The Half-Way Farm Report 2013 Part One – Meat Birds

Nov 3, 2013 | Half Way Farm | 15 comments

VEGANS, PETA PEOPLE – this post is not for you.  🙂

The numbers are in.

The basement is full of herbs, apples and some quarts.
The “homestead fridge” is full of potatoes, squash and seeds.
The freezer full of chickens.

Whew.
I wish there was a vacation on the horizon.

I am so excited to share this with you and even more excited about next year.
Let’s talk turkey chickens. 
In April $87 worth of Red Ranger chicks arrived at our local post office.   We were just getting over a near-death experience from the flu.  And of course, I was pregnant.  Ugh.


I chose Freedom Rangers for a few reasons – they are “french” (mais bien sur) and I had not heard impressive things about the Cornish Cross.  I wasn’t in the mood to deal with birds who were sickly from growing too fat too fast.   Rangers take a bit longer to grow than a Cornish Cross but they are known for being great free-rangers and I wanted to save money on feed. 

We kept the chicks in the barn with a heat lamp and feed.  We got 36 and I had to kill one right off the bat because she was born with no eyes and would not eat.  That was my first “killing” – ever.  

As they grew bigger we moved them into the garden barn and penned them in with one of those toddler octagons.  On warm days we would bring them outside to “teach” them to free-range.  


Finally they became too big for the octagon and we built a chicken tractor (of sorts).  Joel works so much that everything we do has to be done FAST and I had been researching PVC pipe chicken tractors but there were to many details to convey to him during a driveway meeting so we settled on using the two by fours we had, chicken wire and a tarp.  
The point of a chicken tractor is to move it around your lawn after the chickens have had their way with a particular patch of grass.  You are supposed to build them light enough that the wife and kids can move them – ahem.  Ours is a bohemith.  We have to pull it with our Suburban with straps and a furniture dolly under one side.  I have no idea how other people keep night time predators out of their chicken tractors.  We lost a few birds to having their FEET chewed off and then being left for dead.  This was due to small gaps from uneven yard so Joel jerry-rigged barriers with extra two-by-fours.  It was a PAIN IN THE BUTT and he had to spend A LOT of time re-doing them every time we would move the tractor which we got more and more lazy about.  It took TOO MUCH time.  We will have to re-think some things next year.

Finally at nine weeks we watched as many You-Tube videos as we could stomach, rented our equipment, sharpened our knives and prepared for the worst best.  I was eight months pregnant, the weather had been unseasonably cool but of course, that day it was ninety degrees.

Here’s me the day of screwing around with the self cam for Facebook.

The water heater we rented would not work so we opted to build a fire over the fire pit, put down a grate and  got the water to the proper temp.


We set up a flea market tent and hung our first four birds with slip knots and went for it.  With four little helpers mind you.  It was NOT fun.  It smells.  Blood was spraying everywhere when those birds would flap around as they hung from the tent and then the bad news.  As the feathers came off the first birds we both let out a disappointing, “Oh Sh–.”  It was the most anorexic, pathetic looking bird you have ever seen.  But we were already into it and had to keep going.

 Oh my gosh – does this look like a hillbilly set up or what???  Look at all that crap in the background!!!  I put my foot down a couple weeks ago and hid all that crap behind the other barn!!!
The observation deck.


We did 13 birds in four hours. 
Just embarassing.   
Joel killed. 
I gutted.  
On the final bird I suddenly barfed everywhere and Joel said I was done and to go jump in the pool.

My hero husband then put his foot down and said he was paying to have the rest done.  Our schedule was full for the next few weeks putting the next chance we could do it at nine months pregnant.   I threw a fit.  For $4.25 a bird to process I felt like that was sabotaging the whole point.  “But not because you don’t think I can do it right?”  I whined.  “No Ang, because I know you CAN.”  
We feed those last 17 birds as much feed as we could muster for another two weeks and kept them penned up.  Upon visiting with the processor he said they were very impressive birds and they liked the amount of dark meat.  He also said he appreciated our goals to free-range our birds but they they were so skinny because they “burned off” everything while they were out running around all day.  He showed us a Cornish Cross he had just done and it was HUGE compared to our paltry 3.5 pound birds. 

Ouch.   Lessons learned.

Here is the breakdown:
Chicks – $87.00
Feed totals $280.00  (All USDA Organic, Non-GMO and all that)
Chicken tractor $200*  (Can be used every year and for turkey, piglets, etc so I don’t “really” count this expense but I will here.)
Additional processing $72.25 

TOTAL $639.00 for 30 organic chickens  ($439* if you don’t count the chicken tractor)

About $21 a bird which may sound horrible but around here the organic chicken CSA’s are $20 a bird – true they are probably bigger than our little things but whatever.  It’s our first year and I am a bit, but but not entirely disappointed.  And really, for me as  Momma who lives 45 minutes from the grocery store you can’t put a price on pulling dinner out of the freezer when it’s needed.  That’s sanity… and it’s priceless.  Not to mention our children learned to care for baby animals, they learned about predators, death, responsibility and delicious, home-grown food.  Lord knows it wasn’t me taking care of those birds.  We named them the Angry Birds but Hoolie’s hysterical Boston accented “Meet Beerds” took over and I think we will always say it that way.

What will we do different next year?

We will TRY Cornish Cross.  It seems that we need to try them in order to really make an educated decision on what’s best for our farm.   I do look forward to the fact that we won’t have to keep them around as long.  A local farmer told us to supplement them with calcium and we won’t have any problems with their legs.   They will go in the chicken tractor but we will not let them free range.  
Will we process them ourselves?  The jury is still out.  I think we should – Joel isn’t that interested. 
I would like to do more – at least 60 total throughout the year.  Next year with quicker growing birds and the expense of the chicken tractor out of the way I expect a much better R.O.I.

There is something pretty empowering about raising your own meat.  I could really get used to it.

Up next –
Produce.




15 Comments

  1. Christi

    Thanks for this honest look! We are considering meat birds for next year, so I’m happy to have read your take. Can’t wait to read your next installment! xo

    Reply
  2. Sharon Morrison

    Well even your hillbilly picture had a beautiful rose bush showing!!

    I would go with my grandmother to the barn yard to get dinner. She would catch a chicken and twist his neck and he would run around until he died. She would gut it, and bring it in the house and singe it over an open burner on the wood stove. Then cut it up and fry it in deep grease!!
    Damn that was good chicken!!

    Love your blog…and now my 24 yo Granddaughter loves to follow you. She is learning about gardening and raising children from you.

    hugs

    Reply
  3. Marta Montenegro Martin

    LOL! Yeah, we’ve been eating $30 tomatoes and $20 squash…its all a learning curb. Can’t wait to hear about you produce!

    Reply
  4. sandra hagan

    Thank you for sharing the good the bad and the ugly.

    Good and wonderful wishes on your farming and anything else.

    Reply
  5. Heather @ Post Road

    If you can find some friends to barter labor for birds it is SO worth it! It is amazing what some extra hands will do for the butchering process. My mom, dad, and half my family usually show up…. ok, it is probably overkill but it sure helps, even if just to help watch babies, etc.. If you are able to rent or borrow or build a whizbang chicken plucker (look it up on youtube) it makes the process a piece of cake. We did 60 birds this year in less than 2 hours, but that was with tons of help, the whiz bang, and our 4th year doing it. We do the cornish cross but have been interested in the freedom rangers. We tried the dark cornish cross one year and those ended up being tiny even though we butchered them in the snow, so we won’t do those again. The last couple years we had no problems with leg issues. But we did open up the tractor in the evening for them to fly around and come and go a bit and that may have helped strengthen their legs? Not really sure, or maybe it was a coincidence. We lost a bunch of birds early thanks to my overzealousness and not being set up for it… and a really crappy spring….. bah, won’t do that again! ok…. sorry for the chicken rant. I love having it in the freezer, even though it’s a lot of work it’s totally worth it! And hey, even if there isn’t much meat on those birds, at least you can still make the best bone broth around 😉 good luck!

    Reply
  6. shirlgirl

    We let our chickens free range but caged them mostly at the end and that worked pretty well. We would let them out a little in the morning and then put some feed in their cage midday and left them in after that.

    Reply
  7. PolishMishka

    We live in northern Indiana and have raised meat birds on several occassions … had 8 pounders once! We have butchered them ourselves but prefer to let our Amish friends do it for us. They give us the choice of vaccuum sealing them or letting us package them. The last time we had chickens butchered and vaccuum sealed it was around $2.75 a bird. You might want to ask around, maybe you have an Amish butcherer closer than you know.
    PolishMishka of Churubusco, IN

    Reply
  8. à la parisienne

    You made it to chicken 13 before you barfed-and you were pregnant! I would’ve tossed my cookies at chicken number one. I’ve only experienced the butchering of chickens once in my lifetime (in an 8th grade ag class) and I will never forget the awful smell from dipping the chickens in boiling water, and I will never forget my best friend gagging as she removed the “innards.” I have to hand it to my public schooling for that experience!
    Okay, I would freak out if I happened upon a chicken with its feet gnawed off. Good luck figuring out the chicken tractor. Maybe something with wheels? Even in our small suburban yard, we have uneven places on the ground with our portable chicken run, but ours are egg layers and I put them up at night.

    Mandy

    Reply
  9. Mandy

    awesome! I’d love to try this {if we ever get land!} but the hubby is not so keen seems how he’s heard many stories of what a pain in the @$$ butcering is.

    Reply
  10. Steve Runyan

    Cornish are worth it, no matter what anyone says.
    Most of ours were raised by broody hens, that had help with tubs tipped over with lights hanging in front of them, to help the mommy out.
    The first batch, one hen raised 50 cornish cross on grass for us.

    A little tip next time you process. Rather then the chickens flopping free over the garbage can, spraying blood over, get a lightweight plastic garden pot that is at least a foot deep. Cut a head sized hole in the bottom, and two little holes on each side at the top.
    Use a dowel or round tomato stake that is wider then the trashcan of barrel.
    Insert chickens head into the hole, with body contained in pot. Slide dowel into place, and lay it on top of the barrel.
    Slit neck and leave it be for a minute or two.
    There will be no splatters, and the sights are well hidden.

    And above all, look into building a Whizbang chicken plucker! It will save you hours of work!
    God bless, Paula

    Reply
  11. Sue@CountryPleasures

    And that is why we raise chickens just for the eggs! Been “there” and done that! Oh, and don’t store your potato’s in the fridge, they will last longer in a cool, dark place!

    Reply
  12. shirlgirl

    I think I am jealous of facebook, wishing that you were blogging instead. I am really interested in your research. I think that actually you did not come out bad for your first year on the farm. Especially with all of the moving in, renovating, giving birth, you know all of that stuff. The end result I believe will be amazing.

    Reply
  13. shirlgirl

    I just read one of your readers comments about barter. Maybe that could be the solution to your bird butchering problem. Eggs or chickens in exchange for someone butchering your chickens. I know years ago we had some chickens and it came time to butcher but we didn’t have a clue. A hunter friend of ours delighted in doing it for us. He enjoyed the chicken.

    Reply
  14. shirlgirl

    I had the opportunity to go on a -Chicken Coup Tour. It was in a small town in Texas where my brother now lives and it was fun. Not only did I pick up a lot of good ideas for mine but they also had fun with their chicken houses. All kinds of good ideas for keeping out the varmints, etc…we lost 2 of ours to predators. Great fun if they ever have one in your area.

    Reply
  15. Cathy M~(checkitoff)

    Angela, I really enjoyed this post! It was informative, funny and cute…love the videos!! We live in Ohio, close to Amish, and was thinking that might be an option to see if somewhere near you can trade services. Two of my closest friends have built these amazing chicken coops and it has been fun watching them with their egg laying chickens. One friend’s daughter is selling the eggs (she is 11!) but sadly coyotes got to them and she lost almost all of them. I think she may have left the door unlocked 🙁 Love reading your blog, just wondering how you have time with 5 kiddos!! Amazing!!! hugs, cathy

    Reply

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