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Raising Chickens For Meat- Part 1, by Michele Cooper

This past year, for the first time, I raised chickens for meat. The reason I did not previously is that I do not like killing animals. I can butcher them after they are dead, but I don’t like killing them. Yes, I know, I’m such a wimp.

Informed of Chicken Processing Plants

I have a good friend, Tami, who works for the local feed store, and in the spring, they have lots of chicks. I mentioned to Tami that I would like to raise my own chickens for meat but cannot kill the chickens (or rabbits, or whatever). She informed me that, in Idaho (much closer to us than the Willamette Valley or the coast), there are chicken processing plants where you bring in live chickens and return a few hours later and have chickens that have been killed, cleaned, cooled, and sealed in plastic.

Going To Raise Meat Chickens

Well, that settled it for me; I was going to raise my own meat chickens.

I had done a lot of research on growing meat chickens, and I had decided if I ever raised my own fryers they would be Red or Freedom Rangers or the equivalent, and not Cornish Cross or Franken chickens, as I call them. Cornish Cross chickens are what are grown commercially because they grow from baby chick to fryer size in 6-8 weeks. In fact, they grow so fast that their legs often cannot keep up and you have a bunch of chickens that can’t, or can barely, walk. Further, many of them die of heart attacks due to their massive growth rate.

Red rangers take about twice as long as Cornish Cross. It takes twelve weeks instead of six to eight.

Bought and Ordered Chicks

So, armed with the knowledge that I would not have to kill them, I bought all 25 chicks Tami had in stock, and I ordered 25 more, which would be in in about a month. I figured that would give us about a year’s worth of chicken.

Chicks are usually available in March and April. You can purchase them from feed stores or order them online, and then they come in the mail.

Before You Pick Up Your Chicks

You need to have food, waterers, and chick starter before you pick up your chicks. You will also need some sawdust, newspapers, or something for bedding for the chicks. There are little plastic chick feeders and waterers that just fit onto regular mouth canning jars (either pint or quart). They are inexpensive and come in several bright colors.

You usually have a choice between medicated chick starter [1] or non-medicated chick starter [2] for your baby chicks. (Medicated has antibiotic in it.) It is your choice, but the medicated is probably not needed if you keep their cage clean.

Chick Starter Feeding

They will need to be on chick starter for the first 2-3 weeks of life. Please note, these feeding instructions are for meat chicks. Layers need to be on chick starter much longer. After 2-3 weeks on chick starter, the chicks need to be changed over to meat bird grower, which has about 22% protein, as they are growing at a phenomenal rate.

It is also good to have a little bit of chick probiotic/electrolytes [3] on hand. This is not strictly necessary; it’s just nice to have in case they develop a severe case of diarrhea.

Online Chick Order Arrival At Post Office

If you order your chicks online, you need to be available on the day they come in to go to the post office and pick them up. You will usually get a call from the post master saying they are in and to come get them. Do not delay! These chicks are newborn and have had no food or water since they hatched or for the past two or three days while in the mail. They are really hungry and thirsty.

When Remove Them From Shipping Box

When you remove them from the shipping box, you will need to have fresh water available and dip their little beaks in it as you remove them individually from the box and place them in their new temporary home. They will find the chick food on their own.

Warm Temporary Home For a Couple of Weeks

March and April is really cold here still, so I raise them in the house for a couple of weeks and start them in a large clear plastic bin over which I place a lid which is a wood frame with metal screen that fits over the top of the bin. I place a brooder lamp [4] on the lid with a 75-100 watt light bulb in it to keep the chicks warm. They need to have an area in their temporary home where it is approximately 90 degrees until they are fully feathered.

My bin is large, so the chicks can sit right under the light if they are chilly. They can also move out away from the light if they get too toasty.

If the night is expected to be especially cold, I also cover the half of the bin with a towel but not touching the light to help hold in some heat. (I do not want to risk a house fire so am careful to keep the towel away from the light.) Check your babies several times per day, and make sure they have plenty of food and water.

Cleaning and Checking For “Pasty Butt”

Also, you will need to clean out your bin every few days at the most. It can get pretty smelly. I usually move the chicks to a small box while I am cleaning out their bin. Moving them individually from the bin to a box for cleaning out the bin gives me time to check each one for “pasty butt”. Pasty butt happens when the poop is a little sticky and sticks in a lump on their vent/butt.

No matter how distasteful it may be to you, know that if it is not removed, they will be unable to defecate and will die. Do this the following procedure as gently as possible: Damp the butt/vent with warm water and a cotton ball or q-tip. Then clear it. Try not to pull too much of its down/fluff out because it needs that down for warmth. (Besides, it hurts when you pull it out.)

Funny Story

Here’s a funny story but true. I was raised in the country, but my husband was raised on the coast in Connecticut. While Jeff wasn’t raised in a huge city, it was still a city.

The February after we got married, I told him that on March 1, chicks would be available at the local feed store and I was going to get some. We had both sold our homes and were living in a rental house on several acres while we looked for another house to purchase in Eastern Oregon.

Jeff inquired, and rightly so, since there was still about six inches of snow on the ground, where I planned to put these baby chicks, as they would surely freeze to death outside. “In the house” was my reply. I was totally surprised by his question since I have always started baby chicks in the house.

Now, his eyes got big! “In the house?” Jeff asked, slightly alarmed. I could see that he was imagining chicken poop everywhere and chickens flying all over the house, on kitchen counters, and the dining table.

“Yes, I bought them a big plastic bin, and we can place a lamp over them and raise them upstairs.” I assured him.

He was skeptical and did not think it was a good idea since we were in a rental home, but I assured him that I had talked to the landlord and had a place I could move them to outside once they were feathered out.

It worked out really well. Jeff helped me with the chicks daily, holding them and getting attached to them. Baby chicks are really cute.

Tomorrow

Tomorrow I will tell you about our pursuit for a chicken tractor. Also, we will go over some other details, such as cost and benefits of raising chickens for meat. Come back for more of our story tomorrow.

See Also:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

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Round 80 ends on January 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail [14] us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.

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Comments Disabled To "Raising Chickens For Meat- Part 1, by Michele Cooper"

#1 Comment By SCarolinaGal On January 19, 2019 @ 1:43 pm

I raise Farm Rangers and have for years. The robustness of this breed is significant in comparison to those chosen by commercial enterprises. Even placed along side of my layer chickens they shine for sturdiness.

The chickens at slaughter allowed to complete rigor mortis before packaging adds immensely to the overall flavor as well…..something commercial processing does not do.

The enjoyment of not only knowing one raised and farm processed a solid bird, but, the flavor, as well, will sell itself to any would be grower.

Try this one time and you will never go back to Cornish or grocery store commercial chicken again.

#2 Comment By Desert Sailor On January 19, 2019 @ 5:29 pm

How do you get your chickens to the processor?

#3 Comment By Michele Cooper (M.C.) On January 19, 2019 @ 9:03 pm

Believe it or not, in cages that we put in our 2 horse trailer. We had one rabbit cage, and one dog kennel and I think we also had a few smaller cages as well. I didn’t want to stress them out too much. The settled down really quickly, and just hung out for the ride.

#4 Comment By Professor Wagstaff On January 19, 2019 @ 6:12 pm

Good article – my first thought was, in a SHTF situation your reluctance about butchering will be overridden by hunger and necessity. Hunger is a motivator like no other.

We’ve had chickens on and off for years, and while “free range” is easy and allows them to forge for bugs and weed seeds, be forewarned. You could lose your entire flock in a matter of hours or minutes. We have had both foxes and dogs (neighbor’s pets) decimate our flocks a couple times. Just an inconvenience now, this could be a real disaster in a survival situation. (if that happened in a SHTF scenario, I think we’d be eating Dog Bulgogi that night).

I haven’t tried them yet, but I am very interested in obtaining some icelandic chickens. They’re supposed to be very hardy. Their appearance indicates a very wide gene pool and they apparently retain the “broodiness” trait, which would be very useful when the US mail and local feed store are no longer in business.

[15]

#5 Comment By Michele Cooper (M.C.) On January 19, 2019 @ 9:04 pm

I am very sure you are correct about a SHTF situation and my reluctance to kill animals being overcome.

#6 Comment By Camp Doubt On January 19, 2019 @ 6:23 pm

We started raising meat birds upon our arrival to the redoubt area 7 years ago and have tried both the rangers and the Cornish crosses and have returned to the cornies only, for us it was a matter of taste, we found that the rangers had more of the dark meat ie. legs and thighs vs the the Cornish which tend to have more of the white meat.
What we have found works best is to limit the food intake to 8 hours per day and to provide them enough area to free range, when the birds are on a 22% protein feed this adds up to a fast growth cycle, so by limiting their food intake and giving them a chance to roam some we eliminated the problems that you had mentioned in your article. So what we end up with is a 12 week time to mature and that give us an average bird weight of 5-6 pounds per bird.
We like to get our chicks around the first of April and this gives them a chance to mature before the added stresses of the hotter weather set in.
And finally the processing, i don’t think anybody likes to process birds we just happen to be so fortunate to have a poultry processor nearby and it is great, First thing you have to do is make an appointment for the processing (they are very busy and i’m sure it’s because others don’t like to do their own birds too) and timing is everything here because you don’t want to extend the feeding time nor do you want them to be under weight either.
You back your rig up to the back door they empty it and you come back in a few hours and everything is in vacuum sealed bags with the weight and date affixed to the package.
I personally like to hang around and help unload the trailer and observe the process just in case i have to take on the task some day myself. And to educate myself on all things chicken.
This last spring a new owner had taken over the operations as the previous owners had retired, kind of sad to see them go but i’m sure they needed the rest.
As a retired carpenter i will approach the new owners this year and will do as i do with others and offer my services of carpentry, building etc. in barter or trade for processing, otherwise i will look forward to seeing them again this summer knowing that the freezer will be again stocked up with some of the best tasting organically raised birds.

#7 Comment By Michele Cooper (M.C.) On January 19, 2019 @ 9:10 pm

Camp Doubt,

You must live somewhere near Fruitland, ID. That is the processor we took our chickens to both times, and we really liked it. I say that, because these people just took over the processing plant and it just seems like too much of a coincidence.

Nice to meet you neighbor!

#8 Comment By Camp Doubt On January 19, 2019 @ 9:59 pm

Nice to meet you too M.C.

You are correct in your assumption, We’re up here where the high desert meets the pine forests and as you are quite aware it is an extremely lovely place to reside, I’m sure we will cross paths someday, until then peace be with you and in all that you put your hands to!

#9 Comment By S.Lynn On January 20, 2019 @ 4:03 am

There is also a processor in Wilder.

#10 Comment By Sis On January 19, 2019 @ 8:49 pm

The new chicks will usually find the feed but if raising the Cornish cross kind ( my husband prefers white meat) they’re really dumb! So place their beaks into the water and then into the feed. We ve raised meat chickens for at least 18 years.

#11 Comment By G. John Spivey On January 20, 2019 @ 4:45 pm

Fantastic article. Well written and a joy to read. Thank you for sharing.

#12 Comment By Jake On January 20, 2019 @ 9:59 pm

One of the reasons we decided to raise and butcher our own chickens was due to the substantial amounts of fecal residue caused by mechanical processing. I recommend checking to see what process is used and how many bleach baths the meat is subjected to in the process.

#13 Comment By Nate Covington On January 21, 2019 @ 2:57 pm

I’ve got a farmer nearby who advertises a mobile chicken processing service. So he’ll come to your place and butcher / process the chickens for you. I haven’t done meat chickens yet, only laying hens, but the service where he comes to your house seems really appealing.

#14 Comment By Seymour Liberty On January 22, 2019 @ 6:17 pm

Michelle & Camp Doubt:
Thanks for the great info! What is the price for processing per chicken or drop off? Nate: What is the price for the mobile processing? Just trying to get a frame of reference. All Best,

#15 Comment By Camp Doubt On January 24, 2019 @ 2:46 am

Seymour Liberty:

Where i have my birds processed the price last season if i recall correctly was $3.25 per bird and if you wanted the gizzard’s that was another .50 cents per.

I continue to work at getting my costs down per bird and the best i have done is around $10.00 per bird, total cost and that is from picking up the chicks at the hatchery to putting them in the freezer which is a high price if you compare it to the grocery store, but there really is no comparison when you consider what it is your getting. Especially the satisfaction you get in raising it yourself. BTW, Trader Joe’s sells their organic birds for over $20.00 ! Good luck to you