Grit Blogs > Back to the Land

Growing my own fried chicken

I have raised chickens, actually laying hens, most of my life. Dad used to take me down to the local hatchery every Easter weekend for a couple of chicks (much to my mom’s dismay,) so when we moved to the country I naturally wanted chickens. I came into the spring of 2012 with 18 laying hens and 1 mean rooster. They were a mix of light Brahmas, White Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, and Black Giants. The laying hens were no problem, but the broilers proved to be a bit more challenging.  

My daughter Emma checking our chick order 

In early spring, I started scoping out the hatchery catalogs searching for the best selections and more affordable prices. I got my chicks ordered, and they came in the mail on March 3rd.  I ordered 100 broilers and 12 replacement layers and 2 new roosters. I had read that you should start small, but silly me I believed that if you go, go big. With chickens, there is a sharp learning curve. Broilers need a high protein feed at least 20%. By day 9, I had lost 6 to them eating themselves to death. They would just lay by the feeder and eat until they couldn’t move or breathe. I cut back to feeding twice a day instead of 4. I was still going through at least 140 lbs of feed a week.

After 4 weeks, I moved them to my chicken tractors.
Broilers in the tractor 

Everything was going well for about a week, except the broiler chicks never climbed up the ramp to go inside the shelter. They slept outside, which worked until an ice/snow storm hit. I was crawling around in the chicken tractor in the storm rescuing chickens. I had lost 6 before it was all over. I later learned that a temporary light, even a little solar powered light would attract the birds to go into the shelter.

I kicked the laying hens out of the chicken coop and put the broilers in it. The hens were used to being free during the day; I just got in the habit of letting them in the coop at night. If I didn’t, they just kept circling the coop. After a week, I just let them all out. The broilers don’t venture far, but follow me everywhere. It was a little hard to do yard work with 80+ chickens following me, getting in front of me, untying my shoes, and constantly tripping me.  Trust me, flip flops were out of the question since they pecked at my toes.

Chickens helping with my iris bed 

We held off butchering the broilers until they were 9 weeks old because we wanted them to get a bit bigger. They really slowed down week 6. I am not sure why. It could have been since they were free range and am burning more calories by running around, poor feed or possible parasites. I started adding diatomaceous earth to the feed to treat possible parasites.

We have friends that had butchered chickens before, many many times before, that agreed to help teach us how to do it. They had also bought 25 shares in this venture at the beginning so they will get 25 chickens in the end. I rented a chicken plucker by advertising on Craigslist. Coolers were rinsed out. Ice bought. Knives sharpened. Propane purchased for the turkey fryer for boiling the water for dunking the chickens. I had read that chickens shouldn’t see the butchering process, so I set up in front of the garage on the opposite side of where the coop is. I left the chickens locked up from the night before and did not feed them breakfast. Chickens should fast for 12-24 hours before butchering. Everything was assembled for the big day.

The butchering day was a big day. We did 42 chickens in 3 hours, which did include the mean rooster (the girls did a happy dance.) It’s certainly not bad for 3 professionals teaching 4 greenhorns. After my husband killed, bled, dipped (140-145 degrees for 3-5 seconds), and ran the chicken through the plucker, I did clean up odd feathers, and singed off the little feathers. I am still babying my right hand index finger. The fingernail is about to fall off so I didn’t have the strength in the finger to remove the internal organs.  I was also the person who caught the chickens, errand girl, beverage girl and kid wrangler. Our great teachers, Dawn, Joel, and their son Brenden cleaned out the internal organs, washed, and iced the birds.  Poor Joel had just gotten home from serving in the National Guard in Iraq and Kuwait for a year only 2 days earlier.  My daughters helped pick out small feathers and rinse the birds out. The kids ran off with a couple of the chicken legs. I quickly banned them from the house. 

My daughter Banion cleaning chickens

As I sorted the chickens, I let the small ones out so they could eat and be out of my way. The small ones eventually wandered out front to the festivities. It didn’t seem to bother them as they ran off with feathers, small chunks of whatnot, or tried to jump in the gut bucket. I understand the theory of keep the chickens away from the butchering processes, and will continue to try to keep them away, but I didn’t witness how it affected them. I would never cause undo pain or suffering to an animal so I will continue to protect them from it.

I still had the chicken plucker for a couple days, so two days later Rick and I helped a friend, RJ, butcher his 20 broilers. It went
smoothly, and took us about 3½ hours. All being fairly new to this, we did fairly well. I am looking into getting my own plucker. I know a couple people that have one they don’t use any more. You don’t know until you ask. My husband, Rick, is working on his own model of a plucker. 

I still have another 40 broilers to do in a week and another 57 two weeks after that. A local feed store had a sell on broilers and they hadn’t moved them in about three weeks, so it was a deal I couldn’t pass up. We got the 57 broilers almost half grown for 99 cents each. The initial group of chicks ran almost $1.75 each. It pays to shop around and to shop local. 

I am going to try canning some of the next batch to save freezer space and for quick meals. My mom is coming to teach me how. I am still looking for the perfect fried chicken recipe. ...

malisa niles
6/11/2012 7:26:04 PM

I see alot of disconnect even here in rural America. I dont know how people can not be curious on where their food comes from.

malisa niles
6/11/2012 7:24:48 PM

Thanks for the tips! They are great. I will let you know how it turns out:)

candice haase
6/2/2012 5:46:29 AM

Here are a few things we did before moing back into town. SIgh....I miss my chickens. After the initial cleaning of the birds we would pull out the best ones to keep whole for roasting. Then we cut up the birds and put the respective pieces in seperate 2.5 gallon zipper bags in the coolers. Legs, theighs, wings, all were cut appart and bagged. The breast seperated from the backs and then removed from the bone and put in their own bag. The backs and breast bones where then bagged. Once the butching was complege we set up the vaccum sealer (an amazing investment) and made family size servings of parts. We have two kids and when they were little we would put 6 leggs in a bag before sealing. Perfect size for one meal. We would skin and bone about half of the theighs but the other half would be bagged and sealed like the legs sometimes mixed and matched with the legs. Wings had the tips removed and placed with the backs and breast bones and then bagged for use as appitizers for big games in that coming fall. Once all the breast meat was sealed in the same monor all the bones and backs were placed in roasting pans and baked. Once they were well cooked the meat would fall off the bones as we picked it off. We would then prepare for the freezer quart containers of the broth and chicken that came out of the oven. Perfect for noodles or soups and sauces. My favorite part was the giblits for dinner the next day. Chicken hearts really are a yummy meal. So glad that you had a great expirence with this. I wish more poultry people could understand that poultry raised for this purpose and well cared for are lucky to have such good lives. If you have ever seen a factory farm for fryers and roasters you know what I mean. These chickens had a good life and are helping this young family to grow and thrive.

nebraska dave
5/31/2012 2:22:01 PM

Malisa, good job. The closer we come to the food we eat the more appreciative we are for it. So many kids of today have lost the connection of where the food comes from. Although I don't have animals, I'm trying to teach my grandson about gardening and just how long it takes to put that strawberry or ear of sweet corn on the table for him to eat. Even if he never has a garden or grows a single garden plant at least he will appreciate the person to does. I hope to hear more about your homestead experiences in the future. Have a great fried chicken day on the homestead.