Let’s talk chicken.
Our two-man butchering crew consisted of the Wrangler/Slaughterer/Scalder/Plucker Man.
And the Eviscerator.
(Here’s the audience.)
It might seem like an unfair division of labor, but he was able to get all of his jobs done in the time it took to eviscerate one bird. This was the first time we butchered chickens in the winter. It was about 40 degrees outside and I must say one benefit was that they didn’t smell nearly so bad as normal. I don’t know. Chicken just smells funky to me during butchering.
Another advantage to scheduling your butchering for the winter would be if you don’t have the space to air chill your meat for at least a couple days after butcher day, you could use the air temperature to do it for you instead of a refrigerator. We’re completely sold on air-chilling as a way to tenderize your meat and I HIGHLY recommend it.
For example, I was looking at an old post on Thanksgiving of a turkey we harvested and roasted immediately last year. It just looked stiff. This year, our turkey which was air chilled for a few days before freezing had legs that were downright floppy. And that, my friend, was a FINE turkey. Probably the best I’ve ever eaten. So juicy and tender and full of heritage turkey flavor. It was brined for a little less than a day in water with 1 c. salt & 1/2 c. evaporated cane juice per gallon of water and then roasted just the same as I did when we did the Freedom Ranger vs. Cornish Cross Roast-Off.
Cost of 50 Chicks: $87.50
Cost of 950 lbs. GMO-Free Feed: $381.60
Original Flock: 50 birds
Losses: 14 Birds (10 during brooding, 0 predator attacks, & 4 due to neglect)
Harvested Meat: 178 lbs. 8 oz.
Average Weight Per Bird: 4 lbs. 14oz. (Not including livers & feet)
Average Price Per Bird: $12.77
Average Price Per Pound: $2.63/lb.
Cost of Local, Ranged Broiler: $3.49/lb.
(Note: One-time purchases to raise broiler chickens, such as brooder, lighting, feeder & water, shelter, and butchering supplies are not factored into the cost of these birds. I only add in new materials that need to be purchased for each batch. If this is your first year raising your own meat chickens, your costs will most likely be higher. But don’t let that stop or discourage you! Your costs should go down next year!)How did we stack up against other years?
Well, these chickens were grown to 16 weeks old this time, a little longer than the 13 weeks of the first time and 15 weeks the second year. With the average weight per bird falling somewhere in the middle.Predator-wise, it was a 100% improvement in losses. That’s not surprising though. We purchased the chicks within days of moving in knowing we were cutting it down to the wire to get the harvested before the harshness of winter set in and we almost made it too. This meant that we weren’t set up for allowing them to free range as in years past and so they were in a heavy chicken tractor and I guess no predators were tempted to dig under the sides for an easy dinner.
Will we use the same system next year? I doubt it. I don’t know if it was the stock from which they came of if by not being allowed the freedom of movement and access to a varied diet, but these birds simply were not as hardy as the ones we’ve had in previous years.
What I’d like to see is the pen we used put in the pasture and then moved daily through just as we did, but with a door installed and an open door policy used during the day. It’s similar to what we’ve done in the past, but our shelter before proved to be inadequate protection.Of the 14 birds we did lose, most were during the brooding process. And most were due to lack of supervision of our children on our part, but we did just move and more than once our little girl who loves to love up on the baby chickies snuck out to the brooder and cuddled them to death.I know once, one of the children took the initiative to fill an empty waterer between chore times which was wonderful, but they left the bucket in the brooder with a few inches of water left in the bottom and 2 chicks got in. One drowned, but the other recovered. One I specifically remember was the result of a tragic chicken tractor moving accident where the chicken tractor steamrolled over the poor thing. A couple of them were found lethargic and died shortly afterwards with no visible cause.
A large part of the reason we’re doing this is to teach our children responsibility and train in them a decent work ethic. I don’t know if it’s working, but that’s a goal. (We got a little encouragement the other day when my 5 year old son, Ben, looked up at his father as they did evening chores and told him that doing chores with him morning and night was his favorite thing to do each day. I know he’s the first one to jump out of bed in the morning rain or shine, freezing or not, to go out and help so I believe him.) And when you try to instill that sense of responsibility and stewardship, there will be some failures and hopefully lessons learned not to be repeated again. Sadly, that comes at the cost of a few little chicky lives.
Now before I close, I feel compelled to step up onto my soap box for just a quick moment and say that cheap chicken meat is a misconception.I know I’ve said it many times in the past, but I feel like it bears repeating: As with all things, you get what you pay for.
This week at our local StuffMart with grocery center, boneless skinless chicken breasts are selling for $1.99 per pound. We’ll never be able to touch that price wise. Especially were you to factor in labor.
And I’m ok with that.
I know what my chickens have eaten- a primarily GMO-free diet with no arsenic, antibiotics, or hormones.
I know how they were raised (even if that included some sad losses).
I know that I’m choosing a breed of broiler that will not necessarily keel over and die from heart failure after so many weeks (look how long this one has lived so far!)
I know they were slaughtered humanely. I know that they aren’t packaged and pumped up with liquid solutions.
I know my birds have had a varied diet of greens, bugs, and more, have felt the goodness of sunshine on their backs.
I know all of the nutrition goes into the meat and therefore into my family as a result.
And that is more important to me than the bottom line. Ok. I’m going to step down now, but could you give this heavily pregnant lady a hand so I don’t fall, please?