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Butchering our own meat.

It's November 20, 1992. We just found our first "home grown" egg!

The following is an account of our first attempt at raising our own meat (chickens). My husband, son and I still live near the sidewalks on half an acre. But the city does allow us to have our horses, chickens and such. They draw the line at cows and pigs. If I can get away with it, my next project will be a milk goat.

I ordered a "straight run" of 15 White Rocks and 10 Buff Orpingtons (25 is the minimum). I hemmed and hawed over the poultry catalogs for days. Changed my mind a dozen times. But I finally ordered.

They arrived just days later - June 15, 1992. You can imagine the looks I got walking through a Los Angeles post office carrying a box which was emitting a constant flow of cheep-cheeppeep-peep...!

They're so cute. Can we really put some of these little guys in the freezer? We'll see. Our friends have a bet that the non-egg layers will be "donated" to a nearby stable.

The books all say to keep them warm and dry. I'd like someone to explain how to achieve this when they're constantly walking through their waterer!

Our fancy feeders are the bottom halves of two egg cartons. Our waterer is a large, shallow, square Tupperware container with large rocks in it. Our "brooder" is a large cardboard box with a 100W bulb hanging in the middle.

After half an hour in the brooder they were still cheep-cheeping constantly. It's cute, but I was really hoping they wouldn't be doing it all night. They didn't. Being a new "mother" I was awfully worried. Every time one laid down to sleep, I thought it had died. We didn't lose any of the chicks. Actually, the company I ordered from included an extra one.

By the third day I didn't even keep their light on, except at night. Being southern California, we had 90 degree weather already. I noticed none of the chicks stayed near the light.

By 10 days we could see their wing feathers and a few tail feathers starting.

The brooder was kept in the corner of our kitchen. The amount of dust they raise is amazing. By three weeks of age they graduated to the outdoor coop. Later I read that you're supposed to wait until they're at least eight weeks old. The only reason I can see for this is that they tend to stick their little heads through the chicken wire. That might be too great a temptation for some feline friends.

It was fun watching them grow and develop. For our small place, 25 is too many. The White Rocks grew much faster than the Buff Orpingtons. We ended up with nine Buff hens, and one rooster, and nine White Rock roosters and seven hens.

October 25th was butcher day. We had all sorts of worries; What if ... ?

We had eight set aside to introduce to our freezer that day. We started late in the day and only got three done. The whole process was not nearly as bad as I had imagined - for our first try.

My husband handled the ax. John, a family friend (any young ladies looking for a nice, strong, friendly farm-hand type?) bled, cleaned and helped me pluck. We didn't bother plucking all the fine feathers - we just skinned them instead! I know the skin is the favorite part for many, but my hips don't need it. After skinning, I cut each chicken up into serving pieces.

Our first bird took about 40 minutes. By the third one, we had it down to about 25 minutes. Next time we'll use more of an assembly line to get more done in a shorter time.

Now for our first home-grown chicken dinner. Our chickens were allowed to range free during the day. This had the great advantage of cutting down our feed cost. However, we discovered a major drawback. All that exercise chasing bugs sure made a difference on the dinner table. Those were the toughest chicken thighs I ever ate!

We still have the other five roosters. As an experiment, we've confined "the condemned " to a coop for several weeks. Hopefully this might soften them up a bit.

As far as cost goes, well, we did okay. The coop only cost about $3 to build out of scraps. The original purchase of 25 day-olds cost $30. We spent another $28 on feed. Total - $61.00. We gave two chickens away at about three months old. So the end cost was about $2.54 each for the first three. That's about what I would have paid in the grocery store. These next roosters will end up costing a few cents more. But I'm also getting eggs now, which saves some money (and may be a small income from my neighbors). I shouldn't need to invest in day-olds next year. I'll let a couple of hens raise some chicks. When I do buy more, I believe I will avoid the dual purpose breeds. An order with just a few egg layers and more of the meat breeds should be cheaper to raise.

Another note: Butchering wasn't so hard because we didn't get attached to any particular birds. With the exception of the two breeds, they all looked alike! If I had ordered just two or three of several different breeds, we probably would have had a much harder time emotionally.

Homestead comments:

Many first-time poultry raisers complain of |tough' chicken. Usually there are several explanations.

A primary one is making the mistake of comparing a home-raised bird with the store-bought factory farm variety! Yes, a free-range bird will have more muscle. But in addition, if the commercially produced meat is tasteless and watery, then obviously anything with flavor and texture is going to be "tougher." If you like the commercial stuff, you might find homegrown "tough" on a relative scale.

(The same thing happens with bread: some people complain of marshmallow-like mushy white bread, while others turn up their noses at "hard" and dark homemade whole wheat bread. It's partly a matter of what you're used to, or would like to become accustomed to.)

In addition, you must realize that a commercial fryer is about eight weeks old. The birds referred to in this article were more like 18 weeks old ... and older. That results in a qualitative difference, especially in chickens that are running free.

There's one more little trick most new homesteaders aren't aware of. They butcher a chicken, and pop it in the freezer. That toughens it (and other meats as well.) Meat stored in the refrigerator (or equally cool place) overnight before freezing will be much more tender.

One more word for new homesteaders: don't be discouraged by the thought of spending 40, or even 25 minutes for butchering a chicken. While this isn't uncommon for a first effort, many folks who butcher enough to get the hang of it can dress out a chicken in five minutes or less.

And finally, a 100 watt bulb is probably too hot for 25 chicks, which would result in constant cheeping. Of course, the temperature at chick level depends on the height of the bulb and other factors, but in most cases a smaller light will maintain the desired temperature. You want 95 [degrees] to start with, measured at two inches from the floor. Lower this about five degrees a week, until the brooder temperature reaches the outdoor temperature.

Once the chicks settle down, you can tell if they're too hot or too cold by the way they avoid or crowd under the heat source.
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Title Annotation:chickens
Author:Gailey, Alisa
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Getting started with chickens.
Next Article:The excitement of breeding Romanov sheep.

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