As a family, we want to make sure we source our meat from local, humane and sustainable resources. Sometimes we aren’t successful, but over 95% of the time we are. We have a great resource for chicken, but we have agrarian dreams and we wanted to raise our own. Okay, mostly, I have agrarian dreams and a very supportive husband.
Our First Batch
So our newest adventure is raising meat birds, particularly chickens. We started our first batch five weeks ago, and we got our second batch of ten chicks last night. We start them in our homemade brooder, where they live for three to four weeks. You can read about this DIY brooder here.
We ordered six cockerels (male chicks) for our first batch. I also picked up two turkey poults at that time, one male and one female, from a different local farmer. This first batch of chicken should be ready to be processed (a nice way to say butchered) in about three weeks time. The turkeys will take about six months and should be ready around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I’ve read that we should raise the turkeys away from the chickens, and I’ve read it doesn’t matter. Having the turkeys and chickens together so far seems to working out wonderfully.
Our Second Batch
We ordered 10 chicks for our second batch. That seems like the ideal amount for the Chicken Paddy Wagon. The Chicken Paddy Wagon is a 8 foot by 4 foot shelter that we move daily. This is the Joel Salatin Method. Everyday, we move this enclosure to a new section of grass. We do this so:
- the chickens get fresh grass every day
- they get a fresh batch of bugs
- the area doesn’t get over-fertilized
- the chickens stay safe from predators
- the chickens won’t tear up my gardens
We got a mixed batch of broilers. Here they are:
And a video describing their second day:
Types of Birds
We order “broiler” chickens from a local hatchery. They are a mix of large bodied heritage breeds that will have a decent amount of meat in a little bit of time.
We did not choose to use the “Cornish Cross” chickens. Those birds come to full maturity at 6 weeks. If they are not processed by about 8 weeks, they start to die from enlarged hearts, or their legs collapse beneath them from the heavy body weight. These Cornish Crosses get so large their feathers do not cover their body. From what I’ve read, these fraken-chickens are not interested in eating bugs or grass. Essentially, they have lost the “chicken-ness” of being a chicken. This seems highly unnatural to me. And a lot of that extra nutrient which pastured poultry is known for comes from the birds eating bugs and grass.
That being said, I think I will experiment and buy a few Cornish Crosses in the future. I have had a lot of experiments go differently than what I read. My plants and animals have not read the same resources I have. So I would like to see the results given our inputs.
Processing the Birds
We have processed birds here before. We did that last fall when we found that we had 4 roosters, and we ordered all hens. It’s not a great idea to have that many roosters. It’s really rough on the hens, and the roosters can fight with each other. So we had to cull 3 roosters. (Culling is when you process chickens due to excess roosters or if they have lived past their laying prime.)
I am also keeping a running tally of the costs associated with raising meat birds. I saw a whole organic chicken for sale at the grocery store for under $8.00. I’m pretty sure our birds are going to cost more than that. However, organic isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Organic is better than conventional, but it stinks compared to pastured. These organic birds that you can buy at a store just eat organic food. They probably still live inside of large over crowed chicken houses with little to no ventilation. The birds are probably not eating any bugs, digging in dirt, or eating any grass or weed seeds.
We are feeding our birds 100% organic feed while they have access to the outdoors during the last half of their life. We want our chickens to be happy and to live healthy lives.
So join me on our journey with meat birds from day one to our table.
Link to the water and feeder for your Brooder: