Looking for an easy way to humanely harvest meat birds?
Humanely harvest meat birds in just four easy peasy steps. Why? Because having your own fresh home raised chicken in your freezer is so worth it. Each year, we feed about 25 chickens for eight weeks and then harvest them ourselves.
Here’s a week by week synopsis of the chicks’ growth and development.
– 5 & 6
– 8 – Read On, Friend! This post is week 8.
The Breed of Chicks
The breed of meat bird I always order to feed out is called Jumbo Cornish Cross. I love these meat birds because they are efficient and easy to care for. Their meat is also very tender, juicy and delicious.
Also, I feel like we are getting the most meat we can for the cost of the chicks plus feed cost. Because the size of the pieces and amount of meat on them is worth it. I can pull two chicken breasts out of the freezer and use them for two or three chicken meals. This is hopefully saving me time and money.
Finally, I feed these birds for only eight weeks. This is a very quick way to feed out an animal to harvest.
Why Only 8 Weeks?
Because of their fast growing capabilities, it really does only take eight weeks for the chickens to be ready for harvest.
Eight weeks is the sweet spot. From then, the birds begin to have more leg issues and heart attacks. So, they die anyway…sometimes before we can find them to butcher.
So, it’s much better to control a way to humanely harvest meat birds. By controlling the harvest, we are ensuring safe meat for our family to enjoy for months ahead.
Sound good? Here’s how to get Cornish Cross chicks.
How to Order Quality Cornish Cross Chicks
I order them ahead of time online through Cackle Hatchery due to our location. It’s important to me that the chicks have as limited shipping time as possible. Because that will lower the amount of stress they will face through the transition when they arrive at the post office.
Then, I get a phone call when they arrive. Usually around 6 a.m. because they’ve been traveling during the night and are hungry.
By the end of 8 weeks, the birds are ready to harvest and preserve. Hooray for farm fresh chicken!
Again, you can follow the quick transformation of the meat bird chicks HERE .
Chicken Supplies List To Raise Chicks for 8 Weeks
Your chicks will need ample pen space. If too little, they might pick on one and kill it. I keep my birds in a large pen to protect them from dogs and other potential predators.
After I first get them, I keep them inside a shelter for a couple of weeks.
Then, I move them to a larger pen, either indoors or outdoors. I’ve put mine in one of my gardens before and it worked beautifully for them and my garden the next year.
Also, you’ll need a feed trough and water tubs. These guys drink and eat a lot more than they look like they can. And yes, you’ll need to hand feed those chickens a good protein diet
You’ll also want to have your harvest supplies ready to go because the eight weeks will go so fast.
Chicken Supplies List for Humanely Harvesting Meat Birds
Supplies we can’t live without when we harvest meat bird chicks include:
We have purchased a basic butchering kit from McMurray Hatchery. It included a large cone, de-boning knife, and lung puller.
Now, here are the 4 easy steps to humanely harvest meat birds:
Killing the Chicken
First of all, we carefully place chicken head into the large cone, pull its head through, and make a nice clean cut.
This is the most humane way to harvest a chicken. Because the bird is not stressed as we handle it gently. It is comfortable inside the cone and the cone allows us more control during the killing process.
And with one clean slice, the head comes off and it’s over in seconds. This is why you need a very sharp knife for the killing process when you humanely harvest meat birds.
It only takes a moment for the bird to bleed out and we can catch the blood in a bucket right underneath the cone for easy cleanup after you humanely harvest meat birds.
Scalding & Plucking the Chicken
Next, the chicken is ready to be taken to the hot water to scald. Submerge the chicken entirely in the hot water for about five slow seconds. The temperature of choice for us is around 150 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter.
Scalding the chicken correctly helps tremendously in the plucking process. We used to live in the olden days with hand plucking. But recently, we moved into the new age and get an electric plucker like this to aid in the process.
Plucking the chicken’s feathers is next. If the chicken is scalded at the right temperature and amount of time, the feathers should come off easily. We have a big trash can available to catch the feathers.
Gutting & Trimming the Chicken
The final step to humanely harvest meat birds is splitting the chicken to reveal the innards. It is one of the most technical parts of the butchering process. Here’s how I do it:
The wing tips are cut off with the de-boning knife as well as the feet at the knee break joints.
The bottom of the chicken is sliced open revealing the intestines. It is very important to CAREFULLY and SLOWLY remove the intestines from the inside. Otherwise, you will have a real mess.
As you remove the rest of the organs from inside the chicken, you can use the lung puller to get all the way inside to snag the lungs. They can be difficult to pull out so use your muscles.
Clean Chicken Inside & Out
Finally, clean out the insides thoroughly. The goal is to remove any blood you may be consuming. Because that is just yucky! The chicken has to be clean and blood free.
So, I like to use a garden hose with a spray nozzle to completely wash out the inside. Then, I let them soak in a cooler of clean water. This helps to remove the blood from both ends so you wont have to do much scrubbing later.
And then, comes the task of placing the chicken into Ziplock freezer bags. Or, you and your team can partake in one more step.
One Extra Step
From this point, there are two decisions to make. The chicken could be frozen or cooked whole. Or the chicken could be cut into its special delicious pieces (breast, thighs, drumsticks, etc) that are ready to throw into any recipe. Read here for to see how I freeze my chickens and why I choose to do it this way.
Our choice is quite an undertaking on butcher day. Separating all the chickens into freezable pieces takes a lot of time and effort. Luckily, we have many helpful hands to help us get it all done.
Plus, they get chickens for their freezer, too. So, it’s a win for them as well. Helping to humanely harvest meat birds isn’t so bad. It’s actually kind of a fun process and brings everyone together.
Why We Do All Of This
So, why do we take the time to raise and humanely harvest meat birds? Should we just go to the grocery store to buy chicken?
And do we really save anything at all by doing all of this work? The answer is: Just a little bit. Expenses include feed, cost of the chickens and my time to care for them properly. And it can all add up if you let it.
But a little bit truly goes a long way.
The truth is, I’m not against conventionally raised chicken. I’m not against grocery stores. But, I would much rather not make a trip to a grocery store if I can grow it and keep it in the freezer.
It’s a matter of convenience for me. If I can run down to the freezer to pull out chicken breast, I’m about 20 minutes ahead of driving to town to the store. This does save on gas, time and lots of effort after butchering day is over. And this is ultimately why I humanely harvest meat birds.
Plus, the piece of mind knowing exactly what your chicken has eaten. If you could raise and humanely harvest meat birds yourself, would you?