The end of this year’s meat chickens

Lucky girls:  six of our last round of meat chickens have had an extended life on Death Row.  How could this be, you ask.  Have they not run out of appeals?  Did the governor issue a stay of execution?  What could be the reason, as these girls are now 16 weeks old or so and are quite large enough to be considered freezer fare.  Well, I confess I have simply been busy.

I have been quite pleased with this last batch of meat birds.  As per fellow bloggers’ suggestions, I tried Privett Hatchery in New Mexico and got the turkeys, geese and slow-growing Cornish X chickens at the end of June.  Here I admit that despite my best-laid plans (and $100) I am not much of a fan of The Chicken Tractor.  Confinement is confinement.  Therefore, Round 2 of the Meat Chickens (a smaller batch of 16 birds) got to live in relative freedom* within the chicken yard with the egg birds.  They ate a mix of grower and regular feed, got access to dirt baths, grass, bugs, their own mini-vineyard of grapes, got to fly up on the coop’s perches at night, had fun dodging raindrops by running into the Chicken Condo, and in general got along as members of low standing in the egg birds’ pecking order.  For me, it was a much more amenable situation:  I did not worry about them at night, I didn’t need to move the tractor daily, and the birds were happy doing chicken-y things.

It helped that the genetics of this particular batch of birds worked better in a chicken yard than in true confinement.  I had three sad birds from the first batch who never grew as rapidly or as well as the first 20-ish, and I had them live with the egg birds, too, but these big-breasted babies were so misshapen and had such leg problems that I needed to lift them over the threshold of the coop morning and evening.  The threshold is a whopping 7″ off the ground so it shows how truly effed-up Cornish X broilers have been bred.  Listen:  I am still a bleeding heart at heart, and each chicken’s life is precious to me.  I cannot in good conscience let any animal in my care suffer a life of horror or hurt, and these poor birds’ inability to even jump off the ground bothered me profoundly.  How could they ever have escaped a predator, I wondered.

Anyway, it is time for the last six to go.  We’ll see how many chickens we still have in the freezer at the beginning of next year’s chick ordering season.  Having never done this before (hell, I didn’t even eat meat until a year ago) I have no clue if I have over- or underestimated the needs of my family and friends.  Next year’s Meat Birds might not be so numerous, or even, necessarily, birds bred to just be meat birds.  We might just try breeding our own, and intend to start with a batch of relatively rare meat/egg birds: the Chantecler.

* Re: confinement.  The chicken yard (50’x80′) is a rather porous affair.  There are two holes in the fence and the chickens can get out but mostly choose not to:  the egg birds and guineas walk out in the early evening for a bug/grass dinner, and the meat birds, being timid, stick by the pond, or at the chicken yard’s perimeter.  Everyone knows there are hawks about and that it’s safer in the yard than not.  As long as they get their needs met (shade, shelter, dirtbaths, water, plentiful food, a dark nest) they are all quite happy staying within the yard.

10 responses to “The end of this year’s meat chickens

  1. I think you should not waste freezer space on chickens, when you could fill it with green beans and apple pie filling. Just saying.

  2. p.s. That sounded like I was being judgemental. Not so.

  3. Just curious, El. How many of your original laying flock remain? We have just one of our first six left, and are debating what to do with her, and or the other 4, next spring when the time comes to restock our flock.

    Ali in Maine

  4. Pamela, but that is what we got the second chest freezer for! Veggies and fruit! Don’t worry I know where you are coming from…

    Ali, we’ve got one chicken from our original flock of 3 years ago: Bloody Beatrice, also known as Queen Bea (she is definitely top dog). She’ll go on living out her natural life with us, as will Letha, Verloe, Pauline, Phyllis and Maggie. The guineas though…are headed for the stewpot. Even if they beat the chickens in egg-laying we’re a bit tired of them. The egg birds are our pets, really; we just love them so.

  5. Those slow growers definitely look more chickeny, don’t they? I’m glad you’ve had better experiences with them. I like to have mine roaming too. They just seem like such happy birds! Although, I have to admit, I’ve never done the tractor thing before. Looking forward to learning all about the chanteclers next year. Hey! How are those turkeys of your doing? Are they for the table this fall as well?

  6. I very much enjoyed you choice of words at the beginning of this story. I am also thankful you share your thoughts. It helps me to decide on Cornish x next year. I do not want to confine them either.

  7. “Listen: I am still a bleeding heart at heart, and each chicken’s life is precious to me. I cannot in good conscience let any animal in my care suffer a life of horror or hurt, and these poor birds’ inability to even jump off the ground bothered me profoundly.”

    I don’t find this sentiment odd in the slightest. If I had the space to farm, I would feel and act in the same way; I think it quite proper and profound to have respect and care for the plants and animals that make up your food.

    (Although, seriously, if I were in your Wellies, I’d probably be running around with 10,000 chickens as pets.)

  8. I didn’t like your choice of words at the beginning. A person’s life is worth so much more than a chicken’s. But this is a long discussion and I don’t want to take over your blog here…..

    You are lucky to live in the US when it comes to choosing chickens- you have quite a few hatcheries that can deliver a wide range of different breeds. Here in Canada we’ve gotten rid of almost all the small-medium hatcheries and are left with a handful of breeds. We can (still) import but its more of a hassle. Food security anyone?

    Have you considered canning (rather than freezing) your chickens? No taking up freezer space then!

  9. El, what weight are your birds averaging? I was just looking at the slow growing Cornish from Privett last night. I’m thinking I might try them next spring as they supposedly get bigger than the Red Broilers in the same time but are still chickeny.

    I’ve still got my original laying hen (she’s at least 3) and 2 others that are 2. I just keep adding to the flock because we have room. As we get a huge number of older girls I’ll start figuring out another option. Until then, they just get to boss the young girls around and lay me a few eggs a week…

  10. Angie, well, one of the turkeys is destined for Thanksgiving dinner. The other two will probably just hang out. I still am not 100% sure if I have three boys or not; kind of hoping not but I just can’t tell. When they’re young they really just look a lot alike…and at this point I have one guy who’s much bigger so who knows! But yeah the tractor thing didn’t work out; just couldn’t do it without feeling awful.

    Hi Grammy. Well, my experience is it doesn’t take much effort to raise a lot of meat cheaply. The CornishX are just too much meat, not enough bird, at least for my soft heart. I still think the best chicken I ever ate was a 2-3 year old rooster anyway!

    Firefly: Hah! I seriously think I would go that way too but there gets to be a point when the dynamics of the flock are best served with a small number. Queen Bea is not a dictator but she’s also not to be messed with, and Verloe still gets the lion’s share of the pecking. The guineas can be just plain mean (though not to Bea, ever). The most important thing I have ever learned from other farmers with animals is that everyone needs to get along or there’s a lot of stress.

    Eva, well, the death penalty is just plain wrong IMHO. And our current administration condones torture. I was simply trying to make light of a situation I certainly find morally iffy. At this point in the calendar we eat so many more vegetables than grains or meat but this dynamic will shift in a mere two months, so having them is necessary with an all-local diet. But yes, I have a few quarts of canned chicken in broth downstairs. I probably should have more except the whole butchering dealio takes me a whole day and tends to shove out of the way everything else that needs to be done around here; after two days in the fridge it’s all I can do just to put them in the freezer.

    So what is it with having few hatcheries in Canada? Where does one get one’s birds then, just through local breeders?

    You know, Laura, I didn’t weigh the last batch. They were full sized but hadn’t bulked up and put on a lot of meat yet: I am guessing they were about 5-6lbs or so, at around 12 weeks. These girls are the same size but are much more fleshy so I am guessing they’ll be 7-8 lbs. Your red broilers were pretty. How old were they: would they have gotten bigger? All these slow-growers were really healthy from the get-go so I do recommend them, should you want to go that route. There was some nice yellow fat with the last batch, something mostly absent with my first batch. I still don’t think I will be doing in my egg birds: they’re pretty low-maintenance and low-cost considering how many eggs we get out of them (that is, more than we can eat even if we’re all egg-lovers).

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