Category Archives: livestock

Meat Chicken Swath of Destruction

Behind those fuzzy feather beat the hearts of lawn murderers.

I knew this was going to happen, but for some reason it still surprised me.  The chickens scratch and peck at anything that might possibly be edible so they’ve been leaving this trail of destruction in their wake. When the new blades of green grass come under the shadow of our chicken tractor–we’ve affectionately named it “The Nugget-Mobile”–they immediately get devoured by beak and talon.

I’m told the grass will come back greener and healthier than ever, but for now I have to deal with this eyesore of dirt and dung scorched earth.

It’s a sort of destructive lawn roomba (patent pending)

What We Learned From Slaughtering Our Own Chickens

Note from the author: This post is on the graphic side so if you feel hesitation in reading or seeing pictures about butchering animals, it’s probably best to act on that instinct and skip this post. Notes about killing, cutting, and gutting a chicken follow.

Through some connections and conversations over the last couple of weeks, I came across 3 unwanted roosters. They were under a year old (still tender enough for butcher) and the owner had no use for them. A friend and I jumped on the opportunity to practice on some birds before our meat chicken co-op is complete.

At no cost besides time and effort, we could learn the ins and outs of slaughtering and butchering chickens. It would give us an idea of all the work necessary to bring chicken to the table, which ended up being pretty substantial when it’s a small scale like this. With this experience we would know if it was worth it to do it again when our chickens were ready or if we wanted to pay for someone else to do it.

So we both read articles and watched videos, but we knew that like anything else, the real education is in the doing.

Side Note: Some people are happy to teach their kids about the source of meat early on, but I had Mrs. Homesteader take the kiddos for a beach day. I figured that we’d be making plenty of mistakes this first time through (we did) and it might be a little scarring (it was).

You can find better “how-to” articles than this blog. These are just some notes from our first attempt at this.

We used the following equipment:

Table covered in plastic sheeting, metal pots with lids, propane burner and tank, 5-gallon buckets, coolers, rake, wheelbarrow, hammer and nails, plastic jugs, latex gloves, knives, dish soap, gallon-sized plastic bags, and paper towels.

After setting up all our equipment, we nailed a couple of plastic jugs (“kill cones”) to a tree  to hold the chickens upside-down and let the blood drain into a pile of leaves in a wheelbarrow.

Click here for a picture of the chicken draining (warning: graphic)

We set up hot and cold water buckets to loosen the feathers, a bit of dish soap was in the hot bucket since that’s supposed to help.

After a thorough dunking, we pulled the feathers out to prepare them for gutting and then began the messy business of getting rid of the insides.

We re-watched some YouTube videos to make sure we got that part right. Finally we put the chickens in plastic bags to refrigerate for a few days before trying to cook one.

What did we learn?

A thorough setup saves a lot of time and hassle.

Once we started, I ended up darting back and forth a few times to grab various items we hadn’t thought about or didn’t know we would need. Now that we’ve done the whole process, we should be able to get everything setup right at the beginning.

Sharp knives are key.

From the first throat-slitting to the final gutting, we really appreciated how much time had gone into sharpening the knives. It made for a quicker, more humane kill and a much easier time when we were separating the meat.

We need to really swish the chickens.

We were worried about scalding the first chicken too much and accidentally cooking the meat. Unfortunately, our caution led to a long and tedious feather-plucking since we hadn’t scalded it long or thoroughly enough. We learned our lesson and the next 2 were much easier. We made sure to move the wings around and get hot water soaking in every part of the other birds.

Our location has a big bee problem. (not to be confused with a coffee place or over-sized insects)

I knew flies would be attracted to our work, but I had no idea how many bees would join in. There were about a dozen constantly buzzing about, crawling on and, most annoyingly, in the chickens. I was very reluctant to reach inside to get the guts when I suspected there might be a stinger waiting for me. I’m not exactly sure how to fix this problem since doing this inside isn’t an option.

 

In the end, we called the whole process a success and we’ll be better-equipped when our meat chickens are ready to go. We’ll let you know how the meat is!

Homemade Chicken Tractor

A friend of ours delivered this chicken tractor today. It’s part of our mini co-op to raise these 8 little nuggets as a continuing experiment in homesteading and self-sufficiency.

The idea is that you move the chicken tractor to a new spot every 2-3 days so that they don’t completely destroy the land underneath them. If you leave them in place, they’ll eat every blade of grass and leave themselves with little more than a muddy pit. For instance, our 3 hens started out with a chicken run that looked like this:

Pullets are the awkward teenagers of chickens
Here they are as pullets a little over a year ago!

But they soon devoured their salad bar and turned it into a patch of dirt:

All grown up!

With that in mind, the tractor was built with more lightweight materials and included a rope to pull the whole contraption.

Such innovation!

Half of it is covered with a tarp to provide protection from the elements and I was able to hang their water from some of the conduit. Hopefully having it raised off the ground will keep it a little cleaner!

It uses the plastic conduit as ribs and has chicken wire stretched and stapled over that to provide protection from local predators (raccoons, possums, local cats/dogs, Bear Grylls, etc.).

The only thing I’m a little worried about is animals digging under the sides at night. I’ve seen evidence of that with our other chicken coop, but I flared out about a foot of chicken wire at the bottom of that one to make sure they couldn’t get in. I might need to do that to this one as well.

This is plenty of space for 8 meat birds. At approximately 30 square feet, that’s more than double what they actually need to stay relaxed.

And as an after-thought, I think I might be able to re-tool this slightly in the winter to make a hoop house and grow some lettuce or spinach while the snow falls…

Meat Chickens–Fatter and Uglier Every Day

A friend and I decided to try doing some meat chickens over the next couple of months. It’s a fairly low-cost experiment to expand our self-sufficiency and also to have an excuse to build something.

We’re planning on a chicken tractor to house them, which supplies plenty of benefits. I only have an acre of land and it’s in a neighborhood so keeping them contained is a high priority. It also provides sufficient protection from predators like raccoons, possums, and this hawk:

...I pulled a muscle
I ran outside and chucked a shoe at him

It’s been 2 weeks now and they started out fuzzy and cute:

“Cheep Cheep Cheep!”

Since then, they’ve gotten fatter, uglier, and possibly dumber as they move to the next stage as pullets.

The fuzz is slowly disappearing

Apparently, breeding chickens for rapid growth comes at the expense of intelligence. They regularly knock over their food and poop in their water and that doesn’t stop them from turning around and consuming it…

I’ll keep you updated on their continued growth and stupidification