I recently got a question from Lorraine, a backyard chicken farmer. Lorraine asks:
“I am a backyard farmer and want to do free range chickens for meat and eggs. Can I use the mass produced broiler chicks for this? I hate putting my chickens in small cages. How long does it take for the chickens to reach maturity?”
Great question, Lorraine!
First, to raise chickens that can be used both for eggs and meat, you need to select a dual purpose breed like Brahma, Cochin, Rhode Island Red, and others. You’ll want to investigate breed specifics to get a sense of what to expect as far as meat and egg production are concerned for the dual purpose breed you select. There are some great Apps on the market for your smartphone or tablet computer (like Poultry Pal, PoultryKeeper, PickinChicken, and others) that will give you some of this information, or you can just do some internet searching on the topic. I highly recommend allowing your birds to be free range, but you’ll want to keep that goal in mind as well as you investigate a breed, since some are more hardy than others and the breed you select will need to be a good choice for foraging.
Dual purpose breeds are grown under growing management conditions and can reach maturity for egg production generally within 20-25 weeks. Maturity can be enhanced and augmented by feeding the chicken a layer diet instead of a grower diet–meaning the diet will need to be higher protein and higher calcium. Dual purpose chickens, if raised for meat only, can take up to 12 weeks to be ready for harvest if fed a grower diet. Keep in mind that the carcass of these birds will have a lower meat yield than the commercial meat chickens you may be used to purchasing from the store. The size and and age of the chicken before you harvest it is a bit of personal preference, and your choice will vary based on your needs. Most spent layer birds (those who have come to the end of their egg production life) are harvested and can make a fantastic , wholesome soup or stew with a mix of garden vegetables.
Today’s commercial meat chickens are genetically selected and managed for meat production under industry guidelines. These chickens are not raised as free range, but live in a controlled environment. Commercial meat chickens are not layer breeds and are managed specifically for meat yield. Conversely, today’s commercial egg chickens are genetically selected and managed for optimal egg production. Some breeds can reach 325 eggs per year! Typically layer birds such as those selected by commercial egg farmers do not make good meat chickens.
Thanks so much for your question, Lorraine! Please send your questions or comments to me by emailing Doc@iChicken.ca, or by leaving a comment on this post. I love to hear from you!
Until next time,