I have a 10 Year Plan. It’s nothing fancy, but it is a big one. In 10 years I want to be able to provide all the food our family needs from home. Last year was my first garden, and this year is my first “big” garden. Yet while the herbivore side is being taken care of, what about the carnivore portion of our diet? Previously we relied on venison my husband shot during hunting season, along with some wild hog here and there, and then shopped for chicken and pork. But that just isn’t enough anymore. In order to cover *all* our previous grocery store bases, we needed to try our hand at chickens. I didn’t want to replicate the CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), I wanted to grow happy, healthy chickens that were free for their brief lives. Here is a quick rundown of what the past three months were like:
We started with 10 Buff Orpington chicks, 10 Delaware chicks, and 8 Cornish Rocks (it’s half of what the Cornish Cross breed is, designed to grow well for meat but not so quickly their legs break and their organs/quality of life suffer). Right away we suffered losses. Over the first 3 weeks, we lost 8 of the Buffs. So, that in and of itself meant we wouldn’t raise that breed for meat again. Losses were just astronomical. Five were due to mystery reasons, two were crushed by the larger breed birds, and one poor soul met its end at the jaws of our Red Heeler. We decided to just save the last two and let them live out their lives as eggers. They are now close friends with the Heeler, who seems to enjoy large birds but feels the need to chomp the little tiny ones.
The Cornish Rocks grew like wildfire. They were happy birds, and had about 90+ square feet for free ranging in the side yard we partitioned for them. Everything I read said that the meat would be tough if you allowed them too much movement, but we haven’t found that to be true. When the Cornish were 10 weeks old, we had a harvest day. It was tough for me. We watched a few YouTube videos on how to process the birds, and decided to try de-feathering them. It took two of us four hours to do eight birds. That’s about one hour per bird. Once we got started it got a bit quicker, but our backs sure were aching by the end of the day! The birds averaged about 4 pounds each. Once they were “grocery store ready” we vacuum sealed the whole birds and placed them in the freezer.
The Delawares were still much smaller, so we decided to give them 3 more weeks to grow. Last week they were 13 weeks old, and I was the only one around to get the harvest started. I know it sounds silly to some, but it was a very hard thing to take a life. I did it, because we still are a meat-eating family, and I wanted to be much more conscientious of where our food came from. I knew these birds didn’t suffer in life, and I wanted to do all I could to make sure they didn’t suffer in death either. I held their heads under their wings to put them to sleep, then hung them upside down to keep them calm as I did the deed.
For this round, I decided to forgo the tedious process of de-feathering the birds, and skinned them instead. It was much, much faster. I processed them in half the time. I did two birds on my own, with two more hung up to bleed out when my dad saw me at work and offered to help. Before, I was being very very careful and precise with the knife, only cutting the membranes to separate the skin from the flesh, careful not to pierce any organs or innards. My dad, however, showed me the “old school” way to do things, which didn’t involve a knife at all! Hands were all you needed. Once he showed me the method, we knocked out three birds in 20 minutes. Then my husband came home and we finished up the last of them. We decided to let the last one live and join the buffs as a layer. The Delaware chickens averaged about 2 pounds each. They’re small, but the flavor is a bit more intricate. I don’t know, I’m not a foodie by any means, but it does taste a bit more flavorful than the Cornish. Those tasted pretty much just like store-bought birds. But it was worth knowing that these were free of antibiotics, had happy lives running around, were fed non-GMO soy-free organic food, as well as kitchen scraps and treats. They didn’t suffer and they knew the sunshine.
So, now that all the gab is done, how to they stack up on costs? Well, here’s the break down:
Buff Orpington Chicks: 38.50 for 10 (I ended up leaving this out of the breakdown since most died and the other 2 are layers)
Delaware Chicks: 35.50 for 10
Cornish Rocks: 32 for 8
One bag of medicated starter (to prevent diseases that attack chicks): 10
5 bags of H&H feed: 120
Total Expenses: $197.50
Pounds of Meat: 33.5
Price per pound: $5.89
Not the worst, but it’s still Whole Foods pricing. Our mistakes were buying expensive chicks from the feed store. Next time, we’ll order chicks at half the price. I’m also planning to buy only Cornish birds, so we can harvest them sooner and feed them a bit less overall (10 weeks of feed instead of 13). This isn’t exactly a money-saving enterprise, but it’s no more expensive than what I would buy at the store, and it’s much healthier meat. If all works out the next time around we should be looking at somewhere along the lines of $3/lb. It’s not the worst outcome for our first shot at chickens, it actually ended up quite well. I’m looking forward to doing another round in the fall, so that someday soon this whole “feed the family off the land” thing can be a reality!