Last week I started to write a post about the 10 things I Learned from raising meat birds that was more about the specifics on what it takes to raise them and just never made it to completion. That happens from time to time when I am writing. I think I have an inspired post, then, somewhere along the way the message gets lost, or the enthusiasm wanes. Whatever the case was this time, I just don’t see that post making the cut. I do want to tell you a bit about this, our first experience raising and processing meat birds. However, I do not plan to give you a blow-by-blow how-to. There are plenty of videos and blog posts already dedicated to that information. I, instead, would like to share some discoveries, both self and production based, that were made along the 10 week journey.
So here goes, What I learned from raising meat birds.
1 - Cornish Cross are an incredible bird. Fast growing and docile. Completely misunderstood. Yes, they are eating, drinking and pooping machines, but that is not their fault. These birds are programmed to be fast growing, food inhaling, water guzzling little tanks. Sure they seemed to be constantly starving, but they were in no way lazy. We housed our 8 in an 8ft x 4ft tractor that we moved daily to fresh patches of grass. Once on a new patch, every one of these little high-production machines eagerly ran about hunting bugs, gobbling up the green grass and discovering the perfect dust bath location.
2 - The fast growth rate of this hybrid (not to be confused with GMO) broiler gives a family the promise of healthy, humanely raised meat in as little as 2 months, from start to finish. Chicken may not be the most cost-effective meat to produce, but hatch to freezer in 8 weeks means a family can have meat on the table through the months, and years, it takes to raise the larger meat animals.
3 - In regards to the how to raise meat birds, I have discovered the tractor raising is geared for much larger, acreage, homesteads. In our little yard, it made more work and mess. We all agree, we want to raise more meat birds, in the spring, but would prefer to integrate the chicks into our laying flock to allow them the freedom to forage and be part of the “whole” for the extent of their lives. This set up would allow all our birds, both the layer’s and the meat birds more space and a cleaner environment. I say meat birds since we are toying with the idea of doing a mix next time of the Cornish cross and Freedom rangers. Raising a combination will allow us to compare the two varieties side by side to become better informed of the pros & cons of both.
4 - Teamwork is key. From teaming up, co-op style with folks who understand and appreciate what it takes to raise meat, from the cost to the time, labor and emotional commitment to the combined effort of hands, helping with the daily feeding, watering and general care to eventually sharing the burden of the final days labor, both emotionally and physically, having a team in place is crucial when raising your own meat. While we housed and cared for the birds, another individual supplied all the feed. Once completed, the birds were split 50/50. The Hubs, Midge and I shared the burden of the daily care, which for Cornish Cross was a daily, and often times twice daily, especially in the tractor. The water was refilled often, the feed was poured twice a day, the tractor took two sets of hands to relocate and during that last intense heat wave, all three of us were required to bring a pullet back from the brink of death from heat stroke.
Processing day was a whole other entity. Having not ever processed a bird for eating, we were all more than a bit apprehensive. Of course the toughest pill to swallow was the taking of a life. Not EVER to be taken lightly and ALWAYS to be given the utmost respect and gratitude, this step must be swift and humane. This is where a newly kindled friendship, discovered via my Cluck & Hoe Facebook page, came in to play. Never had we met in person, as we do not live within an easy drive, and yet when that first conversation was had via a phone call, It felt oddly like I was speaking to a person whom I had held a decades long friendship. She, we’ll call her Kay, volunteered, no, insisted, that she would make the 2 hour drive in to help us on the final day. With her, Kay brought a wealth of knowledge, experience, compassion, patience, generosity and community. Having her there, guiding us through each step of the process helped make the weight of the day, just a little lighter. Guided by her patience and encouragement, I found my hand growing steadier, my heart filling with appreciativeness and a confidence in the acknowledgement that I can, and will, live this life I daydream of so often.
5 - Midge. This girl of ours.
Just the thought of her and her strength, courage and compassion overwhelms me with pride, respect, and honor. I had mentioned early on the importance in all of us having a hand in every step of the process. This was talked about, but not pressed. Once we began Kay and I turned to Midge and asked her to take part in step one, at least once. Although hesitant, this
girl young woman stepped up and bravely, graciously and gently did what was to be done. Like a right of passage, as her tears rolled, mine began. Dad had paused in all his tasks long enough to bear witness to this moment. It was a bittersweet experience, a palpable moment in time when a bit more of her childhood innocence was replaced with a hardened piece of the reality we talk of on a daily basis. As a whole, our family believes in the importance of reconnecting with our food. With that belief comes the responsibility to raise the animal, from start to finish, in the utmost humane, compassionate and respectful manner. To watch Midge walk the walk and still stand tall, knowing however hard it may be to take the life of an animal raised for meat, it is the path we should all be on. To be witness to the greatness which is my daughter is, and will forever be, my greatest source of joy and gratitude.
6 - I can do this, I can grow our food with compassion, humility, respect and a grateful heart. I can show these animals that are destined to be a source of sustenance for me and my family the same love and respect all beings deserve. I can hold my head high knowing the food we raised was done so in a humane manner. I can take pride in knowing the life these birds, and any other animal I raise, is a quality life, not taken for granted. A life not thought less of, but rather, more, knowing the immense role they will have on the lives of those they will provide for. I can grow what I eat and eat what I grow. I can put meaning and appreciation back into the food that nourishes our bodies and souls. Whether its man animal or produce. We know our farmer and we are our farmer and that is the most empowering knowledge I have gained thus far in my life.