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Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Today is slaughter day. So let me tell you all about broilers. Broilers are a hybrid chicken bred for fast and efficient meat production. The original root stocks are White Cornish and Barred Rock breeds – hence the common name of “Cornish Cross”. Americans on average eat 90 pounds of chicken per person per year – that is 27,000,000,000 pounds total! Almost all chicken is raised in highly-efficient, industrialized broiler houses. Unlike my opposition to what I consider inhumane industrialized layer houses, I am not apposed to broiler houses. Chickens only spend 8 weeks in these boiler houses and I believe that they are reasonably humane.

But I have great satisfaction in having produced some of my own meat. Here is the story of this year’s production. On March 14 my wife, LeAnn, went to the County Extension Office to pick up the 25 chicks that we ordered. (We get them as part of a 4H project.) That would give us enough for Sunday dinners through the year considering we rotate chicken, beef, and pork. LeAnn called me from the Extension office and said that Larry, the County Agent, wanted to talk to me. Larry got on the phone and said “Dale, we have a few extra chicks we would like you to take.” I said “How many?” Larry said “200” I said “NO!!! Let me talk to LeAnn.” I warned LeAnn not to take any more than 50. We got the 50 home and over the next few day several died, which is not unusual. We finally got around to counting the chicks and after the death loss, we still had over 60. Larry stuck us with more than we asked for (at the cost of 50 so I wasn’t too upset.).

We start the chicks in the garage and finish them in a horse stall in the barn. Our pasture pens wore out and I haven’t gotten around to building new ones. Today, May 25, 74 days later we took 49 to be processed by a Mennonite family. Our death loss was unusually high this year. At 10 1/2 weeks we grow our broilers to heavy weights from 5 to 10.5 pounds dressed weight. Our total weight for 49 broilers was 410 pounds. Our upright freezer is full (and so is our neighbor’s).

I do not encourage urban farmers grow broilers. It is not worth the effort unless you grow a considerable number like we do. If you want to have chickens, then get layers. Egg production is much more fun and economical than meat production. Broilers are ugly. They have oversized breasts and feet. They clumsily waddle around. They stink. They have very wet manure in comparison to layers. It has to do with the genetics and the hot feed that makes them grow fast. Even bedding them every day does not mitigate the smell. And then you have to dress them (interesting terminology) or find someone to do it for you. You only have to worry about dressing layers after 2-3 years.

Here are the economics for my 49 broilers:

Chicks @ $0.50 each (4H price), $25

Feed, 1350 pounds, $305

Heat bulb, $7 (They break every year)

Slaughtering fee, $113

Gas for pickup , $20

Total, $470

Cost per pound $1.15

Buy your chicken meat in the store and focus your backyard farm on layers and a vegetable garden. But I have a great satisfaction in putting a roasted chicken that I produced on my Sunday dinner table.

Dale M. Johnson


m. & m. said...

Good to know, Dale. I love that first photo with all the chickens in the back.

I had a question - what is the oldest you would let a chicken get and still want to eat it? I know a lot of layers stop producing around three years old. Can you use those hens for meat?

Dale said...

I keep my layers until they just don't produce many eggs (1 every 3 days or so) or until they start eating their eggs. Then they definitely go. This is usually 2-3 years. If they are Rhode Islands or Leghorns which are bred specifiaclly for eggs, there is hardly enough meat to make it worthwhile to eat them, especially if you pay someone to dress them. If you want to dress them yourself then, then they are probably worth stewing for soup. Multipurpose breeds such as Barred Rocks have enough meat to make it worth it.

Tea Rose said...

What a great informative article! My family has seriuosly been considering getting 30-40 meat birds in the fall, but after reading your article...I am just not sure it is the right move. Thanks for writing about your experience - it has helped me make a much more informed decision.

Dale said...

Tea Rose

If you have a little more room than just an urban back yard (I looked at you blog and it looks like you may have) then you might want to try broilers. I would start with 1-2 dozen. An alternative which I love is turkeys. See my article on this blog about turkeys. I much prefer them to broilers. The big problem with both broilers and turkeys is how do you get them dressed. If you are willing to do it yourself, then by all means try some meat birds.

Regi said...

I've enjoyed this article. This is my first summer with chickens for eggs. I have been thinking about next summer getting a batch of broilers. Thanks!

toni komara said...

good article

Anonymous said...

good stuff sir! would u let me inform the types of chickens and about their food and diseases!
my ID is



najeeb said...

i m najeeb

Anonymous said...

If you live in country and don't mind getting dirty and blood, you can do it. I do it every year. I don't make money but I eat free organic farm raised chickens. They also have slow growing broiler crosses if you don't want to deal with as much loss with heart attacks heat stroke and leg problems. But I got 65 birds from my feed mill and only lost five birds. Which is not bad for the fast growing broilers. Three as chicks and two as adults. Biggest problem i had first year was over feeding.