Today was freezer day for our meat chickens.
This was our first attempt at raising meat chickens. I actually hesitate to write about it. Two years ago when we bought our first chicks, I wrote about choosing chicken breeds. For months afterward, that post received frequent google hits. I cringed to think that someone may take my advice and hoped that readers were aware that we were total greenhorns and really didn't know what we were talking about!
But since some of you asked, I'll write about our experience with meat birds, just remember that we've never done this before!
We chose the ordinary Cornish Cross chickens. I've read of many who are switching to Freedom Rangers or a heritage breed chicken. But Cornish Cross was easily available locally without mail order. We decided we would gain some experience with the breed designed for fast meat growth. I wouldn't mind trying some other options in the future but at least we will have some experience with the Cornish Cross to base our opinion on.
We brought 21 chicks home in May. They were such adorable little fur balls. For the first week, they stayed in our basement where we could watch them closely.
It soon became obvious that these birds do like to eat. At the same time, we had bought some brown chicks of an egg laying breed. Within a week, the meat birds were obviously bigger. They quickly out grew their box in the basement and were moved to a brooder pen in the chicken house.
At four weeks, Ed made a little moveable pen, or chicken tractor, and all the meat birds were moved out to the yard. By this time, they were three times the size of the egg laying breed. I've often heard how much they eat but actually seeing it was astounding. These birds actually lay on their bellies with their head hanging in the feed trough - eating.
We really liked the moveable pen. Last year we had a huge pen that was hard to maneuver. This one was light and easy to push or pull. We moved it to fresh grass three times a day. As soon as we moved to new grass, the chickens would peck at the grass. I doubt much of their daily intake was grass but even a little may have helped. We could have put them in the pasture, but since our yard is in shambles anyway from the building project, we stopped mowing part of our back yard and used it for the chickens. The children don't play in that area much and the grass could use some fertilizer.
The chickens were very healthy. We didn't lose even one. At about four weeks, one of the birds was not thriving. He did not eat much and limped around looking miserable. He was much smaller than the others and I was about to put him out of his misery. But soon he perked up and eventually I couldn't distinguish him from the rest.
I have often heard of leg problems in the Cornish Cross. But we didn't seem to have much problem. To be honest, these weren't very active birds. The pen which looked adequate size was rather crowded by the time they were 8 weeks. But there was still room for them to walk from the feeder to the water. When we moved the pen, we had to do it slowly so that the flock could stagger their way to the fresh grass. They would flop on their belly as soon as possible.
But this morning, when Ed and I were putting the chickens in the crate, one bird got away from us. It gave Ed a run until he finally cornered him in a bush! I always think chickens have a funny waddling run. There obviously wasn't anything wrong with this bird. You have to have a little speed to keep ahead of a six foot man! And I couldn't help because I was struggling with two birds of my own. And maybe laughing?
Today the birds were eight weeks old exactly. While they may have been able to grow more, they were good size and panting on the hot afternoons.
When it came to butchering, we chickened out! Maybe someday we will try butchering them ourselves, but this year, with so much going on, we decided it wasn't wise. We have a local Mennonite family that is all set up to dress chickens. We dropped them off this morning and picked up beautifully dressed chickens three hours later. Of course, that did hurt our cost savings in raising our own chicken, but Ed's "to-do" list is too long this summer. I feel good supporting a home business.
Was it a cost savings? I figured we spent $191.34 on these chickens. This includes buying the chicks, feeding them, and paying to have them dressed. The feed cost also includes the feed eaten by the chicks we purchased for laying, (which you will hear more about.)
The twenty-one chickens we dressed today (or had dressed) weighed between 4-6 lb. after being dressed. The average was 5.5 lb with 114.7 lb total in the 21 birds. That brings our cost to $1.67 a lb. if I figured it right. If we would have done the butchering ourselves it would be down to $1.26 a lb.
Whether that is a good deal or not, depends on your perspective. Should I compare this price to the cheap sale price chicken breasts I've been buying? Or should I compare it to the antibiotic free, pastured chicken price?
I'm choosing to consider it a good deal. My parents raised chickens and it was only since I married that I had ever bought commercial raised chicken. There is definitely a difference. I haven't eaten any of ours yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing if we taste a difference in this meat. Some of the chickens I cut into pieces to freeze and I have a big pot of the bony back and neck pieces boiling on the stove right now. The fragrance is wonderful. It is exactly my memory of my mom's chicken.
Now you are under the impression that we know all about raising chickens. I'll burst your bubble and share our sad news.
This weekend, some varmint discovered our eight young laying hens in the chicken house. We had gotten lazy in shutting the door but nothing had ever happened. But this time it did. I was so upset to think of my future laying flock devoured by some predator. We beefed up the chicken house security but somehow last night they made their way in again and this time killed one of our big laying hens.
You can thank me for not sharing pics. It makes me sick just to think of it. I kept an emotional distance from our meat birds, but the laying hens are my pets. I visit them often with little tid-bits from the kitchen as a treat. They adore carrot and apple peelings.
My only relief is that they did not discover our meat birds the day before we butchered them. But I'm hoping they don't take out our whole laying flock!
Any ideas on homeland security against (we're guessing) coons?