Sunday, June 12, 2011

The chicken experiment

Saturday it was time to kill and process the eight Cornish cross chicks that I bought May 1.  My best guess of their age is about 7 weeks, since they were about ten days old when I got them.  They had already eaten through a 40 pound and most of a 50 pound bag of feed.  I did not want to buy another bag of feed and it just seemed like it was time.

Raising eight birds required more work than I thought, from tending the chicks in a brooder then in an outdoor pen to processing.  The unexpected hot weather was a huge problem.  After the first 90 degree day I pulled the pen a hundred feet to the shade just south of the woods, or they might have succumbed to the heat in the sun.  Being so close to the woods I was worried about predators getting them but nothing ever happened. On the hottest days I had to change their water 2-3 times a day.  Still, all eight chickens survived. 
Cornish cross chickens are eating machines that have had the brains bred out of them.  All they know is to sit around the feeder, eat and poop.  Each morning I moved the pen it’s own length then removed the feeder for about an hour so they would forage in the fresh grass.  It took them awhile, but in the last week they began to actively graze and forage like real chickens, even with the feeder in the pen.  So it took them several weeks to learn to overcome their genetics and act like chickens.
Since their pen was in the tall grass near the woods I never tried to let them out until a few days ago when I pulled the pen back onto the lawn.  After I opened the door they would not go outside for anything, even when the feeder was set just outside the door.  Curious they are not.   
These birds have a lot of negatives for the hobby farmer.  They have been bred to grow in a confined factory setting.  For the backyard hobbyist a chicken with better foraging abilities and more sense is preferred.   The options are few.  JM Hatcheries sells a meatbird called Freedom Ranger chickens which are developed from the French Label Rouge chickens and are supposed to have more chicken “sense”.  The minimum order is 25 birds, more than I want.  And you won’t find anything like that at the local farm store.
I wanted kill the chickens humanely and use proper hygiene.  I looked on YouTube for videos on processing chickens and was amazed at how many of the videos were totally useless – people with no clue about what they were doing.  Childish really.  You would think that killing an animal that you raised is something  to be taken seriously.
Not counting the startup costs of building the pen and buying feeders and waterers, I spent about thirty dollars on feed and eight dollars for the chicks.  I put in many hours hauling feed and water and moving the pen.  Then there’s the processing, which took me most of Saturday.   For that I got about 30 pounds of dressed chicken – about four pounds per bird.  At two bucks a pound that’s about sixty dollars worth of chicken.  I soaked one of the chickens in Stubb’s marinade and cooked it on the grill.  It was good allright, and tasted exactly like a storebought chicken, no better or worse.  Was it worth it?  I think so, at least for the experience.  Next year I’ll have more experience and the whole process should be less trouble.  I’m going to look for an alternative to the Cornish Cross.


Lynda said...

I took a workshop on humanely processing chicken. It was worth the $45 I paid...and I'm a tight-wad. I raised my own chickens last year but had someone else process them. This year I'll do my own. I raised the Cornish Cross last year and swore I'd never do it again...but I wanted to do 5 batches of 10 chicks and I could never find someone to sell me only 10 of the Heritage it's Cornish Cross again.

gardenvariety-hoosier said...

Lynda - I really don't like the Cornish X. I'd like to find someone in the area to split an order of Freedom Rangers but won't hold my breath. There's a person locally who orders Buff Orpington cockerels from Rural King - I guess they are decent meat birds - and I might be able to add to that order next year. It was a lot of work to get a product that tastes just like a Perdue chicken.

Post a Comment