14 Reasons to Raise Meat Chickens
One of my favorite signs of spring is baby chicks on the farm. Have you ever wanted to try farming, but you don’t have a lot of time, money, or space? Raising meat chickens is a great place to start.
Spring is right around the corner. It is a great time to give raising meat chicks a try. From diet diversification to entertainment, there are many reasons to raise meat chicks on the farm. There are six main reasons to raise your own chicks and eight more secondary reasons for a total of 14 reasons to raise meat chicks.
You may be wondering why I am talking about chickens instead of beef. One important thing to remember when farming is diversification. Some years the cattle market isn’t great, so having another source of income is wise. I don’t raise enough chickens to support our family financially. Not even close, but it is an important skill that I could utilize to earn some extra money.
Buying and Selling Chicks
I purchase 100-day old broilers from the local co-op. Buying the chicks in quantity saves money. Another reason, I buy from the co-op because the shipping is free. After I order from the co-op, they are shipped to the post office where I pick them up.
I don’t need 100 chickens for our family nor do I have room in my freezers. Whole chickens take up a lot of room in a freezer. I have room for around 50 because I try to prepare a whole chicken each week.
I sell the extra, started chickens on Craigslist. Through Craigslist, I have developed a partnership with a retired gentleman, who doesn’t have a place to raise baby chicks. As soon as the chicks don’t need the brooder light, he purchases about twenty from me. He pays me enough to cover the entire amount of starter feed up to that point. It benefits both of us. The remaining 30 chicks that I don’t need, I sell on Craigslist or raise, butcher, and give as gifts to family and friends, but I have always sold my excess meat chickens.
Here are the six main reasons to raise meat chickens.
1. Diet Diversification
The main reason I raise meat chickens is to add variety to my family’s diet. We try to raise almost all of our own meat to eat. Since we are beef farmers, we eat a whole lot of beef. Don’t get me wrong, I love everything beef, but eating it every day gets boring.
Enter chickens! You will never taste a better chicken, than one raised “on pasture” through your own blood, sweat, and sometimes, even tears. In my humble opinion, the meat even looks more golden from all the fresh air and sunshine.
The diet of a free range chicken also consists of grass and other greens, food scraps, bugs, and many microorganisms they scratch from the ground. Free range chickens are living their chicken life the way God created them to live by scratching, running around, stretching their wings, soaking up the sunshine and interacting with each other. All these activities create healthy, happy, stress-free chickens.
2. Healthy Meat
Boneless, skinless chicken breast. It seems that every chicken recipe calls for them. It is easy and fast in this lightning-fast world we live in. Unfortunately, boneless, skinless chicken is not as healthy as chicken with the skin on and bones in. Chicken skin has healthy fat, adds moisture and flavor to the meat. The bones contain vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. I am not suggesting you eat chicken bones, rather make broth from them. Check out my whole chicken recipes in the future.
Another benefit of cooking whole chickens is organ meat, which has many health benefits. The strong taste may take some getting used to. I hope to share some delicious recipes for organ meat in the future.
A third benefit, as I mentioned above, is using the carcass to make bone broth. I will share my simple bone broth recipe in a future post. Bone broth has many health benefits. It contains collagen which benefits hair, skin, and nails. Bone broth can be consumed plain or used as a soup base. Homemade broth is chemical free, unlike many store-bought varieties. It is also very inexpensive and easy to make. Making it in the slow cooker draws out the vitamins and minerals from the bones. It can also be canned or frozen for future use.
3. Clean Meat
When raising your own chickens, you know exactly what they are fed. If you prefer organic, you can buy organic feed. I personally don’t buy organic. Instead, I use a commercial meat producer for the first 4-6 weeks, then I switch to a ground corn mixture we produce on the farm. Another thing I feed them is extra raw milk straight from our cow. You can read more about raising a milk cow here. We can’t begin to drink all the milk our dairy cow produces so we give it to our meat chicks. They love it. It is a great source of protein for the chicks.
As I mentioned earlier, free-range chickens eat a variety of foods in their diets: bugs, greens, microorganisms. Their diet benefits their owners in other ways too. Chickens will eat food scraps such as fruit and vegetable peelings, egg shells, meat scraps, pretty much anything except citrus. One of the chickens’ favorite treats is fly larvae and eggs. Ok, that may not be pleasant to think about, but it helps reduce the fly population. If you have a compost pile, chickens will turn over the compost saving you time and labor.
4. Food Security
If the food supply chain breaks down and the grocery shelves are empty, having a homegrown source of food is like food insurance. Once you learn how to raise, butcher, and prepare chickens, you have food freedom. You do not need to depend on grocery stores to provide your meat. Meat recall- not a problem for you. You know the source of your meat.
I also raise meat chicks because I enjoy doing it. It is fun to watch the chicks grow and change. There is also a sense of satisfaction in a job well done. I definitely appreciate my chicken dinner much more knowing that I raised it from day one. I love my chickens, which may seem that it would be difficult to kill them, but honestly, I feel like I have given the chickens a good life, not in a factory farm and they are now serving their purpose by feeding my family.
If you have children, raising chickens is very educational. It teaches responsibility. Give your child one, five, or ten chickens to care for. Teach the child to feed and water them, clean their pen, monitor the brooder temperature, and make sure the pen is predator proof. By giving a child a small number of chickens, you can give them full responsibility and if the chicks are neglected and die, it teaches a hard life lesson. Of course, use your own discretion based on the age and maturity level of the child.
The first time a child raises a chicken, it will probably be very difficult for them to see it be butchered. With experience, you will find a balance of farm animal and pet. I remember the first time I gave my son a meat chicken. We ended up keeping it because he loved it so much. Unfortunately, it died over the winter because it couldn’t handle the cold. It was a hard lesson to learn, but a valuable one nonetheless.
Raising chickens is a biology lesson. After you get used to gutting chickens, (the first few times are difficult) you can look at the internal systems of a chicken. Teach your children the function of each part. You can describe how a mammals system is similar and different.
Raising chickens teaching children where their food comes from. It teaches them to value their food and not to be wasteful with their food. With all the labor and time that they put into raising chickens, they will not waste food.
We homeschool our children and teaching them important life skills through chickens will benefit them throughout their lives. As a child, I didn’t have the opportunity to raise chickens. I didn’t give much thought to where my food came from. I am thankful to have learned this life skill, even if it was later in life.
If these six reasons haven’t convinced you to raise chickens, here are eight more reasons why. . .
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Most of the supplies can be reused.
Chickens are easy to raise.
Honestly, as long as you provide fresh food and water, a warm, dry place to live, chickens will survive and thrive. Most hatcheries will estimate a ten percent mortality rate, but I have never experienced that high of a rate. I lose one or two, but many times they are clearly deformed or weak when they arrive. My biggest problem has been predators. I will address this issue in a future post.
Chickens don’t take up much room.
For the first month, they can be in a small cage or brooder. I free range my older chicks in the yard in chicken tractors, chickshaws, or electric netting. I have even raised them in the barn.
Meat chickens, in particular, are not a long term commitment.
They can be raised from day-old chick to ready to butcher birds in as little as 12 weeks. The broiler chickens I raise take about 15-20 weeks.
Meat chickens are easy to handle.
It is not like they are a 1200 lb. cow. You can pick up chickens and usually catch them when they escape their enclosure. It is unlikely you will be injured by a meat chicken unless it accidentally flaps its wing in your eye when you catch it.
Meat chickens are easy to process at home
Chickens can be butchered and processed outside quite easily. Watch for a future post about butchering chickens.
Baby chicks are cute.
This may not be the best reason to buy chickens, but there is something very relaxing about watching baby chicks peck around the farm or take a nap in a happy, little chick pile.
Chicken manure is great for the garden.
It cannot be directly applied because it is too hot but composted over time, chicken manure is wonderful for the garden.
These are just some of the reasons to give raising meat chickens a try. There are many other reasons. I hope I have helped convince you to try it out.
Here is what 100 meat chicks looks like. Aren’t they cute? Have you ever raised meat chickens? How was your experience? Tell me about it in the comments.