What Should I Do?

Broiler Chicken

Raising and Harvesting Broiler Chickens

Community resiliency building
Tuesday, April 3, 2012, 9:03 PM

Each month seems to witness the arrival of yet another article, documentary, or exposé about the highly questionable practices used by the Factory Food Industry. In pursuit of profit, methods of food production that would seem unthinkable are evidently quite commonplace (e.g., the recent “Pink Slime” revelations with regard to mass-produced ground beef – “Yeah, bro, give me some extra ammonia in my burger, okay?!”).

To the extent possible, My friends and I are undertaking to consume only animal protein that is raised naturally. We buy local. We buy organic. We buy free-range/pastured/etc. And when we can, we raise our own. (Although this article is about broiler chickens, I also have friends raising goats for meat.)

Broiler chickens are an option for folks like us. It doesn’t take 30 acres of land and huge infrastructure costs to raise several dozen birds, and out where we live in the Hudson Valley there aren’t any benighted Homeowners Associations to interfere. Last summer-into-fall, some friends (we’ll call them T&S) bought and raised 50 broiler chickens with the understanding that four families in our circle would split the cost and share in the harvest. This article is about the particulars of that experience.

First I must give thanks and credit to T&S, who laid out the money in advance, fed and watered the little chicks, built the hoop-coop in which the birds lived until harvest day, and finally did all the research regarding how to actually turn the live birds into freezer chickens (a considerable task unto itself). All of the material here that isn’t about my experience of harvest day (I never met the birds until that day) comes straight from S’s mouth.

Raising the Broilers

Getting Your Chicks

It is not difficult to procure broiler chicks. Do a quick Google search, or check your local Agway or farm supply store. Hatcheries offer a "hatch date" so you can time delivery to the day. Don’t underestimate the entertainment value of getting a call from your local Post Office asking you to come down and pick up your chicks (which you may be lucky enough to hear peeping away in the background) -– especially if you don’t live in a rural area.

In our experience the cost per chick was about US$2 for a shipment of 50 birds. Larger lots means less cost-per-bird, and if you order a mainstream/industrial breed (e.g., Cornish Rocks) the cost will be less. T&S decided not to go with Cornish Rocks since they grow so quickly and tend to have health issues. (They get so top-heavy with breast meat, they have a hard time standing upright, and after a certain point – 10 weeks, give or take – their hearts may begin to give out). T&S raised Red Broilers, which are slower-growing. Some breeds are good foragers (good if you’re going to free-range them during the day), and some are less so (good if you plan to keep them confined). The web is your friend and with a little research you will figure out which breed suits your setup and which aligns best with your overall purpose/plan.

Brooding

So, you have your chicks. They must be kept warm and dry until they have had a chance to grow their feathers. There are any number of brooder methods – again, check the Web – but T&S chose to build what is called a "hover brooder." Here is a picture:

You can find plans for a hover brooder on the Net. S liked this variety of brooder because the chicks huddle underneath it for warmth just like they would under a mother hen. But your brooder can be as simple as several powerful lights with reflectors hanging down near the floor. You can brood your chicks in the garage, or the basement, or a shed; anywhere they are protected from wetness and drafts is fine. T&S brooded theirs in the basement, where it was convenient to visit with and check up on the chicks.

You may lose a few chicks in the first week after receiving them due to the stress of shipping (they lost two out of 50). Within that first week, the chicks begin to put on weight, and feathers start to come in within days. The more space each chick has in the brooder, the less stress they have from crowding and the more they will ambulate (remember, active birds are healthy birds). You can also keep them in the brooder longer (despite their ever-growing size) if you have a brooder larger than is strictly necessary.  This would be useful here when spring comes late to the Hudson Valley and we want to keep them indoors until the weather improves, though that was not the case this year

Here is a picture of T&S’s brooding pen (the hover brooder is at the far end):

The covering on the pen is ¼ inch hardware cloth, which will keep out all predators including rats, which cannot be said of chicken wire. T&S kept their chicks in the pen for about four weeks. They slowly weaned them off the heat lamps so that the environment outside would not come as a shock to them. Once the birds are ready, you can transfer them to their outdoor location, whether that is a coop, chicken tractor, or some other setup.

Feed

Keeping your chickens fed and watered is pretty straightforward. There are mechanical feeders and waterers, which you keep topped off so the food/water is dispensed as needed. Each person will need to make certain choices about what to feed their chickens. Organic feed? Standard-issue agricultural-store feed (i.e., with vitamins included), feed enhanced with antibiotics, etc. T&S gave their chicks a special high-protein feed to help them grow quickly, and fed them a mainstream vitamin-enhanced feed plus cracked grains as a treat. You will also need to get your chickens grit to fill their gizzard (T&S bought ground-up granite, but there are other options).

Medications

This is another individual decision that each chicken-raiser must make. Diseases such as cocodiasis (a microbe that lives in the dirt, causing eventually-fatal diarrhea in chickens) can decimate a flock. But according to S’s research, this is mainly a problem with large-scale operations – and since there would not be contact or cross-contamination with any other flocks, T&S decided to forgo prophylaxis for any disease, and have had no trouble thus far.

To Maturity/Harvest

The birds live in a predator-proof enclosure of some sort. S used combined fencing and hardware cloth (sunk into the ground to a depth of several inches to discourage burrowers), plus electric fence to turn away dogs/foxes/coyotes. Finally, he threw deer netting over the top of the open area of the hoop-house-type enclosure to keep raptors from being a problem.

Time from maturity to harvest depends on the breed. Cornish Rocks will be ready in 6-12 weeks (the longer the wait, the higher the attrition from their steep weight gain – 7 to 8 weeks to harvest is most common). Red Broilers run 10-12 weeks to maturity. Of course, you can harvest earlier; you just get a smaller bird.

The Harvest

(nb: Much of the following is a recapitulation of a post I made on the Definitive Permaculture thread. It contains graphic descriptions of the chicken slaughter, and the related photos are rather graphic where necessary.)

We met on Friday night to go over some of the logistics involved for the harvest Sunday. We thought we would have as many as seven people to handle the harvest, but as it turned out, we were only five (more on the numbers later). T&S shared the overall plan they had worked out, and we all watched some YouTube videos showing how it was done. The best was a short video of Joel Salatin, who demonstrated the process of dressing the carcass (removing organs, etc.) that he uses when harvesting birds for his customers. (He performed the whole operation in about two minutes, and that was slowed down so that he could point out this and that. He could probably do an entire bird in ~ 30 seconds. But he's had a wee bit of practice.)

We gathered on Sunday at around 8:30 a.m. After S and I got the propane burner going to heat the scald-water (same as the sort used to deep-fry Thanksgiving turkeys), he walked me through the stations they had set up.

STATION 1: the hoop-coop

Forty-eight birds were sequestered behind tarps and chicken-wire (surrounded by a triple-wire electric fence to keep off the coyotes, foxes, raccoons, fisher-cats, etc. who might fancy a tasty night-time snack). The step here was simple: Two people enter the coop, each grabs up a bird, and they head for Station 2. (This became more difficult as the day wore on and the flock grew smaller. More room to run = harder-to-catch birds. Also, the birds that were left tended to be the ones who were quicker or more wary of people = harder-to-catch birds.)

STATION 2: the killing cones

I first became aware of this method during the 2008 presidential election when Sarah Palin was interviewed (unwittingly, I believe) with a killing-cone in the background, in which a turkey was bled out while she answered questions from the reporter. S basically cut pieces of construction flashing perhaps two feet tall and two feet wide. These are curled around and fastened to themselves to yield a conical shape, and then nailed to a crossbar that was nailed to a tree at approximately 5' high, with the narrow end of the cone down.

The birds go into the cones head-down (the head hangs out of the bottom of the cone). The cone prevents them from struggling too much and makes a clean, quick killing stroke much easier. Below each cone was a 5-gallon plastic bucket partially filled with wood chips to collect/absorb the blood. We had a stainless steel knife of exquisite sharpness hanging on a loop between the cones.

With live chicken in hand, and heading to the cones, I'd stroke the neck with my (gloved) finger and quietly say "hush" or "shuu, shuuu" to calm them. Breathing deeply and rhythmically also seemed to work. In the 30 second trip between the coop and the cone, they quieted. Something in that 30 seconds made me feel the need to be there and witnessing until life -- which I took -- had gone.

To kill the chicken, one gently grasps its head and turns it to one side. Just to the rear of the eye and below the beak is the curve of the "jaw" (which is really the edge of the skull). The cut happens across the neck -- I preferred to cut from the side of the neck towards the center -- and severs the artery. Although the skin is delicate, the cut needs to be deep enough to hit the artery. It took a firm, but not forceful, hand, in my estimation. There is an immediate spurt of blood. Within seconds, the chickens eyes generally begin to close, and according to the "experts" this is when the bird loses consciousness and feels nothing further. (Some birds make a squawk at this point, but most do not.) There is about a 15-20 second lull while the body goes limp.

The heart continues to pump blood out, but in pulses, not spurts. Then there is anywhere from 15 seconds to a full minute of activity, ranging from kicking legs, to the neck curling or swaying back and forth, to the wings rattling inside the cone, to the eyes opening up (although I didn't see any awareness in those eyes), to all of the above. Then this gradually fades away until the body relaxes completely. (On a few occasions, I touched my hand to the side of the neck near the end of this latter stage -- you can feel a tension and a sort of vibration in the body. (That would be a real vibration, not a so-called "vibe"). This fades, fades, fades, and the end of this tension signals the ultimate death of the chicken, at which time it can be removed from the cone and taken to the next station.

Station 2 was by far the most intense and emotional for all of us who took part. It is the moment of the REAL: This is what being a carnivore means. You take the life of an animal and that vitality feeds your own. It's bloody. There is no "nicing" your way around this moment. In my opinion, if you try to rationalize your way through, it you've missed the whole meaning, along with the beauty of it.

Our entire day took six hours, but it never became dull or humdrum. The several minutes spent standing in front of the cones during each 10-minute cycle kept it intense. I felt that not to watch would have been disrespectful. We could have set it up so that I merely walked back and forth from coop to cone, cut bird, left to go grab another chicken -- and had a runner waiting for the cut bird to die and then carry it to the dunk. But there was no way I could do that.

STATION 3: the scalding pot

For what it is worth, as soon as the chickens came back out of the cone, I didn't pay them any special regard. As I walked toward the dunk/pluck/gut area, I pretty much was watching the folks there do their thing -- or looking around at the surrounding woods and beautiful sky. (It was a gorgeous day, sunny and 60 degrees). The chicken went into the cone as one of the world's creatures (just as I am) and out of it as an object. An object still worthy of respect, but more because it was now destined for my table (and body) -- or the table (body) of a friend or loved one.

For the scalding pot, we used half of a food-grade steel drum (which held kosher grape juice concentrate in its former life) heated by a large propane burner.  In about 6 hours, we went through about half a gas-grill-size tank of propane, heating the water to 140 degrees F, give or take. Too cold and it doesn't loosen the feathers; too hot and you get tearing of the skin at Station 4. Holding the chicken by the tips of the feet (so you can get the feathers on the thighs into the water), you dunk the bird in and swirl it around for 3-5 seconds. Repeat two or three times, then test: Can you easily pull feathers out? No? Dunk again. Yes? Then you're ready for...

STATION 4: the plucking machine

Yes, for thousands of years we pulled those feathers out by hand. And if one is processing just one chicken, that's probably fine (if you have half an hour to spare). But if you're doing four dozen? You oughta have a plucking machine. Renting this machine added about $1 to the price of each bird. It's a plastic drum about two feet in diameter, lined with dozens of rubber "fingers" pointing in towards the center. The base of the drum is a spinning disc with the "fingers" pointing up. The inside top lip of the drum is encircled by a hose that shoots water down into the drum as it spins, which washes the plucked feathers down to a wide out-spout at the rear. You put a couple birds in, turn it on, and thirty to forty seconds later, you have a pair of mostly-plucked birds.

STATION 5: a wooden table with a built-in sink

On this table was a big aluminum baking tray. The birds got plunked down on the tray and we finished plucking any stray feathers manually. Then we removed the feet and lower half of the legs (leaving just the drumsticks). This is accomplished with a sharp knife -- you cut the ligaments around the knee until it comes right off. The excised legs and feet went into a water-filled pot and will be used by T to make delicious chicken broth. Then we rinsed the birds with clean water. At this point you have something that looks very much like what comes shrink-wrapped at the market. Except the offal is still inside, which leads to...

STATION 6: another, larger, wooden table with several large aluminum trays

This is where Joel Salatin's expertise came in handy. (Here's the video:

) This station was the bottleneck in the process, even with two people working it, at least for the first hour or so. Once they had each done 4-6 birds, though, they began to breeze along, and the kill station then became the bottleneck (only 2 cones, and bleeding the chicken just takes as long as it takes). So if you want to try this for yourselves, don't be intimidated. One of our Station 6 experts-in-the-making swore the day before that she would do anything but gut chickens. By the end of the day she was quite good (and comfortable) with it.

Beyond Station 6, the now-cleaned carcasses got another clean-water rinse and went into coolers with ice water to chill. At the end of the day, we took the coolers inside, weighed each carcass, rinsed them again, then patted them dry and put them in open containers (soup pots; plastic bins) in the fridge to "cure".

There are any number of opinions out there on whether or not to cure the birds before you freeze them. Some say that if you don't dry-age them a bit, they're tough when you cook them. Others say if you don't dry-age them until rigor mortis has passed (again, depending on who you ask, six to 48 hours), then they're tough when you cook them. T&S's research ultimately led them to choose the dry-age process. We ended up with 13 birds in the two fridges in the house and bagged them for the freezer after aging them for about 30-36 hours.

Closing Thoughts

If each chicken took 90 seconds to die, then I spent about a total of 1-1/4 hours standing two feet away, observing and absorbing those seconds. So many of the thoughts and feelings I had in those seconds are either not relevant to this post or more personal than I'm ready to share (and more than most folks are interested in hearing, I reckon, but if you really want to know what it's like, you can try it for yourself.)

But I will say that I'm still a carnivore, and humbled, gladdened, and with a lot of food for thought (no pun -- really!) by what I experienced that day. And apart from the happy thought of lots of (clean, healthy) meat in our respective freezers, everyone there acknowledged that sharing this experience has deepened our community/family bond. Seriously, a bunch of middle-aged northeastern college-educated white-collar-type folks got together and slaughtered four dozen chickens on a sunny November afternoon out in the woods. Needless to say, this is not your everyday/average bonding-type experience here in Twenty-First Century America. At least not yet. In the same way this sort of day used to be routine for many, many people, I think it could become so again. But between here and there, it will remain an extraordinary sort of day.

Random notes:

  1. For the operation we were running, it would have been ideal to have one more person helping out, mostly just so that we had an extra body to flow wherever help was needed in a given moment. But overall we did fine.
  2. I heartily recommend this experience. No matter what role you take, being a part of this process will help you understand (or at least get you to wrestle with) so many things that a day spent toward this end cannot be a waste of your time.
  3. You cannot have too many super-sharp knives. A good role for a "floater" on a day like this is to sharpen knives on the fly so all the processors are working with excellent edges. Along the same lines, gloves are important. On the very first bird, along with cutting the throat, S cut one of his fingers. Lesson: Leather gloves, folks, even if they make you feel clumsy, even in an operation we all want to be as delicate as possible for the animal.
  4. Five people and 48 chickens (esp. for a first-time crew) was probably a little too much. By the end of the day, we were all spent. No regrets, but I think 36 birds would have left us less ragged at the end of the day. (Nothing that some wine and jacuzzi time didn't remedy, however.)
  5. If anybody has questions, I'm happy to dish.
FINALLY: a post-script six months after harvest day

These are some excellent birds. Beyond the fact that they’re juicy and delicious and clean-tasting, the knowledge that me and mine brought them from chick to plate together makes them more than just a meal-portion. I heartily recommend this entire experience.

As always – Viva – SagerXX

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38 Comments

Jim H's picture
Jim H
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Thank you Sager...

You are ever the trailblazer.  I picture having some chickens someday on my two mostly wooded acres... but my own thoughts lean toward keeping them for their eggs, rather than harvesting the chickens themselves.  Do you have any thoughts on which path yields more in the end per dollar invested?  

peakoilwelder's picture
peakoilwelder
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Killin' chickens

After doing this during my teen years on my parents acreage, I found it surprisingly difficult to kill and dress out my birds. But the respect one gains for the cost of being a carnivore is priceless. Having my not squeamish wife to goad me along helped out as well! We've grown to love having our free range flock on our farm and wouldn't give it up for anything. Cost wise, its probably much cheaper to just buy chicken at the grocery. But I love knowing exactly what went in to my food and that the bird had a fine life on our farm.

SagerXX's picture
SagerXX
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Jim H

I can't say what exactly the cost-per-pound or per egg is, but it is more than one would pay at the store -- maybe 10-15%.  But the return on investment in terms of resilience and knowing precisely where that egg-drumstick came from is priceless.  Home-raised eggs over easy will leave you in raptures.  And a broiler you raised yourself makes for such a juicy tasty bird it could spoil you for store-bought.

So for now it's a labor of love.  Well worth it. And as the cost of petroleum rises, DIY chickens could become very cost-competitive, since beyond the initial delivery of chicks there is no transport involved.

Anybody else out there raising chickens, I'd be happy to hear your stories!

Viva -- Sager

JAG's picture
JAG
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Fantastic write-up

Fantastic write-up Sager.

Not only is the content interesting and relevant, but your delivery makes it a joy to read. Thanks for all the effort that you put in to share this experience with us.

All the best....Jeff

Dogs_In_A_Pile's picture
Dogs_In_A_Pile
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Nice work Sager

"How to" info is great, but your personal touch makes the thread that much better. 

Our HOA is pretty benign and has actually displayed a pretty consistent streak of common sense - however, I think they might draw the line at chickens (if they didn't, I'm sure our cats would). 

So for now, we'll stick with the garden.  And we will trade you fresh artichokes, curry and ghost peppers for some "Sager-made" chicken soup. 

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Love it!  And I second the

Love it!  And I second the notiion that home-raised eggs taste better: one of my husband's co-workers isa prepper and has a nice flock that provides us with eggs. Every so often you can get free eggs as a promotion at the supermarket, so I get to compare them. Honestly, from what I can tell (based on how high and round the yolk is) what the supermarket calls fresh is maybe two weeks old, or older. Baking with really fresh eggs is a joy.

We plan on raising a dual-purpose breed of chickens next year - our local Tractor Supply has a "chick event" every March where you can pick them up, or we can order them. Got a spot in the yard all planned out. The tip on deer fencing protecting the birds from raptors was especially helpful, as that sounds much cheaper and we have red-shouldered  and red-tailed hawks nesting in our woods and sharp-shinned hawks that overwinter here.

It's a birder's paradise but the deer netting will allieviate my worries about our future chickens.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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make your own plucker

oh, and in case you do not want to rent a chicken plucker, you can make one.

Here is a plan and materials list.

shudock's picture
shudock
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Wonderful write up! Thank

Wonderful write up!

Thank you for the emphasis on how it feels to do your own actual killing, and for taking the time to describe your own feelings about it.  I suspect that the oh-my-I-am-taking-a-life prospect is what initially concerns most people who are unfamiliar with raising/butchering animals for meat. It is good for everyone to see that it isn't so difficult to do, and do with respect for the animal. I suppose that one day there will necessarily be people learning these skills in desperation and with far less mindfulness, but the more of us who learn this way now, the better.

PS The youtube link has something wrong with it, not sure what?

jasonw's picture
jasonw
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Video link has been updated.

for quick reference.

jumblies's picture
jumblies
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Terrific write-up. When we

Terrific write-up. When we [eventually] settle on our next place (we're looking) then chickens is the first thing I want to start raising. One thing though, being from the city I've not the first idea what or how to feed them, let alone the costs involved. What are the pros/cons/costs/amounts involved in raising a chicken (small numbers for domestic consumption) using normal chicken food (commercial?) that I'd get from somewhere local that might sell whatever it is they eat? What about organic food? What if I wanted them to be organic, free-range? If we have an outside area for them to potter about during the day where they can forage on their own, how do I know the area is suitable to feed them (aside from dropping food)? ie. if we had woodland, could we stake out say a 100m2 area and they use that for a week then rotate to another similar area? If we want to avoid pumping them with various "medicines" is it advisable to divide the flock into groups of, say, 10 birds and rotate them separately? Aside from predators, are there certain areas where they shouldn't be raised? (eg. not near running water, trees, ozzy osbourne's house).

we're based in central europe, if that makes any difference.

Poet's picture
Poet
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Reposting A Respectful Chicken Harvest

Sager

Reading it again, especially with all the additional information, has been really informative. I am glad that you cared enough to share your experience with us.

I know, I know... If this were the 1912, people would laugh at us for making such a big deal of this. That's how far removed most of us are from the situation.

Below, I'll re-post some links from YouTube on how one woman does it... (it was from a comment I left for one of Woodman's WSID blog entries on Raising Your Own Chicken.)

Poet

Poet wrote:

Gently, humanely, and matter-of-factly taught by Alexia Allen of Hawthorn Farm, in Woodinville, Washington. She has a beautiful, reassuring voice.

Filmed by Paul Wheaton of permies.com

Part 1 of 2, how she kills and and plucks, including her philosophy and approach and how she feels:

Link to above YouTube video:

Part 2 of 2, how she cuts and processes, including anatomy lessons and what goes into a stock pot:

Link to above YouTube video: 

Viewer discretion is advised. But if you do eat chicken, I think it is important to at least watch it once. If you plan on having chickens for eggs and later, for meat, and you have never killed or butchered a chicken, I think watching this is also important.

Poet

SagerXX's picture
SagerXX
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Thanks JAG & DIAP

I will happily trade soup for some of Dogs' peppers (and maybe some shooting tips). FWIW, our housemate's (egg) chickens range all over the neighborhood and they haven't been molested by any of the local pets (including her cat).

SagerXX's picture
SagerXX
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safewrite wrote:It's a

safewrite wrote:

It's a birder's paradise but the deer netting will allieviate my worries about our future chickens.

I think as long as the chickens have some kind of cover they're generally okay. Our housemate's egg chickens range all over the neighborhood (she dishes out eggs to neighbors to cultivate goodwill) and in nearly a year hasn't lost a bird. The hens are pretty cagey -- they go from cover to cover (shrubs, etc.) so IME as long as they have some way of hiding out they take care of themselves. But yes, if they're penned in a small area the netting is a good idea. Viva -- Sager

SagerXX's picture
SagerXX
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Thanks Shudock & Jumblies

Jumblies: Joel Salatin has written a very worthwhile book -- "Pastured Poultry Profit$" that can answer all your questions.

SagerXX's picture
SagerXX
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Thanks Poet

Poet wrote:

Sager

Reading it again, especially with all the additional information, has been really informative. I am glad that you cared enough to share your experience with us.

I know, I know... If this were the 1912, people would laugh at us for making such a big deal of this. That's how far removed most of us are from the situation.

Yep. Like I said in the article, what is right now an extraordinary day will likely be a commonplace in the future.

Mr. Fri's picture
Mr. Fri
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A lot of work

Great write-up Sager. I enjoyed it a lot. 

I'd like to get laying hens sometime but it won't be soon.  Our city allows chickens but the neighborhood doesn't. Still, I think when times get rough the HOA will make an exception.

Let's see, just thinking out loud...  You have 48 chickens for 4 families, that's 12 each. If each family eats 2 birds a week, you would have enough for 6 weeks. Since they take 8 weeks to grow, you would need to harvest 64 birds every 8 weeks. Because that's a lot to process at once, you would want to harvest a batch of 32 birds every 4 weeks.  Wow, that's a lot of work. I guess I'd have no problem losing weight if I had to live off my own chickens and make every bird count.  We are (or soon will be) living in interesting times.

Thanks Sager!

EndGamePlayer's picture
EndGamePlayer
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Posts: 546
Chicken day

Nice post on a tough subject. Tastefully done Sager!

As someone who raised birds for over 15 years with never a thought to dress one for the table until 3 years ago, I have a lot to say about learning the meat bird ins/outs.

First tip is don't use bleach to clean because it's the last thing you want to be eating. We use hydrogen peroxide with great success. We also found a USDA processor who also only uses hydrogen peroxide when we have more than we can handle dressing.

Second tip- rent a whizz bang plucker. The kind in the picture above it minimally useful and if you have feathers to pluck the whizz bang design can make it much easier.

We pick our baby chicks direct from the nearest hatchery since we are raising the delicate Cornish cross. We also have make-shift appliances into brooders. We scavenged 5 non-working refrigs and freezers from appliance stores, friends and neighbors to made the setup since we want to be able to raise our baby chicks on a whim...or when the freezer is looking low since it takes 6-8 weeks from hatch to dressing day with another 27 days advance on the order to hatch. If you can pamper the Cornish cross chicks, do not attempt them and get a hardier bird like Freedom Rangers or red production or white rocks. There is no doubt the Cornish cross take a learning curve to get past the first few weeks.

Also, the Cornish are NOT great grazers unless you have other birds teaching them to eat grasses and clovers. Forget them eating bugs unless the bugs are dead as they become slow and will often choose to sit next to the food or water.

However, any bird you raise will be better than anything you can find in the store and you know what you are eating. 

One of my next steps in learning birds is to try my hand at caponizing some roosters for the holiday tables. The birds get as big as small turkey and have a wonderful delicate texture. I also want to try raising heasants again once i get the hang of the bird thing.

Ipad going goofynd have 

BSV's picture
BSV
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Broiler chickens

Good job, SagerXX. We do this on a regular basis (2 or 3 times a year) on the family farm/ranch. Generally we raise about 50 rock cornish birds at a time and do the "processing" all in one afternoon. We find that friends line up to share the processed birds, but they tend to avoid the unpleasant part. You handled that part with sensitivity, and I'm confident readers appreciate that fact. It is too bad that so many people do not understand where food comes from. If everyone knew the cycle of life and death on a farm, I think this might be a slightly better world.

We also have about 90 laying hens, and these birds live out their normal life span and provide us with eggs. We typically get three to five dozen eggs daily, some of which are sold at a local farmers' market and some are exchanged for raw dairy products at a local dairy. Free range eggs have a somewhat differrent taste than store-bought eggs, but this is a subjective topic and perhaps not all would agree.

You did a good job of explaining a somewhat difficult task. I do not enjoy the processing part. If it is done respectfully, it is okay, I think, for the human animal is omnivorous and flesh is part of our diet. Those who currently eat meat and poultry and who are repulsed by these words should perhaps consider adopting a vegetarian diet. I do hope, however, that you won't be one of those vegetarians who would impose your diet on the rest of us.

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jumblies
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SagerXX wrote:Jumblies:

SagerXX wrote:
Jumblies: Joel Salatin has written a very worthwhile book -- "Pastured Poultry Profit$" that can answer all your questions.

Fantastic, thank you for the recommendation

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Pastured-Poultry-Profit-months-acres/dp/0963810901/ref=sr_1_1?

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Jumblies,   I only have a

Jumblies,
  I only have a few chickens myself, and I do buy them some regular commercial "layer" feed (you start them out with "chick starter" feed first when they are babies) which I just fill a container with and leave it, but I only do that as insurance. I also supplement their food a LOT. In summer, they don't eat much commercial feed because they are grazing on grass and leaves and bugs so much, plus I give them lots and lots of cuttings and compost and leftovers, including lots of leftover meat and fat and mealworms. (Chickens are NOT vegetarian.) In winter I give them as many leftovers and stuff from the compost pail as I can, and I also supplement with suet, with mealworms that I raise in a bin inside the house, and every three days or so some sprouted mung beans or sprouted oats so they can have something fresh and green. (I sprout these in buckets and jars inside the house.) I also grow mangel beets in summer and I store them in milk crates in the garage and feed those until they run out, usually sometime in January. In addition to this, since I live in Vermont I buy a bunch of "fodder" (bruised) apples in the fall when they are cheap, store them in bushels in the garage, and feed those as well until they run out. As an experiment this winter I also raised feeder mice (originally to try to get my cats to eat them) but found that the chickens enjoyed them more. I am still learning about mice! You can also raise worms, and black soldier fly grubs. Overall, I would say that the more you can supplement, the cheaper it is. And the healthier it is, for both you and your chickens.

My eggs are to die for. The meat is the best I have ever tasted. So far, so good.

It is important that their free range area is large enough. You will find out within a couple of months if it is too small, because every speck of green will be eaten and gone. I have about 20 birds in winter and about 35 in summer now (meat birds only for a few months) and they seem to do well on about a 100' x 50' pen, which mostly sits just inside the woods. They get lots of leaves and bugs (and shade, which is critical) this way, plus they have lots of places to naturally hide. I also keep throwing in the fresh green lawn clippings to the compost heap all summer long, which is also inside their pen. (Note: water and ventilation are two critical items for chickens, even in the dead of winter.) I do not give my chickens any medicines whatsoever, other than a little ichthammol occasionally on sores, and perhaps an apron on a hen who has been treaded too often.

You want to keep a flock together, so they can establish their pecking order. It is not a good idea to keep separating and putting them back together, unless you want constant drama. They love trees and shade. They need a VERY secure pen, something to keep fox, raccoons, fisher cats, coyote, and neighborhood dogs from digging under, and the coop at night should be tight and predator-proof, but with lots of ventilation (hardware cloth over windows is good.) Hawks are a concern as well, but for me it is only the occasional scare, so for me I haven't bothered trying to put netting overhead or anything. The bigger threats by far, are on four legs.

It is also not necessary to clean a chicken coop, if it is kept properly to begin with. At least not in the sense that many people think - washing it down with disinfectant, etc. In fact I believe it is counterproductive. I use the "deep litter method" which basically means I put a few inches of hay and dead leaves in the coop and let the chickens scratch in it, and occasionally pitchfork out a few poop piles out from under the night-time roosts, and refreshen the hay a bit (mostly in winter.) I usually just then toss that extra poop onto the compost pile, which is also inside the chicken pen for them to scratch through. The rest just gets incorporated into the litter and turns to dust. It is actually beneficial to the birds to have the probiotic mix of it all for them to peck at too, and baby chicks in particular benefit in the same sense that human children's immune systems do better when allowed to play in the dirt. The coop stays nice and dry this way too - an excellent read about this is in Gene Logsdon's excellent book, "Holy Shit" (about all things manure.) I also add a bit of diatomaceous earth to the floor every now and then, to kill mites and parasites.

 

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 Great writeup Sager.

Great writeup Sager.  Good advice above by Shudock too.  I just feed my flock commercial layer pellets plus kitchen scraps whenever possible since feed is getting more costly.   The potatos and squash from lst years harvest that are getting a bit funky now I chunk up and simmer on the wood stove before dishing up to my hens.

I wrote a little bit about my first processing experience in the comments of my WSID article.  I used  a simple plucker rig similar to Safewright's photo in post #7, chucked in a power drill, and it was fine for the 4 or 5 birds I did at a time.  The real key I found was getting the scalding right; if you do the feathers come right off; if you're only doing one or two birds you can just as easily pluck by hand.  

I found the meat from my 20+- week old dual purpose breed cockerals was much different than supermarker chicken; much firmer texture and more flavor.  

I'l try to post some pictures of the gizzard and what i found inside one if folks are interested; amazing what chickens can eat and process.

Storey's Guide says about 4 lbs of feed is needed for a hen to produce a dozen eggs.  At $14/50 lb for layer pellets that works out to $1.12/dozen.  When you figure in the initial feed to raise a hen to maturity, feed during molting when the hen isn't laying, wasteage, etc. I'm sure the cost is a lot more per dozen, not even counting the materials bought to build the coop.  I usually ask for $3/dozen when I given extra eggs to neighbors and put the $ in my kid's special fund.

Gotta set up the brooder for the new chicks coming in the mail next week!

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Woodman I am interested!

Woodman I am interested! What did you find inside that gizzard??

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Gizzard

My photo might be too messy to post here, but there's good one at the bottom of this page:

http://butcherachicken.blogspot.com/2007/09/step-8-remove-viscera.html

I save one gizzard to show my kids later, and we found it loaded full of grass, stones, and other stuff like bits of glass and wood.

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Free top-quality food for your chickens

A few months back I was walking in the produce aisle of my neighborhood market. I found myself wondering what they did with all the perishable fruits & vegetables that don't sell.

As I assumed, the store manager confirmed for me they toss a lot of produce out every day because of mandated FDA freshness regulations. The produce certainly still looks fine & perfectly edible when it's declared "expired", but the store is required to throw it away.

I told the manager I had a few chickens and asked if he'd mind if I came by every few days to nab some of the food they've tossed out. He loved the idea of supporting a local "farmer" (in my incredibly-suburban Silicon Valley backyard) and invited me to simply drop off a 5-gallon bucket in the morning which their produce inspector fills for me & then pick it back up at my leisure later in the afternoon.

I'm happy because I'm getting a lot of free, very high-quality, nutrutious food for my birds.

He's happy because his waste product is now going to productive use in the community. Plus he gets free eggs from me every once in a while.

My chickens, of course, are thrilled. 

Sharing as a model for you other backyard chicken farmers to consider...

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Rubber studs for chicken pluckers

Tank you for this use full article. 

I am building  a plucker and need to get the rubber studs.

Would anyone know where they can be bought.

Thank you

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Re: Rubber studs for chicken pluckers

There's many on Ebay,

This website is a source for various plucker parts and plans

whizbangplucker.blogspot.com/2010/04/you-can-get-yer-whizbang-plucker-parts.html

For doing just a few birds in the backyard  I used this simple rig

www.ebay.com/itm/CHICKEN-PLUCKER-MORE-PLUCK-FOR-YOUR-BUCK-/250894971709

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Mr. Fri wrote: Let's see,

Mr. Fri wrote:

Let's see, just thinking out loud...  You have 48 chickens for 4 families, that's 12 each. If each family eats 2 birds a week, you would have enough for 6 weeks. Since they take 8 weeks to grow, you would need to harvest 64 birds every 8 weeks. Because that's a lot to process at once, you would want to harvest a batch of 32 birds every 4 weeks.  Wow, that's a lot of work. I guess I'd have no problem losing weight if I had to live off my own

My four kids would fall over with shock and joy if we ate two chickens a week!  It sounds like a lot to me, though that is just my perspective.  In years past chicken meat was not eaten as commonly as it is in modern mainstream American culture, and I would guess that has something to do with how much work it is to raise and process the "old-fashioned way."

My family eats approx. one turkey or 2 chickens in a month.  We also eat some beef, pork/ham/bacon, and sausage, all of which we are able to purchase locally if we wish, and I try.  We could also get lamb and goat meat locally.  We also eat eggs, nuts, beans, lentils.  I'm trying to gradually accustom my family to a more sustainable diet.  We try to think of meat as a special treat or an addition to dress up veggies and grains, not the center of the meal.  It has been a gradual process and will continue over time.  We still have time.

For those who routinely process their own poultry, how many times a year do you process meat birds for your family?

Also, nothing yet has been said here about turning roosters and "spent layers" into stewers, but presumably the process is the same?

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Adam wrote: A few months

Adam wrote:

A few months back I was walking in the produce aisle of my neighborhood market. I found myself wondering what they did with all the perishable fruits & vegetables that don't sell.

As I assumed, the store manager confirmed for me they toss a lot of produce out every day because of mandated FDA freshness regulations. The produce certainly still looks fine & perfectly edible when it's declared "expired", but the store is required to throw it away.

I told the manager I had a few chickens and asked if he'd mind if I came by every few days to nab some of the food they've tossed out. He loved the idea of supporting a local "farmer" (in my incredibly-suburban Silicon Valley backyard) and invited me to simply drop off a 5-gallon bucket in the morning which their produce inspector fills for me & then pick it back up at my leisure later in the afternoon.

I'm happy because I'm getting a lot of free, very high-quality, nutrutious food for my birds.

He's happy because his waste product is now going to productive use in the community. Plus he gets free eggs from me every once in a while.

My chickens, of course, are thrilled. 

Sharing as a model for you other backyard chicken farmers to consider...

This was my experience, too, but only at the small independant markets. My first experience however was when I went into a large supermarket chain where I was told that they were prohibited by corporate policy from giving this waste food away. The manager told me that if a person were to  consume this, the company would be exposed to the liability if people got sick, therefore all this food was to be picked up by a large truck and shipped to Los Angeles (over 100 miles) to be shredded and composted. What a waste of fuel and food.

Another good source of free food for livestock is spent grain from beer breweries and distilleries. Although grass fed animals are much healthier to eat than grain fed, using spent grain is an exception. This is because the brewing process removes the sugars and carbohydrates that raise the Omega 6 levels, but leaves behind the protein and nutrients. And the critters love it. For those with small flocks, the waste from a couple of  home brewers would be sufficient to significantly reduce their feed bill.

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Earthwise, the same exact

Earthwise, the same exact thing happened to me. Hannaford absolutely refuses to let me take their old produce for them. Total waste of fuel and food is right.

I didn't know that about brewer's leftover waste - thank you! That is another resource I will try.

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  Also, nothing yet has

Also, nothing yet has been said here about turning roosters and "spent layers" into stewers, but presumably the process is the same?

The I'll be doing trying that later this summer as my flock is replaced.  This link has has a good article on cooking chickens depending on their age.  Older birds need to be cooked slowly at low temp to keep from being tough but are reportedly excellent.

www.albc-usa.org/documents/cookingwheritagechicken.pdf

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I enjoyed article but we raised 20,000 per house for Tyson Foods

Yes we used to raise 20000 chickens per house for processing by Tyson Foods. What you are doing is similar to what they do by machine and they immediately cool the birds and pack as quickly as they can process the birds. I also worked in one of those plants.  I will save this article for the day the economy collapses.(:

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Personal recs.

Helpful article. Regarding ordering chicks through the mail, be CERTAIN to watch the little guys for a condition known as "pasting up." The trauma from the shipping process can cause poop to dry on the chicks rear end thus preventing the bird's ability to deficate. If this condition is not remedied quickly you will lose these ones. The solution is to put the chicks rear end under warm water and remove the poop. The chick will squak, but remember that you are doing the right thing. Usually after this first time of removal there will be no further problems.

Be CERTAIN to use a RED heat lamp for the brooder. A white light will drive the chicks nuts. How would you feel if you had sunlight blasting on you 24/7?

Also, I recommend allowing the girls to go broody, which means that the hen will incubate and hatch the eggs naturally. If you allow mom to care for the chicks you will have great success. Mom, however, may choose a dangerous area to incubate because once hatched the chicks may not be able to get to the ground. The solution is to move mom and the eggs during the nightime to safe, secure, and secluded location. I also like this approach because the natural way is the way Mother Nature intended.

Regarding roosters, i have multiple roosters and they get along fine.

The key is to be sure to provide PLENTY of space for everyone. Imagine yourself in cramped conditions 24/7.

Watch for internal and external parasites, which if left unintended will kill your birds through a slow and agonizing process. While I, knock on wood, have had no problems I use IVOMEC SHEEP DRENCH as a prophelaytic once or twice a year. Do not dose more frequently than this if not warranted otherwise you will encourage resistant parasites. I like this product because it is broad-spectrum and thus treats both internal and external parasites (there are one or two internal parasites for which a different medication is required. Analyze the droopings for signs of parasites and on a regular bases analyze the feathers and skin of the birds for signs of infection.

Do not confine. Cage free animals allowed to free range are SO MUCH HAPPIER and as a consequence healthier and more productive.

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Really nice write-up,

Really nice write-up, Sager!  Thanks for  sharing your learning experience with the rest of us. 

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As usual, Sager, a super

As usual, Sager, a super article.  Though it may be a while 'for I graduate from my "layer girls" to some broilers- the Sweetheart wants rabbits....- your great article gave me plenty to ponder, not the least of which, certainly, is our relationship with "the cones".  Aloha, Steve.

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Raising Chickens (additional food for Fido)

I haven't read all the posts here so please excuse if this has already been mentioned-

Save All InEdible Parts for Fido and Phelix! Cats & dogs given a natural diet will live longer with less problems. We insist on having our processor save us all the parts not salable to the general public - necks, feet, gizzards and liver, though too much liver is not good for animals. We insist on saving only our own chicken parts because we give our birds extra minerals and nutrients naturally and withhold any chemical so our dogs and cats will benefit from the more nuterient dense food too.

If its raw food- all the better for the health of your animals! Their teeth will be cleaner too.

Here's how we do it-

Once the raw parts come from the processor we bag in daily portion size bags and seal. This is easier than chipping away at a frozen lump of parts! Take out a couple of days of food at a time and de-thaw. We add a vitamin B complex to resist woodticks and some Azomite minerals to further enhance the nutrient density of the food. Supplement additional nutrients with fresh greens from your sprouting system (wheat grass, barley and the like) for a completed diet for your pet.

Mealtime never tasted so good and your pet food bill with end (so will most vet bills).

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chicken processing and raw food for dogs

We raise and slaughter our own chickens and have for several years. I do worry that the chickens are conscious during too much of the bleeding process and, if I could use a 22 pistol properly I would shoot them. I think it would be more humane. I have a friend who swears that a properly used knife can actually get up into the brain while it cuts the artery. I don't know whether we are doing that correctly and plan to ask him to come and help this year.

One suggestion for waste disposal: we raise and slaughter 60 birds - so we can have one chicken each week and a few to share with friends or trade. There is a lot of waste. We compost it in a big pile of peat moss with lime. I think you could save your leaves each year for this purpose if you didn't want to use peat moss. However, the latter is really a magic substance. When it is dry it preserves things, it is one of the world's most absorbent substances and, when wet, it breaks down organic matter really fast. We add water and lime and put the chicken blood and waste into the middle of the pile. We do fence it off but the dogs and other critters don't seem to be attracted. One guy I know from our composting department in the Mass DEP says he can compost a whole cow in peat moss in 4 months. 

I am feeding my dogs raw food now - human grade. They are biggish dogs - 65# and they get alot of exercise. 17 ounces of food per day seems to be a good amount. There is a cheap market near me where I buy chicken thighs. I supplement with pasture raised beef and liver. The rule of thumb is 10% bone, 10% organ meat and 80% meat and eggs. We have our own free range eggs. We supplement with a capsule of fish oil and a scoop of a seaweed/kelp supplement designed for dogs. 

So far so good. Very expensive and I don't like using factory raised chickens at all so I am considering using the incubator to raise a lot of baby chicks specifically for dog food. My vet is just so upset over all of this and says my dogs will get worms. Anyone have any experience doing this?

I have been on the raw dog food yahoo user group and they are pretty hard core. I am not crazy about the site. 

The whole issue of animal feed is important. I am trying to get away from extruded dried food whether it be for chickens, horse, goats or dogs. Chickens and goats are easy. Dogs and horses harder. And for all of them, being sure that nutrients missing in our own soils, such as selenim, are present in their food is huge. We have to give Selenium and E to our goats or they have trouble kidding. 

I would love to have a thread on reducing non-local inputs to animal food in a safe way. 

Is there a way to follow comments on this site? They seem to disappear in a couple of days.

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groovy mike
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Here is a no plucking way to butcher your birds -

For those who want to butcher birds without plucking - here is a great how to article with photos that demonstrates skinning your birds:

http://www.biggamehunt.net/blogs/northeast-notebook/no-plucking-way-dress-out-whole-turkey

My only other comment is watch out for electrical fires!  your photo shows the power strip outlet laying in dry wood shavings - YIKES!

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earthwise
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Pass the salt, please.

groovy mike wrote:

My only other comment is watch out for electrical fires!  your photo shows the power strip outlet laying in dry wood shavings - YIKES!

I think that's a new, experimental type of BBQ method! Let's see how it turns out.

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