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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Raising your own meat Chickens and butchering classes.

Chicken in public market, Mazatlan, Sinaloa, M...Image via Wikipedia

We are starting to plan out a rotation schedule for raising more of our own meat Chickens.Last spring/summer went just fine but we need to do a little fine tuning here and there.

The first thing we are changing from last year is the breed of birds we will be raising for our meat.Last year we raised Les Poulets also known as Amish Meat Chickens which are a heritage breed of chicken that take a bit longer to get to butchering size. Although the birds were fine and their meat was good, we want a bit fattier bird and one that grows quicker.

I want a fattier bird so when I make soup stocks I get the golden color I think of as a plus to raising your own birds,the Poulets did not have much fat to them so my soup still looked like stock made from a store bought chicken. Fat also helps make a cooked chicken moist and tender,just the way we like them to be.

The other point of the birds growing at a quicker rate is all about space for us.Since we live in a city environment and only have a larger city lot we can't raise to many birds at once.We figure 6-8 meat birds is our maximum and even that could be pushing our luck. If we add in the laying hens that would mean we would have up to 16 birds here all at once.Too m any to keep for long.By buying the quick growing Cornish Cross birds we can butcher the birds at 6-8 weeks.

I am not overly fond of the Cornish Cross Chickens,they creep me out.The Cornish Cross are the white chickens you see in all of the big mega meat plants.They have been breed to grow so fast and fat that they have awful habits that turn my stomach and make me a bit sad for the birds. Because of their rate of growth the Cornish's legs can not make muscle fast enough for the birds legs to support them; they end up being crippled by their own growing.Also because of their growth the birds just live right by their feed bins.So you have this crippled bird that eats,sleeps and poops in one spot from about week 3 on. When I think of these birds the movie Super Size Me comes to mind,if you have seen the movie you may get my point. I am not talking about Cornish Cross's that are living their days out in a meat plant here;I am talking about the Cornish Cross's living in my Dad's barn the same environment (on a city scale.) our birds will be living. But farming is not always pretty and sweet and we want our own meat.

So we figure we have room for around 6 birds at a time that was easy enough to work out.Now we are working on how to keep a rotation of birds going long enough to stock our freezer well. I figure we eat about 2 whole Chickens a week,that comes out to 104 Chickens a year. We are not going to be able to grow that many birds ourselves.We estimate,with much hopeful thinking,we will get in 3 rotations giving us 18 Chickens in the freezer or 9 weeks worth of meat.

Last years birds numbered 8 so the 18 will be a boost in our pantry. I have used those birds as a "treat" for us saving them for when we wanted an extra nice something for dinner.And I will most likely do the same with this years birds.

Now I want to talk about the cost of raising your own meat birds.Last year we added up the price per chick and the feed used while the Poulets were around. We did not include the scraps they ate from the kitchen,those scraps are a freebie in our home economy. The price we averaged per bird ended up being around $9 or maybe $10. I compared the price of a regular non organic chicken and an organic chicken at our local market.Our home raised birds landed right in the middle for price.We did end up saving $3-4 per bird because they were raised free range and organically. Not a huge savings but a savings.And lets not leave out the whole political conversation we could have about the benefits of our own meat.But I'd be preaching to the choir so I am moving on...

I want to go back to my comment about farming not being pretty or sweet.Many more people are looking into raising their own meat in an urban/suburban setting after watching the assorted movies or reading one of the many books out right now about the insecurity of the meat industry.I do understand the concern but I am asking you to think about your abilities,carefully and thoroughly.Can you really do this? Can you see it all the way to the end?

I want to point out raising animals for meat is a totally different world than having an animal as a pet.I even see this trend with urban/suburban chicken keepers,the birds are coddled and cooed over like they were a darling little child. Once you have made the choice to raise your own meat you have to look at that animal as meat,nothing else.Can you do it? Are you so sure of your politics that you can take a life?

Butchering a Chicken is simple and not as bloody as some may think.Chance and I found our students at our Chicken Butchering Class very interested in the whole process. We were proud of them for coming and just doing what we were asking them to do,take a life so theirs could continue in a way that fit the students beliefs. Many students did exactly what we asked, read up on Chicken Butchering,watch a video or two on YouTube and think it over. The students had thought it through and came to the class, they were ready.

So think it all through before you leap.

Chance and I have started to receive emails about wither or when we are holding any Chicken Butchering classes this year. We are but at this moment I have no dates to share with you.We need to talk some things over with our Chicken Guy first.But I can share this over view.

We do teach and this is what we ask:
You have your own bird,The age is not important,you can eat an older bird too.
You need a sharp larger kitchen knife.
Are you ready? See above.

The costs: $15 per person for a group lesson min of 5 people max of 10.
( if you can get a group together great,or watch here for our dates to come.)
Or : We will do a one on one lesson for $30.

You can leave us a comment here or email us with further questions.

Well, Issac is studying for Finals this weekend and needs the computer to look something up and since I'd like to see him do well I must go for now.I have a few more postings brewing in my mind that I am hoping to post this week so check back soon.

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  1. We have had chickens for eggs for a while now but not moved into chickens for meat. The friends I have here in Wales who do that tend to use Isas. Is that a breed available to you? They also take the old view that a chicken is a special treat to be eaten no more than once a month. We have taken to regarding chicken as a staple part of our diet and that is why we need to rear the birds that are slaughtered so fast. A chicken once a month and used to produce about three to four meals for a family of four is round about what fits with sustainable living according to everything I have read. Don't always manage that, so I do so know that it is a counsel of perfection!
    I think it is great that you are rearing and butchering your own birds. So many people are at such a remove from their food but you really know and understand what goes into it!
    I am seed ordering today. Such an exciting time.
    Sending you very best wishes from Wales.

  2. Wow! Have you read the book Heat by, I think, Bob Buford? I think you'd really like it.

  3. Hi Rois, nice to come across your blog. We live on a large lot in outer NE PDX and raised a few Le Poulets last year and I loved the flavor of their meat and the fact that the breasts weren't so large. We raised a couple Cornish Cross at the same time. One had a lame leg, the other had almost no feathers. The featherless one dressed out at 4.0 pounds, while a couple of our largest Le Poulets dressed out at 3.8 pounds. Not a lot of difference, and the Le Poulets were much more pleasant to look at in our yard.

    I kept one Le Poulet alive. She seemed extraordinarily bright, for a chicken, and I was curious to see what would happen if we let her keeping growing. Would she have leg or heart problems? So far, so good. She's 10 months old, larger than any of our pullets or full grown hens, and lumbers around like Baby Hughey, but she's healthy and seems to have wrested #1 chicken status from our mean ol' Rhode Island Reds, who have ruled the flock without mercy for almost two years.

  4. I have raised laying hens. We have butchered the roosters and eaten them. We are now wanting to get into meat birds. But I am wanting the ideal mix of fast growing and a bread that I can raise from eggs, so that I am not always needing to restock. My husband wants Cornish X but I am wanting something a little less extreme.... do you have any recommendations?

  5. Cornish Cross can be grown humanely, and you will get a bird that has a good amount of fat for soups and (my favorite) schmaltz (chicken fat rendered with onion for spread on... well, anything!)

    We raise our more slowly than recommended. Yes, we do give pelleted feed, but we also let them range for grass and bugs. This takes longer than the promised 6-8 weeks (more like 8-10 weeks), but the birds are happy - some even roost! - and we have never had a problem with ascites, broken legs, or heart attacks.

    One more thing: Corn is what gives the fat that yellow color.