We have raised chickens for meat. Like, a lot. You can purchase broiler chicks at most farm stores and feed stores from now until mid summer. You can raise them yourself in as little as 6-8 weeks. It is a fast, enjoyable, rewarding addition to any homestead. Especially if you like to eat chicken, which I do.
There are 2 camps of chickens: Layers & Broilers. If you want to eat chicken, buy the broilers. If you want eggs, layers it is.
Layers grow slow, have a slimmer body and small, thin, purple breasts.
Broilers grow fast, are built like basket balls and resemble Dolly Parton. Yes, please. This is what I want in a chicken dinner.
I have been raising meat chickens for several years. Here’s our quick Meat Chicken History:
- Our first batch was chewy – like chicken bubble gum.
- Our second batch was tough – like chicken jerky.
- Our third batch got eaten by raccoons.
- Our fourth batch got killed by infectious bronchitis. Nightmare.
- Our fifth and sixth batches we shared with the local opossum, but we got to eat most of them and they were FABULOUS!!!!!
I’ve got this thing figured out (I think).
I could tell you why our first batch was chewy and our second batch was tough but then PETA would be even madder at me, so let’s not go there. I’ll just tell that their lives ended in backflips instead of a peaceful death. To see the disaster go here.
The good news is that I usually get my meat chicks for almost free (or completely free). So, when they die from infectious bronchitis or racoon homicide I don’t feel like dying too. Go here to see how I end up with free chickens.
Don’t Eat the Layers & Expect them to taste like Broilers
If you are eating a layer rooster there’s no way to fix that meat. It will be chewy, tough and look like Barney the Dinosaur.
You can treat it like venison, or rabbit, or dove and soak it, salt it, milk it etc to help get rid of some of the problems. BUT the bottom line is, if that guy was destined to lay eggs (what I mean to say is: if he was a she, she would be laying eggs) he will never taste like a broiler.
The second category of chicken are the Broilers. Oh Baby. These guys were made for the roaster. Giant breasts, tender WHITE meat and all the flavor you want from your fried chicken.
If you manage to get your cute, little chicks transformed into stumbling, walking dinners without feeding the local wildlife, there are some things you need to keep in mind.
If they get too much exercise they will be tough
If they are freaking out when you kill them they will be tough
If you don’t let the meat rest before bowling all the birds into the freezer they will be tough
Yup, it’s true.
So, in order to avoid making chicken bubble gum or chicken jerky – here’s what we do:
4 TIPS for Great Tasting Farm-Raised Chicken
#1 SAFE & SOUND (and not much space)
We raise our meat chicks in unusual ways. Dog kennels, coops, barns, runs. We’ve tried them all. No matter where I lock them up, the local varmint(s) seem to always find the buffet. I have to start with about twice as many as I would like to end with or we won’t get any chicken dinners.
No matter where we have tried to raise our broiler chicks, we always keep one thing consistent – not much space. I know this is COMPLETELY OPPOSITE from all my preaching about free-range, no fences, no runs, no boundaries sermon that I usually preach. I don’t like tough chicken. If you want tender meat – the bottom line is they just can’t get too much exercise.
My broiler chickens are happy, well-fed, and have lots of fresh air. They just don’t have too much “playground.”
#2 PROCESSING (make it fast)
When it’s time to do the deed we make sure the chickens are calm.
The goal is fast death with as little stress to the bird as possible. If the chicken is stressed when it is killed it can have an effect on the finished product.
People think we are crazy for it, but believe it or not, after trying several approaches to “make dead chickens” we have settled on the “step on the head and pull” system.
“When slaughtering chickens, especially a young fryer, you can simply step on the head and pull the hind legs. The head is very easily removed and killing chickens this way happens so fast the bird feels nothing. Just don’t mess around with it. Pull up fast.”
Although it sounds a bit barbaric and horrifying….. this stepping on the head and pulling the chicken is actually (we feel) the best way to kill a chicken. It is super easy. It is fast. It is not stressful. It is not messy. You don’t have to worry about “slitting” the throat in exactly the right spot. You don’t have to worry about suffering and pain on the chicken. You won’t have to purchase, mount or clean any kill cones. You won’t get covered in a shower of splattering blood. You just step on the head and pull. Done.
#3 ON TIME
Do not think that if you let your enormous, basketball sized broilers get even bigger that you will have turkey sized chicken dinners. You do not want to let your broilers live to weigh 8 pounds.
Trust me. I’ve done this. It wasn’t good.
The meat was terribly chewy. It was like trying to eat rubber bands.
When the chickens are about 7 or 8 weeks old they will be perfect. They should dress out around 4 pounds. They will be similar in size to what you are used to seeing at the grocery store.
Once they are about 7-8 weeks old & filled out – get ’em in the freezer.
#4 RESTING (chill ’em before you freeze ’em)
I am all about getting things done. If I am checking off a list, I am in my happy place. Processing 20 broiler chickens and having to store them in a refrigerator for 1-2 days before freezing them does not align with marking things off my to-do list. It just prolongs it. Not to mention, how am I supposed to cram 20 chickens into my refrigerator? Bring on the coolers and some ice.
For the tenderest meat, it is best to let the chickens chill in the fridge before moving them to long-term storage.
There is another shockingly horrifying reason to let you chicken meat REST before you begin to consider turning them into dinner….. To read all the details go here. The net-net is you are going to have some issues chewing your meat if you don’t wait a few days before eating your fresh hens. Really, go read this for all the details on how long you need to wait & why.
To see a step-by-step tutorial on how to Butcher Backyard Chickens go here.
There ya’ go.
The formula for perfect tender chicken:
- Not much exercise
- Fast Death
- Chill in fridge
You’ll LOVE the chicken!