Chickens · Farm Animals · Farming with kids · Friendship · New to farming · Uncategorized · What we've learned · Why we farm

The First (and maybe only) Great Chicken Harvest!

I do not like to kill things. I am even squeamish about stepping on bugs.  So, I’m not sure why I did not hesitate a few weeks ago when Jill suggested we invest in some meat chickens. Why not?  Sure, neither of knows a thing about slaughtering chickens, but that’s how you learn. And besides, Jill watched a YouTube video. So, we figured we were all set.  We bought 50 chickens.  Just let that sink in a minute – 50 chickens!  To slaughter.  Ourselves.  Oh yeah, piece of cake.

Since Jill has an actual farm dog instead of bird dogs, we decided to free-range them at her house. (That’s the  kind of wisdom that comes from months of farming experience.)   Seven short weeks later we had 50 fat chickens on our hands that needed killin’.   I’m not gonna lie.  At this point Jill and I were both beginning to question the wisdom of our “that’s how you learn”  motto.  But there was no turning back.  Those chickens were not going to butcher themselves.  Thank goodness for YouTube and husbands who hunt (Their deer gutting skills proved to be fairly transferrable).  The whole thing actually went surprisingly well. Bid Daddy Dave was at the killing station.  Jill, me, and our daughters were at the plucking station. Big Hal and my oldest boy were gutters.  And the little boys ran around catching chicken.  It was a great system.

Since our Great Chicken Harvest,  I have started and re-started this blog post several times, each time in an attempt to take our Charming Readers through the whole chicken slaughtering process.  But that’s not really what Charming Farming is all about.  We aren’t a how-to blog as much as we are a here’s-what-we-learned blog.  If we can learn to butcher chickens using a YouTube video, I’m sure any of you can too. I won’t bore you with my minimal knowledge.  Instead, I’ll just hit the highlights of what we learned.

1.  Don’t listen to the naysayers.  More than one person told us that we were in over our heads.  They said we would never eat chicken again or that we would pay any amount of money hereafter to buy, rather than raise,  free-range chickens.  They were wrong.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that a day of butchering chickens with friends and family beats the heck out of a day of laundry all alone.  I’m not saying the Great Harvest was a day at the lake.  It was hard work, and by chicken #49, I was more that ready to be done.  But all in all it was not an awful day.  It was like a slightly more gruesome version of an old fashion barn raising.  Two generations working side by side to achieve a common goal.  The sun was shining.  We had good music playing.  If it hadn’t been for all the blood and guts, it would have been really fun.

2. Be Prepared Jill is a genius!  She got everything we could possibly need together in advance.  Buckets, shackles, coolers, ice, tables, sunscreen, tequila (for much needed post-slaughter margaritas).  She thought of everything!

3. Don’t underestimate your own kids.  I had mentally prepared a speech for my children about the importance of knowing where your food comes from and living like our ancestors.  I didn’t even get to use it.  When the time came to pluck and gut, our kids didn’t even roll an eye.  They jumped right in and did what had to me done.  Seriously, Mary Michael gives me more trouble about ironing.  The truth is, I’ve never been more proud of her -and she’s a straight A student.  Jill’s daughter was the same way.  They were up to their elbows in feathers and blood  – and it was charming.

MM transferring a plucked chicken to the gutting station
MM transferring a plucked chicken to the gutting station

4. Count your chickens!  Normally, it’s not a good idea to name animals you plan to slaughter – for obvious reasons.  But Chet did name the last chicken we butchered.  He called him Finally.  When we finally finished Finally off, we were all greatly relieved and ready to call it a day.  The mess was cleaned up.  The chickens were put in the freezer.  The margaritas were poured.  That’s when Lucky emerged from the bushes.

Chet, Dawson, and Lucky

This little guy cleverly hid while all his flock mates met their doom.  He didn’t come out till the coast was clear.  We decided to let him live.  Unfortunately, Lucky only got a 24 hour stay of execution.  The next day he not-so cleverly escaped his pen. The dogs were more than happy to finish what we had started.  Poor Lucky.

5. Count the cost.  For days after the harvest, Jill and I were both on a post-slaughter high.  I know that sounds weird, but there was an immense sense of satisfaction – both from having completed a chore that we had come to dread and from doing something we were really proud of.   We had taken homesteading to the next level and it felt great.  Then we put pencil to paper.  At one point earlier in this endeavor, after talking to a particularly persuasive naysayer, Jill and I did contemplate paying someone to butcher our chickens for us.  The cost, $4 a bird, seemed too high. However, after we bought all the stuff we needed, we aren’t sure we came out that far ahead.  As I said, slaughtering chickens really wasn’t that bad, and I’m glad we did it – once.  Will we raise meat chickens again?  Absolutely! Will we butcher them ourselves?  Maybe.  It will depend on what’s going on with our families at that point.  In the fall we’ll have school, sports, and deer season.  A free Saturday might be hard to come by. So, paying someone else to butcher our chickens might be worth it.  Still, we know we can do it.  And that is an awesome feeling!  Either way, it’s home-grown, free-range chickens for our families from here on out!

Linked at The Prairie Homestead  Barn-HopA\

And at Homemade Mondays

And From the Farm Blog Hop  FTFFavorite_zpsa9fe81b7

8 thoughts on “The First (and maybe only) Great Chicken Harvest!

  1. I raised and processed my first batch of chickens this spring – not so fun, since I had to do it myself (hubby watched the kids as ours are too young to be much help). Also, at the final cost analysis, it worked out to be about 4.00 per pound (when adding up feed, heating lamp electricity, the chicks, etc). Granted, it was a cold spring, so the heat lamp stayed on extra long and the feed wasn’t supplemented by free ranging. Did you do a cost analysis and did it come out to be worth it?

  2. I’d say we have about $10 a bird in ours – this includes supplemental feed, supplies, etc. We did not figure electricity or our time. I’m sure it’s more with those things. But the last time I priced free-range chicken at the whole foods store, they ran about $20 a bird.

    1. Well, that would be a good deal; you cut the costs in half. Our local farmer sells her chickens for 15.00 per bird – but I think I could get the costs of raising mine down if I raised them later in the spring. Not that it’s all about cost, but then again, it has to be worthwhile money-wise because it’s not a fun process.

  3. Its nice to hear a newbie success story. I’m raising meat birds this year also. Got 50 birds 5 weeks ago. I put all the numbers, well except the electricity, into an excel spreadsheet. So far they are at $7 per bird. That includes feed for the next week, and a few that have died. Hoping they do fine and it works out! Did you weigh them at all? I’m a little curious what the weights were at 7 weeks. Mine are about mid 4 lb now. Thanks for your story!
    ~~Lori

    1. We did not weight them. I wish we’d thought of that. I think Jill estimated about 6 or 7 pounds, post-slaughter. So, we are still way ahead of what it would cost to buy free-range chickens at the nearest natural food store. Good luck with your birds!

  4. I am going to do this next spring. My plan is to put them in a dog kennel and move them around the pasture. As far as processing them, I will probably have to have it done but, so far, I can’t find a place that will do it. Processed free range birds at the Fayetteville Farmers market sell for $25 each! What breed of bird did you raise and how did you like the taste? could you tell a difference? I really just want to raise them to know what I’m eating–just like the beef we raise.

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