Chickens: Ten Weeks Later

Been awhile since I’ve posted, but spring is a crazy busy time on the farm. Butchering the meat chickens has been my biggest job lately, and we’re finally down to the last handful. I find it’s best to butcher no fewer than four and no more than six meat chickens per day. Fewer than that, and it’s hardly worth the time it takes to set everything up, clean / sterilize the eviscerating table, etc. More than that, the scalding water begins to get too cold, my shoulders begin aching, and the flies really start to swarm.

I butcher the biggest chickens first, starting at about eight weeks of age. Most of them are males. After clearing them out, the pens become more spacious for the remaining birds — and the females in particular have the chance to reach more of their growth potential. I don’t weigh the fully-butchered birds, but each one gives us plenty of meat. Enough for our family and two guests, or enough for our family plus leftovers.

In case you’re wondering why virtually everyone raises some version of Cornish Cross chickens for meat, and uses other breeds pretty much exclusively for eggs, here’s a good picture of the size difference after ten weeks between a meat chicken and an egg chicken. I don’t need to tell you which is which:

Here’s another look inside the pen:

In the past, I would simply leave each butchered bird whole and freeze it that way. That’s fine if you intend to roast each bird whole, which we used to do. But as time went on, we found we much preferred cooking the chickens in pieces (whether on the grill, or in some other way). Also, a cut-up chicken takes up a lot less room in the freezer than a whole chicken. Bottom line is, I’m now cutting each bird up into pieces as I butcher it. All the pieces go in a big pile as I work, and then I sort them at the end. In each gallon-sized freezer bag, I put: two drumsticks, two thighs, two wings, and two breasts. I tend to skin the breasts, but leave the skin on the other pieces. All the remaining carcases (and necks, and feet) go into a really large turkey-sized freezer bag, to be used later for soup (one big bag of carcass scraps makes one pot of soup). Then I take all the hearts and livers and put them in their own small package. It’s taken years to settle on this approach, and for all I know I may refine it further next year, but for now it’s perfect.

And freshly-butchered-and-grilled chicken sure tastes perfect. This was our Memorial Day dinner:

So, I should finish up butchering the last of the chickens in the next couple of days. Then we’ll turn the egg pullets loose in the barn (they should begin laying this fall). And it’ll be “mission accomplished” for the chicken tractors in the garden. (Fortunately, we didn’t lose a single bird to predators.) Mrs. Yeoman Farmer will be able to plant her squashes very soon.

Note in the pictures above just how thick the grass is inside the pen. That’s what it looks like when the pen is first moved to a new patch of ground. Now see what the ground looks like that they’ve already gone over (this view is looking north; our hay field is the long grass just beyond the garden fence):

No wonder it’s called a “tractor” system. Here’s another shot, looking the other direction, showing the other pen:

Just imagine how great those squashes will grow in this nice rich soil. Squash soup and roast chicken…now there’s a combo for this fall.

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