How we raise Meat Birds

Most people are squeamish about raising their own meat.  I can understand that!  I am an animal lover and hate to see anyone in pain.

But I also care about my family.  I am concerned about how the American food system is taking care of their products.  Hmmm, how is sending chickens to China to be processed a good thing?????  So, I combat this by raising my own animals.  I know what they’re fed, how they’re treated, how happy their life is, how big the shelter is, etc.

My philosophy is make sure all their days are good until their last day.  And that last day is not a happy day for anyone!!!  I miss them when they are gone.  But it makes me appreciate their gift to me more now that I know what happened in order to have it.

Last year, we ventured into the world of pigs/pork.  I LOVED it.  Loved their antics.  My husband and kids are loving their bacon and smoked pork chops.  And say it is the best tasting EVER.  I love being able to provide for my family.  Getting ready to order my next batch for this year.  Halfway through last season, I decided to add more pigs so I could sell those and make costs even for my own meat.  If you taking care of one, why not add a few more!

One thing I noticed was how quickly we clear out a freezer!!  When you load it in the freezer as you come home from the butcher, you think, how can we eat all this!?!?!  But I gave a lot out as Christmas gifts – to someone who gave us their leftover corn, to our neighbors, grandparents, aunt/uncle, etc.  And we might eat at home more than the average person?  I have no clue on that.

I bought 65 butchered chickens last year and we don’t have ANY left!!!  My kiddos are missing chicken meals.

So this year we will be focusing on raising meat birds/broilers/cornish cross.

We have butchered our own roosters and they weren’t my favorite taste so I researched more into it.  First off, the roosters we ate were not the eating type.  Second, I didn’t let them sit (to remove rigor mortis) before cooking.  Third, did not cook them the best way to soften them.

I looked into raising Freedom Rangers.  This is said to be a more natural type that doesn’t gorge themselves to death and are better raised on pasture.  BUT I was concerned as my husband is not keen on the dark meat flavor of regular grocery store chickens so how would he be on these?  So that is why I am raising Cornish Cross this year.

As I posted earlier, we hatched 21 eggs.  Then we purchased 24 more eggs and 24 chicks.  If these all hatch/reach maturity, that would be 69 chickens but that won’t be enough for a year AND provided my butchering helpers with chicken too.   So we’ll do at least 1 more set of eggs and chicks.

For the first 2 weeks, they live in our garage in a horse trough with shavings, a heat lamp and well-covered to keep out our cats.  I am able to check on them regularly and keep them in clean food and water.  Now meat birds are different than layers!  Whoo Whee!!!  Smellier, messier, eat more, swim in their water bottle and uglier.  And since they can gorge themselves to death, after their first week, I take out their food at night.   I buy all of our feed from Scratch and Peck but have it delivered through Azure Standard.  Since we will be eating these birds, I want to make sure everything that they eat is as natural as possible.  For the first 8 weeks, they are to be on Starter feed.  Then they will be moved to Grower feed.  I’ll supplement their feeding with a local farmer’s scratch mix as it will cut feed costs.

Once they reach about 2 weeks old, we move them to the brooder that my husband built in our chicken coop.  I think he did a pretty good job designing it but I may be a little biased.  He is so resourceful!  As our house was being built, every scrap that was thrown out, he took and stored in a building her on the farm.  And he manages a warehouse so every time something comes in on pallets, he brings them home.  Other than buying hinges, he had everything on the farm!

This brooder hopefully will be all they need til butcher time!

We’ll butcher them at around 8 weeks if they are around 6 lbs before butchering.

Incubating Eggs

My Christmas gift

Never would I have expected that I’d ever get an egg incubator as a gift or even use one!  But this past Christmas, my hubby splurged on me and got me a highly rated Brinsea Octagon Incubator.

Brinsea Octogan Incubator

I never wanted an incubator as I thought they would be really hard to use – have to worry about turning the eggs at the proper time, maintaining proper humidity, la da da da da…….  No thank you!

Since we have around 75 egg layers right now, we decided first to hatch meat birds.  We order from a local Idaho hatchery (Dunlap Hatchery) and they ship eggs only in February through May.

But incubator is absolutely amazing!  I could see why my hubby picked this one.  First off, we made sure the temperature would remain the proper 99.5 degrees for 12 hours.  Then we added the water into one vessel and added the eggs, POINTY end down. This helped the growing chick have the proper amount of air in the egg.  Wrote on the calendar the reminders to add water every other day to one vessel and then keep both vessels filled the last three days.  That was IT!  The incubator did it’s thing!  The octagon shape made it possible for the motor to turn the entire incubator.  As it turned out, our “due date” was Good Friday!  Nothing like having baby chicks for Easter!

We finally remembered to candle the eggs about 2/3 way through and found 2 of our 24 eggs were not growing.  One had invisible cracks that we could only see through candling and the other egg might not have been fertilized as nothing was growing in there.

Do you know what candling is?  I didn’t before we researched incubators.  How we candled our eggs?  Hubby cut a small hole in a piece of cardboard – maybe an inch in diameter?  Then he put the cardboard on top of his high powered flash light.  We held the egg over the light (in a dark room) and could see blood vessels and dark masses in the growing eggs.  Made this mama nervous as those eggs were worth a lot of effort and my kids were handling them in the dark!  But thankfully no one were harmed.

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On the night before the expected hatch date, I went and sat next to the incubator to see if I could see any pecks in the shells or hear any peeps like I had heard others talk about.  Nothing. But early in the morning on Good Friday, my oldest runs into my bedroom screaming, “A chick has hatched!!!!”  I run in to the laundry room and look in the incubator and there it is, as fluffy and loud as it can be!!!  Several other eggs had holes in their shells too!  By that night we had 12 hatch.  Pretty good odds.  50/50 already!  By Easter morning, 21 out of the 22 had hatched.  After leaving the last egg in the incubator for 2 more days, just in case, we decided to open the unhatched egg up.  Looked fine but maybe it ran out of air??  No idea what happened but that’s nature.

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I had heard that incubated eggs have a very high failure rate.  But my hubby loves to research and he made sure he paid more for a highly rated machine.  I now have to agree with his wisdom! Our second batch of eggs are now halfway through their incubation time.  We’ll have to see if the rate remains that high this time!

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Because my goal is to raise all of our meat chickens to last our family’s needs for a year and I only have a 24 egg incubator, we will be ordering chicks and eggs the next few orders.  Last year, I bought 64 birds and that wasn’t enough.  The kids can’t wait to butcher date as they are missing chicken meals.

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