Processing Meat Chickens

At the end of March we received a shipment of meat chickens, with the intention of raising them organically and pasturing them as much as possible.  We’ve struggled to find the right type of food for them as we are not in a rural area and the feed stores near us do not carry the 22% organic protein feed the meat chickens need.  We have been forced to purchase the feed off Amazon and that was only 20% protein and supplement it with additional protein to get to 22%.

Another challenge we have faced is that typically it’s pretty warm in Georgia in March but this year we had very cold weather, so we were unable to get them outside for the the first 4 weeks.  Finally the weather warmed up enough and we put them in with the layer hens daily so they could do their chicken things and enjoy running around outside.  It was amazing to see the mammoth Cornish Crosses next to the layers, when they were both born the same day and arrived here at the same time.

Our organically raised chickens were processed May 14th at 7 weeks, and they dressed out at an average of 5 pounds.  We calculated that it cost us $15.01 per chicken, so about $3 per pound, which is not too bad.  We have since found a new source for the 22% organic protein meal and calculated that when we raise them again it should cut the cost by $1 per chicken. We lost only 2 of them, one 2 days after we received them and the second about 4 weeks into the process.  We think that the methodology of feeding them only 2 times per day so that they gain the weight more slowly works to minimize the death rate as well.  We also only feed 22% protein for the first 4 weeks, then cut down to 20% protein for the next 2 weeks and 18% protein for the last week helps the mortality rate.  They are voracious critters and act as though you’ve forgotten to feed them for days every time they are fed.  We would feed them using 3 different feed trays, divided over 24 birds, and 2-3 people, just to distract them enough so we didn’t get molested just putting the feed tray down. We also started supplementing with oyster shell calcium @ about 4 weeks old.

Doing the processing ourselves is not the most fun job on the farm, but our grown kids 18 & 22 helped out and the neighbor who went in on the chickens with us also helped.  My 18 year old daughter bravely even asked to learn how to eviscerate.  She only did one of them, but I was proud of her that she asked to learn. She decided that plucking feathers wasn’t such a terrible job after her attempt at eviscerating.  It ended up being a pretty long day and we didn’t finish until after 7pm but we managed to get all 24 done.  We really should be ordering more of them to get the next batch underway soon, but we are so overwhelmed with projects right now, plus we have ducks and turkeys coming the beginning of June which we have no idea where we will house, so we’ve decided to hold off until the fall before ordering the next batch of broilers.