Bird Brained Plans: Raising Our Own Meat and Egg birds

When we moved last year, we came to our new home with no chickens. The summer before we moved, I accidently ran our four wheeler into the coop and the wire detached from the wood. Despite rigging up a fix for it, the hens got out and it wasn’t long before they disappeared (I’m still not convinced our neighbor didn’t catch them and keep them).

So for the last year and a half, we’ve been without birds. At first we were ok with that because moving into this house, settling in and then trying to finish some home projects just ate up all our time. But over the past couple of months, we’ve been talking about getting hens again. We’re missing our fresh eggs.

The big deal with this is that we’re also considering getting some meat birds to process ourselves. That part makes me nervous. I’ve never killed a chicken before (or anything else) even though I spent four years working for a poultry research company. But part of me knows that if I am going to eat chicken, I ought to be able to handle the processing part. Hunter has said he will kill them if I can help with the rest of the process which I can do. Once its dead, it really doesn’t bother me all that much honestly. It’s the killing that bothers me.

But we’re going to do it because we still believe that growing our own meat is better for us. We know what the birds will eat, how they lived and how they were cleaned, handled and processed. And its one less thing we buy conventionally. It won’t be any cheaper but we’ll have grown it ourselves.

Processing our own meat isn’t new to us. Over the years, Hunter slowly took the steps to process all of his own deer. The only deer we’ve paid to process in a few years has been in order to get cube steak but this year, we purchased a cuber at the end of the year for next season. Next year, that should pay for itself. I’ll talk more about processing our own deer later.

We will probably order from McMurray Hatchery this time since we want a larger quantity. McMurray offers a package called the “Meat-N- Egg Combo” for around $60 that we are leaning toward. The package comes with 10 hens and 15 meat birds. It seems like a good way to get back into chickens. As much as I want the ability to choose specific breeds, for this first batch, just getting some layers to start and some meat birds to try will be ok. The meat birds will be either Cornish X Rocks or Cornish Roasters and the layers would be an assortment from the Rainbow or Brown laying hens which means we might end up with white eggs as well. It doesn’t really matter to me right now. The meat birds would be ready to harvest in 7-10 weeks.

favoritebreeds

Original images from Flickr: Rhode Island Reds by nessamarie, Buff Orpington by srte and Araucan by Will Merydyth, Red Rangers and Cornish X images via McMurray Hatchery website.

In a perfect world, I would get a mix of Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons, and Red or Black Stars for layers. I’ve also heard really good things about Red Ranger meat birds but they aren’t offered as part of this package since they are new to McMurray. Maybe later though.

The plan right now is to start with the 25 birds (McMurray requires a 25 bird minimum for orders placed until April) that we’ll try to order and receive in February/March, depending on when we can get our coop done. Then, once we do our first batch of meat birds and process them, we could place a smaller order for more birds when we’re ready (order minimum is 15 after April) for more layers or meat birds.

We’ve also decided to try a different watering system using “chicken nipples” (God knows what kind of its I’ll get from that) instead of the traditional hanging waterers because 1. they’re a pain, 2. they freeze in the winter and 3, they get nasty quickly. We still have a hanging waterer to use as a back up or supplement however.

Even the kids are ready to get birds again. We all miss the fantastic tasting eggs! The boys even said we could use the giant box my cousin’s husband brought us (that we were going to turn into a barn of sorts for them) for the nesting boxes. Isn’t that precious? Most importantly, they are a part of our raising our own meat and understanding the food cycle. They’re learning that they can do this too and when they’re older, they’ll hopefully find themselves in a sustainable lifestyle that they find as satisfying as we are.

And needless to say, I’m pretty darn excited about getting chick babies again!

Carrie