Thursday, August 20, 2015

Learning and growing: chickens

It is no secret that we are newbies to this whole farming thing, but I've gotta say - we've done pretty damn good! Books and Google help of course. We have almost two years under our belts raising our own food and here is what we have learned. 

Chickens (for meat)

Well, first things first, they aren't as scary as they look. I seem to have gotten over my fear of these mini-dinosaurs and became a pretty good chicken-mom if I do say so myself. 

Cornish rock grow FAST. I read that if your climate isn't freezing, you can move them outdoors after 3 weeks, which seems so crazy after raising layers in parallel last year. In 2014, we kept our meat birds inside for a disgustingly long time. A lesson learned: don't free feed them past the first week or so. I know some people free feed these birds to grow them faster, but it's gross and sad. They become little fat blobs of skin with a beak, monster feet, and a few feathers. But seriously, just get them on an educated feeding schedule. Click here for the one that we ended up using this year. 

It's amazing what a real feeding schedule will do for your meat birds...and by real feeding schedule, I mean something besides throwing the chicken feed at them, hoping for the best, and running away in fear (another lesson learned). Our biggest chicken last year grew to be 4 pounds when ready for the freezer and 4 pounds was probably our smallest this year - some reached 6!

Last year we built a fancy contraption called a chicken tractor that was easy to move and we had to do it less often because we only had 6 chickens. This year we had 56 chickens, so the chicken tractor clearly wasn't going to do it. We invested in some electric poultry netting and it worked great. By the end though, we were moving it almost every morning because of how much poop these guys produce in the last few weeks. 

The electric netting was a great investment. We processed the chickens somewhat early last year after Ella alerted us of a potential intruder in the middle of the night. When we went outside to check on the chickens, something had clearly been trying to dig it's way under the tractor. This year we didn't have any predator issues, but since there is not protection from above - there is always the risk of a hawk or some other large predatory bird getting to them when they are smaller. 

When it came time for processing this year, we did some serious planning. We probably planned more for chicken d-day than we did for our own wedding. It took us 20 hours of solid work (with help from a loyal friend in the morning of day 1) to slaughter, eviscerate, butcher, and shrink wrap all of the birds. That was pretty efficient considering it took us 5 hours and 3 shots of bourbon a piece to do the job last year. I'd say we're making progress.

I've mentioned previously that I'm not one-hundred percent sold on the Cornish rock breed. I'd love to hear from others on their experiences with different breeds (temperament, time to processing, etc.)

1 comment:

  1. You are doing so good! We grow whatever hatches from our flock and butcher at around y months. Not as big as meat birds but the flavor is better and we control the genetics.