Raising a Meat Flock

I always thought homesteading was for people with a huge acreage that milked their own cows and drove tractors.  Now I see that it’s anyone who is doing anything in and around their home to take control over or responsibility for a part of their lives and the mark they’re leaving.

Joe and I always start out kicking around an idea for a while, months usually.  Then we’ll begin to plan how we’d hypothetically make something happen; the cost, the benefits, the downfalls, what could go wrong, etc.

We’ve been raising hens for a couple of years for eggs.  We’ve named them and we consider them to be entertaining pets.  We take care of them and tend to spoil them and we enjoy the steady supply of fresh eggs they provide.

When we made the decision last year to begin eating food – real food raised/grown as close to home as possible – that included meat.  We began researching farms that process and distribute their meat close to home.  Thanks to Augusta Locally Grown we discovered we have a thriving food movement with an overwhelming amount of choices.

I’ve mentioned previously that we made our first bulk beef purchase from Tink’s Grass-Fed Beef at the beginning of the year when we purchased a quarter cow and we now also purchase our bacon from them as well.  Spirit Creek Farms has the most amazing pork chops I’ve ever tasted, I’ve pan fried those things and they do not dry out and toughen up!

After the massive recalls in the last year alone on both meat and vegetables, we were extremely thankful for the decision we made.  It felt good to take responsibility for our food, knowing exactly where it came from and that it isn’t riddled with hormones and antibiotics.  I was tired of being bombarded with all the big company packaging in the grocery store with mis-leading labels like “free-range”  or “naturally raised”.  Eating locally means we’re putting money in the pockets of neighbors and keeping it within our community while also supporting the vision of people with a passion for food and caring for animals.

Since we started keeping backyard chickens, our minds eventually wandered to the idea of raising chickens for meat.  We have the room to do so, the cost to raise them is relatively low, and we’d know without a shadow of doubt that they are healthy, free from any hormones and antibiotics, and truly free-range and humanely treated.

There will be some people who ask:  “If you’re going to slaughter an animal,  do you actually care about how they’re treated?”
I’m a meat eater but I’m also an animal lover.  I care for animals and I also respect them for what they provide to us.

Many people look at those who raise animals for meat as cruel or heartless.  So far I’ve found this to be the extreme opposite.  The people I’ve personally met who are raising cattle, hogs, and chickens take great pride in their animals.  They keep them healthy, raise them outdoors (That should be a given, but it’s something unheard of in big company factories that pack animals shoulder to shoulder to grow as fast as possible so they can get them in the freezer of a grocery store near you), and these animals are eating naturally (meaning, what they eat when people aren’t interfering).  These folks appreciate and respect the fact that their animals provide both food and income for them and so they treat the animals with great care.

Let’s also not forget the fact that in the not so distant past, there were no big factories processing and packaging your meat and no big chain grocery stores for you to buy the meat from.  If you wanted meat, you raised it yourself or purchased it from someone in your town.  If you didn’t raise it or buy it from your neighbor, you didn’t eat it.  Period.

It’s safe to say that our country is now far removed from our food sources.  When we buy food at the grocery store, they list a “Country of Origin”.  If it came from the USA, we don’t even know what state it came from.

It’s a personal choice whether or not you care about where your food comes from.  Until about two years ago I never questioned where mine comes from, I just knew I could pick up anything I needed at the grocery store.  Now that I think about buying food that traveled half way around the world, I ask myself why?  If we have people in our own town raising these animals and growing these vegetables, why am I buying it at a store that bought it from another country?  It doesn’t make sense to me personally.  I still go grocery shopping for things like sugar and rice and I don’t want this post to make anyone think I’m “one of those people” who look down on others that don’t bother to buy local food.  Like I said, it’s a personal choice.  (And I still buy Doritos, so really there is absolutely zero judgment!)

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Preparing the brooder for the chicks arrival.  The brooder was built from scrap wood and mesh wire.  The only new costs we incurred were for the door hinges.  Additionally we purchased pine shavings and two lights and a chain to allow for light adjustment.

After months of discussion, Joe and I decided we were ready to take on the responsibility of raising and ultimately slaughtering a meat flock.  This makes people uncomfortable.  I’ve had strange looks and the “…Oh.” response several times.

What I’m hoping to do here is document our journey from beginning to end so that people get an understanding of the process.  It’s more than just killing chickens for food.  I want meat eaters to understand that the frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts they thaw out for dinner or the fried chicken they buy from a restaurant all started out as a live animal; a precious fuzzy baby chick, in fact.
I don’t want to convert a vegetarian to “the dark side”, but I’d like them to respect my decision as I respect theirs and see the care and appreciation I give to these animals even if they don’t agree with what I’m raising them for.

The meat we eat starts out as a live animal.  I’m raising adorable peeping baby chicks that will turn in to full grown roosters by spring and they will be slaughtered and put in my deep freezer to feed me and my family, the same as the chicken purchased in a grocery store.  The difference is I have to care for and raise these animals, beginning to end.

Our goal is to raise 25 Black Australorp roosters with as little interference as possible besides offering protection from predators.  They will be free range with additional chicken food provided in feeders and of course a fresh supply of clean water.

Along the way I’m keeping track of every penny we spend on brooder supplies and chicken feed.  I’ll post a complete cost breakdown in the spring of exactly what it costs to raise a chicken and compare based on the average price paid per pound in the grocery store.

 

Here’s the beginning of our journey:

We purchased 25 Black Australorp chicks (all roosters) from Murray McMurray Hatchery.  You’re given a hatch date and can expect your chicks to arrive two days later at your local post office.  The post office will give you a call to let you know when they’ve arrived.

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Right before they hatch, chicks will absorb the last of the egg yolk (their food during incubation), which gives them enough nutrition for their two day journey through the mail.  The minimum order for chicks is 25 so that the body heat they create will keep them warm enough during travel.

Murray McMurrary provided two extra chicks for us (because unfortunately it’s not uncommon to lose a chick early on due to natural circumstances) but all our chicks arrived safe, sound, and fluffy!

When we arrived at the post office early Wednesday morning, we could hear the peeping from the back room.  “They’ve been singing to us!” the lady at the counter told us.  Haven and I were quite popular walking out with our box.  A couple employees came out “to meet the folks with the baby chicks” and people checking their PO boxes that morning stopped to tell us about their own chickens.

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Haven (with her trademark bedhead) was amazed by the “singing box”.
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She was so ready to peek in the box!
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Meeting the chicks.
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I couldn’t believe I was looking at 27 chicks in that tiny box.  

When the chicks arrive, you have to help them understand where their food and water is.  You do this by dipping their beak in both the water and food.  I did this for each chick and they immediately took to it because by the time I emptied the shipping box they were milling around eating and drinking all by themselves.

Because the babies are covered in fuzz and don’t have feathers to keep them warm yet, it’s important to keep a consistent warm temperature in their brooder.  The rule of thumb is this:

Brooder Temperature by Week

  • Week 1:   95°
  • Week 2:  90°
  • Week 3:  85°
  • Week 4:  80°
  • Week 5:  75°
  • Week 6:  70°

October in the South is chilly but not enough to bring the brooder indoors.  We keep one heat lamp (100 watt) on during the day and two (100 watt and 60 watt) at night.  This is keeping the brooder temperature at a steady 95 degrees at the moment.  The lights are positioned on one end of the brooder so that the chicks have space to fan out and find a comfortable heat level for themselves closer to or further from the lamps.

 

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They arrived on Wednesday and by Friday evening we saw they were already sprouting their little wing tip feathers!
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Black Australorp chick at 3 days old.

Right now my biggest concern is getting attached to these adorable babies and how I’m going to explain things to my 3 year old.  Like most parenting issues, it seems I honestly won’t know until I get there.

If you have any questions for me about the process so far or things you’d like me to discuss in the future, please leave me a comment and I’ll be happy to answer as best as I can!

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4 thoughts on “Raising a Meat Flock

  1. Before I read your post I thought how is she going to explain this to Haven and what if she gets attached and cannot go through with it. How are you going to slaughter them?
    You are right people eat meat but do not think about the process

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    1. There is an internal struggle with it because I am an animal lover but as a meat eater I understand the dirty work behind it. We are not naming the chicks and will have them free ranging in a wooded area so we will not have a lot of “bonding time” with them.
      To calm a chicken, you pick it up and hold it upside down by its legs. It puts them in an instant calm, almost sleep like state. This is how we hold them to check them for parasites, molts, etc.
      We will do this when we slaughter them, they will be placed upside down and one quick cut across the neck will kill them instantly, zero struggle. It is the most humane way to do it; I’ve seen it done before and I know it will not be easy for me.
      As far as Haven, I plan on being honest and explaining as we go what we’re planning, just the facts. I don’t think I will have her around on processing day this year however. She is beginning to understand the chicken she eats for dinner is the meat of chickens like we have in our yard so she will make the connection at an early age.

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