As the day fast approaches for our first group of meat chickens to fulfill their destiny, I can’t help but reflect on all the strange things I have learned raising them over these last 8 weeks. We went with Cornish Rock chickens for this first go around as this was what they had at the feed store! Half of the chickens will go to cuts (breast, thigh, wings etc.) and half will be left whole for roasting. Boy did I learn a lot raising them! I had no idea egg chickens & meat chickens were so different. Night & day.
Here are 8 things I have learned & observed while raising them, and hopefully it helps you if you decide to raise your own meat chickens as well!
- They are dumb. I think they are dumber than the dirt they free range on, truly. I very much respect them for their sacrifice for us, but wow! Every morning I had to send (i.e. gently push) them out the coop door to go out for fresh air & forage, and every night I had to catch every single one and put them back inside the coop. The egg layers line up at the door to race out in the mornings and then promptly go in and put themselves to bed at 6:45pm each night. The “meats” appear to have no idea what is going on at any point of their day. We had a couple of days where we had unexpected rain- as in all of the sudden it was a torrential downpour with thunder & lightening. They just sat in the rain, not because they enjoyed it I don’t think, but I honestly believe they were not aware that anything around them had changed. Later I found them sitting in puddles completely soaked. And again, had to catch every single one of them to put them up for the night.
- They are mean. They fight with each other often. No blood is drawn, but there are constant squabbles.
- They are ugly. The egg layers have beautiful, soft feathers. The meats have little to no feathers on their undersides. So they look half plucked and when you pick them up they are really, really warm since you’re touching their bare skin. Don’t ask me why but I always find this to be really weird sensation. Similar to when you sit in a just vacated chair and it’s still really warm…it’s just kind of weird & a little gross. Maybe I’m the strange one, but this always grosses me out when I have to pick them up each morning/night.
- They eat a ton. Before they were even out of the chick brooder they (21 of them) were eating 50 lbs of food every 2 weeks. They ate a little less feed once they were outside eating weeds, bugs & kitchen scraps. But they never stop eating. They even sit down to eat. I eventually had to limit them to forage only because it got ridiculous.
- They are lazy. Hence the sitting down to eat, and having to be forced to walk outside.
- You have to follow through. Not that we ever hesitated to follow through on our plan to butcher them, but the more I read up on them I learned that if you wait too long to do so, you are being inhumane. These chickens grow super fast. They get huge. We are butchering right at 8 weeks of age. It really should be done at 8-10 weeks of age otherwise their legs will break under their weight & their organs will fail. Sad but true.
- They are fun to watch. They waddle their tubby butts around & make for great chicken watching.
- It’s so worth it. Raising high quality, organic meat at home for my family is the goal. We are lucky to be able to do it.
They are still fun to raise & it will be worth it for the meat. We raised ours on organic feed & free ranging (in their 3,600 SF run). They will end up costing roughly half of the cost of a free range, organic whole chicken at Costco. Winner winner, chicken dinner!