Bulletin #2223, Understanding Poultry Yields

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By Colt W. Knight, Ph.D., Assistant Extension Professor and State Livestock Specialist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

Reviewed by Gregg Rentfrow, Ph.D., Associate Extension Professor, Meat Science Specialist, University of Kentucky

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a flock of meat chickens

With recent challenges to the meat supply chain due to Covid-19, we have seen a tremendous increase in folks wanting to raise their own food, and farms increasing production to meet demands for locally sourced protein. If you decide to raise your own poultry, what yield should you expect? What factors influence yield? How much storage space do you need? To begin, let’s discuss some basic definitions.

Live weight: the weight of the animal

Hot carcass weight: freshly slaughtered carcass, often referred to as eviscerated weight

Cold carcass weight: carcass after cooling

Dressing percentage = hot carcass weight ÷ live weight – giblets, neck, etc.

Dressing percentage = hot carcass weight ÷ live weight – giblets(heart, liver, gizzard, and neck)

Cooler shrink: weight lost to evaporation as the carcass cools and ages

What Factors Affect Dressing Percentage?

Age: Too young, and animals do not have a lot of muscle growth. Too old, animals may have excessive fat, bone structure, or organs, lowering the yield.

Breed: Chickens were first domesticated 5-6000 years ago in Southeast Asia. Since then, certain breeds have been genetically selected for egg, meat, and feather production, along with some other traits including weather tolerance, flight, show, and companionship.  Today, we generally choose production poultry breeds based on egg-laying potential, and meat production. Some breeds are characterized as dual-purpose, meaning they can be used for either. However, dual-purpose poultry tend to not produce as well as either of their counterparts.

Sex: Male birds generally grow faster and larger. Male chickens and turkeys can be castrated to create capons, which are more docile and grow fatter. Caponization is a  surgical procedure, and should not be attempted at home without proper training

Environment: Animals expend energy staying warm/cool, walking around, and foraging. Animals raised in a confined and environmentally controlled environment will consume less feed and grow larger in a shorter amount of time compared to poultry raised outdoors or on pasture.

Diet: Birds raised on pasture will consume some forage, insects, mice, etc., so they may have a different flavor than birds raised on a strict grain diet and take longer to reach processing weight.  Birds given a free choice diet will reach processing weight sooner than limit fed birds. Energy and protein-rich diets will contribute to a higher dressing percentage.

Processing: Eviscerated weight (including necks, giblets, etc.) is generally ~10% higher than normal dressing percentages. Heavily downed or feathered birds will also have a lower dressing percentage.

How Much Freezer Space Do You Need for Poultry?

One pound of poultry takes up about .04 cubic feet of freezer space.

Poultry TypeDressing
Birds /
Chicken (broiler) 70-72%135 days5 lbs.0.235
Commercial75%245 days5.25 lbs.0.2133
Slow Growing67-69%260 days5.25 lbs.0.2133
Hens 16 weeks38-16 lbs.0.32-0.6410 to 21
Toms 19 weeks316-24 lbs.0.64-0.967 to 10
Heritage Breed 26-28 weeks410-28 lbs4A0.4-1.126 to 17
DuckPekin66-69%57 weeks7-8 lbs.0.28-0.3221 to 25
Jumbo Pekin 12 weeks69.5-11+ lbs.0.38-0.4615 to 18
Muscovy69-75%710-18 weeks4.5-5.5 lbs.0.18-0.2231 to 38
Goose 64-72%88-16 weeks10-15 lbs.+0.4-0.611 to 17
Quail 58-62%933-112 days   
Guinea Fowl 70-71%1016 weeks3 lbs.0.1258

*Values represented in this chart should be taken as guidelines. More exotic poultry may vary widely.

** Freezer space estimation is based on combined data from numerous online sources.

1 Principles of Meat Science, Fourth Ed, 2001, Kendall/Hunt Publishing

2 Generating data-based recommendations for pastured broiler producers, Journal of the NACAA, 2019, Vol. 12, issue 1

3 Turkey, Poultry Hub, 2020

4 Penn State News, Heritage turkey production research: It’s profitable but more difficult, 2020

4A The Case for Heritage Breed Turkeys, Modern Farmer, 2016

5Asian-Australas Journal of Animal Science, A comparative study of carcass characteristics and meat quality in genetic resources Pekin ducks and commercial crossbreds, 2019

6Purely Poultry, Jumbo Pekin Ducklings, 2020, https://www.purelypoultry.com/jumbo-pekin-ducklings-p-870.html

7Market Possibilities and Yields of Muscovy Ducks Dressed at Various Ages, Poultry Science, Volume 41, 1962

8The effect of age, genotype and sex on carcass traits, meat quality and sensory attributes of geese, Asian-Australas Journal of Animal Science, Volume 31(3), 2017

9Comparison of slaughter value in Pharoah Quail of different ages, Journal of Central European Agriculture, volume 12(1), 2011

10 Effect of age and sex on slaughter value of guinea fowl, Journal of Central European Agriculture, Volume 12(2), 2011

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 2020

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