Have You Considered Raising Meat Chickens?

| 7/6/2009 1:30:25 PM

Tags: livestock and pets, livestock welfare,

Broiler Chicken

Here at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we have chickens on the brain. First, we’re hatching dozens of eggs as part of our Community Chickens project, and there’s also our recent feature,  Raising Chickens for Meat, a fantastic how-to article on broiler chickens by SARE communications specialist Gwen Roland. In it, Roland discusses the benefits of raising your own table birds: lower price, better flavor and the satisfaction of avoiding factory-farmed meat. 

We know a lot of you raise chickens for superior eggs, but how many of you raise broilers? Is the thought of butchering your own birds too macabre? Let us know by posting a comment below.

Photo by iStockphoto/Eric Delmar


cairn cobb
8/2/2010 8:15:35 AM

I have had chickens for eggs for about 5 years. I grew up on a large chicken farm in Ohio but until I had my own small flock I didn't know anything about chicken behaviors and diet because ours were in cages. Last year I had some old hens that were not producing anymore so asked a friend to teach me how to harvest them. I gave her half in exchange. I was surprised how sacred the morning felt. We used the cones so it was not violent or chaotic. It did not seem much different then harvesting cabbages. This same friend and I purchased 50 Cornish rocks and will harvest them in a couple of hours. Our grown daughters and my 16 year old grandson are working with us and we will divide them between us. We will have an after noon potluck and my granddaughter will baby sit the small children. It should be a day of community and prayerful gratitude for the goodness of the earth. The Cornish Rocks (barbeque special from Mc Murrey hatchery) grew fast but seem very healthy. Others on the internet report these birds look unhealthy and lethargic. Mine however are robust and even though they are very large still can run and fly. Although they could have been harvested earlier they are at 12 weeks. Perhaps people who have bad experiences with Cornish rocks over feed them in the beginning. I may post again after out day of work and prayer.

9/6/2009 5:38:29 AM

When my beloved brother and I were kids in 4-H we did the broiler project. When the broiler show time came we butchered something like 25 or more chicks. Ours were about 1/2 the size of everyone elses. They looked like "squabs!" When we got to the show and saw the other exhibits we were mortified. Our main problem in the stunting of our chicks was they did not have a night light to keep them eating at night! As soon as they were old enough to remove the brooder light we just kept them in the smokehouse. I'm 62 years old and I am going to give it another try. My brother is gone now and my husband thinks I'm nuts, but I really want to start becoming more self reliant. It will cost me as much if not more to raise my broilers than it would to go out to the base and buy them but it is a feeling of indepence I want to experiance. Wish me luck! PS I am planning to hold out some pullets to be my layers. White Rocks are a really good all around dual purpose chicken and are kind to kids.

9/5/2009 6:04:27 PM

we have raised dozens of meat birds and layers and love it. the butchering process is gruesome at times but after the first couple only the smell gets to you. the trick to not having a tough bird is put them in a small pen for 2 weeks before butchering and feeding scratch grain or cracked corn only (same trick for hogs and cows). i am looking for some one who knows how i can optain the fda waiver to sell chickens i butcher because i have several people that want them.

moon over martinborough
8/28/2009 4:31:55 AM

I'm an expat American city boy who ended up living in rural New Zealand, and recently we got our first chickens - just for the eggs, as I'm pretty attached to my chickens (in a good way!). But recently a neighbor gave me and my partner our first lesson in chicken killing and cleaning. Ugh. I couldn't do the deed. I just held the poor rooster's feet while my partner brought the axe down. Horrible! If I had to kill my own chickens, I might end up vegetarian. Let's just say the headless bird did back flips. Two of then. 'Nuff said.

the chicken whisperer_1
8/25/2009 7:01:52 PM

Getting attached is definitely an issue for me. I can butcher them if need be, but prefer to keep them as layers.

8/6/2009 11:36:55 PM

Why do they get so tough as they get older? My wife and I have experienced that natural birds that eat grass, bugs and good stuff get really tough when you cook them. We had a 2 year old bird a few days ago and she was good, but VERY tough. THe fat was a beautiful yellow color, but how can you get the birds big, fat, tender and healthy while still letting them eat as naturally as possible?

8/4/2009 7:15:56 AM

I butchered a few of our chickens to eat and they were delicious. An easy way to remove the feathers is to place the bird on a medium burning fire, not too hot. Just roll it around while the feathers burn off. Your left with the little ends still stuck in the skin but they come right out. I made chicken soup and the stock was the best I had ever put in my mouth. The taste was amazing. Nothing store bought could ever take its place. Just like a home grown tomato, the taste is just more bold and REAL. I encourage more people to try it. That is, if you can handle the killing and cleaning.

7/14/2009 9:22:00 AM

Last year 2008, we raised a straight run of Black Australops. Of the 29 birds we bought, 19 were cockrels. We found a farm that butchered chickens and sent 17 cockerels there to be butchered when they were 4 1/2 months old. It was not cheap-over $5 per chicken. We were more than ready to get ready of the extra cockrels. The meat is different than store-bought chicken: small breasts, leaner meat, less fat. We also had to learn to cook them; we brine the whole chicken and roast it. The taste is excellent! There is also a piece of mind that I know how these chickens lived and what they ate. Now we can't go stand to eat store-chicken. We are in the process of working out how to raise our first meat birds.

gwen roland
7/13/2009 1:22:14 PM

I wrote the article about table birds in the June/July 2009 issue. Just wanting to say I identify with so many of your comments from the woman who said a prayer for the life being sacrificed for her family's nourishment to the person who couldn't bear the thought of those hungry hens being starved just so they could reproduce. My cornish cross birds last year had no broken legs or other problems and they tasted great. It's because of those hungry mama hens that I wanted to find a more natural bird. While researching my article I found out about slower growing birds and discovered there is such a hatchery within a day's drive of my west Georgia home. On August 22, I will drive to S&G Poultry in Alabama to pick up 20 Dixie Rainbow roosters which I will slaughter at around 10 or 12 weeks. The owner tells me the genetics go back 200 years to Northern Italy and they will thrive on pasture just like my layer flock. I'll let you know how it goes.

7/10/2009 12:49:38 PM

We learned some time ago; do not name any animal you are planning on eating or selling. We raise broilers and laying hens and found it much easier and cleaner to skin the chickens. Plucking is laborious and difficult to clean up. We had the chickens harvested and ready for their brine bath in two hours. Skinning a chicken is accomplished in the same way as skinning rabbits.

7/10/2009 3:08:52 AM

I raised 25 meat birds this spring. I only ended up with 19 because the fox killed 6 one night when he got in the chicken yard. Make sure your birds are put away before dusk or a fox will show up sooner or later guaranteed. I had mixed feelings about killing them. On one hand they had become obnoxious because they were mostly roosters and they began posterious and started fighting with each other, as well as trying to breed the hens. However, I had raised them by hand and worried about them each day for the past 56 days. It had my favorites, for various reasons. Being a christian person I found that raising meat chickens and having them butchered deepened my faith. It hard to describe but I found my self saying a prayer of thanks the day I sent them off to be butchered. I have butchered twice before myself with my husband. I prefer to send them out for $3.00 each to be butchered. I think it is worth it, and they come back vaccum sealed with a USDA inspection stamp on each one. It can sell them if I want to that way. Although I give a bird to each one of my neighbors, for putting up with their noise. I also give a bird to repay anyone that has been helpful to me in the past 6 months. And if I know anyone that is in need I will also share my birds. This is really a humbling experience that everyone should experience, although I know that is impossible. I have a far greater respect for life! So if anyone says "How can you kill an animal you have raised?" I believe the important things to remember are: You are raising them to be a meal some day, and don't forget it. Think about the superior product you will end up with. Don't name them, what ever you do! I prefer to have them professionally killed and butchered after doing it myself two times. Thank the chickens for their sacrifice. Thank God for your bounty!

julie gangloff
7/9/2009 2:50:47 PM

We ordered our first batch of layers and broilers last year. The broilers are genetically selected to put on enough weight to be butchered at 8 weeks. I was heartsick every day once they reached about four weeks of age because of the rate at which they put on weight. Their legs are not able to keep up with the rapid growth and all they do is sit in front of the feed and water. They have serious health problems due to their accelerated rate of growth. I read that if humans grew at the same rate we would weigh over 300 pounds at age 2. I wondered how they were able to produce the chickens they supplied and apparently the hens are starved in order to produce the chicks for our meat supply. We lost 18% of our flock due to respiratory failure, apparently considered a good flock because the high death rate means we were getting an excellent growth rate. I will never again purchase fast growth chicks because it is cruelty beyond anything I have ever experienced. Having said all of that I will again purchase chicks to raise for meat because the first thing I said after I baked my first chicken was to say to my husband "this tastes like something that I can't quite put my finger on" when I realized this is what chicken used to taste like but not anymore. It is the most delicious meat there is, and I boil the carcass for the best chicken soup ever. I highly recommend raising your own chickens for meat but please don't purchase the super fast to market variety. For the time they have on this earth they also deserve the best lives possible. After all, their give their lives to sustain us, so the least we can do is give them the best possible lives they can live until they meet their ultimate destiny.

etta perry_2
7/8/2009 11:49:07 PM

This is my second year raising meat chickens. The first year I ordered 25 day old heavy breed cockrels. Raised them for 24 weeks then butchered them. They were different breeds and it was a little hard to kill them. They tasted okay but not good enough to do it again. The next time I ordered 25 Cornish Cross chicks. I couldn't believe how fast they grew. They ate and drank so much that I was kept busy feeding and watering them, plus they don't scratch like other chickens so you have to turn their litter often and add new about every other week. After 8 weeks of doing this I was happy to kill them. These are chickens with no personality. Born to die. When we butchered these we skin them because I remove the skin off every chicken we eat. We allow them to age about 3 days before they go into the freezer. This really improves the taste. The meat is so tender it can be cut with a fork. I wouldn't even consider raising any other breed for eating. The last ones we raised in the spring dressed out from 5 lbs to 8 lbs. We raise 25 in the spring and 25 in the fall. Happy eating!

7/8/2009 7:51:45 PM

with one of the hardier slower growing varities, all in all it was a good experience the killing was not pleasant but since I enjoy meat it was neccasarry and it is nice to know where my food is coming from.

7/8/2009 3:22:53 PM

Great resource here... http://www.butcherachicken.blogspot.com/ ...have layers, think I'll try fryers in the spring.

debbie galle
7/8/2009 1:12:21 PM

We just raised 40 Cornish X for meat chickens. Our firs time. We fed them totally Organic and moved them on chemical free pasture. They got huge fast. We butchered them and now have enough in the freezer to eat and share. They are very yummy and we have the peace of mind that comes with KNOWING what we are eating. I probably won't grow this breed again, but WILL raise another breed to eat. I am researching what would be the next best. We sell live chickens, turkeys, other poultry, and eggs. When our customers find out that we also eat our chicken, we get tons of crazy responses. I wonder if people really know where their food comes from? If you would have asked me last year about raising and eating my own chickens, I may have thought you were crazy. Things change a lot in 1 year. I got sick. I have always studied nutrition and when I saw what we were really eating, I turned my life around by becoming a farmer and eating our own and local farmed food. I am finally getting healthier. If I can do this, anyone can. I can't wait to eat the beautiful turkey's we are raising. Farm Fresh Poultry Forever for Us!

wendy brott-harsell
7/8/2009 12:39:39 PM

My adventures with chickens have been evolving for 6 years. We started with a small laying flock. We butchered the extra roosters. Then set eggs in a second hand incubator. We butchered a dozen and sold the rest to cover feed. The mistake was working with Araconna's. The have pretty eggs, but not much meet. In addition, we too have small children who objected to "eating their friends". We solved the problem by purchasing Cornish Rock crosses. They are all white so the kids can't get attached to any particular bird. They have no small pin feathers, so are easier to pluck. They also Grow more than twice as fast as typical breeds. 10 weeks and they dress out at 7-8 pounds. One word of warning, they also produce a LOT more waste. Use more litter and plan on cleaning more often if you keep them confined. We will process about 125 birds this year. Four families are in a co-op of sorts. We purchase, care for, and feed the birds. They show up on butchering days, pay $2 a bird and butcher birds for us as well as themselves. We are hoping to take 20-30 grown live birds to the small animal swap to help offset feed costs. We still have our Araconna laying flock. They all have names and are spoiled to the point that they come running when called for treats. The kids are happy, and we have great meat and help with butchering. :)

mark spencer
7/8/2009 11:57:23 AM

I have tried but the chickens become pets and I don't see how anyone can raise an animal and then kill it.That is scary of humans

lesa jennings
7/8/2009 11:45:30 AM

My husband and I raise chickens to butcher. I am not always sure about the lower price part of the deal (this might have something to do with the special treats I make them... cornbread, homemade bread, watermelon, cataloupe, bananas....), but I know the taste of the meat makes the cost of feed very worthwhile.

7/8/2009 9:20:19 AM

I've been raising red broilers, for meat, for the past 4 years. Started small with 12 the first year and now I'm up to 6 dozen this year. From day old chicks through the butchering process, I do it all myself. The chickens live a good life and the results are a wonderful meal. The old hens are another story. They make for great chicken broth that I freeze and use throughout the year.

7/7/2009 4:17:21 PM

I have been raising chickens for about 2 years, Most of the information I have gotten has been from the website www. BACKYARDCHICKENS.COM.we get nice fresh eggs from my 11 rhode island red hens, and I have 2 doz in the incubator now. I use the hay from the chicken coop in my garden, and we have fresh eggs to eat. win win situation all around.

7/6/2009 10:02:59 PM

Tried it when the kids were young. The eggs were great but two big errors, first 8 year old girls think they are all their pets, not at all interested in eating her friend. Second, I got Silver Laced Wyandots, beautiful chickens, both laying and eating breed, but have you ever tried to get all the black feathers off, we had a lot of skinless chicken.

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