could be closer to 6 or even 8 weeks. We feel that pastured meat is not only the healthiest, but it provides the best life for our little chicks! Our chickens live in a tractor that is moved every morning and every evening to a fresh patch of grass. I love watching them pick through the grass and bugs after every move. Fresh grass also means more food for my birds that I don’t have to buy!
You can use a stationary coop or a moveable tractor. However, it is important that you provide enough secure space for them. Cornish Cross chickens need 2 feet of space per bird for optimal growth. You can look up the space requirements for the breed you select too. Consider security, shade, and airflow when choosing your coop or tractor.
Butchering Chickens for a Year’s Worth of Meat
Our goal when raising chickens for meat is for them to only have ONE bad day – butchering day. I know that my chickens were loved and cared for well from day one, which does make butchering day easier.
The day before butchering day we pull all feed (keep their water available) so that their digestion tracts are empty. This makes butchering cleaner and easier. Prepare your supplies the night before to streamline your day of work ahead.
Butchering any animal is always difficult and emotional. It should be! If you are going to be consuming meat, it is an inevitable part of the process. Raise your year’s worth of meat chickens with the best practices you can provide! They deserve the best life possible! Our chickens are out on pasture, under sunshine, right up until they are dispatched to feed our family.
Allow the chickens to rest in a cold environment for 24 hours to allow the meat to tenderize. You can use coolers of ice water, but we use an older empty refrigerator in our basement for this.
Package the birds up and don’t forget to weigh them for your records for later.
Pat yourself on the back, because in just a few short weeks, you raised a year’s worth of meat chickens!
How Much Does it Cost to Raise a Year’s Worth of Meat Chickens?
Cost can vary widely from homestead to homestead. What breed, where they come from, losses, feed type can all impact your overall cost. I can remember wanting to see an actual cost breakdown from my favorite homesteaders and often having a hard time finding one. I’m still learning and growing every season, but here is how our numbers shook out for our 2022 year.
2022 Year’s Worth of Meat Chickens Cost Breakdown
- 55 day old Cornish Cross chicks from Meyer Hatchery @ $2.43/each = $132.00
- 4 feeders from Tractor Supply Co. @ $10/each = $40 (this cost breaks down with our yearly, repeated use)
- 4 waterers from Tractor Supply Co. @ $21/each = $84 (this cost breaks down with our yearly, repeated use)
- 4 bags of Bedding from Tractor Supply Co. @ $5.59/each = $22.36
- 17 bags of feed from Tractor Supply Co. (Natures Best Organic Starter/Grower-40lb) @ $29/each = $505
- 100 shrink wrap bags from Amazon @ $37.99 (we will use these next year as well since we only used just over half)
Total Cost = $820.99
We grew out 55 meat chickens to an average of 5 pounds/chicken.
Total Cost Per Pound = $2.98/pound
If we had purchased these same whole chickens from a local farm using organic feed and rotational grazing for the chickens, we would’ve paid $3.50/pound each! That would have cost us $962.50 for our total chicken consumption for that year. So our Total Savings = $179.00!!
Overall, we did put in hours that we wouldn’t have if we had just purchased our chicken from that farmer. However, we had a lot of fun doing it, learned a lot, and guaranteed a quality product by doing it ourselves.
It is also worth mentioning that things like the bags, we get to split the cost between two years, the feeders/waterers the cost can be split over multiple years, so the cost could be calculated lower with that in mind.
In the future, we can buy the feed in bulk with a discount to further reduce the cost now that we know the inputs we need.
I hope that these tips & this cost break down are enough to inspire you to try to raise a year’s worth of meat chickens for your family, too!