Chicken Care
Raising Chickens for Eggs and Meat: A Beginner’s Guide

Raising Chickens for Eggs and Meat: A Beginner’s Guide

Let’s face it, inflation is jumping and we are all feeling the pinch in our pocketbooks every time we hit the grocery store. While a dozen eggs used to easily be under a buck, it is now over $3 in some areas. Meat prices are jumping also! The days of boneless skinless chicken breast for $1.79 a pound are becoming a distant memory if you can even find it at your local market. This is the main reason that people are flocking to the idea of raising chickens for eggs and meat!

Raising Chickens for Eggs and Meat: A Beginner's Guide

Can you raise chickens for eggs and meat?

Chickens are easy to keep and provide a valuable source of protein. In addition to eggs, chickens can also be raised for their meat. You simply have to know the best breeds for dual purposes and a few things before you build that backyard flock.

What is the best chicken to raise for meat and eggs?

There are several factors to consider like chickens for meat are generally heavier birds, weighing in at 6-8 pounds when butchered.

There are many different types of chickens to choose from, depending on what you’re looking for. Dual-purpose chickens, such as the Cornish Cross, grow quickly and can be prone to health problems if cared for improperly so many tend to avoid them.

Rhode Island Red hens are often thought of as the best chicken to raise for meat and eggs as they have a moderate amount of fat which makes them great for frying or baking. They also have a high yield so you’ll be able to produce a lot of eggs.

Rhode Island Reds are also good foragers, meaning they’re good at finding food in the wild if you want to take a chance at free-range – you never know what animals might beat you to eating them for dinner.

Light Sussex Hens

This is our best suggestion. If you’re looking for a chicken that is friendly and easy to care for, consider a Light Sussex hen. They remain one of the best breeds for both eggs and meat but mature too slowly to be regarded as a good commercial chicken. That means you have less competition for this reliable, family-friendly backyard chicken.

Here is the best part: they are also known to be good layers, producing an average of six eggs per week each!

Is it worth it to raise chickens for eggs?

Is it worth it to raise chickens for eggs?

You might want to do the math first if you are looking at only having a few birds on hand. It can cost between $300 to $1000 to raise backyard chickens, depending on the enclosure you build and the number of birds you have.

It doesn’t stop there! After building the enclosure, you should budget at least $30 per week for a flock of 10 chickens.

Don’t let that deter you – raising backyard chickens can be a profitable and sustainable way to get your eggs and meat, especially if you have some materials already handy.

Raising chickens for eggs can be a profitable enterprise, provided you have the right equipment and plan. Let’s face it, chickens are valuable for their meat, eggs, feathers, and manure.

You’ll need to provide them with enough space and feed to raise healthy chicks and it’s important to get started early in the season so you have time to build up a business before winter sets in.

How many chickens do you need to actually make a profit selling eggs?

Some people like to have enough birds on hand to sell their eggs instead of only keeping them for the family. It becomes kind of a gourmet side-hustle as your “farm fresh eggs” can sell for $4 a dozen. (The going rate in Southern Wisconsin right now).

If one hen lays about 6 eggs a week when they are mature, you have to do the math as to what the ideal size of your flock will be. You need 2 hens for a dozen eggs, and 10 birds will net you roughly 5 dozen. We already know it will cost about $30 a week for those 10 chickens – so you will actually lose $10 with a flock this size. Double that size flock and you should break even. With 30 birds? You should start to see a profit, though small.

If you choose to pickle them or waterglass them, then you can easily get $9-10 for a dozen, just by adding that extra bit of work.

How much are meat chickens worth?

Meat chickens are worth more than regular laying hens, but that is usually due to the kind of feed you want them on. Meat chickens are usually fed organic meat bird feed, which is between 20 and 24% protein.

Here is the real deal – they can go for $5 a pound! That means your 4-6 pound chicken is a $20-30 sale, and you make that money along the way if it is laying eggs too!

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How much does it cost annually to raise chickens?

Like when you start anything, there are some initial start-up costs that you incur – as a one-time fee. To raise chickens, you will need to purchase an enclosure, feed them, and maintain them.

The materials to build and furnish a coop and a 20×5-foot run—including wood, fencing, and hardware—are going to set you back at least $300.

We already know that your 10 chickens will run about $30 a week, or $3 each to raise. One bird should be about $155 a year with that kind of math. If you can’t do this work yourself, you’ll also be buying skilled labor.

We already talked about how much you can make off their 6 eggs a week each – and chickens are most productive in their first two years of life; after that, egg production will slow down.

That means you will get 52 dozen eggs from a bird during its laying life – for a total of $208+ in egg income. Add in the $20-30 sale for meat and each bird can add up!

How long does it take to raise a chicken for slaughter?

There are many factors that contribute to how long it takes to raise a chicken for slaughter, including the size of the bird you buy.

First of all, it is important to be aware of the differences between “roaster” and “meat” chickens before buying them. A roaster is a large bird, anywhere from 5 to 7 pounds. Roasters are raised for their meat and will generally be older than a chicken you would buy for eggs.

Roaster chickens will take longer to reach the age at which they are considered “ready” for slaughter than a meat chicken. If you want to raise your own chickens specifically for meat, it is best to buy them as soon as possible. That is why roaster chickens are usually sold in the fall when they have reached their full size. Roasters will be about 10 to 12 weeks old at slaughter and will feed your family for several meals.

Maintaining a good butchering calendar will help avoid health issues in your chickens.

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How old is a chicken before slaughter?

So here is the thing – most laying hens are not processed for meat.

First, egg-laying hens aren’t quite as tender as hens raised for meat. That’s because they’re older and their muscles have done a lot more work. They taste gamier and their meat is tougher… instead of that 6-12 week old bird, you have one that is up to three years old!

Most commercial farms either render their spent chickens or sell them for pet food – but here is the thing – it is OK to eat your own flock.

When you let chicks hatch, some will turn out to be male. Male chickens are usually killed earlier than female chickens because they produce more meat.

My Aunt Fern had a decent-sized chicken farm in southern Illinois and spent chickens usually became chicken pot pie or even chicken and dumplings. That smaller bird was just cooked long and slow, to counter that toughness.

How much does it cost to process a chicken?

Not everyone likes to do it themselves – and the answer here will changes greatly on your own area, how backed up the butchers are, and how many birds you are doing at one time.

Sorry, you need to make a few phone calls here for your local answer.

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Processing Chickens on the Farm

Simply put, there are several steps in the processing of chickens:

  • Removal of the head and feet – The head and feet are removed by cutting through the skin and bone with a sharp blade.
  • Evisceration – The internal organs are removed from the chicken carcass. This is done by making an incision in the stomach and pulling out the intestines, liver, heart, and gizzard.
  • Washing and chilling – The chicken carcass is washed with cold water to remove any blood or dirt and then chilled in a refrigeration unit.
  • Packaging – The chicken is packaged in either a vacuum-sealed bag or plastic tray.
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Why You Want to Have the Butchering Equipment Ready BEFORE It’s Butchering Day

If you are raising meat chickens and have to postpone your butchering day because you were missing something? That extra week or two can actually harm your birds as they will suffer if you change your mind and let them grow too large.

Municipal Regulations

When we first got our little farmette we were tickled at the thought of a few hens and maybe a goat or two! One problem, our local government didn’t allow for barnyard animals in the city limits. You really need to ask your local city hall first as these regulations can cover a wide range of topics, from building codes to zoning laws to parking restrictions.

Thank goodness our laws changed a few years back!

Planning and Buying Your Chickens

Here is the large debate – which should come first, the chicken or the egg? Buying chicks is the cheapest option, but they require more care and feed. Adult hens are the most expensive, but they’re usually easier to come by.

Hatching eggs are a good option for beginners, but be prepared to take care of them well, and you may need extra equipment. You will also be waiting longer for that batch of fresh eggs for your breakfast!

How Many Chickens Should I Get?

The answer to this question is up to you. The number of chickens you need depends on the size of your family. You will need at least two chickens per person to produce enough eggs or meat if you aren’t looking to start an egg-selling operation.

Chickens are a great way to provide eggs and meat on a homestead as a large egg has roughly 10 grams of protein.

How many chickens to get also depends on the size of your homestead and what you want to use them for. Keep in mind that chickens need fresh water, feed, space to roam around, and a coop or run in which to live.

You also need to get a small flock as chickens are social animals and need at least one other bird to live with them in order to lay eggs naturally.

Where Do I Get My Chicks?

Where Do I Get My Chicks?

Chickens can be purchased from local farmers, hatcheries, or farm supply stores. I found it funny that the USPS has been shipping chicks for about one hundred years and will ship chicks that you purchase online.

Check it out for yourself: Chicken Shipping 101 Mailing a Chicken through USPS

What Should I Look Out For?

This is what you need to know when buying birds or chicks! Just a few simple things to watch out for:

1) All birds should have clear, bright eyes.

2) If a bird, regardless of age exhibits any of these signs you should avoid buying it.

  • Sleepy, lethargic
  • Hunched into a ball
  • Sitting by itself
  • Reluctant to move

What do I need to know before buying chickens?

Now that you know what to look out for if you are buying chickens, not chicks, this is a quick tip for purchasing birds:

Try to see the bird’s personality. Some birds are cuddly and love to be around people, while others prefer their independence and may not want to be touched. If you have young children, you’ll want to choose a bird that is friendly and enjoys being around people.

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21 Day Guide to Hatching Eggs

OK – you went with eggs instead of chicks or hens. No problem!

Sourcing fertilized eggs from a local source is usually preferred if you are going to go this route. You will also need to purchase an egg incubator for about $100.

Eggs take 21 days to gestate post-lay, so depending on when you purchase your eggs, you could have up to three weeks to care for the eggs before they hatch.

Caring for fertilized eggs involves checking the temperature and humidity of the incubator a couple of times a day and turning the eggs an odd number of times throughout the day (usually three times), to ensure the growing chick maintains normal movement within the egg.

It is not necessary to do anything on the day of the hatch other than check on the eggs and chicks.

Most egg fertility ranges from 50% to 95%. Therefore, it is a good idea to purchase more fertilized eggs than you actually want chickens…it is better to be safe than sorry.

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Care and Maintenance

Just a few simple things here to keep in mind:

  • Provide clean bedding and food
  • Provide grit
  • Feed them treats
  • Check for dampness
  • Keep the coop clean and free of perches and dropped boards
  • Chickens love roaming around, so provide them with access to a chicken run or let them out of the coop from time to time
  • Watch your hens closely for signs of illness or injury.

Diet

So, let’s keep it simple today and just talk about using feed.

  • Newly hatched chicks will require a commercial starter feed (20-24% protein) that is usually fed until six weeks of age.
  • After six weeks, switch to a grower feed (16-20% protein), and feed this up to 18 weeks of age.
  • If the chicks are male, then they can be fed the same starter or starter/grower feed as the females until six weeks of age and then switched to the grower feed indefinitely.
  • At 18 weeks, switch to a layer feed (14-16% protein) to prepare the birds for egg production.

0% calcium; however, birds less than 18 weeks old require only about 1% calcium in their diet.

chicken feed

Commercial feeds are designed to be highly digestible, which may reduce or eliminate the need for grit; however, birds with access to a wide-ranging diet (such as in backyard foraging) may take in less digestible food that may require grinding for adequate digestion.

What Should You Feed Your Chickens?

So, what do you want your chickens to produce (eggs, meat, or both)?

There are three main types of chicken feed: layer mash, grower ration, and finisher ration. Layer mash is designed for hens that are laying eggs, grower ration is for chicks that are growing, and finisher ration is for chickens that are being processed for meat.

Figure out your needs and then match up the right kind of feed.

How Much Food Do They Need?

Chickens are low maintenance and only require access to food during feeding time. The amount of food a chicken needs will depend on the size and type of chicken being raised.

There are several factors that can affect how much food a chicken needs, including the environment it is raised in and its age. A good example is summer vs winter weather.

It is important to be aware of these factors when planning your poultry feed program, in order to provide your chickens with the correct nutrients and vitamins they need to grow healthy and strong.

I would talk with who you get your birds from to make sure you do the best you can for the breed you picked.

Housing

In order to make sure your chickens are healthy and happy, you need to provide them with a safe and comfortable place to live. Chickens should be kept in an area that is protected from predators and the elements.

The chicken coop should have plenty of room for your chickens to move around, roost on perches, scratch in the dirt, and lay their eggs. It is important that the coop is well ventilated, but also warm and dry during the colder months.

It’s a good idea to put your chickens in a run when you let them out of their coop. A run is a fenced-in area where your chickens can roam around and forage. The size of the run will depend on how many birds you have, but it should be at least 10 feet by 10 feet.

For chickens to lay many eggs, they need a lot of light and fresh air. You should provide at least four hours of sunlight per day for your hens to produce eggs.

chicken housing

Sanitation

A chicken coop should be cleaned at least once a week, but if you notice that your flock is getting sick or the eggs are not as fresh as usual, then it’s time to clean the coop more often.

When cleaning the coop, you should remove all droppings and other waste from the area. If your chickens are free-range (allowed to roam around the yard), then you will probably have to clean the coop more often.

You should also make sure that your chickens always have fresh water available. You can provide a waterer by filling a large container with clean water and placing it near your coop.

I can’t begin to tell you how important this is. I have a neighbor who was lax with this and ended up with a huge cockroach infestation. Chicken poop and chicken feed will attract roaches. Chicken coops are prone to roach infestations, but they can easily be prevented with good housekeeping, such as cleaning the coop often.

Another little pest? Mice. They will be attracted to the feed and water too – so keep that area tidy for healthy birds who are problem-free!

Collecting and Cleaning Eggs

As a hen can lay an egg roughly every 22 hours, eggs can – and should – be collected daily or as often as possible and stored in the refrigerator.

No matter how many chickens you have, they will all lay eggs at different times of the day, so don’t expect to get a dozen eggs in one sitting! Collecting them can be a fun job for the kids, as long as they are gentle when handling them.

Learn to spot eggs that have been damaged in the nest and remove any that you find so your hens can continue to lay their eggs in peace. This goes back to that sanitation consideration.

The eggs you collect will last longer if you keep them clean, so wash them with warm water and store them in the refrigerator.

Collecting and Cleaning Eggs

Common Chicken Problems

Here is just a quick list of things that could go wrong with your birds, we will dig deeper into these soon.

Chicken problems are usually pretty easy to fix, but it’s important to know what they are and how to correct them.

  • If you have a rooster, he may crow at all hours of the night, keeping you awake. This is normal behavior for a rooster, but if it’s too much for you to handle, you can purchase a “crowing cap” from your local farm supply store. The cap fits over the rooster’s comb, muffling the sound.
  • If one of your hens is getting picked on by a bully, you can separate her from the flock for a few weeks in order to give her time to heal. Make sure to keep her warm, and give her extra food and water.
  • A disease may strike like a case of the Bird Flu.
  • You might have excessively hot or excessively cold weather in your area.

The bottom line when raising chickens for eggs and meat?

Take a little time to do your research in advance, make sure you have everything you will need, and then take care of them well.

Not only can you save money over the rising prices at your grocery store, but you might also even turn it into a profitable side-hustle!

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