Considering Chicken Size

If you’re raising chickens for meat purposes, you’ll eventually need to start processing them. A number of schools of thought exist about this process. For example, after eight or nine weeks, some people will gather family and friends together and process all of their chickens in one fell swoop. This is the approach used by the factory farms. The chickens are raised for a specific amount of time and processed at the same time to reduce costs and to obtain a profit on the entire group immediately. That’s why you commonly see chickens in a specific size range at the store. Gone are the days when you could ask for a chicken of a particular size to meet a specific need.

 

It’s important to note that chickens are usually processed at six or seven weeks in a factory setting. The chickens are force fed as much as they can possibly eat and restricted from moving about too much, which results in a fatty chicken with a poor density. The watery, flabby chicken you get in the store isn’t how chicken is actually supposed to look, but it’s what we’ve gotten used to seeing.

Rebecca and I take an entirely different approach-one that gives us a variety of sizes and reduces the workload on any given day. The two of us can comfortably process eight to ten chickens in a single day. (The largest number we ever processed was 23 chickens at a definitely uncomfortable pace.) We normally start processing chickens at week nine for the purpose of canning them (canned chicken is absolutely amazing stuff and it lasts up to five years without any electricity required). The following table shows the live weight, processed weight, and amount of time required to obtain various sorts of chickens. There is also a description of each kind of chicken.

Type

Time

Live Weight

Processed Weight

Description

Cornish Game Hen

3 to 5 weeks

1.2 to 3.25 pounds

0.72 to 2.0 pounds

A small chicken that’s used for individual servings. This size is usually available in stores.

Fryer

8 to 9 weeks

4.0 to 5.75 pounds

2.5 to 4.0 pounds

The store-sized chicken that’s good for canning and outstanding for low-fat soups when raised correctly.

Broiler

9 to 11 weeks

5.75 to 7.5 pounds

4.0 to 5.5 pounds

A little larger than a store-sized chicken that’s excellent for barbecuing in pieces or fried chicken. This size is also good for a robust soup. Some larger stores and most butcher shops sell this size.

Roaster

11 to 14 weeks

7.5 to 11 pounds

5.5 to 8.5 pounds

Usually unavailable in stores (you can get them at a butcher shop in some cases), but excellent for roasting in an oven or on a barbecue rotisserie.

Small Turkey

14 weeks+

11 to 18 pounds

8.5 to 12 pounds

A great replacement for a small turkey. Generally, you can’t grow any chicken larger than 12 pounds (and we’ve never achieved more than 11.5 pounds). You can sometimes get these birds in a rural butcher shop for a premium price.

Stewing

3 to 5 years

Varies

Varies

A stewing chicken is generally a laying hen that’s past her prime and is only useful for soup or broth. This option is unavailable anywhere today.

 

This table is based on our own experiences and those of people we’ve talked with. It reflects what you should expect for home grown chickens, not for chickens raised in a factory setting, which can produce chickens at a faster pace. We’ve kept records for five years worth of chicken processing. Your results may vary according to a wide range of factors, such as what you feed your chickens and how often. (We feed our chickens a combination of broiler mix chicken feed, grass, kitchen scraps, and insects.) When you raise animals outside, they’re subject to variations in the weather that will affect their weight. Even the place you buy your chicks from can make a difference. I’m also assuming that you plan to raise Cornish Rock chickens as described in the Getting Started with Chickens post.

Remember that if you plan to process a large number of chickens it can be worth investing in some machines to help you with the process. You can find second hand or discounted former factory models usually for cheap, and by contacting someone who makes replacement parts (National Band Saw makes berkel slicers parts and sells online is one example) you can make your life a lot easier in the long run.

It’s also important to remember that chickens today are typically sold without the organ meats and sometimes without the neck. The neck, heart, gizzard, and liver normally weigh in at a combined 4.0 to 6.0 ounces. We keep all of these parts because the small amount in each chicken really adds up. Some people also keep the feet, which could add another couple of ounces to the total. The feet are great for broth, but you need to ensure that they’re completely cleaned before you use them and you also remove the yellow outer skin before boiling them. We don’t keep the feet because we feel that the amount of work required to clean them properly isn’t worth the resulting broth.

Although the table seems to indicate that you can multiply the live weight by 0.67 in most cases to obtain the processed weight, we generally multiply by 0.5 to ensure we actually get chickens of the size we want. There is some weight variation between birds and you don’t want to have to weigh each one individually, so the lower multiplier adds a little insurance. Please let me know if you have any questions at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.