Thursday, April 21, 2011

Raising Chickens for the Family

Today we picked up 25 locally hatched chickens from a farmer to raise in our backyard. This post is about the last part of what we've included in our blog heading "and keep a few chickens for eggs and meat." We try to raise or to know the farmer who raises, the animals we eat. This is part of how we do it.

The Silver Cross breed is not our first choice, but they come from a local hatchery. They're available now and we've gone without chicken dishes since March -the last of our early fall brood. They're also healthy birds that we'll raise right.
I know why I'm smiling behind the camera, because we'll have chicken in the freezer again! But for C. James (who definitely knows from experience what these birds are for), this is just a blast!

The chicks cost 1 dollar each at the hatchery. The local, whole-grain feed will cost 2 -3 dollars per bird (23.50 per 80 lbs). Between gardening and keeping chickens on less than an acre, we don't have the resources (or zoning privileges) to butcher them ourselves, so we have to pay for that. It will cost us 2 dollars per bird. Fuel for feed pick up (it's 50 miles round trip) will add at least 1 dollar per bird.  We'll raise these birds to be about 6 -8 pounds each and harvest 3 -4 pounds of meat.  All told they'll cost around 2 dollars and some change per pound.  We'd happily pay 5 dollars a pound just for sake of this experience!

We'll keep them indoors at first in our 12 x 20 foot shed and under lights until they grow permanent feathers. Then we'll move them outside into a half-covered but airy enclosure made of PVC, chicken wire and a tarp. We'll move their enclosure around on our backyard grass. It's spacious and dry, keeping them out of the direct sight of our accepting neighbors and safe from predators. In the past, we've seen hawks land on the enclosure, and fox scat on the ground around it. Have you ever heard a fox shriek in the dead of night? I heard that sound for the first time last fall. It scared me, so shrill and eery; like nothing I've ever heard before. The birds are happy to have a safe and comfortable home, and we're thankful to have them for food.  We take it as a fair trade off. 

I'll move the enclosure to new grass twice daily, once before work in the morning (I hope nobody at work minds the occasional muddy splashes on my dress shoes) and once after dinner. When they get bigger, I'll need to rake the manure into piles and shovel it into the compost bin.  As long as I move them twice daily (which has been a very relaxing part of my routine), the birds will always be on fresh grass.  It takes a bit of a toll on our lawn, but it's worth it, especially when you take into account the hot manure that, after raking, is great fertilizer for the lawn soil and a great accelerator in our compost bin.

All told, we're looking forward to fresh chicken again, in early July!


  1. When my mother was young they raised chickens for eating and she had to butcher them. Boy the stories she tells about that! After hearing her stories, I don't think that I could butcher them myself. By raising them, you definitely have fresh, well feed chicken to eat and some great fertilizer too!

  2. You are doing a very good thing there. Wish we can raise some chicken here too.

  3. Hi Robin, I've heard some pretty incredible stories myself. Today many farmers are gassing their birds before they butcher them.

    Malay-Kadazan girl, thanks for the encouragement. We know it's not possible for everyone, and we're thankful for the privilege we have to do this.

  4. Here's one person that wishes she could have chickens again :o( our HOA objects and I can understand that...I just wish I thought about wanting chickens again before moving here...I raised some in NJ..just for fun,now it's for better meat for real.