We had laying hens for a bit before I wondered if it was possible to raise meat chickens and be more self-reliant, even though we live in the city. We experimented by raising a small batch of Cornish Cross. That first batch definitely had its good points and its bad points. All in all I decided to do it again but with a few changes.
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My goal was to raise meat chickens for less then $15 a bird, which was I pay at the grocery store for an organic bird. I didn’t want them to be mistreated, but I didn’t buy them organic feed. The costs of the chicks, feed, and processing turned out to be $10 a bird. The birds weighed out between 2 lbs and over 7 lbs, with most of them at 4 or 5 lbs. I worried my pen would be too small because my layers like to range so much, but these birds were obviously content in the space they had. We had 3 square feet per chicken. A lot of the resources I saw when planning the pen said 1-2 feet was fine, but that seemed too small to me.
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We selected a Cornish Cross because they are supposed to have fewer leg and heart problems then Cornish do. By the time they reached 8 weeks, one of the roosters had collapsed from it’s size and couldn’t walk. Many of the larger birds feet were bowed out and looked painful. I am not comfortable with raising deformed animals. Next time we raise meat birds I will look for a heritage breed without such inbred problems, even though it will mean less grain efficiency.
Speaking of grain efficiency, I hoped to be able to pasture the birds on the lawn, and designed their pen with that purpose in mind. These chicks were started too early in the season, so the rain didn’t really ever stop. If I had chicks April through June I would be able to pasture and still avoid the high heat of the summer. My original reasoning was if things went well, I could do another flock the same year.
Also, the red broilers we had were lousy scavengers. If it didn’t come from their food dish, they wouldn’t eat it. Any time I tried to give them kitchen scraps they ran away in terror and wouldn’t touch the stuff. I suspected that any loss in grain efficiency with a different breed can be made up with scavenging and scraps. That’s another experiment. : )
The birds were not very noisy or smelly. The deep litter method worked well, and I used the straw in my compost and potato pots. In the last few weeks the roosters did learn how to crow. The crows weren’t very loud or annoying once they got through their teenage show off stage, which was really quite short. If I had closer neighbors I would have just raised them all in the garage.
Honestly I am really ticked that so many cities have a blanket ban on roosters. My neighbors can go get one, two, three dogs or more and let them bark outside all day and into the night and no one bats an eye, but one little rooster is forbidden without permits and space requirements and hoops to jump through. And that’s IF you are lucky enough to live in a place that HAS permits in the first place. Give me a handsome rooster over yappy chihuahuas any day.
Processing. Whew. I didn’t realize it was so hard. Remember the handsome rooster I mentioned who’s legs gave out on him? Well, we weren’t planning to do the whole flock so soon, but it was cruel to not send him on his way. So, this being my project, I set out to do the job. I couldn’t finish, and my husband who isn’t so keen on urban homesteading stepped in for me. It was really really hard. It was really really gross.
If we had someone here who knew exactly what to do, it would have gone better for all parties involved. We had books, and websites, and you tube videos to walk us through the process, but it wasn’t enough. Right after the experience with the rooster I felt if I ever had to choose between processing my own or not eating meat, I wouldn’t eat meat.
Thankfully we found a couple farms in the area that will do poultry processing. Being silly naive city folk, we loaded up the birds in cardboard boxes covered with oven racks on the seats of the sedan and drove out to Harrington Poultry Processing. It was a lot more humane then what I was able to do. (Having raised a few more batches of chickens and rabbits, I still prefer to hire someone else but am confident in my ability to take care of it myself now. ) I also highly advise using cat carriers or a small diy brooder for transporting chickens.
All in all, I was quite pleased with how things turned out. The chicken dinners were good, and we’ve tried a few more batches that were also successful.
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Thursday 27th of June 2019
We literally just processed our first batch (only 5) on Tuesday! I did "the deed" while my daughter weighed and documented, including any notes I needed. My husband manned the plucker and water. Everything else was on me because, like you, this is my project and I'm going to see it through. We chose Buff Orpingtons as a dual purpose bird. They take about 16 weeks to mature, but we were going out of town; so we processed at 18 weeks. Once they started crowing I really felt the pressure to take care of business. We're just on the fringe of suburban/rural. (Think: rural zoning in a suburban neighborhood.) It was definitely not exactly like it's shown on YouTube. 😬 However, I believe strongly that our animals are well cared for and were dealt with humanely. We did invest in the plucker and scalding pot set up, which really cemented my resolve to do this myself. A few things I plan to change for next time: there are electronic and pressurized air sedation methods that I'll be looking into (they're used extensively in Europe and Australia as a humane first step in processing), I'm going to look at more anatomical diagrams because I'm that kind of learner as opposed to video (I unintentionally cut into something I didn't want to on every single bird), and GLOVES (I wasn't worried about the smell, but the temperature bothered me...go figure). Thank you for sharing your experience! Best of luck with your next batch!
Wednesday 3rd of July 2019
Thanks so much for sharing your experience! It's true we learn from each time. And yes, GLOVES are a MUST!
Wednesday 17th of February 2016
How did you get your city to allow you to do this? We can only have four chickens and no other animals with the exception of cats and dogs.
Kathryn @ Farming My Backyard
Wednesday 17th of February 2016
Our city had a specified animal permit in place before we started homesteading here. It was one of the things that we liked about it.
Thursday 28th of January 2016
Why did you raise Cornish Cross to 12+ weeks? What was the weight of your processed chickens?
Kathryn @ Farming My Backyard
Saturday 30th of January 2016
Whoops! That's a typo. The Cornish Cross we raised until 8 weeks, the heritage breed we were planning on 12 weeks, but some took closer to 16. At eight weeks the Cornish ranged from 5-8 pounds.
Amy @ Tenth Acre Farm
Wednesday 15th of October 2014
Thanks for sharing your experience. Although I am a committed homesteader, I've not ventured into animals for meat. Partly because my husband wouldn't want to help with the slaughtering, and I'm not up for doing it by myself.
I totally appreciate the efforts you made to raise your animals humanely and step into that crazy world where most of us who eat meat aren't willing to venture.
Wednesday 9th of January 2013
"I highly recommend them, and it was a lot more humane then what I was able to do." Haha - you did a great job at communicating your experience while leaving enough for the imagination! Thanks for sharing, because it confirms my thought of getting the fancy equipment before we do the processing on our own. Until then - processing fees = no problem. ;-) But now you have a real and valuable experience... do you have nightmares?
Friday 11th of January 2013
A few years later I am really really glad I tried it. I just wish I could have had someone right there with me walking me through it. I actually think I'm ready to try it again now, but just with a different method. I don't have nightmares, but I would start randomly crying for a few weeks after because I felt so bad. We couldn't even eat the poor guy, we gave him to a friend! They said he tasted good though. :)