Sunday, April 19

The Great Chicken Experiment

I want to be a homesteader.  I want to grow my own food, get my hands dirty in the soil, and be as independent as God created me to be.  So when friend offered us free broiler chickens to raise and butcher, it was pretty easy to say yes!  As we prepared mentally for about a month beforehand, I googled how to care for them, potential issues, and lined up a butcher for the birds.  We borrowed a friend's dog run and Ryan built a little protective coop out of scrap wood from our garage.  We did have to buy a few supplies (heat lamp and bulb, feeders and watererers, pine shavings, and food) but for the most part we tried to make do with what we had.

We went to pick them up on a Wednesday, brought them home in a cardboard box and settled in to the garage.

That weekend, Ryan built the coop and we set up their outdoor living space.  The rain had settled down and they were clearly needing more space!


We started with 25 birds, gave 10 to a friend, and somehow lost one bird without a trace on their first day outside.  We didn't have a tarp on the cage so I imagine a hawk came and picked up dinner.  Finley was intrigued, but he was definitely not the culprit.

As they grew (and boy did they grow fast!) we opened the cage and gave them more space to roam around.  We never did let them free range over our entire yard as we technically aren't allowed to have chickens in our neighborhood and didn't want to get in trouble!  But we moved their cage around every couple of days to give them fresh grass to peck through.  We threw them bugs and vegetables and garden clippings, and tried to give them happy days.

These chickens are a breed that have been bred specifically to grow fast and big.  These are the kind you buy at the grocery store, expect those have been injected to mellow out the flavor and make them plumper looking.  And of course, you don't know where they came from, how they were fed and treated, and how they ultimately came to fulfill their destiny.  I felt much better about our process than from what I've seen from large breeders.  I read on one blog that she said it was her job to make sure they had only one bad day in their entire lives, and I really tried to treat our birds that way.  I had also read not to make them into "pets" so I didn't name them, but I did talk to them and treat them sweetly.  

I am a major animal lover at heart, but I also believe that God gave us dominion over the animals to use them as He created them to be used, but respectfully. I enjoyed raising them.  It was only a few short weeks, feeding and watering them twice a day, talking to them while I was gardening and watching the kids enjoy them.  It was a pleasant experience.

I was worried that the end of this task would be difficult for me, and I was right.  I raised them, but I didn't want anything to do with their demise.  This breed won't live much longer than six weeks before they develop health issues that would ultimately kill them, so once they started looking a little...large, I was ready to butcher them before any of them had the chance to die first.  They were 4 weeks and 6 days old, I would have waited another few days but it was Easter weekend and we couldn't do it then.  I  wound up hiring a friend's high-school son to come over with a friend to butcher the chickens for us in our backyard, but Ryan decided he wanted to watch.  And some of his friends wanted to watch too... So ultimately he taught Ryan and friends how to do it, and they all worked together for a few hours (they took photos but I refuse to look at them, let alone post them here!).

I left the house with the kids.  I really couldn't handle it.  I got home a little too early and heard some of it and it really shook me up that night.  A few weeks later I'm still a little uncomfortable with everything, but not because I think it was a bad decision but just because I think I have a tender heart.  I know these birds are healthier, cheaper, and happier than anything I'd buy at the grocery store, so yes I would do it again.  We've had some grilled and baked and guess what?  It tastes just like chicken!

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