The morning of day one of butchering our meat chickens, I went about my usual morning farm chores. Feed the goats. Gather weeds and grass for the rabbits. Fresh water for the laying hens. Missing a laying hens- must be hiding in the coop… This isn’t something total abnormal, however what I found was most definitely NOT NORMAL. I found our poor girl, Cheryl, hiding in the corner with her tail drooping. Now, if you don’t know anything about chickens, know this: dropping tail feathers are usually not a good sign. I picked Cheryl up and noticed quite a bit of blood coming from the back of her neck. The poor girl has been badly pecked, through the flesh. I knew the culprit right away. MEREDITH. I know this because chicken mating 101 has taught me that roosters hold on to the back of a hen’s neck to stabilize themselves when mating. Now I don’t say this to sound dramatic but our rooster, Meredith, is supposed to protect our hens. This is the second hen I’ve found that he’s attacked. I’m thankful that Meredith was never aggressive with humans but it has become apparent that he seems to take a liking to a hen and injure her in some way.
So after separating Cheryl into a smaller pen and catching Meredith (which is always quite the adventure) and placing him in a smaller pen, it was decided that Meredith’s services were no longer needed on our little farm. Not only were none of our hens going broody (sitting on fertilized eggs to hatch), but he was injuring his hens, not protecting them. I also didn’t want to sell him because he’s just going to go do the same thing to another farmer’s chickens. No sir, I don’t think so. Not my hens, Mr. Rooster. So, we culled the rooster. For now our hens will enjoy the quiet and enjoy ruling the roost!
We rented a chicken plucker for this chicken butchering. After all of the research I have done, this method of de-feathering seemed to be a great choice for a larger group of chickens. A chicken plucker is like a big barrel (think inside of a washing machine) with rubber knobs on the inside. It hooks up to a water source so that when turned on, it spins around and “theoretically”, removes all feathers from the chicken (post death). Unfortunately, what we found was that the chicken plucker we rented didn’t take all the feathers off, and it also damaged the skin and even a bit of the breast. So instead, we plucked the old fashioned way (by hand) and with the help of a few friends, got all 16 cornish cross chickens (plus Meredith) processed and to the freezer.
After eighteen weeks of raising our first batch of meat chickens, we feel like we learned A LOT! I would say we were fairly successful as first time chicken farmers, however there are things that we would do different for the next batch. First, I would stay more consistent about keeping up with fresh MAGIC water daily. Next time, we will more the chicks out to the chicken tractor at week 3 instead of week 5. The whole purpose of that is to get them out to fresh grass sooner. I’d also like to look into fermenting their feed… any chicken farmers ferment their chicken feed?
When it comes to processing day, I like the method we chose for culling. We used a 22 rifle to stop the computer (brain) right away. After they were gone, we removed the head, blanched the carcass in a pot (heated to about 165 degrees) for 20 seconds, plucked the feathers off, eviscerated (took out the organs), removed the feet (treats for the dogs) and divided into breasts, wings and thighs/legs. The meat got wrapped in plastic and labeled for the freezer. The feet, livers and hearts will go to the dogs and the unused organs and feathers will go back into the ground to become compost.
Some of you might ask, “why raise your own meat?” or “isn’t it cruel to kill animals for meat?”. We started our farm with the intention of becoming self-sustainable. Grow vegetables, plant perennial berries, raise meat, repeat. Something else that really influenced our decision to raise our own meat was the impact that modern food documentaries had on us. Seeing animals raised in factories with minimal fresh air or sunshine… that’s just not the way God intended animals to be raised. We have been blessed with this land and the ability to raise animals in the way God intended it. I truly believe that. Green grass, sunshine, fresh air, fresh water… pure bliss for a meat chicken. These chickens lived very happy, blessed, sometimes I’d even say SPOILED lives, and that in turn comes to fruition in the flavor of their meat. Delicious and full of good protein and nutrients. The way the good Lord intended it.