When one embarks on a new hobby, one very quickly becomes immersed in a brand new subculture. And what is culture if not a collection of disagreements on how things should be done? Well, in the “raising my own meat chickens” community there is the conundrum of efficiency vs. quality.
On the side of efficiency you have the Cornish Cross. If you buy chicken of any sort at the store you are buying a Cornish Cross, a veritable miracle of breeding for purpose. These things get to market weight in 8 weeks or sooner and they produce tons of white meat on much less feed in the shortest amount of time possible. Less feathers and large body cavities make for very easy processing. The trade off: If you let them grow too big, their legs break under them. They can have heart attacks. People contend they taste awful or at least not as good as other breeds. They are gross and don’t move around a lot, except to feed frenzy their food.
On the side of Quality you have the Red/Freedom/etc. Ranger. These are a heritage meat bird that can get up to market weight in 12 weeks, but still retain the ability to lay eggs and mate naturally (the Cornish cross can’t do either). They are smarter and don’t face the health problems if allowed to grow beyond a certain age. People say they taste better as a result of being more active and they are prettier running around the yard.
We figured we’d do our own comparison to see which we liked better and had decided to start with the darling of hippie homesteaders everywhere: the much more natural Red Ranger. However, the feed store told us their hatchery had a break out of avian flu and lost all those chicks for the year so if we wanted chicken to eat it was the Cornish Cross for us. In perusing forum threads and blogs, I ran across some advice about managing these frankenbirds. The guy’s point was that one had to be aware of the nature that has been bred into them and work with that. These things are eating machines, therefore giving them free choice feed (like you would do with any other chicken, meat or layer) is a recipe for the above ickiness. Our birds got fed twice a day and we found that while kind of pathetic and without grace, beauty or charm…these critters weren’t too bad to raise. Also I’m new to home raised chicken, so naturally these guys taste better than store bought to me and until my palette becomes more refined, I have no complaints.
*****Pictures of dead chickens: no blood, no guts, kid friendly*****
Here’s how it went down. We had 16 to process plus two roosters from last year. [Those two gentleman are still pecking about with our laying hens because after 4 hours of work in the hot and humid for both of us, we were done. Some day though, those boys are destined for the stock pot.] YouTube, the internet and books gave us the general idea, plus we did a few in Vegas. The killing cone was new and it worked well. Funny thing about chickens. When you hold them upside down they struggle and flap, but then they go limp and it’s like they just find their zen. This is convenient because then they slip right into the cone which confines them (theoretically) through the death throes. I say theoretically because one managed to flip itself out of the cone and around the shed for a solid minute sans head!
Next the scald pot at 150 degrees with some dish soap in the water. This helps feathers loosen, cuts down smell and presents much less manure to be dealt with while plucking. And yes, I do most everything on the farm in my flipflops.
And my sexy overalls. They do all the farm chores too.
Handmade plucker. It’s not fantastic but did get the areas I especially did not want to touch. It was fine for the amount we needed to do but any more birds and I’d want something more robust. They have motorized drums that can pluck multiple birds in a minute or two. A girl can dream, right?
What’s up? Chicken Butt. [Inner 12 year-old boy back in the box] The husband man and I settled into a fairly good system of killing (him), scalding and plucking (me), gutting (him), final cleaning and weighing (me). Pretty sure he got the short end of that stick.
Not bad for a first try.
After hanging out in the fridge for a few days to chill and relax it was time to wrap them for the freezer. Nifty shrink wrap bags made this part so nice. Bag the bird, dunk in hot water, zip tie. Done.
It still boggles my mind when ever I grow or raise something that looks and tastes even better than store bought. These bird are so tasty and make spectacular stock (once I threw in the feet and necks). One and a half birds turned in to 7 quarts chicken pot pie filling, and another three got pressure canned (canned chicken makes amazing chicken salad). I still think I prefer rabbit for the overall experience, but chicken will be in the rotation every year. At least one flock (15-20) of them…I mean from chicks to this it was only nine weeks, which is a very easy time commitment. We averaged about 5 lbs and $2.28 per lb. all said and done. We could bring the feed cost down if we were better about moving them to new grass and going with cheaper feed, not to mention a more efficient feeder with less waste potential. I bought the good stuff and it was still very reasonable. New meat source…Check! Next up in November, Turkeys! (We’ll definitely need a bigger cone.)