Friday, March 27, 2009

The Big Hen House in the Sky

We have an entire deep freeze full of chicken! Josh did take some pictures and videos, but he told the guys he wouldn't post them. If you are interested in seeing what the process was like, drop me an email, or leave your email in the comment section and I'd be happy to share. Looking through them, I haven't seen anything I didn't expect. Like I told Josh, I'm sure the full, "smell-o-vision" experience is quite a bit different to experience, but it's what I thought was going to happen.

Some lessons learned:
* These birds SMELL. In the future, I'd like to stick to 20-30 at a time and even then, I'm glad I only had them around 2 weeks instead of 8. I do think the smell was a little worse when we first got them though, so perhaps having access to grass and getting non-medicated feed helps in that regard.

* We should have (and would have, if we'd had time) prepared better for inclement weather. If you have several acres and the chickens are living in a "chicken tractor" that moves to new grass every day, it may not be as big an issue. In our set up, we were able to get the chickens where they weren't getting rained on, but the storms this week were so bad that the ground was soaked and there was standing water on all of our property. Our egg laying hens have a raised, enclosed coop to escape too and they did fine. The meat birds had no where to get off the ground (and honestly, I haven't seen many designs that include that for meat birds--I usually see low to the ground squares that are mainly predator protection). By the time Josh loaded them up this afternoon, their feathers were wet and I'm quite certain they wouldn't have easily made it through the 38 degree night. On a piece of acreage, cultivating good pasture that drains well probably eliminates this problem.

* We need sharper knives. I never buy whole chickens and had never actually butchered one before. I don't have the appropriate knives to do a good job and I wasn't perfect, but I got very usable leg quarters, boneless/skinless breasts, wings, and back and breastbone to make stock.

* We were prepared for this, because we had one empty deep freeze at the house, but just as an FYI, 39 chickens take up a lot of space in the freezer!

* Also just FYI, we had read the birds would eat about half a pound of feed per bird per day. We went through 50 pounds every 2.5 days (for all 41, we lost those 2 within the last few days), which is right in line with that estimate.

* And one more FYI, their water had to be refilled twice a day with temps in the high 70's.

* We've always read you slit the veins in the neck in order to drain out the most blood and nearly instantaneously cut off blood supply to the brain (putting the chicken out of its misery). Apparently, the other benefit is easier plucking. The guy doing the killing says if you snap their neck, the little muscles in the skin tense and "hold on" to the feather tighter.

* Speaking of plucking, if we ever decide to do chickens on our own, especially in larger numbers, we really need to build a whiz bang plucker

Final figures:
39 chickens (started with 41)
180 total pounds (dressed weight, whole birds, no livers, etc...)
4.66 pounds--average weight per bird
$274.25 total spent (this includes: non medicated feed, a few small supplies for the coop, 40 pound feeder, 5 gallon waterer, $2.75/bird processing)
$85 income--sold 8 chickens to friends at $2/pound
$189.25 net cost, $1.38/pound for the chicken we kept (and, okay, it's not all organic and everything, but it's more free range than "free range" chicken in the store, on non-medicated feed and not factory slaughtered)

If we were already set up with supplies and just needed to buy feed and pay for processing, we could do the exact same thing next year (raise 40, sell 8), get the same poundage, and our price would be $0.73/pound

All in all, I think we did an okay job. There are definitely improvements to be made, as is the case with anything in life.

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