Raising meat birds is very easy and if you are conscious about what is in your food, I recommend that you try raising some chickens of your own. I order all my chickens from Murray McMurray Hatchery. I have not had a problem with them and their birds seem to be of very good stock. I buy the XRocks and I order them with no vaccines or antibiotics. They are not genetically modified, they are a cross breed. They are crossbred so that they mature very quickly. These birds are ready for slaughter in 6-9 weeks. I usually slaughter mine at 8 weeks. If you go too much longer they can start to die off or have health complications. You really don’t gain much by going over 8 weeks. They just continue to eat a lot but not really put too much more meat on.
You will want them in a brooder or some sort of enclosure with a 250 watt heat lamp for the first 3 weeks. I usually order 30 meat chickens at a time and I just took some scrape plywood I had lying around and built a pen 16”x4’x8’ and set it up in one of the spaces in my garage. I then spread out a bag of shavings on the floor. This way I could hang their food, water and heat lamp from the rafters and adjust them easily as the chickens grow. By having the chickens in the garage, they are safe from predators and there should be no cold drafts to worry about. It is also easy to clean up the garage floor when they move out. These chickens eat and drink like crazy so you will want a large feeder and waterier. I ordered my feeder and waterier from Amazon because my local Tractor Supply didn’t carry any large enough.
After 3 weeks, if the weather is going to be decent for a few days, you can move them outside. I built a 3’x5’x8’ “chicken tractor”. You can see mine in the picture above this post. It only cost around $100. It could have been done a little cheaper. I used pressure treated 2’x2’x8’s to go around the base. I used regular 2’x2’x8’s for the rest of the framing. To save some money you could rip down some 2x4s but I was tight on time when I built mine. I used chicken wire for 3’ of the total length and metal roofing for 5’. This gives them plenty of room to get out of the rain or away from predators trying to reach in through the wire. This is based on Joel Salatin’s chicken tractor model. His are 10’x10’ so I just modified it down in size. My size works perfect for 30-40 meat chickens.
Once your chickens are moved out into the chicken tractor you will want to fill their food and water first thing and move the tractor just enough so that they are off of the ground that they were on the day before. This way they will have fresh grass and be off of their feces from the prior day. This setup works much better than free range for meat birds because it forces them to eat fresh grass and bugs daily. Meat chickens are very lazy and will not free range like egg layers will. This tractor will also protect them from predators. The top screened part of my tractor is hinged with locks on the front so that any predators cannot open it. I hang the food back under the metal roofing so that if it rains the food doesn’t get wet. You will want to move the tractor before you fill up the food and water. Just slide a dolly under one end with a short piece of wood between the dolly and the top of the tractor to lift the tractor up a bit and then pull from the other end. It moves very easy. Once moved you can now fill the water and food up. If you have to get inside the tractor for any reason you are now standing on clean grass instead of the mess from the prior day.
Your yard will thank you for the fertilization. It doesn’t take long for your yard to recover from the chickens. You do not want to leave them on one spot for more than a day. About the last two weeks you will have to give them food and water in the morning and again when you get home from work. In the summer if it is a real hot and humid day you will want to prop the metal side of the tractor up a bit so that there is some air flow. I just stick a 2×4 under the back side where the metal is and it works well. Just remember to take it out before it gets dark so that predators can’t get in.
When the chickens are ready for slaughter you can either, load them up and pay to have someone else slaughter them for you, or you can slaughter them yourself. I slaughter them myself. This way it saves me money and now I am in charge of how clean everything is. As well as how well the bird is cleaned out and plucked. I feed my chickens locally grown non medicated organic chicken feed. This way I know what they are eating and what they are made of. My last batch of 30 birds yielded around 175 lbs total after slaughter. They are like small turkeys. The meat has so much more flavor and you don’t have to worry about any chemicals ever touching the meat. Its nice knowing what I’m feeding my family is safe and healthy.
Once you have a chicken tractor built it really is easy to raise chickens. I think it only took 5-10 minutes per day until they were ready for slaughter. It takes two people about 3-4 hours to slaughter 30 birds. I’m sure somebody that slaughters chickens everyday could do it faster but this is my average.
It is getting harder to know what is really in our food supply these days and if you are anything like me you can’t afford to go out and buy all organic meat to feed your family but you can grow it much cheaper. You will also feel less dependent on others to supply your family’s food. Chickens are one of the easiest animals to raise for food. Once you taste the meat from the chickens you raised you’ll never want a store bought chicken again. Feel free to ask me any questions you may have and let me know if you want specs for my chicken tractor. I will try to help in any way I can. What is stopping you from raising some chickens of your own (Besides local town laws)? I hope this encourages you to tryout raising your own chickens and becoming more self-reliant. It’s only a 6-8 week commitment so why not try it out at least once?