If raising chickens for eggs is the gateway to homesteading, then raising them for meat is stepping through that gate with both rubber boots. Once you have raised your own meat, and see the difference from what you buy in the store, you will never go back. We finally decided to raise meat birds after a few years of raising laying hens. We decided to raise Cornish Crosses because of their excellent feed conversion rate. You get one pound of meat for every two pounds of food you feed them. We also wanted to start with a bird that we were used to eating, and these are the same birds that the U.S. poultry industry uses. Cornish Crosses also only take eight weeks to raise. This would enable us to raise more than one batch in a year. We ordered 25 chicks from Meyers Hatchery, as this was the minimum number to receive free shipping. Every dollar counts when you are homesteading. We set up an eight foot diameter brooder, and we chose to make it a circle to keep chicks from getting stuck in corners and accidentally killed. Finally our long awaited chicks arrived by mail.
They were so cute and fuzzy, and we wondered how we would ever eat such cute animals. We immediately realized that these chicks were much different than laying hens. They ate almost non stop, and pooped almost as much. We gave them unlimited food for a few days but quickly cut back to two feedings a day. We learned with our research that they will eat themselves to death if you don’t restrict their feed. After only a week, they had more than doubled in size and became something less than cute .
In another week they were even larger and began to resemble a store bought chicken with legs. They were a little stinky, so we were looking forward to getting them outside.
We constructed a run with a place for them to get out of the sun, and waited for them to get their feathers so we could move them outside.
They really didn’t move around much and were very happy to just eat and drink all day. As they grew, we looked forward all the protein they would provide our family.
They were also eating a ton of feed. They truly had a one track mind.
We checked their weight regularly and soon they were ready for their big day.
We read up on butchering, and watched videos. It’s a really is a simple process. The biggest issue is plucking, so we would recommend borrowing or buying a plucker. We still don’t own one, but plucking 25 chickens takes two people most of a whole day, so we plan on purchasing one this year. Once the feathers are removed/plucked they begin to resemble the chicken we are all used to seeing in the store. It only takes a few minutes to butcher and eviscerate (remove the innards) a chicken, and then they are immediately cooled in ice water.
Once they are cooled, we wash them thoroughly and we place them in shrink bags which are inexpensive and easy to find online. They are cheaper in bulk, so buy a few year’s worth at once to save a few dollars, again every dollar counts.
The first time we butchered chickens it was a few days before we felt like eating one. We were nervous and unsure if we would enjoy them. The first thing we noticed is that they took a little longer to cook. They are not injected with broth like the ones in the store. They also were not slimy and didn’t need a diaper like store bought. When you finally taste one you know that all of your hard work was worth it. Guess what? They taste like chicken, they are not bland and have a wonderful flavor, and they also do not taste like salt like the ones from the store. The second time you butcher chickens you will have one for dinner that night, in fact I get hungry when I butcher them now. So if you have ever thought about raising meat bird, pull up your rubber boots and jump in. You will be rewarded for your effort in legs and breasts, it doesn’t get much better than that.