Pastured Chicken: Huge Potential for Your Meat Birds

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So this was “big news” – all over the Internet a few months ago. The story was picked up by news outlets worldwide. And it was a good story:  A 12 year old  4-H kid,  in Texas who raised this huge, 23 pound chicken. It made me curious – the stories claimed it might be the world’s largest chicken.

I wondered who held the record? What breed of chickens were these? What’s the story behind this? And when I began to dig into it a little more, it got even more interesting…at least for us chicken people.

It turns out, Dakota’s 23.47 pound chicken (named “Big Mac”) did not break the record. The record was considered to be held by “Big Boy”, weighing in at 24.18 pounds, raised by Sue and Don Ritter. It was mentioned they raised him as pastured poultry, on grass.

Now in case you aren’t familiar with it, pastured poultry is where your chickens are in movable cages and every day (or every few days) you move them to a fresh area of grass. This way, they’re raised eating the grass, weeds, bugs as well as their feed, which is generally organic. You can do this with chickens raised for meat or for eggs. There’s a lot of benefits to doing it this way:

  • Healthier birds
  • Healthier meat
  • It can be more cost effective
  • Cleaner
  • More environmentally sustainable and more natural for the birds
  • If you’re raising a hybrid meat bird, bred to gain weight quickly, they generally don’t do well free ranging. This is a great way to keep them safe and get them the fresh “pasture” to eat.

Now all of this stuff I find really interesting but it’ll take too long to go into it all here so we’ll have to save that for another blog post! This is something being used by farmers and backyard people because it makes a lot of sense.

But let’s move on to the record holding chicken, shall we? Sue and Don raise chickens for meat and eggs and have a thriving business. One unique aspect is they raise chickens for Thanksgiving instead of turkeys. They decided they liked the taste better (I’m in agreement here) so every year they raise some birds to a dressed weight (meaning what they weigh when you buy them) of 10 to 18 pounds, enough for the holiday dinner. Customers claim this is the sweetest, best tasting chicken they’re ever had.

Now this is not something your Perdues and Tysons can do. They’ve got a strict schedule in the factory: the birds reach a certain age, they should be within a weight range. They’re butchered. Done! Next batch, coming in! It’s an assembly line process because that’s the only way they can keep their profit margin high. And we’re talking thousands and thousands of birds at a time.

The Ritters weren’t trying to break any record. They noticed Big Boy was 18 or 19 pounds and they decided to see how large he’d get. The thing is with broiler type chickens, they generally are known for a lot of health issues. They gain so much weight, so fast they tend to have leg problems; they love to eat and can even die from overeating. People usually butcher them at 6-8 weeks of age when they’ll weigh out at about 5-7 pounds. These breeds aren’t meant to live long.

But obviously the Ritters are doing something right – and different. Their pasture has been free of pesticides and fertilizers for over 35 years. Their feed is certified organic with no animal by-products and the chickens have constant access to the earth, bugs and sunshine. No antibiotics are needed. Don is adamant that grass is the building block for food. Because of all of these factors, Big Boy lived until 18 months old and died when it got a bit too cold in Pennsylvania and the grass stopped growing.

12036394425_7145a69443_zDespite documenting Big Boy with photos and videos, he was sadly not accepted by the Guinness Book of World Records. They no longer keep records for livestock weight. But the Ritters have started their 2016 season.  And what about 12 year old Dakota and his chicken? Dakota’s Dad said he was probably giving up chickens, due to the early morning feeding. And they planned to use “Big Mac” in gumbo.



For more information on things mentioned in this post go to:
Sue & Don Ritter’s website:
Dakota’s “Big Mac”:
Pastured Poultry information:
Chicken photo courtesy of:
Gumbo photo courtesy of:


You’re Raising Broilers— But Do You Know the Finer Points of Chicken Meat?

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Photo by: U.S. Department of Agriculture

If you have the space available, raising chickens for meat is an inexpensive and easy way to provide your family with the healthiest possible poultry. A healthy diet, exercise, and sunlight does a bird good. Not only are the birds healthier, but organically raised chickens are fed organic feed, free from the pesticides and chemical fertilizers their factory counterparts dine on. Your backyard birds won’t be on a constant diet of antibiotics either. Your poultry will be less likely to be infected with food-borne-illness causing pathogens, your birds will grow to be leaner and meatier due to exercise and free movement, and your meat will taste better too. What isn’t there to love?

Roasted, broiled, grilled, or fried, chicken is an amazingly versatile meat. Dark meat or light? It’s a matter of preference. One is not truly superior to the other, although there are some nutritional differences. While they have nearly the same amount of calories and protein, light meat is slightly less caloric (21 calories less, according to the US Department of Agriculture Database). Dark meat has twice the amount of saturated fat but they both contain vitamins  B and A and 4% of the recommended daily allowance of thiamin.  Dark meat has double the riboflavin as light meat while light meat contains more niacin. As you can see, both have their benefits. While white meat may be the healthiest choice for the cholesterol conscious, neither is bad for you. It’s really a matter of what one prefers. Americans tend to prefer white meat, while in some Asian countries it is dark meat that is desired.

Boneless, skinless chicken breast is an excellent part of a low-fat, healthy diet. Why? Low in saturated fat, high in protein, and vitamin rich, there aren’t many other meats out there that have so much to offer. A serving of chicken has fewer calories than a serving of beef as well as fewer grams of saturated fat and cholesterol. There’s a reason that nutritionists say to avoid red meat and choose chicken instead. It’s better for you. Raising your own chickens will provide you with the healthiest possible chicken meat. Remember, quality food, space to roam, and sunshine create a great chicken. The healthier the environment, the healthier the resulting meat.

Whether you’re simply considering raising broilers (meat chickens) or whether you already have a flock, backyard farming is an enjoyable and hugely rewarding hobby. Do your research, find the breed that’s right for you, and enjoy.

Raising Chickens for Meat

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Raising chickens for meat is easy to do. Economical and efficient, it takes only 10 weeks to raise a broiler (meat chicken) from chick to the dinner table. Hormone-free, organic chicken is in high demand, better for your family than factory birds, and raising your own chickens for meat puts you as close to your food source as you can get.

Make Sure It’s Legal Where You Live

No matter whether you want to raise chickens for meat for your own personal use or for business purposes, check your local laws and restrictions. It’s illegal to raise farm animals within city limits in some places and it’s forbidden by homeowner’s associations in others. If you’re planning on beginning a chicken business, make sure you acquire any permits before you get started.

Once you’re legal, prepare your property. Build a chicken hutch and a chicken run, buy food and watering supplies, and read up about raising birds for meat. The more you read on the topic, the better luck you’ll have.

Choosing the Right Birds for You

Certain chicken breeds make excellent layers. Some are great broilers. Other breeds are fine for both purposes and are called dual-purpose birds. When looking for a great meat bird, consider that some birds grow to full size and can be eaten much sooner than other birds. Some meat birds can be cooked within 8 weeks. Cornish Rock and Ixworth are two such breeds. The downfall of breeds such as these is that they have been genetically altered to gain weight so quickly that they cannot possibly live long or healthy lives. Past a certain amount of time, they simply cannot support themselves.

Heritage chickens are an excellent option if you’re opposed to modern, hybrid poultry. Heritage birds are classic chicken breeds which are hearty and long-lived but often passed over for rapidly-growing, genetically altered hybrid chickens. Raising heritage chickens for meat may take longer, but you’ll have healthier, longer-lived birds and will also help preserve heritage chicken breeds. Several great-tasting heritage chickens are the Dorking, Buckeye, Rhode Island Red, and the Dominique. Many of these breeds are duel-purpose, meaning that they will also be able to lay eggs before ending up on your dinner table.

Caring For Your Chickens

Clean your chicken’s coop regularly to keep them healthy, feed them a well-balanced died, and vaccinate your flock. Meat chickens eat a great deal of feed and gain weight rapidly. A Cornish cross-breed can be expected to eat 8 lbs of feed for the first 6 weeks. They grow extremely fast and are harvested when they are only 2 months old. As a general idea, a light chicken breed should consume about ¼ lb of feed daily. For a heavier bird, feed them more. In general, a meat chickens are allowed to eat as much as they want because the goal is for the bird to grow rapidly. Water is important too, and chickens drink twice as much as they eat. Keep that waterer full!

The exact amount of food your birds will consume varies. In general, provide your chickens with a constant supply of fresh food. Clean the feeder as needed and keep it free from moldy feed, which can contaminate the rest of the feed. Trial and error will teach you how often—and how much—to feed your flock.

What To Expect

Broilers grow rapidly, especially in their first weeks of life. Commercial chicken breeds will reach 5 lbs in approximately 7 weeks. Slower-growing heritage breeds will take about 11 weeks, or longer, to reach the same weight.

Raising chickens for meat can be a rewarding hobby, one that will put nutritious food on the table or increase your family’s income if you intend to sell your birds. Know your options, choose the breed that best suits your needs, and care for your chickens well. The rest will fall into place.


Photo by: Victoria Imeson