Raising Chickens Without Drugs – a Philosophy of Meat

by on March 20th, 2015
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This is the second article in a series on how to raise chickens without drugs – specifically for your dinner table. In the last article you were given some pretty basic information on the broiler chicken, and where to get them but this article is going to address the philosophy of raising your own meat before we get into the mechanics.

The Birds
There are 2 ways to approach the raising of chickens for meat: 1) you can raise the standard broiler chicken that is mass produced by the chicken industry or 2) you can select a heritage breed. Depending upon which option you choose, there will be a huge difference in the time it takes to produce a table-sized bird and a big difference in the size of the bird you will end up with.

The standard broiler chick will be ready for processing in 6-8 weeks, or less, depending upon your weight goal for the bird. The heritage breed chick will take 14-18 weeks to reach eating size, and it will still be smaller than the broiler chicken. Why? Genetics.

What’s Your Philosophy on Meat
Many people object to the standard broiler chicken because of the highly selective nature involved in producing the chicks. They will not reproduce according to their kind because they are a hybrid. People raise hybrid vegetables in their garden all the time and never give it a thought, but some object to hybrid animals for food. The positive result of this hybridization is that the broiler chicken’s phenomenal growth is not the result of drugs, but of the genetic selection process. They grow just as big and just as fast without drugs.

There is a large movement today to get away from hybrid anything – meat or vegetables. In the vegetable world we see that in people selecting heirloom seeds and in the meat field, we see people raising heritage breeds. A heritage breed is a breed that will reproduce its own kind according to a certain standard. The word that is used to describe this type of animal or vegetable production is called “sustainable”. By sustainable, it is meant that the process can continue on naturally without extensive input from outside. In other words, heritage chickens can lay eggs, hatch the chicks and produce more of the same continuously. The broiler chicken cannot do that.

So, the first question to answer is: do you want big chickens with lots of meat fast or slow chickens with less meat but sustainable?

I have already searched my soul on this issue and have tried both methods. I still raise heritage chickens and eat their eggs, but after trying both breeds for meat, I am convinced that dollar for dollar and pound for pound, the broiler chicken is the way to go. That is the chicken I will be describing as we go through the stages of production.

Starting Out with the Chicks
When you order your broiler chicks you will be receiving what is called a day-old chick. Since it took more than one day to ship the bird to you, it’s obviously not one day old! The name comes from the fact that the chicks are shipped on the first or second day that they are hatched. It seems that they would be too weak to make it through the shipping process but this is the best time to ship chicks. When a chick is born, it absorbs the yolk sack in order to give it enough food and moisture to last three days. So when your chicks arrive they will be hungry and thirsty and need food, water and shelter. That’s where we’ll start in our next article.

American Livestock breeds Conservancy
University of Florida IFAS Extension

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