Chicken math, broiler edition: How to raise meat birds
If you’re a backyard flock raiser, you know the chicken math drill. You start with three hens and soon you have thirty. But, have you heard about the broiler edition of chicken math? Add up the right nutrition and management for broiler chickens to reach mature weight in six to 10 weeks.
“Broiler chickens are growing in popularity because they are quick and easy to raise,” says Patrick Biggs, Ph.D., a flock nutritionist for Purina Animal Nutrition. “To provide everything meat birds need to thrive, we’ve developed Purina® Meat Bird Feed. This complete feed provides all 38 nutrients broiler chickens require to start strong and grow strong – no need to supplement.”
When paired with the right management, Purina® Meat Bird Feed can help broiler chickens reach mature weight efficiently.
Get an A+ in broiler chicken math with these tips:
Broiler chicken essentials
“Broiler chickens are uniquely bred for fast growth and finish, and the most popular breeds are the Cornish Rock and Cornish Cross,” says Biggs. “These breeds are great at converting feed into muscle weight. Typically, they are raised to approximately 6 pounds and are processed between six and eight weeks of age. Heritage breeds are also popular but take about 16 weeks to reach harvest.”
Week-by-week broiler needs
Weeks 1-3: During this time follow similar management to layer chicks. Provide 2 to 4 inches of feeder space and up to 2 square feet of floor space per chick. Cover the brooder floor with 3-4 inches of litter for absorption, such as pine shavings. This keeps birds warm and channels their energy into growing.
Weeks 4-processing: Move broilers to a heated coop to provide more space. Provide 6 to 10 inches of feeder space and at least 4 square feet of space per chicken. If free ranging birds, offer 5 to 10 square feet of outdoor space per bird.
Raise meat birds separately from other backyard poultry to help reduce stress and the risk of disease transmission. Consider lighting your coop to increase feed consumption. One 40-watt bulb, hung about 6 ft. above the chicks, is needed for each 200 sq. ft. of pen space.
“Keep food and water in front of the birds at all times while they are growing. Meat birds are not as agile as they mature,” says Biggs. “Clean the brooder and coop daily, more often than you would with layer breeds.
What to feed broiler chickens
Broiler chicks can triple their hatch weight in the first seven days and gain as much as 1.5-2 pounds in the last week. Broilers should be fed a high-protein diet to help support this rapid growth.
Look for these ingredients in a complete feed for broiler chickens:
- 22 percent protein to support fast growth
- All 38 unique nutrients broilers need every day
- A proper calcium-to-phosphorus ratio of 2:1 to help keep birds healthy and mobile
- Antioxidants and probiotics for digestive health
“A crumble formula, like Purina® Meat Bird Feed, is easier to eat and digest,” says Biggs. “On average, each bird will consume around 10 pounds of feed during the first six weeks. They will eat between 3 and 4 pounds of feed a week after six weeks. They may be small, but they are voracious eaters.”