Lesson 708 – Meat Birds and Mouse Wars

Because I’m getting a lot of questions from readers about getting chickens (yet another sign that Spring is on its way) today I’m going to address the topic of meat birds.

Whalewars_titlecardWe don’t eat our chickens. I’m not a vegetarian and I do eat chicken – just not our chickens.  Of course if I didn’t name them all, things might be easier, but I digress.

When I was getting our first group of feed store chickens, I was required to buy at least 12 chicks. The laws have now been changed in New Hampshire and these days you can buy chicks one at a time if you want.

But back then I couldn’t. As I was choosing my chicks, I noticed the sign that read “Meat birds.” My heart kind of dropped when I looked into the bin and realized that shortly all of those fluffy, little babies would be eaten.

It reminded me of the mouse cage in my biology lab at college. They kept snakes in the lab and so also kept a constant supply of live mice to feed to the snakes. Every time I went to that lab, I would grab a mouse, stick it in my pocket and release it into the wild when I got outside.

Forget Whale Wars, this was early Mouse Wars.

I figured that I could include a few of the “meat birds” in my lot of chicks. They could live a happy, long life in our flock and I’d die knowing that I had done a good thing in repayment for all the chickens I’ve eaten.

The store clerk overheard me as I was explaining my decision to get a few of the meat chicks to my kids.

“Oh, you don’t want to do that.” He told me. He then went on to explain that meat birds are bred to have a lot of breast meat. They are meant to be killed at around age 4/5 months when the breast meat has fully developed. Keeping them alive much longer than that would be cruel. Because of the extra meat, their legs often can’t hold the bird’s weight and buckle, sometimes they can’t even walk for toppling over.

In short, meat birds are just that, birds that are intended to be eaten for their meat. Don’t think that you will be doing any of them a favor by trying to extend their lives. The humane thing in this case, was to leave them to the people who knew what they were doing and instead, stay with the egg layers.

I thanked the man, we picked out our layer chicks and brought them home to the flock.

That night, as a nod to the chicks we didn’t save, we had meatloaf. At least I could give one, somewhere, another day.


I write about the lessons learned while raising children and chickens in New Hampshire. Contact me at Wendy@SimpleThrift.com

Also, join me on Facebook to find out more about the flock (children and chickens) and see some pretty funny chicken jokes, photos of tiny houses, and even  a recipe or two.


Filed under All things chickens, Backyard Chickens, Chicks, Eggs, Incubating Eggs

16 responses to “Lesson 708 – Meat Birds and Mouse Wars

  1. Kristin

    Well…..thanks Wendy! I am 100% sure that the idea of “meat bird” has put me over the edge into Vegetarian Land! I do not judge and I do eat eggs, yogurt and goat/sheep cheese, FYI 🙂 Thanks for saving the mice and for how you care for your flock and your Flock!

    • Wendy Thomas


      Thank you. And also I glad you liked that I saved the mice. My mother, wasn’t quite as enthusiastic. 🙂


    • Wendy Thomas


      You’re welcome. It’s a topic that I teach in each of my chicken workshops. I can’t be the only person in the world who wanted to “Save the meat birds!” 🙂


  2. Mary Beth Putnam

    So glad you have reminded people again about this well intentioned disaster of a decision. Love your blog!

    • Wendy Thomas

      Mary Beth,

      You’re right, only because I didn’t know the difference I just wonder how guilty I would have felt when the poor birds outgrew their bodies and would have had to be put down anyway.


  3. Hi! My neighbor and I raise two batches of meat chicks per year, in spring and summer, and we butcher them ourselves. That’s not for everyone, true, but we are really pleased with the results and it’s great to have those home-raised birds in the freezer to enjoy all year. We raise them for 12 to 16 weeks and they result in a beautiful 4 pound dinner bird.

    Anyway, there are several kinds of meat birds. Some are a lot like a classic laying type bird, they call those birds “dual-purpose” since they are good layers and also have a heavy yummy body. Many of the Heritage breeds are dual-purpose since that makes for best farmyard economy.

    The kind of meat birds that we raise are called “slow-grow”. They are a Cornish type and are pretty much like a dual-purpose bird but rather lazy, you have to be careful to not overfeed them. They walk around and explore and scratch for bugs and stuff, but they do love their naps.

    The kind of meat bird that the guy you spoke with was referring to would be known as “fast-grow”. Those birds are not really natural at all, they just eat and sleep and yes I could see them getting unhealthy if left to grow on for a long time. Those are not appealing to us any more, we inadvertently raised a batch of the fast-grow type at first and we were a bit disturbed by the eat-and-sleep routine with as little walking as possible. They did not have any curiosity about their world and were so freakishly inactive that it was kind a bummer for us. Delicious? Yes but not fun to raise.

    You can see I’m not squeamish about raising meat birds, Our meat birds do have a nice life with everything they could want. I have a great country neighbor that does it with me as a joint effort and we do it all together from ordering chicks to butchering. It’s part of country livin’ out here in the sticks and it’s great to know all about what the birds ate, the nice environment they were raised in, etc. So, if your readers want to give it a whirl I would advise the “slow-grow” chicks. We order from Privett’s hatchery in New Mexico and their chicks are wonderful. they come by overnight mail!

    • Wendy Thomas

      I admire that you can do this.

      One of my goals is to eventually eat one of our birds. It won’t happen today, or tomorrow, but someday I’m hoping it will.

      Why would I want to do this?

      For the very same reason that we have layers that give us eggs. It’s a quality of food issue. The chickens we buy in the grocery store are filled with all sorts of chemicals as are the eggs. Growing/producing our own food is the absolute best thing we can do for ourselves and our families.

      Thanks for letting us know about the different meat birds. As one who only has layers right now, I didn’t even know there was a difference. Something new to add to my talk the next time I teach a workshop. thanks,


  4. kelly

    We did raise meat birds and somehow our 7 year old became the primary care taker of them. She loved each one and thanked them every day. For us, it was an amazing experience to not only know where our meals came from, but also to know that they had the best short little life possible. I’m going to go hug one of my hens now! Great looking blog, btw. New subscriber here! cheers!

    • Wendy Thomas


      Thanks for sharing that. That’s a wonderful and respectful approach to having meat birds. No one likes the idea of something having to die for our dinner but if we respect the animal and thank it for its contribution, it makes the whole event a little more palatable.

      Hey, I’m a hen hugger too (a lot further down in the blog you can read about a chick named Charlie who came to us as a newborn and ended up living *inside* our house for 6 months.) She’s out in the coop now but she’ll still run up to me for a hug when she sees me. 🙂


  5. One day, we watched an owl who lived in our woods for a while, catch (during the day time) a rabbit and a squirrel in about an hour’s time. I guess owls gotta do what owls gotta do. Years ago, I was a teacher in the ghetto (as much of a ghetto as Seattle has). A friend of mine taught a third grade “gifted” children class. The students kept a boa constrictor as a class pet. Once a week they released mice for the boa to catch, squeeze, and gulp down. I helped teach an “alternative school” high school class in Oregon with focused on ecology, nutrition, and the future (which is now here). We said to our students, if you are going to eat meat (some did, some didn’t), you should know where it comes from. Optional field trip: we visited a small private slaughterhouse and watched a cow being killed and how it was cut up and prepared for sale. Like it or not; we (like our hens) are omnivores. Excuse me while I go and run down a mouse and take it away from our hens so I can eat it.

    • Wendy Thomas

      Although I think the real-life lessons taught were incredibly valuable, I know for a fact that if I had ever stepped foot in a slaughterhouse, I would have *never* eaten meat again (young, impressionable champion of mice – remember)

      As it was I was a vegetarian for 7 years. But I ended up being the type of vegetarian who got very ill because I simply cut out meat and I didn’t add anything else in.

      Today I eat meat. Not a heck of a lot but I do eat meat.

      The mice now, however, I save for the chickens.

  6. roberta

    I had heard this was true for years but recently read about a number of chick keepers have successful outcome with very restrictive and specialized food!

    • Wendy Thomas

      That’s interesting but was the reason to do it to save the birds or was it just a way to be able to raise meat birds?

      It just seems like a lot of extra time and expense for not much payback (I don’t know, are meat birds ever considered good layers?)

      Thanks for putting this up, I’m going to look into it.


  7. I love your way of thinking. If you can, would you elaborate on what you do with your birds when they’re no longer laying? For us, we will have our girls until they meet their Maker the old fashioned way. (I think it’s only fair, given the number of eggs they’ll have given me in their lives.) But I’d be interested to know what happens within your flock.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s