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If you are going to raise some meat birds, you will have a choice of ordering unsexed chicks, all rooster chicks or all pullets (hens). Should you order roosters or hens?
We always order unsexed (or straight run as they are called) chicks. They are cheaper than ordering all roosters or all hens. We like a variety of sizes of chickens in our freezer, another good reason for ordering them unsexed. The pullets will be smaller so we can put a 6 lb bird in the freezer. Since the roosters will grow larger, we can grow them out to get 8 pound birds.
We always order our meat bird chicks from a hatchery. They have catalogues or websites where you can learn about the different breeds they have. Give them a call and request that they send you a catalogue. Remember that it takes 3 weeks from the date of ordering until your chicks arrive. This is because that is exactly how long it takes to hatch the eggs.
If you have hens and a rooster, you can have a mama hen sit on the eggs and take care of them. For meat birds, we always order Cornish Giants (or Cornish Cross). These birds have been bred over the years for fast weight gain, which is why we can fill our freezer with chicken in only 8 weeks.
By the time they are about 4 weeks old, you can begin to tell the difference between the roosters and the hens. Not only will the roosters already be a fair bit larger than the hens, the roosters will have a larger comb (the red on the top of his head) and also will have larger wattles (they hang down). See the picture above of a rooster (also known as a cockerel).
You may want to keep some hens for longer than 8 weeks to grow them out a bit more. Or, you may decide to butcher your roosters at 6 or 7 weeks, instead of 8. It depends on the size you want your finished birds to be.
If you want to learn everything there is about raising meat birds, grab our book 8 Pounds in 8 Weeks: Raising Day Old Chicks for the Dinner Table.