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Our First Attempt at Raising Chickens for Meat | Killer b. Designs

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Our First Attempt at Raising Chickens for Meat

meat chicken harvest day

 

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:

delaware-meat-chickens

 

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.

cornish-rock-meat

 

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!

 

 

 





13 comments

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  1. Dana LaRue.

    You’re my hero. Seriously. I’m so proud of you. And don’t forget, you’re saving the gas/exhaust of traveling to and from the market, and consistently avoiding supporting big corporate companies. That’s HUGE. I wonder how much you could get away with feeding them on your own (not relying on commercial feed)? I know chickens are scavengers and will eat almost anything you put in front of them, so maybe they could help cut down on food scrap trash you guys make, for at least some of their feed? Thus, also, reducing your costs? And if hubby kills any deer, maybe you could feed the organs to the chickens? I’m just riffing here…

    1. Brooke

      Those are great suggestions Dana! I’ve been pinning posts left and right on growing/making your own chicken feed, and that’s definitely on the horizon. I may do it for the next round, at least partially. What is just so mind-boggling to me is the hidden wisdom found in others when I mention what we’re doing. It seems like so many raised meat chickens, or laying chickens, or raised gardens in their youths. Then it just got tedious and they stopped and started just going to the store. They look at me like I’m a silly little kid, and I look at them like “why would you let all this experience just go to waste?!” It’s so interesting to see how things are coming back full circle!

  2. Jaime Costiglio

    Brooke I applaud you, it’s no small feat to do what you’ve begun. Thank you for sharing your insight, both good and bad, it’s invaluable to others. I wish you the best of luck with the 10 year plan, those little girls are gaining quite an education in the process.

  3. Holley

    This is so interesting Brooke! I completely agree with your feelings on CAFOs and the meat industry, and actually recently became a vegetarian again because of it. I understand why it was hard for you to kill the chickens, and I’m not sure I would be able to myself! I think it’s awesome and very ambitious what you’re doing. Just curious: the birds you lost, were you able to eat them? I don’t know how that works.

    1. Brooke

      Holley they were all lost in the first week, so no, they were much too small to eat. It could have been anything: birth defects, sickness, disease, who knows! I don’t think I’d eat a bird that died, even of natural causes.

  4. Hannah

    Very courageous! My family and I are on a similar road to becoming self-sufficient. Being so connected to our food sources has made me a much more intentional and grateful human. Not much goes bad in my fridge anymore knowing the sacrifice those animals made on my behalf. Although I must say there is a certain attraction to tilapia farming vs. chicken/other livestock 😉

    1. Brooke

      Hannah do you have any good resources on tilapia farming? I’m trying to convince my husband that aquaponics are the next thing on our horizon. And by convince I mean warm him up to the idea that it’s happening no matter what 😉

      1. Hannah

        Brooke, I wish I could say that I did! What I know about hydroponics and tilapia farming comes mostly from internet searches and Mother Earth News. I am leaning towards an initial system that looks like a raised garden bed with what is essentially a large aquarium underneath it. It looks easy to build, manage and learn on. I was a bit intimidated by how complex these systems can be, but this seems like a good way to get one’s feet wet…pardon the pun. Once (if ever) I know what I am doing with little system, I will also have to figure out how to integrate a system into our backyard landscape in a way that will not offend our local historical society, since we live in an old house in a Nat’l Historic District. So far, they have been accepting of the chickens, but I know they won’t go for “disposable” pools set up randomly in the yard, which seems to be how most ‘at home” tilapia farmers are doing things.

        Best wishes in all of your endeavors!

        1. Brooke

          Thank you Hannah! I’ve been researching pretty much non-stop since beginning, and I think we’re planning to get started on our system soon. I decided on making plywood forms and using a pond liner called DuraSkrim for waterproofing. It’s what some pros use to even get organic certifications, so I feel comfortable enough growing food in it. Those disposable pools make me nervous since they’re mostly made from PVC and it’s not necessarily UV safe with the chemical leaching. I have a friend in chemical engineering and have basically bugged her to death over the whole “Is this material save to grow food in?” question. I plan to blog our entire process, so stay tuned! Hopefully your society could see the setup and decide it’s not an eyesore.

  5. Katie

    Yep, this is incredibly impressive!

  6. Stephanie R

    I loved reading this.. I am all about self-sustaining with food (and any other way you can find) – and the idea of having chickens has always intrigued me, but I just don’t know how I would feel come time to make them into dinner, you know? It’s nice to read about it in a non-gruesome way, from someone passionate about giving the chicks a good and healthy life. Bravo to you!!

  7. Shayla

    We had chickens and turkeys a few times when I was a kid. I always got crazy attached to them and had a hard time when they were harvested. But, I also struggle with the idea of factory farmed meat. I think our solution for now will be joining a co op to get some ethical meat!

  8. Jeannine | The Small and Chic Home

    WOW! You are amazing. Chickens are common around here, but just for eggs. I am so impressed that you are moving towards raising all of your own food.

    And it’s so cool that your dad has old-school techniques to share.

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