Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Meat chicks - yea or nay?

If you had asked me last week what I thought of raising meat chickens, I would have said “BLEH.” This week I am feeling more positive about the experience.

Over a year ago our middle son decided to quit eating commercially produced meat. He told us chicken was the worst, due to inhumane conditions on the “chicken farms.”  We continued to eat store-bought chicken, but slowly began modifying our meat choices, in part so that he could eat dinner with us, and in part recognizing the validity of his concerns. (In our freezer right now are venison, free-range beef and squirrel.)

We have been chicken farmers for five or six years, mostly for the eggs, though we have occasionally stewed a surly rooster. After our son’s change of diet, we began mulling over the idea of raising meat birds – chickens bred specifically to be eaten, raised more compassionately, and not fed antibiotics and hormones.

After consulting with a neighboring chicken farmer, we decided to go for it. We took delivery of 50 Cornish Rock chicks (half for us, half for our neighbor) about a month ago.

We had no idea what we were getting into.

These chickens are eating, drinking and pooping machines. Their prime directive:  GROW! They fall on food like starving rats, pushing and shoving to get their share, squawking as they are stepped on by their inconsiderate mates. Because they eat so much, they excrete copious amounts – sometimes into the food or water, frequently on each other. Ugh.

By the time they were two weeks old, the brood pen was a stinking pit, despite our best efforts. Because the chickens were plucking each other’s feathers, they were half naked. These were the most smelly, unattractive creatures we had ever seen.

Just be glad I don't have smell-o-vision . . . 
After our fellow farmer took home his half of the chicks, the situation improved somewhat. The chickens feathered out a bit more and needed less food and water. They were still stinkers, though. Flies swarmed the pen. We began to feel some sympathy for professional chicken farmers.

In the process of breeding these chickens to grow fast, their brains must have shrunk. Few of these birds know how to scratch the ground.  They won’t go in or out of an enclosure on their own. In short, they are even dimmer than a regular chicken, and that’s saying something.

Last Sunday we moved them out of the brood pen and into the chicken yard, a.k.a. Chicken Gitmo. My husband is still working on the prison yard for the chickens (see I love/hate chickens), but those stinky chicks could not live in that box another day.

Lounging in Gitmo.  It was 96 degrees today, and the poor things were panting!
Ah, much better. No longer do they frantically stampede the food dish. They walk around some and peck at delectable morsels on the ground, as any respectable chicken would. They don’t feel the need to snatch each other’s feathers, and so they are more appropriately clothed. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they don’t stink.

Live and learn, right? We were not prepared for their growth rate. These 4-week-old chicks are three times larger than our 5-week-old regular chicks. They need to be moved out of the brood pen into a larger yard by two weeks. We shouldn’t start with so many in the brood pen, either – 25 might be a better number.

The next step will be processing these chickens when they are about six weeks old and weigh six to eight pounds. This will be a very large, unpleasant job.

After all that work is done, the expenses calculated, and the first chicken eaten, a family decision will be made. Shall we do this again? Was it worth it? I’ll keep you posted.

Favorite spot in the garden:

The big bloomer today is the autumn or cherry sage (Salvia greggii). This is the workhorse in my garden, gaily blooming without much attention off and on from spring through fall, and attracting hummingbirds and butterflies. All I have to do is prune them back once or twice a year. I have a long skinny bed along a north wall with a variety of shades, from white to purple, but those aren’t blooming yet. Perhaps it will be the favorite for another day!


  1. No matter the expense, I would say it would be worth it to know where your meat is coming from. I haven't gotten there -yet- but am anxious every time I eat beef (mad cow) and rarely drink milk (hormones, now possible radiation). Raising chickens is something we have talked about, but DH is highly allergic to them, so we have not. Good luck with your chickens. I hope you deem it a success.

  2. those chickens are MANIACS!!!!!!!!!!!! we will never raise them again, MOTHER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! please?

  3. @HG - thanks! We ate the first one last night - good, but tougher than store-bought.
    @anon - we'll see.