Meat Birds

This week started with the arrival of 26 Red Ranger broiler chicks, our third year raising this particular breed.  20120316-IMG_4095We’re both kind of food snobs, and after years of buying the tasteless, water and who-knows-what else injected chickens from the grocery store that shrivel away to half of what you paid for when you cook them, we decided to raise our own.  Butchering chickens was something Jon and I had both done growing up, so taking on this task wasn’t exactly foreign to us.  Our first year we raised heritage breed dual-purpose chickens, but they ended up being a good 16 plus weeks old before being ready to process and were kind of tough and not that tasty.  We’d been reading good things about Red Rangers and gave them a try and have been very happy with them.  They have a great growth rate and feed conversion and 70% live to dress weight yield.  They’re excellent foragers, which helps keep feed costs down, and they don’t have the leg problems you find in the Cornish Cross.  In prior batches we did straight run, both males and females, but found the females lagged behind the males a couple weeks to achieve ideal processing weight.  Now we order all males and have a goal to process them at around 12 weeks.  They usually dress out at around 4-5 pounds and are the most delicious chickens we’ve ever had, moist, tender and flavorful.  20140915-_MG_8891We start them off in a brooder in the garage until they’re mostly feathered, then they move out to our chicken tractors.  We move them around the yard once or twice a day, allowing them to eat the grass and leave fertilizer behind. 20141030-IMG_3808-Edit Butchering day isn’t a day any of us particularly enjoys, but we have a good assembly line of four of us going and can do about 25 birds in 3 hours or so.  We skin some and pluck some.  Skinning may seem wasteful to some people, but we don’t really like the skin except on roasters and for making stock and end up pulling it off anyway, so skinning makes sense for us and is a huge time saver.  My mom and dad raised about 100 meat birds every year and skinned every one of them.  I’ve never met anyone else who skins their chickens, though.  We plan to eat chicken almost once a week, so we raise about 45-50 broilers for ourselves and a few more for our kids, splitting them into a spring batch and a fall batch.  We avoid having them ready to process between June and September because it’s just too hot to be doing that job then.

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2 thoughts on “Meat Birds

  1. Some great tips here for a first-timer like me, Julie. I think it’s still a bit cold here to get started but I must get started early so that I’m not processing at the height of summer.

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