How to manage layers and meat?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Rae Scott, Feb 27, 2017.

  1. Rae Scott

    Rae Scott Out Of The Brooder

    Feb 26, 2017
    Northeast Ohio
    HI everyone!

    We haven't got chickens yet because we are waiting to have a coop built first. What is stalling a lot is we aren't sure if we need more than one coop/run or not. We are looking at eventually just having full on dual use birds after the first 3 or 4 years, most likely earlier. How do we manage this? Do we have to keep the layers seperate? Or can they all go in together?

    Also anyone know how big of a flock we would need of each? I was thinking maybe 6 layers to start? I have no clue on meat cause we do eat a lot of chicken.
  2. Pork Pie Ken

    Pork Pie Ken Flockless Premium Member

    Jan 30, 2015
    Africa - near the equator
    I'd say the easiest feed management approach would be to feed all-flock feed with optional oyster shell in a separate feeder. That way, those birds that are laying should eat the oyster shell (to replace calcium used in egg production) and those not laying will ignore it. This approach would enable to you keep a mixed flock of layers and meat birds (and also a flock of different ages).

    Re: meat birds - it depends on what breeds you choose. Heavy breeds will likely take 4-6 months to get to a decent eating size, so you will have to plan a cycle of breeding to ensure that you have a continuous supply. If you opt for broilers, i.e. those that reach eating size at around 6-8 weeks, the same principle applies but breeding these kind of birds is not necessarily as simple. If you check out the "Meat birds etc" forum I'm sure you will find ways to achieve this.

    Whatever you decide, I'd suggest building your coop a lot bigger than you originally plan. That way, you can expand your flock as you identify what suits your needs. There is no such thing as too much space.
  3. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    Good for you!!
    Best decision you've made so far!
    Welcome to BYC!

    CTKen covered the basics very well....I'll second everything they said.

    Will just add...have you ever eaten a 'dual purpose' bird?
    There's often not much meat on them, and it's not the soft flesh of a grocery bird.
    Lots more flavor, and good nutrition, fantastic broth, but many are put off quickly the first time they eat one.

    Especially agrees with CTKen's suggestion to go big on a coop.
    One that you can split the space into at least 2 separate sections with people doors in both.
    Then you can raise meat birds in one side and also use it to brood chicks for replacement layers.
  4. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    What are your plans to start with? Are you raising the Cornish X broilers as well as some laying chickens? Or are you starting with one or the other? Or are you starting with just one dual purpose breed? Maybe instead of the Cornish X you plan to raise Rangers for meat? What you are going to raise and when has a lot to do with it.

    If you are just raising them for meat, you can’t beat the Cornish X broilers for efficiency. They are excellent at converting feed to meat. If all you want is eggs, you can’t beat the commercial layer hybrids. They are bred to be excellent at converting feed to eggs, but they have small bodies so are not that good for meat. Neither the broilers nor the hybrid layers breed true, it’s really challenging to keep the broilers alive long enough for them to breed they grow so fast. You can breed the hybrid layers and get some more hens that lay really well, but they are also highly specialized and often run into health problems in a year or two.

    Dual purpose chickens are what people have been raising to try to cover both meat and eggs. They grow a lot slower than the broilers so they cost a lot more to raise to butcher size if you are buying all their feed. Since they are older when you butcher them they have more flavor and texture which bothers some people. It takes more feed for them to produce eggs but they can lay really well. If you pasture them feed costs can go down.

    The Cornish X broilers are bred to be ready to butcher by 6 to 8 weeks, the rangers develop slower but they are still ready relatively early, depending in how you feed them. The Cornish X especially are eating machines. They eat, poop, poop, eat, and generally just make a mess. They poop so much poop management can be a big issue. They also grow so fast they are soon much bigger than other types of chickens, which can possibly lead to some problems. Some people do raise the Cornish X and other breeds together, but usually only once. After that they normally separate them to raise. Of course you can find someone who continues to raise them together, there are always exceptions to anything someone says on here, but most people don’t like to raise them together.

    If you elect to go with the boilers, how much freezer space do you have? Or maybe you plan to pressure can the meat? The broilers normally have to be butchered when they are ready. If you try to wait they will get huge so more meat, but they normally start to die. Their skeletons can’t handle all that weight so they break down or their hearts just stop. You have to have enough storage for all that meat. With my garden and orchard freezer space is at a premium here, but with my dual purpose chickens I can wait until I can free up freezer space.

    Not knowing what you plan short-term or even your ultimate goals, it’s kind of hard to make specific recommendations. If you are going to raise both broilers and egg laying hens, I suggest you start off with two separate coops, but build a large run between them. Build a fence across the run so you can isolate a part of the run with each coop or open a gate and allow them to have access to the whole thing. I only raise dual purpose chickens but I have this set-up. It gives you a lot of flexibility in how you manage them later.

    How big do you build a coop to start with? How can you possibly answer that? I believe in as big as you reasonably can. You can follow the link in my signature for some thoughts about that but the bigger you build it the more it costs. Our plans never work out as we expect them too, you have to be flexible, but try to imagine what your operation will eventually look like and build to that. Maybe that means you build something that you can expand later.

    How much chicken meat will you eat in a year? Of course that depends on you. I try to eat one chicken a week, but with visits to grandkids and some other stuff I only have to hatch about 45 chicks a year to meet that goal. There is some trial and error involved in determining what works for you.

    I suggest you start rather small. Most hatcheries have minimum numbers of chicks if you get them mailed to you, but you might be able to get some layers and broilers in the same order, just be prepared to raise them separately if you find that necessary. Or see what your local feed store offers during chick days and get some there. Get some experience and adjust your plans as necessary. But get started.

    It’s a fun experience and can be very satisfying but it will be a different journey for each of us. Good luck!
    1 person likes this.
  5. Rae Scott

    Rae Scott Out Of The Brooder

    Feb 26, 2017
    Northeast Ohio
    Starting off for layers we are looking at Black Austrolorps, Buff and Lavender Orpingtons. Goven those wont be ready for slaughter for several years we were looking at the meat chickens sold by Meyers Hatchery to fill in that need in the meantime.

    Freezer space is your standard refrigerator freezer. We are going to be putting in a garden as well so some stuff from that will also be frozen, but not much. I am not opposed to butchering several times a year if i need to.
  6. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    It’s often hard to know how to answer many of the posts on here, we don’t always know where you are coming from. Experience levels vary a lot too. That’s not a criticism of you. And at least you are asking questions and doing research. That’s more than a lot of people do. Eventually with a little back and forth we can figure it out.

    I think I have a better understanding now. I think you are considering butchering laying hens when they reduce laying, a few years in the future and filling that gap with meat birds for those years. It’s a logical approach but you have options. I’ll tell you my approach to this.

    Some people slaughter Black Australorp and Orpington cockerels at 12 weeks. There’s practically no meat on them, they are mostly bones. But at 12 weeks the cockerels are probably not crowing (if they are not allowed to have roosters) and you can still grill and fry what meat there is. Many people like to wait until about 15 weeks so there is more meat, but it’s getting a bit too much texture for frying or grilling for most people. I personally like to butcher around 23 weeks as the cockerels have pretty much ended their growth spurt. But the longer you wait the more you have to adjust your cooking methods to account for the texture. I don’t fry or grill.

    I hatch my own chicks so I butcher most of the pullets I hatch. I wait until they start to lay so I can evaluate them for egg laying before I decide which to keep and which to butcher. Half of what I hatch are pullets. I just don’t need to keep that many.

    My main laying/breeding flock is usually one rooster and somewhere between 6 to 8 hens. I hatch somewhere around 45 chicks a year, using an incubator or, when I can, broody hens. I get my replacement chickens from what I hatch. Since my goals include playing with genetics I often keep a new cockerel every year and maybe 4 pullets. So my laying flock rotates. I have some pullets, some hens a year old, and I butcher some after they are 2-1/2 years old and start to molt. Whether you hatch your own chicks or bring in new chicks from a hatchery or feed store each year, this is a relatively common approach. Of course others do it all kinds of different ways. It would take a year to get started on this rotation so using broilers the first year would be a good approach. I just ordered extra dual purpose chicks the first year.

    I still suggest you start with your laying flock and some broilers this year. How you manage your freezer space is up to you. Get some excess layers so you can select which ones you want to keep and eat the disappointments. There will probably be some. If you determine you like the way the broilers turn out for you, then raise broilers each year for meat. Then maybe every year or every other year or every three years bring in new pullets for your laying flock so you keep a rotation going. Maybe get one breed one time and a different breed the next so you know how old they are. If the broilers work out for you, this is another perfectly logical workable system. Butcher your older hens so you keep the flock fresh.

    No matter which way you go, there will be a learning curve as you tweak your system to work for you. How many you need, what breeds you need, when you need to butcher, and all that will take some trial and error to work out, but with a little perseverance you can find the system that works for you.
    2 people like this.
  7. MasAhora

    MasAhora Chillin' With My Peeps

    Nov 20, 2016
    Great thread for me to! Enjoying the advice.

    I'm still a newbie so made some mistakes I'd like to share. 2 years ago we bought our property with 16 mature layers, rooster and coop etc.... easy peasy, just clean poop, feed and collect eggs -then I got ambitious!! My goal is a mixed age, mixed purpose flock(s) always with 6 layers between 1-2yrs of age at any point in time and abour 3 approx. 2-3yr olds for being broody mamas; the rest are destined for the pot but butchered a few at a time once or twice a month. I like the taste and texture of my older layer birds for meat and broth especially the older ones, my family prefer the younger meaties.

    Being a newbie, I did a trial run this spring with 10 meaty birds (not cornish X and in rural Paraguay the meaty mixes were just lumped together even a naked neck was in the mix so who knows what I raised but from 12-16 weeks various individuals achieved a very decent size, making big tasty Sunday roasts for 4 adults, but plucking was sooooo SLOW, loads of pin feathers unlike when I butcher my older layers).

    The meaty chicks spent 3 weeks in a remote room until I was sure they healthy then were moved to in my broody coop/pen attached to the main one. Once the chicks were big enough I opened the doors and gates and let them mix with the layers and access the paddock freely with my girls....for about 2.5 days! Big mistake!
    They were a mob that blocked food troughs and coop entry ways, my hens couldn't get inside to lay (my coop has a cool concrete floor the meaties loved) and poop was everywhere and they wouldn't go free range very much even though I tried alternating access. So I separated all again except for the 3 smallest meaties who went to a different pen for a couple more weeks to adjust their manners and have now joined my layer flock, they continue to grow. I am interested to see what happens with these 3, they are also the most heat tolerant, do forage a bit, do not eat me out of my wallet (get fed once a day now so have to forage) and have nice temperaments.

    Next spring I will raise my meaty chicks in a different coop/pen and paddock and limit feeding a little more. One, so they do not hassle the layers, and two, so I can encourage them to start foraging much younger and 3, to give them more pooping space so they live cleaner and can dust bathe in clean soil with less labour on my behalf! They will have a coop/hut with dirt floor - I've found a light mix of wood shavings and short (not long) grass clippings on dirt to be excellent for intensive poopers, I simply top up a little twice a week and rake and replace once a week and add to my compost pile.

    Also fermented feed has worked well for me, zero waste and less smell from poops.

    Last, I learned about illness the hard way this spring so am delayed in my goals. A broody mama brought her 7 chicks into the coop from her secret paddock nest but she had mosquito borne dry pox. I did not know what I was dealing with and despite huge effort lost half of all my broody chicks who were infected before they were 7 days old. In my effort to separate sick chicks with their mamas from the flock I actually spread the scabs over 3 acres and several pens and had to end broody season early (rooster went to freezer camp) I gotta wait until next spring for chicks to be sure the virus is no longer hanging around in scabs in the soil. Also we have pulled out our fixed wooden nest boxes and are making removable plastic bucket nest boxes -summer here is hot, humid, lice, mites, broodies....uggghh. Soon I can strip and clean the coop in less than 2 hours if I detect an infestation and the plastic nest tubs can be moved with broody mama and eggs into a pet travel carrier so she can be dusted and relocated more easily.

    So lots of coop/pen space and the ability to separate and knowing mixed aged flocks means more roosting squabbles as I am constantly changing the pecking order by butchering and integrating different aged chicks with pullets, hens, cockerels, etc.
    Totally worth it - I love eating my own eggs and my own meat, all my chickens enjoy grass, trees and bushes every day. Among other things, I freeze their legs/claws and feed them to my dogs, my Mum can't look when one of our dogs run past with a freshly given chicken claw hanging out its mouth (our chickens are fenced from all dogs!!), but I know nothing is wasted and the chickens benefit my 2 and 4 legged family, in so many ways, the trial and error learning curve Ridgerunner mentions is worth it. OK gotta feed the kids and put up with a couple wiping their beaks on my pants after eating their fermented feed and pecking at the condensation on my glass of ice tea (ummm might be a long island this evening). :)
    2 people like this.
  8. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Overrun With Chickens

    Nov 12, 2009
    western South Dakota
    My advice is toward goal setting. Do not plan to start raising all you eat this year. Work into it. Find out how many you can process, what stuff you need to process with. How many birds will fit in your freezer. Start small as you can, and figure it out, there is a learning curve.

    Mrs. K
    2 people like this.
  9. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Flock Master

    Nov 7, 2012
    There's also the canning option. You might look into getting a pressure canner so you can process your garden veggies, as well as your meat. Looking at what I think you are planning to do, I would consider building a nice sized coop, with a wall or fence so that you can easily partition part of it off as needed for chicks or broilers. Also, consider having a run that is divided, or a run on either end of the coop. Perhaps for your first year, start out with 6 layers, and 6 CXR, or 6 Dixie Rainbows aka. Pioneers. Then, move forward from there.

    Other things to consider: Deep litter in coop and runs, fermented feed, heating pad brooding.
    2 people like this.
  10. bobbi-j

    bobbi-j True BYC Addict

    Mar 15, 2010
    On the MN prairie.
    If you only have a refrigerator freezer, canning will definitely be a big help once those garden fresh veggies start coming in! And canned chicken.... [​IMG] I am out, and it's driving me crazy! I LOVE having canned chicken on hand! You can do so many things with it! A quick, easy meal for our farming family is a jar of canned chicken, heated, poured over cooked rice. That simple. Drain the canned chicken and you can have chicken salad, chicken sandwiches, chicken enchiladas... Don't drain it and you've got a good start for chicken soup or chicken stew. I work in town during the school year, so when DH is planting or harvesting and I need to get food to him ASAP, canned chicken is one of my go to foods. (We also can venison and beef together. Also a great quick meal starter)

    Canning those tough old laying hens will give you good, flavorful meat and broth. I raw pack my chicken so I don't have to add broth - they make their own as they process.

    Sorry - LG just got me all excited about canned chicken. In case you haven't noticed, I LOVE the stuff!

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