For a year or two we have debated on raising our chicken. Last week we finished the process and butchered 29 chickens that we raised from chicks. It was a fairly simple, very rewarding process. We learned a lot about it all, from start to finish, with lots of research and reading, asking questions and some trial and error.
In the spring we ordered our first batch of Cornish Cross broiler chickens. They arrived via the post office in May and we set them up in the basement to start. The temperatures were a bit too cool for them to go straight to the barn. We actually put them in a brooder with our layer chicks because of space. We learned that they couldnt stay together for too long because after a week or so the broiler chicks would begin to bully the layer chicks away from their food. These birds are bred to grow and grow fast.
When temperatures were a bit warmer and they grew some more feathers we put them in the barn. Those birds are noisy and they started to get a bit stinky. They eat and poop a ton! Once we had another rise in temperatures and they grew even more feathers and size we put them in the field in a chicken tractor. We moved the tractor at least once a day and usually twice. Again, they poop a lot so the grass got really matted down . They would get super excited to hunt for bugs when we moved them to fresh grass. I counted out how many scoops of feed so we could somewhat calculate how much they got each day. These chickens grow so fast their legs can break under their weight or they can even suffer a heart attack. We only lost one chicken so we were pretty happy with our process of feeding as it kept their growth gradual and steady.
As the summer moved on we calculated their age to 8,9, and 10 weeks. Our schedule allowed for us to plan on 10 weeks. Our friends graciously invited us to their farm to show us the process. We were so grateful for their generosity and friendship! On the evening before we gave them about half the amount of food we had been. This made the process of evisceration a bit cleaner as they didn’t have feed in their crop.
On the morning of Chicken Day, we loaded up the birds in a big crate in the back of the truck. We loaded up our supplies like waterproof aprons, knives, zip top bags, shrink bags, and permanent markers. We arrived and saw the layout. Our friends had pieced together an amazing set up with second hand purchases and we were ready! The first step was to pray. We wanted to thank the Lord for providing these animals and the opportunity to learn about his creation.
The boys unloaded the chickens into a small cage area. Mister took each bird and held and settled them and placed them in the cones. Their throats were cut and they bled into the buckets below. There was some flapping and moving around but the cone mostly contained them. Once they were ready in the cones, they were placed in the scalder. This allows the feathers to be removed much more easily. After they were done in the hot water they moved to the plucker. These steps were done 4 birds at a time. After the plucker spun and did it’s thing the bird was hung on racks to wait. I was stationed at the next step, removing the feet and evisceration or removing the internal organs. We saved the feet, hearts and livers and everything else, including the head was placed in a bucket. There were three of us working on this step at one point as it is the slowest of the process. Once they were set at this point they were rinsed off and placed in ice water.
At this point we stopped for lunch and it was good to sit down and take a break! After lunch the breaking down of the chickens took place. We decided to leave 9 chickens whole. These birds were shrink wrapped. The rest were broken down into drumsticks, breasts, thighs, tenders and wings. Everything else was put in bags for stock. I plan to make big batches of stock and pressure canning them. We portioned the pieces in bags with one serving for each person in our family plus a couple of extra for hungry boys or leftovers. Everything was placed in a cooler and then loaded up and put straight into our freezer.
It is so exciting and fulfilling to have our freezers full of chicken and to not have to buy it at the store. We know these animals were raised with respect and care and the taste of the meat shows. We learned a ton and plan to raise them again next year, probably a few more!