Raising meat chickens (also called meat birds or broiler chickens) is a great step down the road to self-sufficiency. Raising healthy meat birds to their ideal market weight begins by choosing a complete meat bird feed that’s high in protein to sustain their rapid growth.
Meat chickens, or broiler chickens, are rapidly growing in popularity as many Americans decide to live more self-sufficient lifestyles. Meat birds are a straightforward, undemanding animal to raise for nutritious and healthy meat. Cornish Rocks (commercial broiler chickens) will reach market weight in 42 days. Other meat bird breeds can take up to 10 weeks to reach market weight.
But raising chickens for meat is very different than having a small flock of egg-laying hens in your backyard. To help get you started, we have answered the most common questions about raising meat chickens.
What is the best chicken breed for meat?
A popular chicken breed for meat is a cross between Cornish chickens and White Rock chickens, called a Cornish Cross or Cornish Rock. They are typically raised to 6.0 to 6.5 pounds in 42 days. At 8 weeks of age, a male will weight about 9.5 pounds and the females will weigh about 8 pounds.
Other good meat chicken breeds are Red Ranger and Freedom Ranger, which are slower growing meat birds. They typically hit their market weight at 10 weeks. Heritage breeds, like New Hampshire chickens, are also popular with backyard chicken raisers but can take up to 16 weeks to reach harvest weight.
How long to raise meat chickens?
Egg-laying chickens can lay for up to 6 years, while meat chickens reach their target weight in 6 to 8 weeks.
There are some differences between raising egg-laying chickens and meat chickens. As chicks, both will need an additional heat source for the first 3 weeks of age. The ideal temperature will be dependent on the ambient temperature. Egg-laying chickens begin life in a small brooder and then around 6 weeks old, they’ll move into the chicken coop. Meat bird chicks, on the other hand, typically live in the same place from birth until they reach market weight.
When raising chicks, provide 2 to 4 inches of feeder space per chick and allow up to 2 square feet of floor space per bird. Cover the floor with 3 to 4 inches of bedding, like pine shavings, for absorption. This helps keep your chicks warm and channels their energy into growing.
At around 4 weeks old, your meat bird chicks will need a little more room as they grow larger. Provide 6 to 10 inches of feeder space per bird and at least 4 square feet of coop space per bird. Raise your meat birds separately from other backyard poultry to help reduce stress and risk of disease transmission.
Always keep food and water in front of your meat birds while they are growing. Meat birds are not as agile as they mature. Clean the brooder and coop daily
, more often than you would with layer breeds.
What to feed meat chickens?
Meat chickens need a high-protein, complete feed to help them maintain their health and reach market weight efficiently. These chicks can triple their hatch weight in the first seven days and gain as much as 1.5 to 2 pounds in the last week.
To provide everything meat birds need to thrive, we developed Purina® Meat Bird Feed
. This complete feed provides all the nutrients meat birds require to start strong and grow strong – no need to supplement.
Meat Bird Feed includes:
- 22 percent protein to support fast growth
- All the unique nutrients broilers need every day
- A proper calcium-to-phosphorus ratio of 2:1 to help keep birds healthy and mobile
- Antioxidants and probiotics for digestive health
A crumble formula, like Purina®
Meat Bird Feed, is easier for your chickens to eat and digest. When paired with the right management, Purina®
Meat Bird Feed can help broiler chickens reach mature weight efficiently.
Meat chicken feed schedule
On average, each bird will consume around 10 pounds of feed during the first six weeks. They will eat between 3 to 4 pounds of feed a week after six weeks. They may be small, but they are voracious eaters.
Do broiler chickens lay eggs?
All breeds of chickens lay eggs. Most chickens begin laying eggs at 18 weeks old, so meat birds that are harvested before that age will not lay eggs.
Dual-purpose birds are laying chickens that get heavy enough to harvest for meat. Many times, people will raise a flock of dual-purpose birds and process any roosters in the flock because they will grow large enough to process for meat. Females can be harvested as well, but it’s less common.
If you are raising chickens for meat, a breed intended for meat products is a better option than a dual-purpose breed. It takes two to three times longer to raise a dual-purpose bird to a marketable weight. Meaning, you’re buying and feeding a lot of extra feed for those birds.
A few popular dual-purpose chicken breeds are Plymouth Barred Rock, Delaware, Buckeye, Jersey Giant, Orpington, Sussex, Turken and Wyandotte.
Ready to try Purina®
Meat Bird Feed with your flock? Find a local Purina® retailer near you.