Raising Chickens For Meat

Long time readers know that my wife and I got laying hens (read: chickens you raise to lay eggs for you, not chickens that you raise to eat) back in 2011.     I wrote a number of posts about our chickens, some of which you may find entertaining.  If you like videos of dogs who are confused by baby chicks, you’ll like this old post.  Oscar showed his talents as a working dog in these videos, and this is one of my all time favorites.

Today, we embark on the next level of country homesteading: meat birds.   To the uninitiated, this means I plan to raise chicks to eat – which means: yes, I will have to kill them.  And butcher them.   Although I have been a part of the slaughtering and butchering process with a neighbor’s cow, this will be my first endeavor to provide my own non-vegetable food source.

Normally when people think of “meat birds” they think of the Jumbo X Rock – a fat, white feathered bowling ball that has been engineered to efficiently convert feed to meat.  These birds grow so quickly that by the time they’re 3 months old they are basically stationary, and the breed is known for having severe leg issues, on account of the fact that their bodies grow so fast that their legs can’t handle their own weight.

My neighbor raised these birds, and I helped him slaughter them a few weeks ago.  These birds are, in a word, disgusting.  Despite the fact that my neighbor had them in a movable “chicken tractor” (stay tuned, there will be more details about this in follow up posts) and didn’t overcrowd them, the birds produce so much waste that they’re basically eating/pooping machines who wallow in their own filth.   They stink.  They leave an area of manure wherever you move them to.   I certainly would have eaten the birds that we slaughtered, but the process was offputting – the birds themselves just seemed gross.    They’re also so perfectly engineered that when you go to slaughter them they don’t/can’t even run away on account of their heft.  You can just put them on the ground and they sit there.

So I decided to go a slightly different route, choosing Red Rangers and Pioneers from the Murray McMurray chick catalog.  Although I won’t be able to let these birds free range, on account of the bobcat and numerous other predators in my area, I have built them a chicken tractor so they will be able to move around different areas of my field.

I expect that this process will be a fun one to chronicle on the pages of this blog, which I will begin with this post of the baby chicks that arrived via USPS this morning.    When my phone rang at 6:30am and the caller ID said “US GOVERNMENT,” I knew that either Zerohedge’s paranoid fantasies had come true and the government was finally calling to come and steal all of my liberties, or that it was the post office calling to tell me that my chicks were in.  (Spoiler alert: it was the latter).

As I drove home with the chicks excitedly peeping within the box on my passenger seat, I thought “happiness is a box of chicks.”  Then I thought “in 3 months I’m going to eat you.”

box-o-chickens

box-o-chickens

Yep – they come via U.S. Mail.   Unfortunately, I had missed the order at my local farm store, so I had to eat the shipping cost myself: $25 shipping, which I spread over 15 birds.  The total order with vaccinations, shipping, and starter nutrients was $80, or about $5 per bird.   I will keep a spreadsheet of the feed costs and report back at the end, but I’m already fairly certain that I will not reach economies of scale with this batch.    When I opened the box, this is what it looked like:

They're cute for a little while...

They’re cute for a little while…

I got the chicks situated in their initial home: a pine-shavings-lined cardboard box with a heat lamp.   I have a red bulb in the lamp, which explains the spooky aura of this picture:

settling in

settling in

Stay tuned for updates on the growth and adventures of Kid Dynamite Raises Meat Birds in the coming weeks and months.

-KD

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