Raising Meat Birds
Bringing my first batch of laying hens home was almost as exciting as having a human baby. Turns out, chicks are awfully cute, for three weeks. Then that’s it: they’re not cute.
They’re not super cute for long and they’re nothing like human babies.
Human babies grow up and engage and get curious and become their own distinct selves. As I’m writing that sentence, I realize that baby chicks do that too. ChickenTV is a thing because watching chickens is interesting. They grow up and engage and get curious and become distinct chickens.
But, take my word for it, it’s not the same it’s meat birds. Meat birds eat, drink, and poop. They force laying hens out of the way and trample each other in their way to the feed trough. And every time I feed them, it appears like they haven’t eaten for days.
And yet, every batch of new babes is an interesting baby addition to my world.
So when I headed to the farm supply shop for another batch of chicks, this time Cornish rock chicks (the meat bird variety, not the egg laying variety), I was excited to include another batch of babies to our homestead.
I was conflicted over this batch though. These chicks wouldn’t be named: because we would eat them. These chicks wouldn’t be engaged as though they were our friends: because we would eat them. These chicks would get the happy homestead life that all our animals would get, except that: we would eat them.
Still, they were just as cute.
Until they weren’t.
Since I’m their main mama, providing them fresh water and feed throughout the day and scootching them back to their sleeping quarters in the evening, they kinda like my presence. I know because when I bend down to put water in their bowl, they hide under me like baby chicks do, and they follow me to the coop, like baby chicks do, with their chicken mama.
Clearly, I’m their chicken mama.
Which makes putting them in the oven to roast at 450 degrees for an hour kinda mentally challenging.
And I haven’t even experienced processing day yet. (I hear that’s a pill).
So far, four chicks have died early on. This happens with regularity when one has chicks, it often is unexplainable, and it is always sad.
The first day, three babes didn’t survive. Dehydration from a hot day? You can never know for sure in the first twenty four hours.
This struck me as a much more challenging homestead effort: raising my own roast chickens.
Turns out, they’re still chicks. They still need infant love and attention. They need someone to make sure their bumbs aren’t too poopy, they’re getting regular bowls of fresh water, and their food trough is filled.
Growing herbs for our chickens? I throw in some herbs into the coop just like I do for the laying hens.
Raising Cornish cross meat birds is a whole lot different than raising laying hens. Research required.
Processing meat birds was not as I expected.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to do the actual kill, as I had a very experienced processor, but I did help defeather for hours.
I was surprised that except for the initial placement of chicken in the kill cones, much of the processing was much like me prepping a chicken for roasting.
It wasn’t a pleasant day, but it did help me become a little more congruent in my meat-eating ways. Roast chicken doesn’t arrive on styrofoam plates in a grocery store. Our flock of eleven are now tucked in the freezer awaiting Sunday dinner.
Actually, my daughter have already roasted the first weeks ago. Delicious it was. (And gigantic!) The discussion of that can be viewed on our YouTube cooking demonstration here: