Friday, December 11, 2009

Farm Raised Chicken

I shall begin the recap with highlights from the year. At the end of September, we processed the 21 Rangers we purchased as meat birds. After processing a few of our young layer roosters, which dressed to 2.5 lbs, I was hoping for a much larger, meatier bird. I was targeting the 3-5 lb range for each dressed bird.

The chicks were purchased online and mailed to me. They were raised inside for two or so weeks and then were moved out into a chicken tractor so they could enjoy the grass, the sun, the bugs and just be chickens. I did not withhold feed for 12 hours a day which is common with the Cornish Cross variety of meat bird. I cannot say that these birds never ran out of feed, because their appetite was voracious, but if they did, it was unintentional and soon remedied.

We processed the birds at 10.5 weeks. We butchered 20 of the 21, leaving a pretty hen to join our layers and see what would happen. It took two people 5 hours to process all the birds, but we did all the scalding and plucking by hand. Never again! Next year, I will rent a barrel plucker.

Our smallest chicken at 4.25 lb on a standard dinner plate.

Nice color, nice thighs, nice breast... but not overstuffed.

Overall, we fed the chickens 575 lbs of organic feed (8 bags of chick mash, 2.5 bags of grower pellets, and 1 bag of scratch). The smallest bird dressed out to 4.25 lb, way over my target low range of 3 lb. The biggest bird was 6 lb! The average weight was 5.18 lb and overall we got 103.75 lb total.

If you calculate just the cost of feed, the birds came out to $2.50/lb. If you add the original chick cost ($2), it comes to $2.88/lb. If you add in our processing labor (2 people x $7/hr x 5 hr), it's $3.50/lb. For reference, we were paying the farmer up the road $3.50/lb for organically raised Cornish Crosses last spring. An average bird cost $14.99. The Feed-Conversion-Ration (or FCR) of the birds was 3.52 live and 5.28 dressed. So it took 3.52 lbs of feed to make 1 lb of live bird. Those FCR numbers are not great, but I think I might know what is going on.

As a bird ages, their feed intake rate stabilizes but the growth rate slows. If I processed the birds two weeks earlier, I would have not only hit my target 3-5 lb range, but would have saved about 150 lbs of feed, which would really help my numbers. Next year, I intend to process at 8 weeks.

Was it worth it? To answer that, you have to go beyond the numbers and look at the quality of the bird. This is my first batch of home-grown birds, so I don't have much to compare it to. The farmer down the road who raised free-range, organic Cornish Crosses had some pretty tasty birds. My birds blew his away. He feeds the same feed so the only thing I can attribute it to is the breed of bird. I purchased a hybrid bird derived from French meat lines and these chickens remind me of rich, savory French meals. The meat is infused with fat, to the point that it beads on the surface. I found the chicken very rich and filling. It has enough calories in it to stretch it over many meals.

Very moist roast chicken. Lots of calories there!

Recently, my family visited and we roasted a whole chicken. It fed four adults, with second and third helpings, and then went on to feed two of us over five more meals, including chicken soup, chicken and black beans, chicken enchiladas, etc. The stock is solid at refrigerator temperatures and continues to live on.

I am a big fan of this type of meat bird, but it is not very sustainable for a small farm. For one, they are hybrids which means that even if I kept a breeding pair, I would not be guaranteed to get the same results. I did keep one hen and we'll see what she produces if crossed with a layer rooster, if she lives that long. She's going strong now, but definitely waddles around. We recently weighed her at 10 lbs live, so she's pretty big. Secondly, they need a tremendous amount of food to grow them so big, so fast, and that food comes from off the farm.

The hope is to eventually create a flock of true dual purpose birds, that both lay and grow to 7 lb free ranging. I will expound on that more in a later post, however.

In the meantime, these meat hybrids will be part of the farm next year, with a plan to order two batches of 25 birds in the summer. That will give us about a chicken a week for the year and a wonderful protein source.

1 comment:

CaitStClair | A Peachy Bride said...

Very cool! We're hoping to buy our own 5 acre place soon and while it won't be as productive as yours, we are hoping to raise some chickens. I'm definitely looking forward to hearing more.