Farming with Friends, Part 2 (Meat Bird Harvest Day)

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Meat_Birds_Harvest_Day

Four months have passed since I wrote Part 1 of this story — in which I recounted details about the farming lessons and ventures I’d embarked upon with the help of my friend Tiffany. This second post finds me just a little more seasoned, but still with much to learn.

I’ve now milked both of Tiffany’s Nubian goats (Cookie and Jammer), giving Tiffany an occasional break from — or at least some company during — this twice-daily chore. My speed (slow!) still leaves much to be desired, but I’m getting the hang of it. :-)

And in mid-November, we harvested the Splash Orpington meat chickens we’d started in the spring, processing not only the birds, but also our thoughts about the results and what we might do differently next time.

Happy Bird-Day!

On November 17, we gathered at Tiffany’s neighbors’ farm to harvest our birds. The neighbors had kindly invited us to use their amazing set-up, complete with a motorized plucker and stainless-steel butchering table.

We were down a few Splash Orpingtons from the 11 I mentioned in my previous post. The sweltering summer heat had taken out two (including the female of Tiffany’s breeding pair), and a hawk had snatched another two. But Tiffany added a few other birds from her flock — including some Copper Marans and a couple of roosters — to boost our production during the harvest.

The harvesters included Tiffany and her husband, Aric; Tiffany’s brother Chris; my husband, Shawn; and me. Shawn and I were newbies, but the others were a precision team who brought us right along. It took about three hours to move 11 birds (one at a time) from the killing cone/drainage pail to a quick dunk in a pot of hot water to the plucking stage (both motorized and manual) to the butchering table and, finally, into plastic zipper bags and a cooler packed with ice.

TiffBucket-Web

TiffTable-Web

Cooler-Web

Return on Investment

We were a little surprised by the small size of several of the birds. Three weighed in at less than 3 pounds; their prolific plumage was disappointingly deceptive!. But the others ranged from 3 to 5 pounds each, which helped make up some ground when it came to the cost per pound, which we determined to be about $6.90.

Not great, but not a disaster, either — especially considering we were pleased with the non-GMO feed they’d eaten and the free-range conditions in which they’d been raised.

Tiffany is pondering a higher-protein feed for the next batch of birds to possibly plump them up a bit more, and she’s considering other breeds that are known for more bulk.

For now, we each have a freezer full of chicken to feed our families for at least a little while. To save freezer space, I roasted four of my chickens right away, deboning the carcasses and saving them for stock while storing the meat more efficiently.

The largest bird takes the place of a turkey on our Thanksgiving table this year — a symbol of gratitude for the farming experience we’ve gleaned with a little (OK, a lot of) help from our friends. :-)

RoastChickens-Web

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Comments

  1. says

    We have 5 hens in our garage that have been laying beautiful eggs for us for over a year. They are now almost 3 years old and will be on the table soon. Looking forward to eating our first home grown meat bird in a while.

  2. Jeremy Sarine says

    My wife and I have now raised two different breeds of dual purpose/meat birds, Rhode Island Red and Delaware, and neither of them has really fleshed out to the size we hoped for. RIRs take up to 16 weeks to get to “Market Weight”, which in our case was 3.5 lbs. The meat was very tasty, but it was tough and stringy and wound up costing us about what you figured for yours. Our Delawares, which were supposed to be a bigger bird when harvested at at 12 weeks, came in even smaller at an average 2.5 lbs (one was 2 lbs even…) and cost about $8.50/lb. We used local, non-GMO feed and kept them in a chicken tractor that we moved daily on decent grass and clover. I actually “pardoned” the two hens because I was afraid they’d dress out at under 1.5 lbs. Hopefully they’re better layers than they were meat birds. Still looking for that heritage bird that can compete with the unnatural Cornish Cross…

  3. says

    I unabashedly use Cornish Cross for my meat birds. For the moment, while I work out the DP birds, they are a fantastic, economical way to raise meat, and the ones that I raise live a fantastic life free ranging and eating organic feed (I feed them organic chick starter throughout their short lives- it’s higher in protein, and organic game bird/meat bird feed is apparently nonexistent).

    But, as I’ve had lots of breeds of chickens and have culled them for meat, I have made some progress. I don’t like Orps or Barred Rocks, I find them to always be significantly smaller than they look (as you found- deceptive feathering). I liked Buckeyes a great deal for meat, plus they’re a threatened heritage bird, so you’d be conserving an important American breed. But because of that they’re harder to find. Also (and this is what I’m going to try this year), look around for someone who has already done all the hard work and developed their own DP meat bird. Most are hella proud of their hard work and want to sell some chicks/eggs and reap the rewards. I found a lady nearby in WI who has developed a meat breed that both develops a large carcass quickly (I think she said 12 or 14 weeks… more than CX but less than most heritage breeds) and breeds true (meaning it’s not an F1 hybrid, like CX). She says she’s been breeding them consistently for 10 years and had excellent results, so I’m hopeful. The person I got my buckeyes from was working on a similar project where she crossed Buckeyes with Dark Cornish, but I haven’t talked to her in a while so I don’t know how her project went overall. I DO know that I bought 4 of her crossed chicks (when I bought my purebreds) and they were some nice bodied, good tasting birds. The one rooster from the batch I kept past the first summer, who is no longer with us because I decided I wanted an EE rooster instead and the two didn’t get along, was at least 20 lbs live and 15ish lbs dressed at a year.

    There are also free range specific meat birds that are like CX, only better for free ranging and generally just acting like chickens, but they don’t get as big. I’ve gotten some Rosambros from MT-DI hatchery before, those are really nice- decently chicken-y but got BIG. Just keep at it, take the advice you’ll get from everyone with a grain of salt, and remember it’s all a learning experience!

  4. Jo Anne T says

    My husband and I have an 1-acre “farm” and we have egg-layers. Friends of ours approached us about going in together to raise meat birds, and we did that twice. We did use the Cornish Cross chickens, and our birds were fed a local grain mix that is corn & soy free. They were a tad bit stringy, but I have begun to do a mild brine of the bird [actually brining the frozen bird, which both brines and thaws] which has improved the texture. Yes, we will do it again. Love making sure my meat is non-soy and non-GMO!

  5. Kimberley O. says

    We have tried several different breeds for meat including freedom rangers but always come back to the Cornish cross for taste, size, cost, and convenience. We haven’t lost a bird due to size. What has worked for us is to remove the feeders in the evening and replace in the morning, allowing the food to run out for a portion of the mid day. In six to seven weeks these birds are tender and delicious and very meaty. If we want smaller birds then four or five weeks is all they need.
    Cornish x also don’t like the heat so we raise them in the mild seasons.
    Orpingtons are one of the slowest birds to reach maturity and are heavy boned, so they aren’t bad for dual purpose but not great solely as meat birds. I have friends that have had luck with Delawares.
    This has been or experience.

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