I admit I LOVE chickens! OK, I am addicted to chickens (and cows too, but that is another story)! I love watching them run around the yard pecking for bugs and seeds. I love seeing all their beautiful, colorful feathers. I love that they follow me around as I do farm chores. I love all their different personalities. I love that mother hens completely raise their young without my intervention.
A couple years ago I went on a chick buying frenzy. I got around a dozen from different local farms and breeders. My year-old hens also laid and hatched about eight chicks – I had a coop full – actually two coops full by summer.
Much to my dismay, all but four ended up being cockerels; they were beautiful, but oh so noisy. When one crowed, they all started crowing (my poor neighbors probably hated me then). Even the ones I got from a breeder who assured me I was getting pullets ended up being cockerels. And, my poor Henry (Silver Phoenix) was being attacked – so they had to go. I couldn’t get rid of Henry; he was our very first! Sadly I had to find homes for all the cockerels. Do you know how hard it is to re-home roosters? I missed seeing them, but didn’t miss the constant crowing and fighting between them
This year I finally allowed myself to get a few more to add to our flock as our hens' egg production was slowing down – guess that happens with age. This time however I was smart and special ordered pullets that would be old enough so I could be sure I didn’t end up with a bunch of roosters. When the day finally came that my pullets were ready, we drove four hours to pick them up. I can tell you my husband wasn’t happy to make the drive – but I didn’t want them to be mailed – that has to be stressful. So if I could avoid it – I would.
The trip ended up a nice little get-away and I came home with eight pullets of seven different breeds. That trip gave me a Lavender Orpington, a French Blue Marans, a Black Copper Marans, a Welsummer, a Jubilee Orpington, two Splash Marans, and a beautiful Blue Laced Red Wyandotte. Can you tell I like variety? True to the breeder’s word, I did get all pullets, each was gorgeous and healthy. My flock was off and growing again – but I didn’t stop there! I placed an order with another breeder for two Buckeye pullets that would be ready this fall. Did I stop then? No!
Within a week I made another trip to look at some Cream Legbars and Bielefelders and came home with two Cream Legbars and two Bielefelder pullets, and over the next month, after doing a lot of research on the breed, I picked up about 40 more Bielefelders (all but seven were cockerels).
Cockerels? Me? Actually it was intentional this time. What was I thinking? Meat for the freezer for one thing – these chickens get really big. The best characteristic of this breed is you know the gender of the chick the day they hatch. They are calm, gentle, huge, dual-purpose chickens. Even the cockerels are calm and easy-going – so I read.
The second thought was what a perfect way for people who only want pullets to know that they are getting what they want – no chance of getting a cockerel if you only want pullets. I smelled a new farm venture! I am going to raise and sell pullet chicks, We built a new triple section coop that come spring will house the hens on one side, cockerels on the far side (until they are big enough to go to the pasture to grow out) and keep the middle section for hatching and supplies.
Bielefelder chickens. Photo: Stuhlgockel/Creative Commons
We sent the first group of Bielefelder cockerels for processing a few weeks ago. They were 16 weeks old – pretty standard age for processing dual purpose or heritage roo’s. They were huge but didn’t weigh much so I was a bit concerned. They processed at a bit over 4 pounds each. Not bad, but I would like them to be a bit meatier for such a big bird. The meat was very, very good and perfectly tender, not mushy tender like the Cornish X chickens – just good old-fashioned flavor and texture.
The second group will be 16 weeks old next week and I am wondering, do I let them go another month to add more weight? Or will that make them a bit tough? This is a decision I need to make quick but think I am leaning on letting them grow a bit more – after all, these are our test chickens and I need to know the best size and timing for us and our customers.
For those who wonder how I can butcher and eat chickens I have raised, I have to be honest. It was hard at first and took a while to get used to not wondering which one we may be eating. To be able to do this, I think first and foremost is I never name the ones that will eventually be processed. I feed them non-GMO feed, provide them with plenty of fresh water, and keep them as safe as we can, and I force myself to not become attached.
We do not, cannot, process them ourselves we take them to a commercial processor for that. The first time I took some Cornish X chickens for processing, I didn’t sleep at all the night before, stressing over what I was about to do – it was very difficult. I even got a bit teary when I watched the men take the crates out of the truck when I dropped them off. The second time around was a bit easier. It does help knowing that the chickens had a good, albeit short, life. They weren’t caged but allowed to truly free-range during the day. I do this so I can be sure of the quality of meat I feed my family and provide to my customers.
To end on a happy note – I was finally able to pick up my two Buckeye pullets this past weekend. I love this breed; I think they are my favorite. They are so beautiful with their shiny mahogany body feathers and black tipped tail feathers. And, like the rooster that I had to let go to a new home a couple years ago, they are affectionate birds that love to follow me around.
Oh, and for those who are wondering about the supposed claim that the Bielefelder breed is calm and gentle natured – they are – even the cockerels!
I think my flock is complete. At least for this year anyway!