At least twice a year, we raise a large flock of meat chickens. We order 30-50 chicks from a company in Pennsylvania that delivers us a great stock of Kosher King chickens. They arrive unsexed – so we have a mix of hens and roosters in the end. They arrive just one or two days old and we have quickly get them to food and water and under a heat lamp. Then it is a fast growing journey over 10 weeks until they are large enough to dispatch to fill our freezer for the next couple of month.
Before anyone gets too upset, we take very very good care of our meat chickens – just like our egg chickens. They get every thing they need to grow big and strong. We also interact with them and show them love and affection – more than they would ever get on a giant chicken farm that puts the chicken in the grocery stores. Every morning, afternoon and night – one of us (usually me) goes out to check they have plenty of water, and food. They also get all the same treats – like spinach, kale, and kitchen scraps – that our egg chickens get. We do keep them in a separate coop – but they have plenty of space. We also do not name them like we do the egg chickens for two obvious reason – never name food and there are just too many of them to try to keep track of.
A few things we have learned about raising our own meat chickens:
- What you feed them matters. It can effect the flavor and the size of your end product. So make sure you are giving them quality feed throughout their different stages of life.
- In the long run it may or may not actually save you money versus buying chickens from the grocery. When you factor in you own time spent each and every day caring for them in addition to the butchering and packaging, it is probably a wash in the checkbook. But you do get high quality meat that has none of the additives or fillers that some store bought product might have.
- Part of micro homesteading is finding ways to be self-sufficient. Being able to raise and rear your own food supply (whether its for the meat or for renewable sources like eggs and milk) you become more independent.
- Until you have cooked and eaten a truly fresh – never frozen – piece of chicken that was dispatched earlier in the day, you do not know the gloriousness of chicken. You will be absolutely shocked by how much more flavorful each bite is.
There are lots of different varieties of meat chickens out there. And we have raised several of them. We first started with Cornish Cross chickens. These are the industry standard and represent a vast majority of the chickens you get at the grocery store. These are your typical white chickens you see when you see the field of chickens on a chicken ranch. We called them “Jumbo Dumbos” as they are breed to just grow as quickly and hugely as they can handle. To the point of not really being able to walk around towards the end. They tend to put on more fat than muscle, so they taste good but have small meat portions. We then raised Freedom Rangers, which is a French breed of chicken that grows more slowly, resulting a leaner end product. The Kosher Kings – the breed we now raise most often – is a great mix of both. They are bred to grow quickly, but they do not have an urge to over eat, so they grow big and strong, moving and foraging right up to the end.
In the end, being able to raise and butcher your own meat chickens is a choice. And it’s not for everyone. But it works for us. I do the day to day care – with the help of our children and my husband. My daughter and husband handle the dispatching and initial butchering (skin and innards removal). And I do the final butchering (into traditional cuts like drums and thighs), and package into the freezer. I use the double wrap method – wrapping it up tight in plastic bags and then wrapping it in butcher paper, sealed with a label. I also make sure to identify what cuts are in it, how many and the date it was butchered.
Meet the Girls:
Almost all of them have names (and they all start with ‘S’, which is a silly story), with the exception of the barred rocks and the speckled sussex. This is because we have 2 sets of 2 barred rocks (one we call the old twins and one we call the young twins) and a set of 2 speckled sussex that we just call both speckled, because honestly you cannot tell them apart. The rest are in groups. We have the ‘Singers’ – Shania, Shakira and Sally. We have the Firestarters (again a story for another day) – Smokey, Sparky and Sizzle. We then have Savvy – which we saved from a round of meat chickens, when we realized that she might not have been meant to be a meat chicken. And at the moment only one of our ducks is named – Sandy. The 3 ducklings we have are not yet old enough to know for sure if they are girls (egg layers) or boys (meat producers), so we won’t name them till we know for sure. But at the moment the names on the table are Spaghetti, Strawberry, Sage, Sasha and Sammy.
Do you or have your raised your own chickens? Do you have any questions you want answers or topics you would like to see me cover in this series?
I love to link up my posts to lots of blogs around the internet – check out this Ultimate Handy Linky Party List to find some of the places I share to!
Estelle Forrest self-published this cookbook after a lot of playing around in the kitchen. You can purchase your own copy here:
Don’t miss new recipes from Homemade on a Weeknight – subscribe and get an email with every new post!