****Warning Graphic Content*****
If you are not interested in raising chickens for meat, please do not read this post.
Chicken is the meat that is most consumed by Americans. Beef is a close second. But for those of us that are trying to live a more self sustaining lifestyle, chicken is the most available and easiest to raise when it comes to meat animals. But how do we do it humanely? How do we make sure that the quality of chicken doesn’t stop at the meat? Instead making sure that the entire existence of that meat chicken is happy, healthy and most importantly humane?
Raising Meat Chickens
To start, purchase chicks that are from a reputable hatchery. I’m not trying to throw shade on any specific ones, but we use McMurray Hatchery. We tried them because other homesteaders speak highly of them. Now, we do too. We have ordered four batches of chickens and one batch of ducks from McMurray and couldn’t be happier with them. Other than a few losses, which is to be expected from any hatchery, all of our chickens and ducks have grown up to be very healthy and productive birds.
If you decide you want to hatch and raise your own chicks or simply cull your roos, then the process is still all the same. We use this incubator from Tractor Supply and love it. We have about a 85% hatch rate with it. If you don’t know, that’s pretty solid numbers.
Brood them in an area that is safe and with good airflow. This will keep them from getting sick and allow them to thrive from a young age. Handle them regularly so that they are not scared when you approach them and they know you mean good things. When you transition them to a tractor or outdoor setting, try to do it calmly. Also, if it’s possible, allow them to free range.
Let’s be real, the vast majority of homesteaders love their animals. While we know that these animals are used for meat, that doesn’t mean that we don’t form some sort of an attachment. We’re human. But at the same time, if we let them free range, they are living their best possible life. They get to do “chicken shit” as Jared says. So while their time here may be limited, let them enjoy it.
Which Breed of Chicks To Buy
This is a widely debated subject and to be honest, I don’t have an answer for you. I wrote a post about the best dual purpose chickens here. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be trial and error. My suggestion would be to order a meat assortment from your hatchery. There are a couple of different birds that are specifically bred for quick growing meat. There are other breeds that grow a little slower but are a little bit healthier in terms of genetics. By getting a meat assortment from your hatchery, you can figure out which chickens you like the most.
We have ordered the Cornish X and we weren’t thrilled with it. It could be because we let them grow a little too much. Or let them free range a little too long. Either way, our next order will probably be a mix of American Bresse which is usually ready to butcher in 12-16 weeks, Murray’s Red Broiler which is ready around 10-12 weeks and Delaware Broiler which is ready around 13-14 weeks.
We are also looking to close the holes in our food security. That means that the Red Broiler, while it may or may not taste good, will not allow us to actually hit that goal. The other chickens on our property will allow us to close the meat chicken hole, so it’s not a hard no.
Because we incubate our own chicks, this allows us to also save money because we don’t have to purchase new chicks every season. It also allows us to have butcher a handful every couple of months instead of 50 all at once.
The hardest day on any homestead is butchering day. While we are excited for the opportunity to fill our freezer, it can be heartbreaking to know how it happens. Some people don’t have a problem with butchering day. Other’s struggle with it. I’m the latter. No matter how many times we have butchered, it doesn’t get any easier.
The biggest thing that we do on butchering day is to fast the chickens overnight. This helps make sure that their crop and other digestive organs are empty. It also helps us round up the chickens in the morning without stressing them out. We shake the bucket, and they come running. While this may seem like leading a lamb to slaughter, and it is, it also keeps everything low stress.
Some will tell you not to stress the animal because it makes the meat taste bad. They are correct. But for me, it’s also about making sure that the last moments of their life is not spent absolutely terrified. That is not humane and I can only imagine what it would feel like to be chased down and then killed. No.
One of the things we do, because we handle them from chicks, is to put them on their back. This puts them into a trance like state and allows for the actual killing to be much easier on them.
Once the bird has been killed and the head, feet, feathers and organs removed, we will put them in ice water to soak and allow the chicken’s body to go through the rigor mortis phases. Yes, gross, but this is how your chicken from the grocery store is handled as well.
After a few days in the water, we will start breaking down the chickens into wings, thighs, breasts, etc. or bag it up for whole chicken. Then everything is vacuum sealed and thrown in the freezer. Sometimes we use these bags for whole chickens or these for smaller pieces. While we really like the vacuum seal bags, they do get very expensive, very fast. We will also freeze the head, feet and organs for dog food so that as much as possible is used.
At the end of the day, you have to do what is right for your family, your farm and your checkbook. If you want to raise them, but not butcher, there are a ton of people that do it. You just have to reach out to them.
If you like this post feel free to share it on your social media and follow us on the social medial links below! And don’t forget to subscribe to stay up to date on all our posts!