One of the most popular and versatile meats enjoyed around the world is chicken. Fried or roasted, as a filet or a tasty sandwich, you know it and love it.
No wonder many people are starting to keep backyard chickens not just for their eggs and companionship but also for their meat.
Raising your own is the best way to totally control where your food comes from and what it has in it, and also give yourself a hedge against shortage.
But what we need to know is how long it takes to go from “chick” to “chicken dinner”. So, how long does it take to raise a chicken to eating weight?
Most chicken breeds take around 6 to 8 weeks to reach a weight when they are suitable for slaughter. This is when they are big enough to eat and provide several pounds of meat, although most people who raise chickens for meat wait until they’re a bit older.
Turns out it does not take very long at all for chickens to reach harvesting weight.
This varies somewhat depending on the breed of chicken, how much they are being fed, and also what sort of return you want from them. There is plenty more to know, so keep reading and find out.
How Long Does it Take to Raise a Chicken to Eat?
It takes around 6 to 8 weeks for most chicken breeds to reach a weight when they are suitable for slaughter. This is when they are big enough to eat and provide several pounds of meat.
However, some people choose to wait until their chickens are a little bit older, around 10 to 12 weeks old, before they harvest them.
The amount of time it takes for a chicken to reach harvesting weight also depends on the breed of chicken. Some chicken breeds grow faster than others.
Does it Take Longer to Naturally Raise a Chicken Compared to a Factory Farm?
Generally yes. It usually takes longer to raise a chicken naturally, meaning without the use of hormones or other growth-promoting meds.
Additionally, many such farms rely on specialized breeds that are bred to pack on weight quickly in order to reduce turnaround time.
On average, it takes a naturally raised chicken around 8 to 10 weeks to reach harvest weight when chickens are allowed to free-range or are raised under less severe circumstances.
This is because these chickens are not given any sort of growth-promoting medicine and are allowed to grow at their own natural pace.
How Much Does a Meat-Ready Chicken Weigh?
A chicken that is ready to be butchered and eaten typically weighs between 3 and 5 pounds, though it can weigh more in some cases depending on breed, age, and diet.
The weight of the chicken depends on the breed, how well it was fed, and other factors.
Does the Time to Slaughter include Hatching?
Yes. The time to raise the chicken to a suitable weight for eating starts when the chicken is first hatched. Chickens grow quickly!
Can You Slaughter a Chicken Early?
The simple answer is yes, you can slaughter a chicken for meat early but there are a few things you should keep in mind if you plan on doing so.
Chickens that are slaughtered early will typically be smaller than those that are allowed to mature fully.
This means that you won’t get as much meat from each bird, reducing your return on overall investment.
Second, early-slaughtered chickens will also generally have less fat than their older counterparts. This can make them harder to cook and can result in less flavorful meat.
In the case of hens, it’s important to remember that chickens that are slaughtered early will not have had the chance to lay as many eggs as older birds, potentially reducing your returns even further.
So, if you’re planning on using your chicken for both meat and eggs, you’ll need to carefully consider whether the benefits of early slaughter outweigh the drawbacks.
Broiling, Frying, or Roasting?
This is not a question as to your preference for chicken as meat, but rather a question of what you plan on doing with the meat you harvest. The three most common methods for cooking chicken are broiling, frying, and roasting.
Broiling and frying chicken is typically done with smaller birds that have not been allowed to reach full maturity.
The meat from these birds is generally more tender and easier to cook than that of larger, older birds. Hence these birds are often classed as “broilers” and “fryers”.
Roasting chicken is usually reserved for larger, older birds. The meat from a roasted chicken is generally tougher and less juicy than that of a broiler or fryer, but it can be more flavorful.
So, the method you choose for cooking your chicken will largely depend on the size and age of the bird as well as your personal preferences.
Net Weight of Meat Depends on Breed and Age
The average bird will provide you with around 3 to 5 pounds of meat once processed, but this can vary depending on the breed and age of the chicken.
For example, a broiler chicken that weighs 3 pounds total will give you about 2 pounds of meat, while a 5-pound roasting chicken will give you closer to four pounds of meat.
The age of the chicken will also affect the amount of meat you get, with older birds generally yielding less.
To get the most meat possible from your chicken, it’s best to choose a breed that is known for being big and muscular, such as the Jersey Giant or Brahma. These breeds will give you more meat per bird than other, smaller breeds.
It’s also important to remember that the overall weight of the harvest will vary depending on how you process the bird.
If you remove the bones and skin, you’ll end up with smaller numbers on the scale than if you leave them in.
Roosters Weight More than Hens
It seems obvious, but it is worth mentioning that roosters grow larger, and quicker, compared to hens.
This means a rooster might be a good choice if you want a better return on your investment in a timely fashion.
Of course, if you’re looking to raise chickens for both eggs and meat, you’ll want to focus on hens since they are the ones laying eggs, no roosters!
Can a Chicken Be Too Old for Meat Use?
Not really. Old chickens have meat that is generally fairly tough, and even a bit stringy, but that does not mean it isn’t safe, healthy, and nutritious.
You can always use some innovative preparation like marinating or slow-cooking to give the meat from an older bird lots of flavors.
So, when it comes to harvesting your chicken for meat, there is no such thing as “too old”. It all depends on what you want to use the meat for and how you like your chicken cooked.
Remember that Raising a Chicken to an Older Age Requires More Resources
One thing to keep in mind if you’re planning on letting your chicken grow larger is that they will require more resources the longer they live.
This means more food, more water, more bedding, medicine, supplements, and potentially more space as they grow.
So, while it is technically possible to raise a chicken for meat well into maturity, it isn’t necessarily needed or even smart from a business or financial sense.
Generally, as soon as your bird is “fat” enough you want to harvest the meat.
This can be a difficult decision to make, but luckily there are online calculators that can help you determine how much you can expect to spend by the time your chicken is ready for slaughter.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.
Find out more about the team here.