If you’ve ever wondered how satisfying it might be to raise your own meat, we’ve got a new book for you to check out. It’s called “Dinner From Scratch: How to Raise Meat Chickens“. And it has everything you need to know, from detailed materials lists, to step by step guidance for every phase, to checklists you can use daily to ensure everything is moving along smoothly. Plus some personal reflection thrown in to keep us grounded.
When we first started raising chickens for meat, we had a heck of a time pulling together information on what we needed to have and what we were supposed to do. That first year was certainly bumpy. But with bumps comes experience, and with experience comes greater understanding and skill.
We worked hard to continuously improve our practices (as you’ve perhaps seen in previous posts on this blog), and we were able to successfully bring survival rates up, improve the quality and nutrition of our meat, and have a fully satisfying time doing this honest work.
And now, coupled with several years of professional project management experience across multiple industries in addition to farming, we present our new book, now available in paperback and as a Kindle eBook:
Just for readers of our blog, scroll down for a FREE chapter from the book to help you determine exactly how many chicks you should order, if you’re going to dive into this life-changing world of homegrown meat.
6 – HOW MANY CHICKS SHOULD YOU ORDER?
Here are some obvious statements that are so obvious, maybe you’ll be like we were when we first started and not bother to even consider them:
- How many chickens can we handle raising?
- How many chickens do we actually need?
- How many chickens can we fit in the freezer?
Important things to think about! Let’s take a quick moment to walk through these.
How Many Chickens Can You Handle Raising?
Know your limitations. First, how much space do you have for chickens? Each standard broiler needs a minimum of 2 square feet in their living space (we aim for at least 3). If you are using movable pens, do you have enough land to move the birds on a daily basis? If you need help understanding this, see the Land & Space Requirements section earlier for more info.
The other limitations that you can’t forget about are time and effort. When things are going smoothly, you probably only need 15-30 minutes of effort a day to move pens and maintain food and water. This may seem minimal, but don’t forget—it’s every day for 7+ weeks straight, no skipping a day! And then you need to think about processing time and effort (if you are processing the birds yourself). How many days or hours are you capable of giving up for processing chickens? Depending on a variety of factors, it can take between 5 and 30 minutes to process a single bird. You don’t need to process all of the birds in one day, but make sure you do the math here and make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. We tend to aim for processing between 10 and 25 birds on a single day, and don’t make any other plans that day just in case.
How Many Chickens Can You Fit In Your Freezer?
We recommend you get a chest freezer if you don’t have one already. These days they are pretty efficient and don’t cost a whole heck of a lot. And you can increase your capacity for a year’s supply of meat, potentially!
It’s obvious—you need to factor space into how many chickens you raise. But how do you figure it out? How many cubic feet does a chicken take up? As a general rule, we recommend planning on the following:
- Calculate a total by assuming 6 birds per cubic foot of freezer space
- Subtract 10% from total number of birds to play it safe
With the above you will probably have leftover space, but if you ask us, it’s better to have the extra space rather than not knowing what to do with the last few birds! And don’t forget that these calculations assume an empty freezer to begin with—if you are storing other food you will need to take that lost space into account.
How Many Chickens Do You Actually Need?
Got a handle on the two factors above? Before you place an order, take just a few more moments and consider how much meat you actually need. You don’t want to fill up your freezer only to realize you have a 3 year supply. Here are a few factors to think about that should help you get a sense of how many birds you’ll actually need:
- Think in terms of calendar. How many chickens would you eat per month (or week)?
- Will you sell any chickens? If so, we recommend getting orders secured before you order chicks (this means you need to get orders about 2-3 months before the meat is actually ready).
- Will you give any away? Family and friends like chicken.
- In addition to the above, will you want any birds for special occasions? Thanksgiving chicken ain’t that bad!
Don’t Order Yet—Plan For Death
OK, by now I think you should probably have a number in mind. But a final point to consider: chickens sometimes die before you can process them. Sickness, predators, escape—you name it. Even with excellent farming practices, chickens can be susceptible to these means of early departure, and it’s important to factor it in.
Here’s our rule: Plan for 20% to not make it, but be able to support it if they all survive.
So when you order, if you have the resources and can make the time and effort for all of them, we recommend increasing your total by up to 25%.
Ordering Online Vs. Local Store Pickup
You can order chicks in a few ways, but the main options available to most folks (and the two ways we’ve done it) are ordering from a local farm supply store and ordering online.
Farm stores will either have chicks in stock that you can pick from, usually in the spring, or you can fill out an order form for specific ordering windows (check with the store for details). When the chicks are ready, you can pick them up in the store and bring them right home. Getting chicks from a store will most likely be cheaper because you don’t have to pay for your individual shipping costs.
Ordering online offers a lot more flexibility and selection. Online retailers will have calendars for each breed so you can determine exactly what you want and when you get it, based upon availability. These retailers are able to offer many more breeds than farm stores, typically. And if you dig around, you can find smaller scale hatcheries or even individual farmers offering chicks or eggs and you can get to know how they raise their chickens. But you will have to pay shipping costs, which may not be too cheap, so factor that in. In our experience, once the chicks arrive at the post office, you’ll get a call to come pick them up. It’s a fun trip!