How to Raise Broiler Chickens
Stuff the Freezer by Raising Meat Chickens
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Learning how to raise broiler chickens, for those of us who have had chickens before, is quite easy. For the most part, raising broilers is not much different from brooding layers. However, there are a few special considerations you should know before you get started.
Why Raise Broilers?
Sure, you could buy a package of chicken breasts for dinner, but that’s not why you got into homesteading, is it? There is a certain level of pride that comes with growing and processing your meat, and peace of mind that comes with knowing how you raised your food.
The Difference Between Store-Bought and Home-Grown
Those of us who have tasted the difference know that home grown chicken is significantly tastier than store-bought chicken. Not to sound snobbish, but the difference between factory farmed meat and local is significant, and I’ll tell you why.
One of the reasons home-grown chickens taste better is what we feed them. Commercial growers know how to raise broiler chickens, but growers buy the cheapest ingredients to make their feed because they have profit margins to maintain. Using the cheapest foodstuff is not a recipe for great tasting poultry. Conversely, when we buy grain at retail, that formulation is largely a fixed recipe. The retail market (those of us that buy feed by the bag, not the ton) demands quality and consistency well above that of a commercial grower. As such, what we feed our birds is typically higher quality than the feed used in your standard commercial farm.
Adrenaline and other factors of stress play a significant role in the quality of meat, be it poultry or otherwise. In a commercial operation, birds are either rounded up and crated by a team of farm hands, or by machines. These crates are stacked on pallets, moved by forklifts and strapped to tractor trailers. These tractor trailers drive great distances to the processor where they’re unloaded and processed. It’s a stressful journey to your dinner plate.
When it comes time to process my broilers, I pick one up gently, walk it 30 feet to the processing line and before they know what happened, they’re gone. No forklifts, no long journeys crammed in crates and very little adrenaline. Processing birds this way makes an enormous difference in tenderness. If done right, your birds should be fork-tender when cooked.
Broilers, also known as Cornish Rock crosses, or “Cornish X Rocks,” are a hybrid, much like sex link chickens. Broilers are meant to do one thing exceptionally well — grow. For a first-time grower just learning how to raise broiler chickens, I always suggest trying broilers for their fast turn around.
At six weeks old, these hybrid birds are ready for slaughter and will dress out at around three to five pounds each, which is a nice size for roasting, grilling or breaking down into parts. Don’t hold them for longer than six weeks.
Classic dual-purpose breeds like the Jersey Giant chicken and the Wyandotte chicken can be raised as meat birds, but if you want a slower growing bird, there are better options. Specialty hybrids such as Red Rangers and other slow-grow broiler breeds are an excellent choice. Expect to grow these hybrids for 10 to 12 weeks.
Meat birds are far less mobile than layers, and they don’t forage as much. People who know how to raise broiler chickens will agree that having a deep litter floor in your coop is critical. Otherwise, conditions will get disgusting in a hurry. When I raise my broilers, I like to keep a pine shaving bedding pack of at least 12 inches deep.
Using a deep litter system with pine shavings allows the bedding to absorb moisture, and then release it as the environment allows. If you try to raise broilers on hay or straw, bacteria grow in the bedding, and your ammonia levels will become overpowering. It’s not healthy for you or your birds, and may even kill them or make you sick. Avoid this and use lots of pine shavings.
Broilers don’t need any specialized feeders. Your typical chicken feeder will do. However, you should use a nipple system or nipple bucket for water. Nipple valves will provide clean water that stays fresh, unlike trough style water dispensers. Additionally, nipple systems will result in less moisture making its way to the bedding.
Today’s feed suppliers are combining so many feed rations that it’s borderline confusing these days. Look at your chosen feed mill’s website, and follow their recommendations for feeding meat birds, but you can expect to be feeding a starter-grower feed ration from day one to slaughter. I don’t ever suggest using a “fat and finish” feed, it does little to improve your birds.
Learning how to raise broiler chickens is the easy part, turning them into dinner is another story. If you plan to do it yourself, which I recommend you try, be sure to research it first. If you’re processing more than ten birds at a time, it’s good to enlist helping hands.
Don’t assume there’s a poultry processor nearby that will slaughter your birds for you. Ask around, call prospective processors and be sure you have a way to transport them. You can imagine just how much of a fiasco it would be to have a hundred broilers ready for processing, just to find out that no one within a hundred miles will do the deed for you.
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