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Getting started with broilers

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Quick facts

  • You can raise chickens for meat on a small scale, even in your backyard.
  • It is important to do some planning to provide chicks what they need: 
    • clean space 
    • heat lamps 
    • bedding
    • starter feed
    • plenty of clean water

Are you thinking about raising chickens for meat?

Backyard gardeners and small-scale farm operators sometimes think about adding chickens, especially broilers, to their summer production activities. Whether growing for profit or as a source of food for the family, raising broilers can be a rewarding and educational experience for everyone in the family.

It's easy to get a batch of chicks started at relatively low cost, and they grow quickly. They are ready to be processed and put into your freezer or sold to customers in only 6 to 12 weeks, depending on the breed of bird and the weight you want them to have at processing.

Of course, raising healthy livestock of any type for fun or profit requires some attention to planning and detail, and broilers are no exception. Follow a few basic, general guidelines about the needs of baby chicks and growing chickens to help ensure success with the birds you raise.

Calculate the cost

Most small flocks only produce enough meat for your household. If you plan to market any birds, consider the current market prices for each class of meat birds. Also, don't try to compete with retail sales at special sale prices. Often, rural customers prefer heavier weight, fryer-type chickens over the lighter weight range common in many stores.

Calculate your production costs and compare to retail market prices.

  • Calculate chick cost by adding a few extra chicks to account for any death.
  • It will take about five pounds of feed to age 6 weeks and eight to nine pounds to age 8 weeks for commercial strains.
  • Roasters and capons need more feed per pound of meat produced than fryers.
  • Plan to not keep birds longer than the time it takes to reach a desired weight.
  • Figure that equipment costs will depreciate over a 10-year period and housing costs over a 20-year period.
  • Estimate litter, heat for brooding, lights, and miscellaneous costs. Allow for any payments made for labor for caring for birds, cleaning out house, etc.

Convert your figures to a per pound basis by dividing the total cost per bird by the expected market weight. The ready-to-cook weight will be 70 to 75 percent of the live bird weight.

Meat chicken breeds

Cornish, Plymouth Rock and New Hampshire breeds are the most economical meat strains. These crosses feather rapidly and mature early and have the most economical conversion of feed to poultry meat.

Some flock owners use White or Barred Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds and New Hampshires for meat. However, these breeds generally don't grow as rapidly as the crosses and take more feed per pound of weight gained. Leghorn males don’t make good meat birds and are unprofitable even if you receive day-old chicks.

The various classes of chicken meat birds are raised from the same commercial strains.

  • Broilers or fryers: birds slaughtered at 7 to 9 weeks of age when they weigh 3 to 5 pounds and dress a 2 ½- to 4-pound carcass
  • Cornish game hen: birds slaughtered at 5 weeks of age
  • Roaster: birds grown out to 12 weeks or longer
  • Capons: male birds neutered at 3 to 4 weeks and marketed after 18 weeks

 Meat-type chicks are usually purchased on a straight-run (males and females mixed) basis.

When ordering chicks

  • Hatcheries in Minnesota and around the country can be found online.
  • Plan their arrival around their departure. Cornish cross broilers (most commonly raised) need only six to eight weeks to reach a market carcass weight of four to six pounds. Other breeds that grow slower may take 10 to 12 weeks.
  • You can order cockerels (males), pullets (females) or a straight run (mixed batch). Cockerels are a little more expensive but grow faster. They may weigh one pound more than pullets at processing, at the same age.
  • You will need to arrange processing well in advance.
  • If you grow birds for your own consumption within the limits of a town or city, check the local government ordinances prior to processing the birds in your backyard, as this is not typically allowed.
  • Consider having the birds vaccinated at the hatchery against coccidiosis. It is cheap to do so, and then you will very likely have healthy birds throughout their short growing period. This vaccine will help give the birds protection against a very common and costly poultry disease. Doing so can then give you the option of using non-medicated feed throughout the production period.

 

Caring for meat chickens

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Melvin Hamre, former Extension animal scientist

Reviewed in 2018

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