Hey everyone! I mentioned in my March wrap-up post that we had gotten chickens last month. We decided to try our hand at raising our own chickens for meat because one, it’s the best way to know what is going into your food (especially meat if you eat it), and two, while we haven’t run the final figures yet, this looks to be significantly less expensive than buying chicken from the store. And after buying chicken from the store many times that had a weird texture when cooked (crunchy, rubbery-like), I’m ready to try something new. So read on to see how to raise chickens to fill your freezer and not break the bank!
I remember my great-grandparents raised chickens when I was little, but that was the extent of my experience when it came to raising birds. Matt read several articles on the internet about raising meat chickens, and surprisingly, it is a bit less involved than raising laying hens. For starters, you only raise meat chickens for about 8 to 10 weeks before harvesting them. There are breeds bred specifically for this purpose and one of those is Cornish Cross Broilers. They’re the typical white-feathered chickens that you probably picture when you think about chickens in your mind.
We put in our order for 24 chicks, and they came via the mail (like, the actual post office called and said they were there)! We had built two pens to hold them in, the first being a small pen made from those plastic signs you see staked in people’s yards during election years, and the second pen is our chicken tractor for outside. We put the smaller pen in our basement, and the chicks have lived there for roughly the first four weeks we’ve had them. To keep things clean, we lined the floor with a large plastic tarp that we folded over several times, then added the shavings on top. This made clean-up so easy, as we were able to put the chicks in an extra dog crate, gather up the tarp, carry it outside, and dump the shavings. We started moving them (with the exception of one) to the outside pen during the day to give them more space and encourage their adult feather to hopefully come in more. For the most part, everywhere but their heads have feathered out, but checking last night, several of them are getting their adult head feathers, so soon they will look like real chickens vs the weird half-fluff/half-feather thing they have going on at the moment.
There is one I hadn’t been putting out with the rest, and the reason why was that his legs didn’t seem to hold him up. He could shuffle around and get to the chick feeder and water dish, but the bigger feeder and water trough are a little bit of a challenge for him. So I’d been leaving him in the indoor pen and did some weird version of chicken physical therapy with him where I’d stand him up a bit, and move him around so that he wasn’t stuck laying in the same spot. Eventually, he regained the use of his legs, and while he didn’t get quite as big as his siblings, he had a pretty impressive growth spurt!
Once their adult feathers came in fully and the weather was a bit nicer, we started leaving them out in the chicken tractor full-time. With the exception of one night, when it poured rain and their pen was in a low spot and flooded. Since it was still fairly cool out, we rounded them up and put them back in their chick pen for the evening to dry out and stay warm. But other than that, they flourished quite a bit in the chicken tractor.
Our chicken tractor consisted of a wooden base frame, then we added a few cattle panels to create the domed top and doors on each end. We covered the entire structure with chicken wire after that and added a tarp to half to provide shade. While the weather was still cool in the evenings, we also hung one of the heat lamps inside for extra protection. The best thing about the chicken tractor is that you can move it around the yard each day, versus a typical coop that stays in one spot, creating an eventual dirt patch as the chickens peck and scratch at the ground. We just built one bigger one (you can find calculators on the web that will tell you how much space you need per chicken), but a lot of people with garden beds will build smaller ones to put between the rows to help fertilize their soil. In an attempt to train the chickens, we would place their food at the end getting moved so they wouldn’t get squished or caught under the frame when we pulled the tractor into place.
When it came time to process the chickens, we gather them up a few at a time and then dispatched them as humanely as possible. Then it was a quick dip into the hot water, plucking, cleaning, and butchering. We only had to do about 23 chickens total over the course of two weekends, but if we were ever going to do more (or make this a regular thing) I’d definitely invest in a chicken plucker. If we tried to do all the chickens in one day, it probably would have taken literally all day for us to finish.
We haven’t decided yet if this is something we will be doing again or not. We had a pretty good experience overall with our chickens (we did, unfortunately, lose two). It’s comforting to know exactly what went into my chickens, how they were cared for, and how they were processed. Maybe someday I will venture into egg-laying chickens, but I have to get someone past his phobia of getting a “bad” egg! If you have any questions about how to raise chickens, feel free to drop me a line (email@example.com) or comment below and I will happily share our resources!
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