If you stop in for a visit around supper time, most likely I will feed you something with either chicken or deer (unless you are my sister-in-law. I wouldn’t do that to her and am warning her that she might want to skip this post altogether.) We raised our own chickens this fall and processed them the first week of December. We have friends that have been raising their own meat for years and have taught us many valuable skills. This Fall was full of learning about growing and processing our own food; from our backyard to our freezer.
If you are wanting to raise your own meat, the best advice I could give is to find a family who has already done this before and have them teach you! We learned by helping and watching friends of ours who showed us “how it is done”. When it came time to process our own birds, we knew what to do. If you haven’t followed the chicken raising experience, you can check out the Family Farming section of my blog.
Where to get birds: We ordered our chicks from a man who owns a small hatchery in Kentucky. Our chicks arrived early one morning and my husband and boys went to the post office to pick them up.
What Kind: We ordered a cornish rock cross which means that his parents looked something like Rocky on Chicken Run and his mother looked something like the round fat cornish hen. In fact, with this bird, they grow to be so overweight, that their legs will break just from the weight if you do not process them within a 7 to 12 week time frame. They are true meat chickens. There are 3 different types of chickens: Meat birds, Layers, and Dual Purpose. If you are wanting to raise a bunch of birds at one time for meat…you would want to get meat birds. However, this spring I will be ordering a dual purpose bird mainly for eggs, but after the egg production lifespan is over, it can be for food as well.
How many: We bought 100 birds and spilt half of them with another family in our church.
Where to keep them: In the beginning, as baby chicks, we kept them in a warm pen with straw and a warming light. It is best to have a pen that does not have corners, octagon or circle shape is best. When bigger, we wanted our chickens to be able to forage for bugs and grass, however we didn’t want them running around the yard at will. We had predator concerns with dogs and opossums so we kept ours in an electric fenced area. Ideally, next time we will build a special chicken tractor to keep them in that will protect them from predators but also enable us to move them around the yard to eat bugs and grass.
What to feed them: In the beginning we fed them a high protein chick feed. As they grew, we changed the feed to meet their protein requirements. They have special feed at farm co-op stores just for meat chickens. Next time, we will be buying a bulk amount of ingredients to mix our own feed.
Work involved: It is a daily job caring for these chickens. In the beginning, cleaning out their pen and providing them with fresh straw is easy. As they grow, the work grows, however, it was a perfect job for two of our young boys. At 9 and 10 years old, they were great chicken growers!
Final Thoughts: Would we do this again? Absolutely! Actually, we are seriously considering raising turkey not only for our own family, but for others as well. Once we are to a place where land size will permit cattle, we will also venture into that. Once you have raised your own meat, food takes on new meaning. I am mindful every time I cook a chicken of all the work that went into this bird. I know what it ate and I know it is a clean safe, healthy food product for my family.
I would recommend Joel Salatin’s books and website. We went to a conference last year and heard him speak about family farming. I thoroughly enjoyed his presentations and my boys absolutely were inspired. For further information on family farming, I would recommend his book Family Friendly Farming. Although this book does not give the specific 1, 2. 3’s of how to raise your own chickens, it is an excellent book. His other books are more specific.
- Holy Cows and Hog Heaven – The Food Buyer’s Guid To Farm Friendly Food
- You Can Farm – Talks about what it takes to establish and run your own small scale farm.
- Salad Bar Beef – How to raise grass fed beef.
- Pastured Poultry Profits – How to raise poultry for profit and yourself
- The Polyface Farm DVD – Shows exactly how to implement the techniques Salatin talks about.
You can view an online clip of how they raise Turkey in the Gobbly Go as well as view other short clips on the family friendly farming techniques. Joel Salatin also has how-to tapes on raising chickens, rabbits and other farming interests.
Speaking of Turkey..tune in soon for my next blog post.