Chickens raised for meat die prematurely if not slaughtered?

I happened to be discussing keeping hens in our yard for egg production, when it came up that commercial feed sold for meat production will actually kill chickens that aren’t slaughtered at the correct time. An anecdote was brought up about someone raising a crop of chickens on their rural property which they did not get around to slaughtering at the correct time and they just started keeling over on their own en mass. Something about growing too large to survive past that point, like their organs fail or something?

It was said this is because of the commercial feed, and why you have to get the correct feed if you’re raising for eggs versus meat because feed the wrong one and your hens won’t survive to egg laying age.

Is this true? What exactly is in the feed that causes this?

I’m not a poultry breeder, but I don’t think it’s something specific to the feed, other than it being calorie dense. I think it’s more to do with the breed and the amount of feed:

I know they grow so large that their legs can’t support them; since the chickens have feed sprayed on them from the ceiling of the chicken barn, I suppose they could lie there and eat and wallow in their own poop, but I wouldn’t call it living.

I had a roommate who would consider that a top-rate lifestyle as long as the TV remote was in his hand.

I’ve raised the Cornish cross meat chickens and it’s an experience I won’t repeat. They do not adapt to the free-range or foraging lifestyle.

Mostly they lay down next to the feeder and refuse to move. They grow so fast that their feathers can’t even keep up, so you have to keep them out of the sun.

I had the opportunity to raise some “hothouse” chickens on my place. I’ve raised lots of chickens, heritage breeds and such and was completely blown away by the breed. It is a White Rock and White Cornish first generation crossbreed if I remember correctly. The ones I had were eggs donated to a school along with an incubator for science class. After they hatched the teacher was eager to get rid of them so I took them.

My young sons went out to see them the second day we had them, picked one up out of the brooder and said, “It’s heavier than it was yesterday.” I thought that was nonsense until he handed me the chick. Their growth rate was nothing short of staggering. I was feeding them the exact same food as my heritage breeds.

I can only imagine what a poor farmer who might have accidentally discovered this particular cross’ growth rate must have thought.

From what I read you can only ever have first generation crosses because they will be either dead or immobile because of their large size before they reach sexual maturity.

It’s nothing in the feed.

It’s in the genetics of ‘meat’ chickens. They have been bred to eat high-calorie feed and grow quickly to the desired slaughter weight, with no concern for after that. I.e., the breeders gave no importance to a long life span, for example.

That said, you do have to get the right feed.
There are different formulations of chicken feed for meat chickens and for egg-laying chickens; your flock won’t do as well if you feed them the wrong type of feed.

Meanwhile, our post menopausal hens continue to flourish. Seven hens used to give us six eggs a day, now we get one. They are sort-of-pets, so with my luck they will set records for longevity.

Never name your chickens. Once you do that it gets a lot harder to wring their scrawny little necks. My wife’s father kept hens for eggs and forbad his children from naming them. As soon as the egg rate dropped - into the pot they went.

Under control broilers can now achieve feed conversion efficiencies approaching 1:1 i.e. 1 kg body weight per 1 kg feed. However this doesn’t violate the laws of thermodynamics as it would seem.

The difference is water. It counts as bodyweight, but not as feed and has the significant benefit adding 10g of bodyweight as water is a whole lot cheaper to achieve than 10g as protein, fat or bone.

Not only are ours named, but they will do various “tricks” for peanuts.:frowning:

In particular, laying hens need to have sufficient calcium in their diets or else the egg shells thin out and get fragile, then the hen’s bones can thin out and get fragile.

Not everyone intends to eat their chickens. For a lot of folks, they’re pets that also provide breakfast food.

From my experience it’s not that dramatic. I raised 2 dozen of these meat birds a few years ago. Not having the time to slaughter early I continued feeding them for a couple months extra. I ended up with turkey-sized chickens, all of which reached sexual maturity fine; the roosters started giving the hens harassing trouble and I lost a few birds this way (should have paid the extra nickle each for sorted birds). One bird broke a leg but that was probably equally my fault since I tossed it a few feet… a lighter traditional breed wouldn’t have taken any damage at all. But no sudden organ failure or waddling/stumbling birds keeling over from heart attacks. Although a few more months growth who knows…

You might as well.
Modern laying hens have been bred to put their all into producing eggs, not their own body.

In her 80’s, my Mother decided to get a flock of laying hens, to have fresh eggs, and so that our kitchen scraps weren’t ‘wasted’ on compost. At the end of their productive egg-laying life, she butchered them all.

And discovered that there was hardly any ‘meat’ on them at all. She said it took 2 or even 3 of them for a decent chicken soup, and chicken & dumplings for 3 people took a half-dozen of those laying chicken carcases. They were incredibly scrawny compared to the chickens she remembered as a child. So that’s only about 70 years, and chicken breeders have bred them so well that laying hens and meat chickens are as different as beef and dairy cattle.

I had mine butchered at 8 or 9 weeks, and they hadn’t been really mobile for a some time. I know that commercial farms use artificial day / night cycles to encourage them to eat as much as they can to grow fatter birds, so maybe that plays a part too.

I’m pretty sure that meat chickens are bred to gain weight extra quickly, and are pretty prone to dying. My dad raised chickens show chickens, and we would let the hens run free in our yard. We’d get a set of meat birds each year, usually about 30. Since we already had a bunch of chickens running around, we’d let them do so as well. Even though they had basically the same diet of the normal chickens, they would eat so much more. We’d send them to be processed at around 12 weeks, but there’d be a few who would die randomly beforehand, for seemingly no reason. We kept a few one year and they all died by the time they were 6 months.