I believe that part of being prepared for any emergency that might come your way is being self sufficient. If there is a financial downturn and you lose your job, or some other larger crisis that disrupts the economy, you may have to live on what you have stored or that you can grow. It is possible to raise enough poultry for your family right out of your backyard. And this is true without disturbing your neighbors!
The best poultry to raise for meat in your backyard are Cornish Cross chickens that you buy as chicks from the feed store, Chukar Partridges and Quail (my pick would be the Jumbo Coturnix Quail). This assumes you live in a neighborhood and don’t want to disturb neighbors. If you live in the country, even if just on an acre or so, there may be some other options to consider. But in a neighborhood these are your best choices.
In this article we are going to discuss the pro’s and cons of pretty much all your options, and why at least one of these three will be your best bet. You may want to do a combination of some of these three, or you may just want to pick one and go with it. You may also want a couple of laying chickens for eggs, or you may just want to also get eggs from your quail or partridges.
Cornish Cross Chickens
The great thing about the Cornish Cross Chicken breed is that they are bread for fast weight gain and growth and great tasting meat. From the day you bring them home as chicks, you only have 8 or 9 weeks before they are ready to be processed for the freezer. Some people choose to process their birds as early as 6 weeks.
Cornish Cross males grow a little bit faster than the females. They grow close to about a pound per week. The females grow slightly slower. When I have raised them to be honest I have never really kept track of the cost per bird. But from what I can find online most say the males average around $.95 per pound to raise. When you buy them as chicks you don’t know which are males and which are females.
Filling The Freezer
This image is from a website called ThisWesternLife.com, They raise Cornish Cross and beef that you can buy from them. Their meat is all pasture raised.
The big advantage raising Cornish Cross chickens is that literally all you have to do is calculate how many chickens your family will need for a year, and over the course of the summer purchase that many chicks. When I do this I usually buy 25 chicks at a time. For us with our kids out of the house 25 is plenty (we eat out too much I am ashamed to say).
For me 25 birds is about the maximum I want to have to process at one time, so I just do them all at once. (I will talk about processing them a bit more below.) Most people I know do 10 to 15 birds at a time, and just raise a couple of batches of them over the summer.
I have seen people do 50 birds in a batch but that is a huge batch for a neighborhood backyard. They can get a bit noisy (Its not really too bad though. Its not like having a rooster or a dog) and you don’t want to drive your neighbors batty. And that is a bunch to have to process all at once. But I have seen people do that many at once. I don’t recommend doing that your first time!
Raising The Cornish Cross
I won’t go into a lot of info in this article about raising your Cornish Cross chickens. I go into that in more depth in my article entitled “How To Raise Backyard Chickens – A Helpful Guide!“.
It does not cost much to set up for the birds. You just build a basic chicken tractor like I show in the image on the above left. They can be made out of light lumber or PVC pipe and chicken wire. And you will also build or purchase a brooding pen that you will keep in your garage, until the birds are old enough to survive outside. Again I go over this part in more detail in my other article above mentioned. Also here are some good brooders you can purchase pre- made on Amazon: GQF Heated Brooder. Hatching Time Brooder.
Processing The Birds
In some areas there are people who have all of the equipment to pluck and process chickens and will either come to you, or you can bring your chickens to them for processing. If you can find someone like that, especially one that will come to you, I would suggest that the first time. It costs a bit more but they will walk you through everything.
If you are going to be doing this on a regular basis (which I highly recommend), it pays to have all of the below equipment. It will cost you roughly $500 to get all set up. When I first started doing this I hired a guy who had all of the equipment to come to my home and do it all for me. I did that the first couple of times, and now I just do it myself. It is cheaper in the long run. The items you would need to purchase are: 1. Vacuum Seal Freezer Bags, 2. Vacuum Sealer, 3. Chicken Scalder, 4. Chicken Plucker 5. Processing Cone.
You will also need these items which most homes already have: 1. Big Plastic Folding Table, 2. Large Tub, and 3. Garden Hose, 4. Sharp Knife. Once you have them processed you either vacuum seal them in freezer bags and stick them in the freezer, or you freeze dry them if you have a home freeze dryer. Freeze drying makes the meat light weight and last up to 25 years, and it doesn’t have to be stored in a freezer.
Can I Breed My Own Cornish Cross?
You cannot breed Cornish Cross at home. They are a cross of very specially bred chickens that are not available to the normal public. They started out as crossing Cornish with white Plymouth rocks, but after 60 years of intensive breeding, the birds they use now have very little resemblance to the original breeds. Cornish Cross are the meat chicks that gain the most meat in the shortest amount of time, so your cost per meat pound is better. There are other meat breads or dual purpose breeds that you can raise and bread your own. But again they will take longer to get to process weight.
If you do and you want to hatch them you will do it just like I describe below for the quail and Chukars. The length of incubation times will be longer, about 21 days to hatch. The temperature (99.5 degrees Fahrenheit) and turning will all be the same. The big down side in a neighborhood to breeding chickens is the roosters are noisy and so the neighbors will not like you. And they can sometimes be mean depending on the breed.
Jumbo Coturnix Quail
Until I started researching quail initially I had no idea they would be a good bird to raise at home for meat. They are more like a chicken dark meat than a white meat. But they are very tasty. The reason why I like the Coturnix quail is because they do really well in cages. Since quail are much smaller, they are much easier and faster to process.
And depending on how you process them (if you skin them), you most likely won’t need all of the equipment you need with the large Cornish Cross chickens. Most people that raise quail for meat skin them, but it is getting more popular to not skin them now than it used to be. Leaving the skins on helps keep the meat more moist when cooked.
Here is a video I did documenting my first time incubating, hatching and brooding quail. I learned a lot and tell you about both my successes and mistakes in this video. I think it will be beneficial for you to watch it.
Here is a video from a Youtube channel I like for all things quail. In the below video he talks about the advantages to Jumbo Coturnix Quail. This guy has some great info about these quail and so I recommend his channel.
Coturnix Quail For Eggs
Coturnix Quail lay eggs just about every day like a good laying chicken would. And so many people raise them to eat their eggs. The standard Coturnix Quail egg is about 1/5 the size of a chicken egg. The Coturnix Jumbo Quail (a larger breed of Coturnix Quail) lay eggs between 1/3 and 1/4 the size of a chicken egg.
If you keep about 1 male bird for every 4 to 5 females, your eggs will all be fertilized. What most people do is then eat the amount of eggs they want (a fertilized egg looks and tastes just like a non fertilized egg), and save the rest until they have enough to put them in an incubator. So you just plan how many hens you keep based on how many eggs you need and how many birds you want to process for meat.
Your quail will be their most consistent at laying eggs from about 55 days until they are about a year old. They will lay up to around 2 years of age, but they will be less consistent and go through a molting period for a month or so where they won’t lay at all. So you will be wanting to replacing the hens once they stop laying.
The males being used as breeders are usually replaced at around a year of age or perhaps a bit older. They tend to not bread as well after that. You can eat them at that age. People hunt quail and you don’t know how old they are then. But they typically need to be slow cooked or cooked longer so they are more tender. Cook them at that age like you would a wild quail, rather than like chicken.
Jumbo Coturnix Quail
A standard Coturnix Quail weighs about 5 to 6 ounces as an adult. A Jumbo Coturnix Quail weighs about 13 to 14 ounces as an adult. You need about 1 square foot of cage for every 3.5 standard sized Coturnix Quail, vs 1 square foot for every 3 jumbo sized Coturnix Quail. So you can see why if you are raising them for meat, the jumbos are the better choice.
When planning out how much meat you need for your family, you want to figure out how many pounds of poultry your family consumes. Then that helps you decide how many quail to raise. Depending on the size and appetite of the person it will be between 1 to 2 jumbo quail per person per mail. But you can guess more accurately if you go by the weight. You can always raise quail year round and once a summer raise a batch of Cornish Cross as well!
Raising Coturnix Quail
Almost all people who raise quail keep males with the females so the eggs are fertilized. For example some people start their quail flocks buy buying quail eggs out of the grocery store and trying to hatch them. Out of a dozen store bought eggs usually a few will hatch. Your hatch rates will be much higher with the eggs your hens lay or if you order eggs to hatch. You can also purchase chicks already hatched. For your first flock this is probably the best way to go.
However if you are raising quail for meat, by far the cheapest way is to hatch the eggs your hens lay. Quail eggs are relatively easy to hatch. All you need is a good egg incubator that has an egg turner, and a heated brooder. Once they are old enough to leave the brooder they can go out into your cage.
Coturnix Quail hatch on between day 18 and 22 of incubation. You keep the temperature in the incubator at 99.5, or as close to that as you can. A good incubator will keep you there. And you want your humidity to be at about 50-55% until about day 15, and then 65% to 70% after that. Here is a good video on incubating and hatching the eggs. In this video below he does a good job of explaining all the details of this as well as the importance and timing of turning the eggs.
This next video is another slightly red-necked video. I show his video because he created his brooder box on the cheap. They do make pre-made brooders that make it easier to regulate things. Here are some good ones you can get on Amazon: GQF Heated Brooder. Hatching Time Brooder. You will want to keep your quail in the brooder until around 4 weeks depending on the weather, how feathered out they are and how well they are adjusted to temperature.
Jumbo Coturnix Quail Cages
There are many different kinds of quail cages you can buy as well as build. I am going to show you my favorite of both category. The pre-made cage in the image to the left are made by a company called Hatching Time. These cages are also available here on Amazon. These are a little bit pricey. The neat thing about these is that they are really easy to clean, and the eggs roll out automatically to the front without breaking so it is easy to get them. As you can see they come in tiers, you can order one up to 5 tiers depending on how many birds you want. Here is a video someone did reviewing these.
If you would prefer to make your own my favorite design I got from Slightly Rednecked again. He designed his where he even has a sand box in it for them to sand bathe themselves which they really like doing. In the video below he shows you how to build it. Be sure and watch it all the way to the end so that you can see what it is like with quail in it. He shows the sand box as well.
Chukar Partridges are in my mind the best of both worlds, the meat chicken and quail worlds. They average around a pound and a half, with the males being slightly larger than the females. And their meat is white meat like chicken and they taste about like a grouse. They don’t lay as many eggs as a Coturnix Quail, but their eggs are bigger; about the size of Bantum (a small chicken) chicken eggs.
Chukars naturally lay about 40 to 50 eggs per year, in the spring and summer. They will lay considerably more if you take their eggs from them like a chicken, and have lights in their hutch so that they have 14 to 16 hours of light each day. So with proper lighting they will lay year round like a chicken. Chukar Partridges live about 10 years long, chickens live 7 to 8 years and quail live 2 to 3 years long.
Chukar Partridge Cages
The image to the left is Chris at the slightly red-necked YouTube channel in front of his quail cage. Quail cages work just fine as Chukar Partridge cages only you want to limit the birds to around 2 to 2.5 birds per square foot. There are some people who keep 3 birds per square foot if the cage setup keeps them extremely clean.
So as to not repeat in this article just know that everything I said above in the quail section about cages applies here. And the very same cages will work that I show up there. The only difference is since the birds are bigger you will want less birds per square foot.
The below video I included because he gives some very good information about Chukar Partridges. He shows them and their eggs so you will get a good idea of their actual size next to him. He also talks about how big they get and a few other things. At the beginning of his video it is hard to hear him because of the wind, but the wind dies down quickly and then you can hear him better. I apologize for that and am only showing his video because the info is so good. Please take a moment and watch it.
Raising Chukar Partridges
Raising Chukar Partridges will be just almost exactly like everything I said above about quail. You will plan how many you want to raise based on the pounds of meat and eggs you want to produce for your family, as well as the rules in your city or development. They can be raised in these types of cages Hatching Time (also on Amazon) just like quail in a garage or warehouse. If you keep them outside you will need to have the type of cage that has a place for the birds to get in out of the wind and cold for. This is true for Chukars, quail and chickens.
You will want to keep a ratio of about 1 male bird to every 3 to 5 females. Breeders suggest 1 male to ever 3 females unless the males fight, then you back it out to 4 or maybe even 5 females per male. If you use the Hatching Time type cages you will have individual compartments for every 3 to 4 birds. In this case you would want to keep 1 male in each compartment with 2 or 3 females.
You will save the eggs just like with the quail, eating the once you want and incubating the ones you want to hatch and raise for meat. I highly suggest not trying to supply your entire poultry food supply for your family with one type of bird. For example maybe raise enough Chukar Partridges or quail to produce all the eggs you want and maybe half or two thirds of the poultry meat. Then raise a small flock of Cornish Cross once or twice a summer to freeze dry or fill up your freezer for the rest.
What I like to do is to have a couple of laying chickens. The reason I like them is because they are just fun to have. I really enjoy them. I like to let them run around my back yard part of each day so they eat all of the bugs and spiders. Two or three chickens provide more eggs than my wife and I need and we give the extras to our married children who live near us. So I hatch all my Chukar eggs that will hatch and raise them for meat. I also like to raise some quail for meat, (just a few). Then I also do a small flock of Cornish Cross once a summer for variety.
If my wife would eat rabbit (she is a city girl) I would also raise meat rabbits. I have done this in the past and you can get a lot of meat from very little space and trouble with just a couple (1 male and two females) rabbits. Their meat tastes just like chicken to me. Since the meat is skinned it can dry out a bit when cooking. (It depends how you cook it.) My son and I love eating it. See my article Raising Backyard Rabbits For Meat .
Other Types Of Poultry You Could Raise
There are a lot of other birds that you could raise for meat in both domesticated and even game bird varieties. In this section briefly I want to touch on some of these and why I think they are not as good of choices for someone in a suburban neighborhood.
Other Meat / Dual Purpose Chickens
In a neighborhood you do not want to bread your own chickens, like could do with Chukar Partridges and Quail, because chicken roosters are loud and will annoy the heck out of your neighbors. You don’t want your rooster crowing really loud next to your neighbor’s bedroom window at the break of dawn.
You could always buy chicks of other meat and/or dual purpose chicken breeds to raise instead of Cornish Cross. The reason I chose Cornish Cross is just because I don’t believe you will find a faster growing muscle putting on type of chicken than the Cornish Cross. You will get more delicious tasting meat for the cost than pretty much any other bread. And almost every feed store across America sells them.
Grouse, Pheasant & Other Game Birds
Most of these game birds that you can raise domestically also have very noisy roosters. You will have the very same problem in a neighborhood (worse with some) that you will have with chicken roosters. This is not the way to build good relationships with your neighbors! Chukar Partridge roosters are a bit more noisy than quail, but neither come anywhere close to chickens or most other larger game birds. And because they do well in cages, you can choose where you put them in your yard (but really they are not noisy).
The other downside with Grouse, Pheasant and most other game birds is they need more room with larger runs. This can limit yard and garden space, as well as how many birds you can raise.
Turkey, Geese, Ducks, Guinea Fowl, Peacocks Etc.
First of all I personally do not like the taste of wild duck or geese taste. My grandmother used to tell me as a kid that if you ever cook a wild duck or goose to be sure to cook it on wood that would add flavor to the bird like apple wood. She would always say “that way when you are done cooking them you can always throw away the goose or duck and eat the board!” That shows how much she liked wild duck and goose meat. And I am personally not a fan of the domesticated versions either. Others do like them though.
And please spare yourselves sanity and stay away from Guinea Foul. We had those for a short spell on our ranch when I was growing up and they are the most noisy ornery birds I have ever owned. But I digress.
Seriously though each of these types of birds that you could raise have all of the same problems for a backyard. They can be very noisy and need a lot more space with larger runs. I have seen ducks or geese work out okay in a neighborhood setting when you just have one or two for eggs or for protection of the other birds, as long as you have the room for the run.
But as far as raising them exclusively for meat you will produce more meat for the money with Cornish Cross for sure, and probably even with Chukar Partridges and quail. Especially when you take into consideration the small amount of space the partridges and quail need. Now if you live out in the country, or on a very large lot, some of these other types of birds might be really fun and great options. This article is written for those wanting to raise meat in a normal small neighborhood backyard.
These are my opinions based on my experiences, so please take it as that. Other people may have differing opinions.
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