While working in the garden this spring I have also been caring for five young broiler chicks. In my last blog post, I discussed growing potatoes. My crop was very small but they made a great side dish to my home grown chicken I cooked in the roasting pan. Ever since reading the article on growing your own broilers in GRIT's Guide to Backyard Chickens, I have been very interested in getting the birds. I did come across some obstacles along the way but overall I call it a success and hope to do it again next year.
My first challenge to overcome was the limited space. I only had a set up to keep four or five birds comfortable in my brooder and grow out pen. When looking to buy broiler chicks, all my sources had a minimum order of 20! Living in the middle of the city I was limited in how many I could order. I wasn't sure how my neighbors would react if my flock grew to such a number. So you can imagine the excitement when I ran across some broiler chicks in the local feed store near our farm. The feed store by our house only carries laying hens, as the idea of raising your own meat is not as popular as one might think in the metropolitan area even if I live in Texas. I was able to purchase five broiler chicks and bring them home with no problem! My only issue was running the heater on high so that the chicks were not too cold on the hour trip home.
When I got the chicks home, they went into my homemade brooder, which consists of an empty 25-gallon lick tub with a red heater lamp hanging down in it. I kept the chicks in the garage as the temps were dropping into the 40s at night. This set up has served me well with laying hens for at least two to three weeks. But I learned quickly that the broiler chicks grow much faster! By the end of the week I was worried for space. I quickly moved them to an old dog metal kennel where I wrapped chicken wire around the walls to keep them and others from entering or leaving the gaps. The dog kennel has a plastic bottom tray that allows the owner to pull it out and wash it with out having to open the pen. With laying hens this is wonderful! I can put some shavings on the bottom and switch it out every few days. This brings me to my next challenge. They poop a ton!
After the garage smelled very lovely, my husband had asked me to move the chickens to the front porch, which is covered and shielded from the weather elements. So one day as I came home, I happily got out of my car thinking I would go see the sweet beautiful chickens hanging out on the front porch. As I rounded the corner, five beautiful white chickens sat enjoying the spring day, until one decided to make the most awful sound! Ugh, the smell came with it and I think, "These are NOT laying hens." I have learned that Broilers have three main functions, eat, poop, and sleep. I found that I had to switch out the shavings once a day to keep the smell down and keep it sanitary for the birds.
Success was right around the corner though with this project. After only nine weeks, I had five very good-sized birds.
Processing the birds was a chore! It took me six hours from start to finish with the five birds. This process was somewhat difficult in an urban backyard as chickens can be very messy. Luckily we have a cleaning station in our backyard that we use to clean fish, chickens, or any other small wild game we might need to address. Hopefully I will get faster with each time. I do think I will look into making a cone set up which will help to control the mess. Also, I need to search for things to do with the feathers. There were a ton of feathers to get rid of and I don't like to just throw them away.
My only major short-coming in this process was not having a plan to preserve the food. Gallon ziplock bags were too small and my vacuum seal machine didn't seem to handle the bulkiness of a whole chicken. I knew I wanted to freeze the birds but they wouldn't last long with air all around them. This lead me to creating my own bag system. I got a small rectangle box and lined it with a trash can. I put the chicken in the bag and proceeded to fill it with water. When the whole chicken was covered in water, I carried the box into the chest freezer where I let the water turn into a large block of ice. I was able to take the trash bag and ice block out of the box and repeat the process for two other birds. No air around the chicken for freezer burn now. I just need to allow for 24 to 48 hours of defrosting in the sink before cooking!