Animals & Wildlife Magazine

Lesson 708 – Meat Birds and Mouse Wars

By Wendythomas @wendyenthomas

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.

We 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.


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