Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The broiler project

Chicken is one of the most eaten meats in the USA, in fact, one statistic I read placed it as the second most consumed meat in 2005.  Unfortunately, most of that chicken is raised in nearly or totally dark "broiler houses" with about one square foot of floorspace per chicken.  The birds are Cornish X Rock, an extremely fast growing, heavily built bird.  They are fed highly processed food, laced with antibiotics to keep them from dying in the bacteria infested houses.  One of the first responsibilities of the farmer in the morning is the "dead walk"- i.e. walking through the broilers and picking up the ones which died in the night from the ammonia fumes from the manure on the floor.  When the birds are about five to six weeks old they are picked up at night and carted off to a butchering/ packing plant, and thence to the store.
     Many of the farmers would like to get out of this business if they could, but it is often their only way of making a living, and so they have to stay in it.  You ask "Why don't they just raise the chickens differently?"  The answer:  they have contracts with big companies like Tyson, and if they don't produce them the way the company wants, they lose the contract, and then can't pay for the big new broiler house the company made them build.  Now this isn't always the case, but most of the time, this is the environment that the chicken sold at the store comes from.

    For several years now my family has known most of this, and we always wanted to raise our own chicken, but were never really able to, until this year.  Daddy gave Farrah and I permission to purchase and raise 25 broiler chicks, and after shopping around to find the best price, we settled on Hoover's Hatchery.

     The chicks arrived in the mail on March 23rd, and we put them into our "big black tub" (a rubber watering tub for animals).  We started them out on some old rags on top of their bedding (sand) so that they wouldn't eat the sand instead of their food.  After a few days we pulled out the rags.  We kept chick starter in front of them  24/7.  Their tub was heated by a 40watt clip- on desk light.

     After about 2 1/2 weeks of tub life, we started moving them into a chicken tractor (open- bottomed movable pen) during the day, and at four weeks or so started feeding scratch grains and cracked corn instead of chick starter.  By this time they were living in the tractor full- time.

     Well, they were supposed to grow to butchering size in 6-8 weeks, but it took ours until last week to even get close.  This is because we A) didn't feed the commercial broiler ration, since we know that it's laced with antibiotics, and we don't know what other scary, unhealthy other ingredients are in it, and B) because most of them escaped their pen every day and free- ranged with the other poultry.  Finally though, some of them were considered big enough.

    We chose the seven which seemed the fattest, and locked them up for a day before butchering.  This was so that their crops, intestines, etc. would be relatively empty, and thus less likely to be broken and ruin the meat.

     I knew that I wanted to get everyone involved, so got them all revved up and ready to butcher some broilers for a couple of days before.  (That lasted until the time came to pluck them.)

Sometimes we do things rather primitively here...
     Evan was the executioner, for which I was thankful as it meant that I didn't have to be, and Farrah was to oversee the scalding, and help Savana and her team of William, Justice and Emaline pluck the chickens.  I had Bo and LilyAnn to help me clean the chickens.

Farrah dipping the bird in very hot water to loosen the feathers (scalding).

Farrah skinning one of the chickens. I don't remember why she didn't just pluck it...

William bagged a few of the chickens.

LilyAnn was one of the best helpers.  She is really good helping out around the farm.

    When the dead chickens showed up at the butchering table to get plucked, all three of the little pluckers went on strike, and eventually left.  That wasn't a real big deal since this is their first time, and chicken butchering is a messy business.

     Surprisingly enough though, what everyone wanted to do was to gut the chickens... even the little ones who left just at first.  Maybe they thought that was easier than plucking.

     In the past it has always taken us quite some time to do a chicken.  The record was half an hour for one rooster.  This time it took us only 1 hour and 15 minutes.

    The next night we had chicken noodle soup.  It was so good!  And of course, the best part was knowing exactly where it came from.  Those broilers lived happy, though comparatively short lives.  They had plenty of room to run around, grass and bugs to eat, milk pretty frequently to drink, and some tasty scraps every once in a while.  This way of raising chicken is much closer to the way God intended it to be than the conventional way, though ours wasn't completely natural either.  It was lots of hard work though, especially at the end.  But hard work is good.  That is one of the things I love most about our farm- it gives us constant opportunities to work hard and be rewarded by the fruits of our labors.

In all labor there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty.
Proverbs 14:23


  1. Wow, I never realized how messed up the US chicken production was!

    What y'all did sounds interesting! And I laughed about the workers that conveneintly went on strike! :)


  2. Wow,that is great! Alayna, thank you for posting the story ...and for giving so much detail. I love to ready your posts. I am looking forward to reading the posts to Sophia tomorrow and also showing her the pictures. I am proud of you all. Thank you also for sharing the Scripture verses. These are encouraging. I am glad that God has blessed you with godly parents who are teaching you about Him - and that, obviously, you have a desire to learn about Him and know Him on your own as well.
    All my love,
    Aunt GieGie