Raising Broiler Chickens

The promise of a chicken in every pot just got easier with our guide to raising broiler chickens. Here's the scratch on raising meat chickens — everything from poultry breeds to organic poultry feed.

| December 2013/January 2014

Raising broiler chickens can put meat on your table quicker and with less effort than raising any other livestock. In just a handful of weeks, your chicks will reach target weight and your larder can be stocked with meat that's tastier and better for you than anything you could buy at the grocery store. Plus, raising meat chickens lets you opt out of the profoundly inhumane industrial food-production system. The choice between hybrid or heritage breeds, confinement or free range, and conventional or organic feed are entirely up to you.

Best Broiler Breeds

Growing broilers — young chickens with pliable skin and tender meat — involves making several choices. Your first decision is whether to raise hybrid or heritage poultry breeds. The fundamental differences are the amount of time they need to grow and the flavor of the meat. The quicker your birds reach the target weight of about 6 pounds, the cheaper they are to raise overall and the more delicate the meat. The longer they take, the more they'll cost you (as is the case with heritage breeds), but the meat will be healthier and more flavorful.

White hybrids. The most efficient hybrid broiler chickens are an industrial creation developed by combining White Cornish and White Plymouth Rock genetics. The resulting hybrids — the type most commonly sold at the supermarket — grow and feather rapidly. Chicks of the same age and sex grow at the same rate and efficiently convert feed into meat, reaching target weight in just six to seven weeks. Their edible portion (excluding excess fat, intestines, feathers, heads, feet and blood) is approximately 75 percent of live weight.

Under careful management these broad-breasted hybrid broiler chickens will consume approximately 2 pounds of feed for every pound of weight gained. Unless they're raised on range, hybrid chickens must be butchered as soon as they reach target weight, or they will develop bone ailments or die of heart failure as a result of their excessively rapid growth.

White Cornish hybrids have fewer feathers to pluck and no underlying hair-like feather to singe off, making them easier and faster to clean than other broiler chickens. I like roasting them with the skin intact. When I raise other broiler breeds, I skin them because it's faster than plucking the feathers off. However, you can choose to pluck your birds regardless of breed.

2/1/2014 8:05:09 AM

I've been raising Rhode Island Reds for several years for the eggs but interested in raising some meat birds too. I let them roam free during the day but the amount and cost of the grain is ridiculous. And I also don't think I'm interested in raising unhealthy birds just to get meat in 2 months. So what types of meat birds do well in the heat of South Florida and what alternatives are there for grains? I have a rather large organic garden and I all ready give them all the scraps from it.

1/29/2014 8:04:36 AM

To be a self sufficient farm you would not keep buying chickens to eat, you would raise them from egg to dressing them out. Eating birds whose heart will explode at two months old is not my idea of nutrition. Is it really yours? I am working towards not feeding them grain at all. There are many many farmers who don't feed their chickens an oz of grain and their dressing out weight at 16 months is between 4 and 7 pounds. Depends really on the time of year. So eat your tender exploding hearts chickens and you will never know the flavorful juicy dark meat of a real chicken. Oh did you know that heritage birds lay eggs for up to eight years? Yup, it's true. Enjoy!

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