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.
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.
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.
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.
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. ...