With the price of food getting higher and higher every week, we get a lot of calls from people on raising meat birds. Some want to know the basics on raising them, others are more concerned about how long to keep them or “when are they done?”
Going to the local farm store that has tubs filled with chickens, can get confusing. There are probably over 100 breeds of chickens throughout the world. That’s way too many to even consider. Let’s make this a little easier.
There are three classifications of chickens: layers, meat birds, and dual purpose.
The layers are the ones that give us eggs. You can research which are the better layers, which do better in your climate, etc. On average, a layer starts laying eggs when they are five months old. They lay an egg every 24 to 26 hours and stop laying for a few weeks during the molting season. Layers could lay eggs until they are seven- or eight-year-old, but every year the number of eggs they lay is less and less. A five-year old may lay an egg every other day. A seven-year-old, every three day. Once the egg production decreases, many people want to have their hens processed. Layers do not make good roasters. They are great for chick soup though.
Meat bird are raised for their meat. The Cornish Cross are the most popular. They are ready for processing at 6 to 8 weeks. Other meat birds may take up to 12 weeks before they are ready for processing. A meat bird will usually dress out at 70% to 75% of its live weight. A seven-pound live bird will be about 5 pounds on your table.
Dual purpose birds are layers that can also be used for their meat. One popular dual-purpose breed is the Rhode Island Red. These birds start producing large, brown eggs at about five months. Roosters can be processed at 6- to 8-weeks. Hens are typically processed around 18- to 24-months as their egg production starts to drop. Hens do not make a good table bird but are excellent for stews, pot pies, etc.
Most chickens require the same basics: food, water, shelter.
The shelter or “coop” can be something as simple as a shed or something as ornate as a multi-story building. Most chickens do well in a shed-type coop. Most birds enjoy being outside when the weather is good. If your area doesn’t have a lot of predators – hawks, fox, etc. It shouldn’t be a problem. If you are concerned, a screened in area will suffice.
Clean water. It can be in a pail, shallow bowl, or a specially designed chicken waterer. As long as the water is fresh and clean, the chickens will be fine. If you are in a cold climate, a heated waterer is essential.
Young birds need a starter feed that’s 22% to 24% protein for the first few weeks, then a finisher feed at about 18% protein. About two weeks before processing, meat birds should have their feed taken away in the evening and put back in the morning.
Chickens can make good pets. The lifespan of a chicken is 5 to 10 years. Some can live longer. Very few layers, though, lay eggs past seven years. And these eggs are laid less frequently than young hens.
Getting chickens is a great way to introduce your family to farm animals and the responsibilities and chores of farm life.
KeiLin Farm, a producer of farm fresh beef, chicken, pork, and eggs, is located in Davisburg, Michigan. Check out our website to discover all our products and services including raising meat chickens and chicken processing.