As you may know we have had layer chickens since late June 2015. We decided this year that we wanted to try our hand at raising our own meat chickens. We did some research and thought we would go with the Frey's Dual Purpose breed (a slower growing breed) to avoid the problems people found with other quick growing meat breeds.
We had prepared a coop that would keep our layers separated from the new birds. We were very pleased that entire structure could be made from recycled materials. Our research had told us that the birds would not mix well and that the new birds needed to be about the same size before we could think about introducing any of the hens into our layer flock. This was another reason we chose the Dual Purpose breed. We thought we may like a few to be kept as layers.
In early July we picked up our order at the local pet store. In our area that is the easiest option for getting birds. We had ordered 15 3 week old unsexed chicks. We chose that age as we do not have the ability to have the heat lamp that is required for day olds and unsexed as it was a slightly cheaper option and to broaden our experience since to date we have only had hens.
Here is the first look at our new additions on our YouTube channel
Initially the chicks were confined to a small portion of the coop. This was done in part to help them keep warm as the nights can get rather chilly for a young bird. We also wanted to be sure there were no corners in the area as young chicks are notorious for piling up on each other and a corner is the best place for them to lose their young lives. You can see video on how we started them out in the coop here.
And here they are at 5 1/2 weeks using the full coop.
Just shy of 15 weeks later we thought it time to try our hand at butchering. Since this was being done outside we had to be sure the weather was right and not wait too long as it would be cold before you know it. We picked the first rooster and Ed, who had watched many how-to videos, was the one with the knife. We have a few videos of the process which you can see on our Northern Dirtbag YouTube channel. There is one of the butchering, one for the plucking, one for the final hanging step and lastly one of the finishing. The first one was dry plucked so that we could experience the process.
The first rooster was finished and Tricia had a try at peeling chicken feet. It's not difficult. You slip them into boiling water for about 20 seconds and then the skin just peels right off. We had people ask why we peeled them. Tricia had never used feet before but wanted to as an addition for stock making. It was what we saw on a video is the simple answer but after being asked we investigated further and found that chicken feet purchased at a store are nice and clean (not sure of the process and don't want to know) so that most don't peel those. Also we found that some people don't like the flavour the skin adds to the stock. While the feet do make the stock much more gelatinous we don't know if there is much change in the flavour but we skinned our chicken feet for this first go.
We were quite happy with our accomplishment and had the chicken for dinner that night. It was DELICIOUS!
We had 16 chickens left. 7 roosters and 9 hens. We thought 4 new additions to the layers would be sufficient. Thanks to Google we learned that one way to add birds to your flock is to add them after dark. We did one the first night and found in the light of day that she had been picked on by the other girls. The next night we added another and that seemed to help. The remaining two were added the next night and they all seem to get along now. We were concerned that we saw no eggs in the other coop, even though they had nesting boxes. There have now been a few tiny eggs, some which are soft shelled and a couple outside the boxes, in the run, which we attribute to our new hens.
That left us with 12 chickens to get ready for freezer camp. Oh and yes we are very pleased that our new solar set up allows us to run a freezer in the warmer weather. We decided to switch to dipping the birds into hot water to make the plucking easier and faster. Fortunately we have some very kind neighbours who loaned us a propane burner. That made getting and keeping warm water much easier. We planned to do 4/day for 3 days. Thankfully we started with the roosters as the hens were definitely easier and it would have been a shocker had we started the other way.
We now have a freezer full of chicken. We look forward to once again enjoying chicken dinners and the leftovers that inevitably come when you cook a whole chicken for only two people. Tricia is excited to again be making her own stock and the soup options that follow. This will be her first try at cooking stock on the woodstove. We only have the small woodstove in the trailer but winter's cold means it runs non-stop and she loves to keep her stock cooking for 24 hours.
We are still planning what we will do next year but this years experience means that we feel quite comfortable raising and butchering our own chickens.
Have your raised your own chickens? Or maybe you have cows, goats or rabbits? Share your animal raising adventures with us in the comments. We love to read the experiences of others.