I don’t know if most of you will appreciate this but I feel like it’s an article/how-to that is necessary for a sustainable farm. There are some things I refuse to do, others I refused to do and was told it was an essential part of surviving on the farm (Yes, from the husband). In this world/society, I know we have food available right out of the grocery store but there’s something about knowing where your food comes from and how better to know exactly what process it went through and how unlikely it is that you’ll get e coli poisoning, and whatever other crazy germs seem to being presenting themselves on our chicken these days. (If you want to know more, I suggest watching Food Inc it will definitely open your eyes) Most of it is being shipped to China and is constantly being refused because there are metal pieces in it! Eck. Eek. Yuck. YIKES.
So, this is me warning you ahead of time: VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED. I don’t want you opening up this post to see blood and guts and not be warned. Though it will take a little bit of reading so you have time to change your mind.
Like most things I post on this blog, I didn’t have any idea what I got myself into/married into ;). As a matter of fact, if you asked me 7 years ago if I would be processing my own chickens, I would have laughed in your face. My first time… I almost couldn’t do it, I most DEFINITELY was not a country girl. The only thing I could handle doing was to rinse the birds off after being processed but the next time I felt okay doing a small amount more and next I did even more until my friend Shay and I would race to see who could process a bird the fastest… I would say that’s growth and acceptance in one 🙂
So is it a step you want to take?
It’s for sure something to think about. In the end it’s pretty similar to a smart chicken being bought out of the store but is cheaper money wise but hard work and less germ yuckiness. The best way that I know is to talk to your friends. The more birds you get, the less they will cost and if you have people interested then most likely they will pay for you to take care of theirs if you have the room and they don’t. Also, that’s extra help which means, assembly line! Which means getting done faster and running like a finely honed engine. If every “station” has a hand on deck then the whole process moves along fairly quickly.
The Hard Part
You start with the above picture of little chicks. Yes, chicks are adorable but you need to establish the difference between meat birds and laying hens. Personally, when I raise laying hens, I talk to them like people and enjoy the whole process from start to finish; it is an enjoyable experience and there’s a connection there that you get to keep each day when you go out to your “girls” to collect eggs. (On a side note, that’s what Jehovah God commissioned us to do in the very beginning: watch over the animals, be fruitful, and multiply. That would have been our jobs, live in a paradise and take care of the animals and the land but Adam rebelled so we inherited sin and death instead)
Meat birds… They really aren’t as sweet. At first, it’s not too bad but towards the end, they just want food and they can get kind of mean. By that, I mean when I went to feed them one afternoon in flip flops, they bit me! I don’t mean a little peck like most chickens, I mean bit me! So one, I learned to wear boots from that point on and I wasn’t completely against butchering to tell you the truth.
It’s honestly like raising milk cows which become part of the family versus feeder steers. Feeder steers. You just don’t get close to feeder steers, those are the rules. They aren’t pets, their food. Milk cows are pets, put your affection to them, not your steers.
Maisy, my milk cow–feeder steer in background away from everyone
What You’ll Need
- Brooder box
- Heat lamps/lights
- Meat bird feed 22% protein is good
- The chicks of course (we used cackle hatchery this year)
- Apple Cider Vinegar, optional
- Colloidal Silver, optional
- Oregano oil, optional
- Food container
I should also mention I refuse to medicate my birds. What’s the point in all this if you aren’t going antibiotic free? Anytime I raise chicks meat or laying, I use natural remedies to avoid antibiotics. One of the biggest reasons that people started using medicated feed for chicks was because in the big industrialized chicken farms there were so many that you wouldn’t be able to tell which ones were sick (and coccidiosis was the big issue and spreads to other chickens through feces) so it can get out of hand pretty quickly. Instead of trying to keep track it was better for them to medicate as a safety precaution. All chickens have Coccidian protozoa present in their intestines. The problem is an overgrowth of the protozoa that leads to them getting sick.
As far as a small farm, it doesn’t seem necessary to me. Especially since Apple Cider Vinegar is around; add about 1 TBS to your gallon waterer and you’re all set. Here’s a link to basic use of ACV and here’s one that’s helpful on this particular subject. The last one is a great article that was very helpful in proving what I already knew to be true.
Feeding an animal doesn’t seem that complicated but with meat birds you need to pay closer attention. My in laws have been doing this for over 30 years and learned some lessons the hard way, by doing it of course. They have lost a lot of chickens in the past and have perfected it to where they hardly lose any at all now. So, just needs more effort on your part.
- Using a preferably 22% protein feed, for 1 week only give them as much as they want, fill in morning and when you are home in the evening
- The second week, feed them 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour at night. (The reason you have to take it away is obesity. These birds will eat and eat and eat until they are literally so heavy their legs can’t support them. You have to limit them because you don’t want them to just lay around, they do need to be a bit active and if they can’t walk they can’t make it to water and feed)
- Week 3, put food out 24/7. When they start getting bigger you will have to put more food out and they will really start going through it the last two weeks, they are bottomless pits. (Growth time is usually 6-8 weeks)
- You’ll need to pick a nice sized bird and weigh, when you reach 7-8 lbs that’s what you’re looking for. That size usually dresses out to 5lbs which you can probably get 2 meals out of depending on your family size. It’s just Jeremy and me here on the homestead so it’s 2 meals
Chicken Massacre Spring 2017
You’ll need quite a bit of stuff initially but once you have this it can be a once or twice a year thing and can be stored together for later use. I feel like I should also say, you can spend extra money and buy specialty stuff like stainless still but to me, bleaching everything before you start… Seems to do the trick and I’ve never been sick from one of our birds. But this is your choice and I’m mentioning this now because maybe the pics won’t look “professional” but this is what WE do. It’s your call on what YOU do.
Just something helpful we have learned is to pick your butchering times in spring and the fall so you miss the flies and the heat.
- Two big pots, the size used for frying turkeys
- Wood stump
- Baling twine
- Feed sacks (plastic ones work best)
- Orange road cones
- Outside sinks
- Running water source
- Really sharp knives (the best I’ve found is RADA pearing knives you can get one for $5 on Amazon if I remember correctly but you’ll also need a good sharp serrated knife as well and a chef’s knife is always great too)
- Dawn dish soap
- Two thermometers
- Frozen water bottles
- Tubs with lids
- Galvanized steel container
- Metal ties
- Absorbent sheets, optional
- Cutting boards or what we use which is recycled microwave plates
- Paper towels
- Plucker (you can rent one or build one)
The night before you need to take the food away from the birds. You don’t want to process a bird and have it full of… Processed and unprocessed food, its gross and smells awful.
The next day, it begins…
First, set up your work area. Each task is a station.
An off-with-their-heads-area-the stump with two nails and axe. You put the chicken through the cone and put its head between nails and pull slightly, aim tour axe and use enough force otherwise… You have to do it twice like Bethany did and it’s not as clean and… Just not great. (There’s another method which involves just hanging bird upside down and cutting jugular but it just wasn’t for us) After this step have the bucket close and transfer to it. Square part of cone holds it in place.
You then need to be able to hang birds to drain, we use Jane’s clothes line post.
Once the bird is completely drained of blood it needs to be dunked in water.
Boiling area-has to be at temperature and you soak holding feet to make sure legs stay under water and after about 45 seconds check to see if feathers pull out really easy.
From the boiling area it goes to the plucker, from the plucker it goes to get the neck and legs removed, then to the processing area, it goes to the check and rinse station.
From the check and rinse it will go into water to soak 2 and 3 at a time and then goes into a big galvanized pot in ice cold water where it will stay until you put about 20 birds in then it goes into tubs with lids and a frozen ice water bottle is put inside the chicken so it freezes as much as possible from the inside. They wait there until it is time for bagging.
With bagging, we form an assembly line at a longer table and one person holds the bag, another tucks the legs and puts the bird in the bag, another twists the bag, one clips the bag, one pokes holes in the bag (so when it shrinks the air gets out that way), one takes and dips 3 at a time in boiling water and the kids that are there are usually the runners. They take them to the freezer.
Put into the cone so it wont bruise and then you transfer to the bucket so it drains and stops jerking after head is removed
Boiling to loosen the feathers
About to get legs and neck removed
Processing a bird
Getting rid of the legs and neck and the first soak
After the soak process, into goes into this one for a colder soak
Our sink setup, two sinks are for processing two for check and rinse
Birds stored in tubs with frozen bottles inside
Adding the clip
Bagged, ready to be dunked
Put in the pot for the dunking to shrink plastic bag to the chicken