For Mother’s Day my husband gave me a very original gift… he let me eviscerate a chicken! What a thoughtful man he is! I was very excited to do it… no, really I was.
We raised and butchered meat chickens for the first (of many times, hopefully) this spring. Our chicks arrived on one of the coldest mornings in March, we had been praying for them to make it when we saw the overnight temps! Normally people don’t order chicks to arrive in March around here, but we decided to take a gamble that the weather would be nice by then, it wasn’t. Despite the rough trip the chicks arrived healthy and active. We got 15 Freedom Rangers and they added 1 Black Ranger, which we promptly named The Lone Ranger, lol! We did decide if he ended up being a hen we would call him Juanita – thank you Barney Fife! We ended up giving the name to a light colored hen who was always with him.
We brooded them inside, along with our 10 layers (in separate brooders) until they got big enough to go out into the coop. Once the green grass of spring finally arrived, we started letting them outside, which they loved! At first they were out loose, and we would be out there with them keeping an eye out for hawks or other animals of danger to them. It was so much fun to watch them scratch or sprawl out in the sun. They were very sweet gentle birds and preferred to be near us, often lying under our chairs and around our feet. We would pick them up and stroke their soft feathers. Once their pen was completed we would stand watching them just be chickens – taking dust baths, eating grass and insects, preening themselves all the while making happy noises… everything a chicken should do. One of our favorite things was when the cockerels starting crowing… or at least attempting to crow. It was a mix between an old time car horn and a fog horn, definitely not the typical sound you hear from a mature rooster.
The Lone Ranger grew in a tall, beautiful black cockerel with lots of multi-colored sheen and burnt red feathers intermingled. He was a sweet to the ladies, so he stayed around longer than all the other cockerels. We had debated about keeping him and Juanita to start our own flock of meat birds, but decided that we weren’t quite ready for that.
Other than losing one to a freak accident in the brooder, we still don’t know exactly what happened, all the chicks made it to their butcher days healthy and plump. Since this was our first time, we decided to split up the butchering. Some of the cockerels were getting mean and hogging all the food, and we felt for our 9 pullets, so it was easy to choose who would go first.
On Mother’s Day our 4 heaviest cockerels “fulfilled their purpose in life” – to provide meat for our freezer! The whole experience was so satisfying, and one that the whole family took part in. We actually really enjoyed it, the kids especially like to check out the inside of the gizzards! What a great hands on science lesson when we spread out the innards and showed the whole digestive tract, the kids loved it.
Over the next month a few more Sunday mornings became chicken days, each time we got a little more efficient in how we did things, so by the end we were able to process 9 birds in the same amount of time it took us to do 4 the first time! We did everything by hand using things that we had made ourselves. It was a great feeling at the end of the day to see the chickens in our freezer knowing exactly what they had eaten, how they had been raised, and how they met the end of their lives (not freaking out and stressed).
There is nothing like the taste of a home-raised chicken brined and roasted… yummy! I always save the carcasses for stock, and just this past week made one of our favorite meals – Chicken Dumpling Soup . I hope to can some of the stock to have in the winter, but it’s so hard not to use it right away since it is so good. We want to raise some more this fall, so maybe I’ll be able to save some from those for winter… hopefully…