Raising chickens for meat may or may not be for you. I used to think it wasn’t for me, but over the years have changed my tune. The older I become, the more I’m interested in healthy foods.
Being born in a huge city I wasn’t raised with any home-grown foods. It wasn’t until my teenage summers that I had the opportunity to experience life in the country.
As an animal lover, I never considered raising animals to kill and eat. I preferred the idea of animals that produced foods like eggs and milk and lived a happy life to old age.
It wasn’t until my 30’s that I full-time began living a country life. I started on a colored-wool sheep farm with some friends, also big animal lovers. Raising chickens for meat was rare, eggs were the goal.
It wasn’t their favorite thing to do, but extra lambs were raised and sent off to the butcher, providing healthy home grown meat for the table. Until you’ve eaten meat from healthy farm raised animals, you have no clue what you’re missing.
It wasn’t until my 40’s that I started my own chicken flock. I eased into it rescuing a chicken here, adopting a few there, and learning as I went. While attending a few poultry auctions I learned of the amazing variety of sizes, shapes and colors that chickens come in.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw a cage full of Speckled Sussex hens. They were the most strikingly beautiful chickens I had ever seen. I wasn’t prepared to rescue them, but knew that one day I would have some. Back then, raising chickens for meat was the furthest thing from my mind.
For 10 years I ran an all-bird rescue with some friends. I was the only one with room for poultry, so was the designated
chicken rescuer, on a little one acre farm. Over the years I collected quite a menagerie of chickens laying wonderful multicolored eggs of all sizes.
I had to be very creative keeping roosters separated, while scheduling free-range time for everyone on alternate days. For all those years and all those chickens, I could honestly tell people that I wasn’t raising chickens for meat, and had no intention of it.
That seemed to put people at ease when surrendering chickens, if they had a guilty conscience. (But I did eat store-bought chicken regularly.)
By this time I had my own flock of sheep and raised lambs sent out for butchering. I even raised some rabbits for meat, but couldn’t imagine killing any of my chickens, not even the most ornery rooster.
I love birds of all kinds, especially chickens and I had rescued all kinds of birds from the tiniest finch to peacocks and everything in between, including: parrots large and small, ducks, geese, pigeons, doves, you name it.
Fast forward, I’m closer to 60 than any other round number. Since I started keeping chickens, life has really changed. I’ve moved more than half way across the country to a nice 5 acre property and for the very first time have considered raising chickens for meat.
I no longer can stomach eating animals that aren’t treated well or fed right, no matter how cheap their meat is on sale or in the drive-thru, and organic free-range chicken at the market really pinches the pocketbook. I guess I’ve arrived at the point in life where 1 + 1 finally equals 2 and raising specific chickens for meat has become the answer.
One day, while surfing through Craigslist, Farm & Garden section, I found a local guy selling Cuckoo Marans cockerels for $2 or 3 each. This is a nice large dual purpose French breed known for their dark chocolaty brown eggs and excellent meat.
These 13 half-grown boys were gangly plucked things, eating each others feathers, but basically healthy … now I was really raising chickens for meat. We got them home, threw together a make-shift pen with roost and voila!
Every day I studied them, looking for reasons not to keep most, a crooked toe, wry tail, poor confirmation, and signs of aggression… as they grew muscle and beautiful feathers, free-ranged and matured.
My loving eye for chickens and roosters was turning hunter and the boys seemed aware of it, always suspicious of my presence.
After a few weeks I mixed them with my laying flock and all was well, but in the back of my mind, I knew that I and these extra roosters would soon have to face the music. On-line I studied multiple methods for dispatching chickens and harvesting their meat, picking the best ones for me.
I chose the no plucking, no gutting method, which I’m sure after 100 chickens I will be quite proficient at. (Raising chickens for meat is the easy part.)
I have to laugh at myself, being so “all-thumbs” and uncertain about an activity that has kept humans alive for many thousands of years. You can take the girl out of the city, but…well, just hope for the best.
I did sell one of the roosters to a neighbor for his hens and kept two for breeding. As for the rest, the meat is excellent.