By Stephanie Dayle via The American Preppers Network (I wrote this originally for the American Preppers Network - and have since moved it here to my personal site with updated information)
|All Photos (c) Stephanie Dayle 2014|
Raising one batch of your own meat chickens will make you think twice about reaching for that hormone enriched wrapped chicken meat on the shelf. Not because you feel sorry for it, but because for the first time you truly know that your chicken tastes like real chicken, and you may begin to wonder why that chicken on the shelf does not. You may start to compare the life your chickens lived to those of commercially raised ones.
My meat chickens live a pampered happy life; and are not 'easy' to care for. When asked by my friend, "How can you work so hard for something you are just going to kill in the end?" My answer is, "I live in service to my animals as they will die in service to me."
How to Begin:
There is so much negative information on the internet on this type of chicken that I often see first time meat chicken buyers skip over them. The truth is, they are probably the easiest and cheapest to raise. Most problems with Cornish Cross Chickens (technically they are a hybrid not a real breed, and therefore cannot reproduce) are caused by people waiting too long to butcher them, and/or over feeding them. An easy way to avoid overfeeding them is after they are several weeks old, to give them food during the day and remove it at night. When to butcher them is purely up to you. So if you can avoid those two pitfalls you should do really well with them.
Cornish cross birds grow fast, so it costs less to feed them - most Cornish cross birds are ready for butchering at around 8-10 weeks. This is usually a good couple weeks before other meat breeds are ready, and several months earlier (if not more) than most "dual purpose" breed birds (click here for a side by side cost comparison of Cornish Cross chicken to Dual Purpose breed chickens). After you've raised a batch and decided that you can handle the process - then explore other meat breeds, cornish cross is just the tip of the iceberg.
There is very little that you will need to purchase for your birds besides plenty of food, a heat light and maybe some bedding. You can make feeders and waterers from repurposed materials - to see an article on that click here. You can keep your chicks in old stock tanks, or kiddie pools, and you can make a makeshift chicken pen or chicken tractor fairly cheaply for them when they are full grown. However, in my honest opinion, free ranging these birds is over rated - these chickens are bred to grow fast off of store-bought food, not grass and bugs.
It seems to me free ranging Cornish X birds make the owners far more happy than the chickens. When I turn mine out they don't seem nearly as interested in scratching or hunting for bugs as my layer hens and they usually follow me around in hopes I will give them food, it's not going to hurt them or make them "less healthy" to keep them in a pen. Just make sure their food is of good quality and that they always have lots of clean fresh water. This breed is designed for that.
|All Photos (c) Stephanie Dayle 2014|
Many different Uses:
When I butcher the birds I do so quickly to minimize stress. I use a block, or a cone and I don't make the others watch. You can catch the blood in a bucket and add it to your garden. You can save all the random parts, if not for you (I so love chicken hearts, livers, and gizzards - even the feet are eatable) then for your dog or cat's food (click here for a homemade dog food recipe). Their manure is scraped from the pen and composted, then later added back into the garden which will produce some of the garden scraps I will feed to the chickens the following year.
When you cook one of your birds, you turn the carcass into chicken broth that will make lovely homemade soups and stock. The only thing left of them will be a pile of bones which you can dry in your oven or BBQ and turn into bone meal - that can also go back in the garden. Hardly anything is wasted with each part of the process supporting something else.
Long Lasting Value:
Raising your own food teaches children AND adults many lessons, some that would be invaluable during a long-term emergency. It teaches you nothing ever works right the first try and it teaches you humility and how to adapt. It teaches you responsibility and the true value of a meal. It also teaches you compassion and to be thankful for even little things, and it teaches you that even the most trusted dog can benefit from a good fence.
Meat chickens are time-consuming and just like anything else, nothing is free, and good things come with hard work. My Hubby and I both work full-time jobs and we are still able to raise a small batch of 25 and get them butchered, so maybe you can too. Start thinking about what you may need to accommodate a small batch of meat chickens in the spring. Acquire and make things slowly so you get best prices on materials, then, when March comes around and that familiar peeping sound is heard in your local feed and farm supply stores, you'll be ready.