Tastes Like Chicken-Raising Our Cornish X - Home on the Range Blog at Allrecipes.com - 282940

Home on the Range

Tastes Like Chicken-Raising our Cornish X 
Aug. 29, 2012 11:49 am 
Updated: Sep. 12, 2012 2:12 am

Every year now, we raise ‘meatie’ chickens. These are CornishX  like you see in the grocery store, only they are NOTHING like the ones you buy. They are the same hybrid birds, but must be purchased as chicks, as they have been over 50 years in development and the big companies, such as Tyson’s, have a patent on them. But we can order day old chicks from hatcheries so that is what we do. These birds grow AMAZINGLY fast, from day old to table in 8 weeks.

They eat an inordinate amount of food and are known to have many problems due to their rapid growth and weight gain. Often they will, quite literally, eat themselves to death. They often suffer from heart problems and leg problems. They rarely survive over 12 weeks of age, many dying younger. A lot of people don’t like raising them because of their health problems and because...well, anything that eats constantly also poops constantly and they are a bit stinky, when cooped up.

Knowing they will not normally survive beyond 8-12 weeks makes processing them a  whole lot easier for me, of course, as I am not actually hastening their demise.  Our technique in raising them is a bit different than most, because of the Maremma Guardian Dogs we have. The first 3 weeks, the chicks stay in a brooder outside, under heat lamps. We started with 34 this spring.

 They have their food taken away at night and are checked daily for ‘pasty butt’ or other problems. They get ACV (apple cider vinegar) in their water and occasionally some hard boiled egg or other stuff which seems to help them out. Their brooder is cleaned daily with fresh shavings added back. Once they are 3 weeks old, they have feathered out enough and gotten big enough to move to their next quarters.

Assuming all the lambs have arrived and goats have finished kidding, we catch the meaties a few at a time and put them in a  big wheelbarrow for transport to the lambing shed. They get to spend a few days in there until they accept it as their ‘safe place’. After that, the gate is left open and they have access to the back yard. They do all their eating and drinking outside and the Maremma’s protect them from raptors and other predators. We used to have Great Horned Owls landing on top of the chicken coop at night, terrorizing and stalking the poultry, but since Bruno and Cletus came, they don’t  anymore, even though we can see the owls staring at us from in the barn. The dogs have been amazingly effective. 

This allows the meaties to free range at will, coming and going as they please, a much better option for us, than putting them in a ‘chicken tractor’. They are cleaner and get more exercise. With fresh grass and bugs to eat, the meaties are rationed only enough food to get them out of our way when we go to feed calves in the morning, and again at night. They learn pretty quickly that seeing me go outside usually means treats. They pretty much mob anyone daring to enter the back yard, waddling at high speeds to weave and bob between our legs as we walk. The free ranging made it a lot more economical to raise them, as well as healthier for them. The food they do get, is a high protein grower ration, to make sure their needs are met, but the bulk of their diet they forage for.

This year, we started with 34 meaties and ended up with 32. Not a bad record. 

The favorite meatie hangout this year was under the raspberry bushes by the rock wall. There was ample shade and moisture there to help them keep cool in the hottest part of the day. 

They ventured into the flower and veggie gardens when it cooled off and did a great job of keeping bugs away from the plants. This year there were 0 tomato hornworms and until the meaties were gone, there were no squash bugs. They were either not interested, or unable to keep up with the massive infestationof box elder bugs we get every year, but those didn’t attack my plants.

They spent their spare time begging for handouts from whomever dared venture into their territory.

Abby found it all highly amusing!

They had a great life, with all the room to roam they could want, protection, food and comfort. In the end, they were dispatched with respect and compassion in our efforts to make it as humane and easy as possible.

Sometimes folks ask me how we have the heart to raise our own meat. The chickens purchased in commercial stores have been raised in crowded conditions, usually in filth and without fresh air or sunshine.

 It wouldn’t take long to do a study on that to find how horrible the conditions are that most of these animals are raised in. Their end is no better. Our animals live a healthy, happy life, in as natural an environment as possible. Their needs are all taken care of and they are treated well and appreciated. The end of their life is well considered. Instead of dying a painful death of illness or old age, or the more common death  being torn apart by a predator, they are given a quick and nearly painless end, with purpose. I would much rather be one of my own chickens or sheep than a wild animal, or much, much worse, one raised in captivity by commercial farms. We know how they were raised, treated, fed and processed, all with the highest quality of care. We appreciate our meals more also, knowing where it came from and the cost to the animal. You just can't take that for granted like you can when you buy it at the store.

This year we invested in a WhizBang Chicken plucker. The hardest part of processing chickens is the plucking. It would take forever for me to get all the feathers out and with some of the older birds, I would get so discouraged, I would give up and donate it to the dogs, who would take it out to the pasture and guard it for a few days, as if holding a little wake, before they finally, with clean consciences, consumed it. Being able to process our own chickens gives  us the flexibility to decide WHEN is the best time, plus it saves us over $3 per bird plus the fuel it takes to drive over 200 miles to have it done. 

As we had 30 birds to do, we broke it down into 2 days. I put the first 15 in the shed for the night and locked them in, so we didn’t have to chase them around the next day and also so their crops would be empty. It’s a lot more sanitary and easier to do if they haven’t eaten for 8-12 hours. They do get all the water they want though. The first day took us a few hours as we were still getting the hang of things. The second day went much smoother and faster.

We used a traffic cone to put the birds in to dispatch them and bleed them out. They then went into a scalder, which was a turkey fryer full of water kept at about 145-150 degrees. Once the feathers came off the wing easily, two at a time were put in the plucker and about 45 seconds later they were completely clean. They then went to the table where we cleaned out the insides and finished them and put them into a large cooler full of ice water, to quickly chill.

Keeping the water cold, we let them sit overnight, the next morning we bag them and put them in the fridge for a day or so until the rigor mortis is gone and the joints move freely. If you don’t, the meat will be inedible. 

At that point we will freeze them. All the feet go in the freezer until I have time to ‘take their socks off’ and use them to make stock along with left over  vegetables and carcasses from meals.

All our birds this year weighed over 5 lbs and a few over 6. The meat is incredible.

I cut up one chicken into parts. The legs, thighs and wings went in the frying pan for one meal as fried chicken . One breast I cut up  for chicken strips for another meal a couple nights later. The other breast I cooked up to use in a chicken divan casserole and the back was put back into the freezer to use in stock. That’s a lot of mileage out of one chicken! The flavor and texture of these birds is also superior to anything you can buy, and there are no additives or preservatives put in them. They were healthier than commercial birds and we will have healthier benefits from eating them!

Now THAT is something to crow about.
Aug. 29, 2012 12:05 pm
wow what a process from beginning to end result. Mom and Dad use to process chickens when I was a child. I remember how good they did taste compared to store bought chicken.enjoyed reading this blog as I do all of your blogs.
Aug. 29, 2012 12:26 pm
Thanks char. It's too bad more people can't experience 'real' chicken. What an incredible difference it is!
Aug. 29, 2012 12:40 pm
abosultely awesome! i loved EVERYTHING about this petey! so self-reliant and resourceful! truly awesome blog! everyone should read this if they want to understand a compassinate and a true earth south. i know you will probably hear from vegans. their choice, but i find you as a strong self-purposed indiviual whom i admire. great pictures btw! we got a daughter named abby, we call her gator. ok, sorry , but again...GREAT BLOG!
Aug. 29, 2012 1:04 pm
I think Temple Grandin would love your blog, petey! (I hope you saw the movie about her! If not, be sure to! Claire Danes was wonderful.) I can only imagine what the difference between your meaties and store-bought is! Thanks for a good blog!
Aug. 29, 2012 1:19 pm
My brother raised chickens when I was little (he was 10 years older than I) so we had lots of chicken dinners on Sundays. My mother hated the plucking part, too, and that was only one at a time. Interesting that people can separate the meat/chicken they buy in the market form the actual process of raising the animals, isn't it? I also wonder how vegans square the killing of the plants. We have to eat, right?
Aug. 29, 2012 1:23 pm
i loved the line from an older comedian...i'm a vegeterian not because i love animals, it's because i hate plants. a. whitney brown.
Aug. 29, 2012 1:29 pm
What a wonderful blog Petey! I live vicariously through you each and every time you post. I am thankful you are part of our AR family and take the time to share your life with us. Oh, if only to taste that fried chicken.. I'm sure I'd be put off all those frozen boneless, skinless chicken breast bricks from Sam's Club, but alas, here in Pensacola, FL, not much chicken growing in our backyard :) Again, thank you Petey for sharing this lovely story with us!
Aug. 29, 2012 1:31 pm
When we were dating, my husband took me home to his parents house one day when they happened to be slaughtering chickens and processing the bodies in the kitchen. I pride myself on having a strong stomach but when I walked in and smelled them burning off the pin feathers over the gas range, I had to turn around and run out. I've never forgotten that smell.
Aug. 29, 2012 1:32 pm
Thanks guys! gderr, Abby is a great name, and I think they live up to their names! Gator is a cute nickname, i love it! Marianne, I do know who Temple Grandin is. An amazing individual. I studied a lot of her stuff when I ran the Equine Therapy Center for special needs kids, as a big part of my population presented with autism
Aug. 29, 2012 1:40 pm
thanks Cindy! Wish I could have you guys all over for dinner! Maridele,that is the great thing about the plucker...no pin feathers, no feathers at all. It's quick and clean!
Aug. 29, 2012 2:19 pm
Amazing! You've come a long way from my grandma's way of chasing one around the yard with a hatchet, plucking by hand, and holding over a gas flame to blacken the pin feathers. You are right, petey. You treat your animals with far more respect than Big Food does. And just like all other food, we have a lot more appreciation for it the further we get from the grocery store.
Aug. 29, 2012 3:23 pm
We always had our own chickens, free-range; we didn't call it that back then! The cone idea is terrific...what a great way to handle that part of the process. Abby is adorable!
Aug. 29, 2012 3:48 pm
Alas, my 4th floor balcony isn't suitable for raising chicks (Imagine how the HOA would react to THAT!) I have found a source at the farmer's market so I get all my meat and chicken farm fresh. It is more expensive than the supermarket, but so worth it. BTW, Abby's sundress is adorable!
Aug. 29, 2012 4:13 pm
thanks bib and mwc. The cones do work really well, it keeps them quiet and very still, which helps keep ME quiet and very still LOL
Aug. 29, 2012 4:16 pm
Bibi, I liked your description of the way your grandma used to take care of the chickens. I can still smell the wax that we had to dip the ducks in to remove the pin feathers after we plucked them in the garage. Yuck!
Aug. 29, 2012 4:56 pm
The first time I had to help butcher a deer I didn't eat meat for 3 days. I commend you on how you treat your animals and IMO all the animals we consume should be treated the same! Live in the outdoors, be fed well and be dispatched quickly. I have chickens this year, egg layers, and I think Violet might be a Virgil. The stew pot has been suggested for her? but not gonna happen with me at the helm of my flock.
Aug. 29, 2012 4:59 pm
LOL cathill!
Aug. 29, 2012 5:00 pm
thanks BSM! I imagine it would be at least a bit less economical to raise them on your balcony :)
Aug. 29, 2012 5:21 pm
I was a chicken farm a few years ago the owner told me that they will actually eat so much that there breast will rip apart. I also picked up 100 lbs of fertilizer.
Aug. 29, 2012 6:39 pm
Hi petey,first of all that little girl is beautiful,and so are those dogs.You are right on about the store bought ones,we get ours from a farmer in another town,but he retired,so for the first time in 25 years,we had to buy one,what a let down.Also the way you keep and take care of your animals,is wonderful.Thanks,it was good reading.
Aug. 29, 2012 7:45 pm
thanks, manella
Aug. 29, 2012 7:46 pm
Hi Petey, love reading your blogs. I have 50 of the meaties to process this year, what was I thinking? Some things that I do differently with my chickens that you might be interested in 1. I skin my chickens instead of plucking them, which is a lot less time consuming, and if you fry them you still have a nice crispy crust. 2. The day we kill the chickens we put them in buckets of ice water after they are skinned and cleaned, and keep them cold. Once we have done all we are doing for the day about 15-20 birds then we start the process of freezing them, I have never kept them in the fridge overnight and my chicken is always moist and tender, best chicken around. Thanks for sharing your stories and pictures
Aug. 29, 2012 8:07 pm
hi bett, its nice to meet you. With the plucker, we don't need to skin our birds, and we put them directly in ice water as well, only we use a gigantic cooler. 50 is a bunch! I'd love to raise 50 at one time, but I don't have the freezer space. It's great to meet other people who can identify with what I am talkin about! :)
Aug. 30, 2012 5:26 am
Oh gosh Petey, I don't know how you do it! You are a stronger woman than I. I think I could deal with eating an animal I'd raised (you know, assuming I wasn't too lazy to raise animals and especially if it was an animal that was just around for a few weeks), but processing myself? No way could I do that! My grandmother used to when she was still in Italy, us grandkids have all heard her stories about grabbing the chickens by their necks and twisting. We're all equally creeped out by it lol
Aug. 30, 2012 6:15 am
Oh petey, I wish I could farm like you!
Aug. 30, 2012 7:22 am
I grew up eating home raised chickens, but as I am pretty certain they probably weren't dispatched as quickly as yours are, I am fortunate not to remember that part! I will not buy chicken from the grocery store; it must be a locally farm-raised from the market. There is absolutely no comparison. You certainly work hard, but the rewards you get must be so satisying!
Aug. 30, 2012 7:23 am
It helps once you have tasted fresh farm raised chicken. It's also a lot easier for me to prepare something I know was raised and processed humanely as opposed to what are basicallly abusive conditions necessary to big Ag. It's also a lot healthier stuff. If you can ever find any at a Farmer's Mkt, I highly recommend giving it a try. You won't believe how much farther a 5 lb fresh raised chicken goes compared to a 5 lb chicken from the store. It just boggled my mind. I have no idea what they do to the meat, but I find it a little disturbing! :)
Aug. 30, 2012 7:27 am
Petey, thank you once again for sharing your life with all of us. So very interesting for a city girl like me.
Aug. 30, 2012 10:55 am
Its sad how far we have come from the "traditional" way of life especially when it comes to our food. This was a refreshing read, Kudos!
Aug. 30, 2012 2:10 pm
LOLOL! petey, I had a dear friend who moved from this state. She raised darn near everything and it was the best. I bought chickens from her. The difference is out of this world! Again with me at the helm, not gonna happen! You should see me clean live fish. I'd have you in stitches. Maybe if I had grown up with home butchering as the norm instead of the grocery store I wouldn't be so squeamish.
Aug. 30, 2012 6:11 pm
Supermarket chicken frequently have up to 10% of their weight from added water. That info is in such small print you wouldn't notice it unless you were looking for it. The farmer I buy from offers both with and without skin. I like it better with the skin and since I know they are hormone and antibiotic free I don't worry about it. It tastes so good.
Aug. 31, 2012 8:03 am
wisweetp, you are so right! There is such a difference and we really appreciate the quality of our food. I remember when we had to buy food and I am pretty sure that would be a successful diet for me, to go back to commercial foods because I don't think I could eat them anymore! LOL
Sep. 1, 2012 7:07 pm
Wow Petey! I am somewhat jealous. I am just starting to learn about where I can buy good, fresh meat in my area. I recently bought some frozen chicken from costco - hadn't done that in a while. Now I wish I hadn't done it this time. It's so different. What interested me very much about this story, is that you use the chicken feet to make stock. Never would have thought of that! I know it's a lot of work to raise your own food but cheers to you and your family living the good life!
Sep. 2, 2012 5:35 pm
Petey, I enjoy your blog and look forward to the next one. When I was 13, in Chicago, I chose a live chicken at a "chicken store." It was dispatched and plucked by store's owner. I washed and spiced it and put it in our gas oven. About 5 minutes later realized that there was more to it. Pulled it out and gutted it and washed it again-no harm done. My mother died when I was 11, so no cooking advice, just me and my dad.
Sep. 2, 2012 6:33 pm
wow irene! That is for sure hands on learning! Did they seriously not gut it at all, or did they put the neck and giblets back in the cavity?
Sep. 2, 2012 7:12 pm
Amazing! Seriously!! You never cease to entertain and enlighten me. LOVE the pic of the pups and the chicks. As always, thanks so much for sharing with us!!
Sep. 4, 2012 9:52 am
Awesome blog - we did 17 of the 'meaties' this year. The quality of the meat is out of this world. I don't have a plucking machine so we skinned all of ours. And I'm so jealous of your living arrangements - I'd love to live on a 250,000 working cattle ranch!
Sep. 4, 2012 12:54 pm
It is wonderful here, Tmillerick! Glad you got to have some meaties too! They are awesome!
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Kids are raised, we are ranchhands on a 250,000 acre working cattle ranch 110 miles from the nearest small town, so we raise a lot of our own food, vegetables, fruits, milk,eggs and meat. Love riding and working cattle, but find myself spending a lot more time in the kitchen, and the garden. forpeteysake.blogspot.com http://throughthedarkestvalleys.blogspot.com/
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Having 2 Jersey cows as well as milk goats, playing with fresh milk is a hobby, making our own butter, yogurt, sour cream, cheeses, soap and all the other great stuff you can do with fresh raw milk.
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Homemade from scratch...anything! All traditions are sort of gone by the wayside, as we live so far from family now
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Most things from this site, this has been the best thing the internet has had to offer!
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A layered Jello dessert...the middle layer never set, so it did the 'ooze-wiggle'...and...well..I liquified a couple of chickens on 2 different occasions, turning them into a black gel. Moral of that story is, don't start cooking then go clean barns!...and there was the time that my kids were helping me make Thanksgiving dinner and SOMEbody (who resembled my youngest son) forgot to put the sugar in the pie!!!
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