We started raising meat chickens on a whim last year (notice how a lot of what I do is the result of a whim?) It was something hubs and I always talked about, but it never seemed like the “right” time. We did 12 Cornish Cross last year and I purchased 18 a couple of weeks ago. There are a number of reasons why we decided to continue, and expand, raising chickens for meat.
They’re really tasty!
While I have had the organic, free-range chickens from a local farm, I have never tasted chicken like the ones we raise. It’s shocking how little grease is in the roasting pan! The meat is incredibly tender and flavorful. My mom was really hesitant about eating one because she had seen them as chicks. However, she quickly got over that when she had her first bite and asked when we planned on raising more. The bone broth made by the carcass is far superior to any I have made with a store-bought bird. The color is rich, the broth is full of gelatin and goodness, and there is barely any fat to skim off the top.
I know the kind of life they had
One thing that was really important to me was to ensure they had a good life. I’ve seen the videos of the chicken industry, and even the “pasture-raised” chickens break my heart. Chickens are pretty comical animals and a joy to have in our backyard. As chicks, they go out in a little pen to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. After they move to their coop, they’re on the same schedule as our layers and spend most of their days in the pasture. I spoil them with treats and scraps and carry on crazy conversations with them.
For me, this aspect is a lot like why I grow my own food: because I want to know how it was grown. It might be the control freak in me coming out, but I enjoy knowing almost every detail of the chicken’s lives. They’re fed enough, they have access to clean water daily, they get a chance to be outside around other chickens every day–all of that stuff is really important to me. And, I’ll be darned if those chickens aren’t the best tasting because they lived a happy and healthy life.
The connection to food
I think it’s really easy to disconnect from the food we eat and where it comes from. Picking up a pack of ground beef or some chicken breast is super easy at the grocery store. It involves zero emotions. It is a sterile transaction. When you raise your own animals and butcher them yourself, it is impossible to not feel some emotion. I think the majority of people these days forget that the meat they purchase in the grocery store was once a living animal with a brain, a heart, and a personality. It is really important to me and my husband that our girls know where food really comes from. We need them to understand that, as someone who eats meat, a life needs to be taken in order for that to happen.
Our first round of birds was an experiment for me. I did not grow up in a family of hunters and the only animal I had personally killed was a cat I hit once–I sobbed hysterically the whole way home. Animals wheedle their way into my heart very quickly and I become attached. With this knowledge, I knew I had to go about raising the meat chickens differently. I didn’t name them and I didn’t pick them up to snuggle as chicks. Honestly, when they get older they get really psychotically food driven which isn’t too cute!
Needless to say, we went through the first round with me only hysterically crying once. I was delegated to the dunker/plucker role and was fine with it. We had friends and family helping for the two weekends we butchered and someone else was always the “holder of chicken during decapitation.” Wouldn’t you know–our very last chicken I look around and there’s no one but me and hubs. I bawled holding that chicken down, but I don’t regret that experience. If there ever comes a day where, for some strange reason, I don’t feel any sort of emotion during the butchering–that’s when I will stop raising them. I personally don’t find it okay to be able to take a life in order to sustain mine and not feel any emotions. That’s just how I roll.
There are very few aspects I consider downsides to raising your own meat (and it doesn’t include butchering!) Next year, we may try to do a heritage breed that takes a couple more weeks to mature instead of the Cornish Cross. Cornishes are selectively bred to create a bird that grow at an insane rate and turn food into fuel/waste at an incredible speed. It is a little scary how fast they grow.
If you Google “raising meat chickens,” you will see a lot of horror stories about heart attacks, leg issues, etc. Which is true for these birds if you don’t monitor their food intake. I usually give them food 24/7 for the first week and then only for 12 hours in the day. The downside to taking the food away is that, when you go to feed them, they are psychotic little food-obsessed chickies. Seriously! I almost lost a hand this morning.
Because these birds process their food so quickly and efficiently, they poop that much more. And they are HUGE poops. And they smell. I clean out their brooder or coop every day. While it is more work to maintain a clean area for them, it is entirely worth it–both for their health and your nose!
While the butchering isn’t exactly fun, it is an important part of this whole process. Without it, I would have a ton of big, fat chickens waddling around my yard! It is a somber event for our family, but we include everyone in it. Both of my daughters are there and talk to the chickens in their final moments. This is a quality that I adore about them and find quite endearing through this process. My oldest is a great plucker!
It’s not for everyone…
I do realize this isn’t something for everyone and I totally respect that. My mom wants zero part of the chickens until they’re ready to eat–she’s just too sensitive to handle it (love ya, Ma!) I’m hoping that by sharing my reasons for why we do it, you can understand more. It can be incredibly emotional at times, but also extremely satisfying.
I would love to talk to you if you’ve been considering raising chickens for meat! I am someone who loves picking people’s brains before I attempt something and would love to be able to do the same for you.