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When to slaughter meat chickens...

Craig Dobbelyu


Joined: Dec 22, 2011
Posts: 928
Location: Maine (zone 5)
    
  30
I currently have about 20 RIR's and Barred Rocks that are about 9 weeks old and just starting to really plump up. My question is... At what age or weight would you begin to harvest meat breeds to maximize the quality of the meat? I'd like to have good sized birds but at what point do they really start to get tough? I've promised myself that I'll not eat another commercial chicken if I can help it so I'm really starting to have cravings.

They are currently eating a mix of kitchen/garden waste, pasture and a little bagged feed at bedtime.


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Lloyd George


Joined: Jan 25, 2012
Posts: 159
Xrocks...kill em at nine weeks...or they start to keel over...older breeds...nine to twelve weeks...usually takes a week or tw olonger on feed to reach eatin' weight....try this...record the dressed weight of this batch of birds, adn get a running average based on time to slaughter, then with the same breed next cycle do the same thing, but with a different time slot...you work out a good happy medium that way based on how you feed and raise chickens, and the weather/environment for your location..and eventually know exactly when your birds should get kilt..to within a couple of days I would imagine...
Jay Green


Joined: Feb 03, 2012
Posts: 587
    
    8
What you are currently raising isn't really considered a meat breed...more like dual purpose breeds. I've found that these breeds don't really have enough meat on them worth butchering for until they are 4-5 mo. old. If confined to a coop/run they shouldn't be too tough but if free ranged they may be a little chewier. Yours sound free range, so it they are going to be a little tougher anyway but that can all be rectified by penning 2 wks. prior to processing.

Cornish Cross meat birds do not "keel over" at nine weeks if raised on free range and given controlled portion feeding. If raised in this manner, they are usually big enough around 10-12 wks or even older, depending on how slowly you are growing them.

Any free ranged poultry is going to have tougher muscle fiber than penned birds, so be aware that you are dealing with a different product than you will find in the stores...tastier, chewier, less watery and mushy. It will also have an odor when cooking that you may not notice with store bought chicken...that's normal, this is real meat from real chickens and this is what they always looked, tasted and smelled like back when folks ate their own all the time.
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3080
Location: woodland, washington
    
  52
Lloyd George wrote:Xrocks...kill em at nine weeks...or they start to keel over...older breeds...nine to twelve weeks...usually takes a week or tw olonger on feed to reach eatin' weight....try this...record the dressed weight of this batch of birds, adn get a running average based on time to slaughter, then with the same breed next cycle do the same thing, but with a different time slot...you work out a good happy medium that way based on how you feed and raise chickens, and the weather/environment for your location..and eventually know exactly when your birds should get kilt..to within a couple of days I would imagine...


I think Craig's got Barred Rocks, not hybrid rock crosses. the Plymouth Rock breed is plenty old.

around here, we just eat the roosters. and we eat them whenever somebody's hungry for chicken and has the stomach to kill and dress one or more. we've got Buckeyes, which are also a dual purpose breed, so they're at least twelve weeks old before they're big enough to be worth the trouble.

also, I wouldn't personally consider Rhode Island Red a dual purpose breed. they're firmly in the egg breed column as far as I'm concerned. pretty scrawny birds, but great layers. as such, killing one for meat might not be the best bet. an old worn out layer would make a good stew or stock bird, though.

Barred Rocks get larger. to me, the hens' value as a layer exceeds their value as meat, at least until their laying slows way down after several years. at that point, they're pretty tough. roosters, though, beyond the few required for breeding, make more sense as food.

and one thing to add on cooking older/pastured birds: the slow cooker is your friend. a brand new, razor sharp knife could barely cut the skin and flesh of the last few roosters we culled they were so tough. but after twelve hours of slow cooking, they were ridiculously tender.


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Jay Green


Joined: Feb 03, 2012
Posts: 587
    
    8
I guess that depends on where you get your RIRs and if they are roosters or hens...the OP didn't indicate either way. BRs are only slightly more meaty than a good RIR from good stock, so I class RIR with good genetics in the DP class, particularly if they are roos.

I definitely include RIRs in my DP layer flock for that very reason...they are borderline for me. Leghorns, on the other hand, are not and I class them fully in the egg layers only.
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3080
Location: woodland, washington
    
  52
Jay Green wrote:I guess that depends on where you get your RIRs and if they are roosters or hens...the OP didn't indicate either way. BRs are only slightly more meaty than a good RIR from good stock, so I class RIR with good genetics in the DP class, particularly if they are roos.

I definitely include RIRs in my DP layer flock for that very reason...they are borderline for me. Leghorns, on the other hand, are not and I class them fully in the egg layers only.


makes sense. I've only ever inherited Rhode Islands, so I can't speak to the provenance of the genetics. the few we've got right now are featherweights at best.

the humane society dropped off a seized Leghorn a few weeks ago. certainly not dual purpose there. weighs about the same as the one tiny Silkie we've got. and refuses to abide fences.
Craig Dobbelyu


Joined: Dec 22, 2011
Posts: 928
Location: Maine (zone 5)
    
  30
It's nice to see this thread come back to life.

To clarify things: the flock is made up of RIR, Barred/plymouth rocks and few odd birds that came for free because I offered a "good home" for them.

I avoided the cornish crosses for my first attempt with meat birds only as a matter of ease, considering that they seem to have some ISSUES with spontaneous death. Maybe next year I'll give them a shot. This year I don't have time to process a lot of birds at once nor the room to freeze them. Having birds that live until I eat them is a good deal right now for me.

They are on pasture with some supplemental feed and seem to be happy and thriving.


I DID put one on the table last week. It was a Barred rock that was 12 weeks old. It ended up being just enough of a meal to make it worth the work. I fed two adults and two kids with bits leftover for soup. Sadly I did let it cook a little longer than I would have liked. Even still, it was a good tasting bird. It was clean and quite nice ( none of that factory farm stink). It was a little tough but not really enough to worry about. I can easily make up for that by using other cooking methods. We're planning on eating one bird per week to get a feel for how they taste as they progress through the year. They get tougher but better tasting as time goes on, or so I've read.

I had the idea that the birds that don't size up will still be around to lay eggs so either way I can't lose. By having some variety in the flock I can start a breeding program once I'm ready. there are a few roosters in the mix so... we'll see.

I'm just going to eat my way to a good healthy flock. eat the runts, non-layers, non-foragers and meanies and eventually I'll have a respectable flock. Maybe

All in all, it's an experiment.
Jay Green


Joined: Feb 03, 2012
Posts: 587
    
    8
Not a bad idea at all...culling all the undesirables is a good way to start breeding for the most hardy, productive, meaty, wiley and thrifty on feed~my gold standards for a DP flock.
Lloyd George


Joined: Jan 25, 2012
Posts: 159
The french have a great solution for tough skinny birds...coq au vin.
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3080
Location: woodland, washington
    
  52
Lloyd George wrote:The french have a great solution for tough skinny birds...coq au vin.


that's how we did the last unlucky fellow. even though the bird was free, after two bottles of wine and some good bacon ends, it wasn't exactly a cheap meal. gosh darn tasty, though.
Eric Thompson


Joined: Apr 23, 2011
Posts: 227
Location: Bothell, WA - USA
    
    1
For those breeds I would try for 4-8 months for most of them. I think a lot of people who call them "tough" are really comparing to the ultra-obese offerings -- I would weigh in more of tough being like a two year old rooster that you can hardly rip the meat off the bones. In the same way, a super-fat Kobe beef is far software than my grass fed pasture beef, but it's the pasture beef that I consider to be the "real" texture of beef. Just think of a 6 month old Barred Rock as 'normal' texture for chicken, grocery store chicken as soft flabby 'biggest loser' meat, and everything else is relative.
I completely agree with your direction to avoid commercial chicken - I'm moving that way too, so far half way there, and I would like to get there by next year at raising 60 roosters per year, with hens mostly goling into starting people off with laying chickens (kind of my community service..)

By the way, 4-8 months is also prime time for easy butchering -- I save a lot of time on it by skinning the chicken, which is easy at this age. It takes less than 2 min per bird with a little practice...


John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6443
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
133
An old breeder's saying: Breed the best, eat the rest.
Lynn Woodard


Joined: Jul 02, 2012
Posts: 4
Location: Northern Shenandoah Valley in Virginia
We grow most of our own food and have both "meat" and dual purpose chickens. The "meat" chickens are generally the Cornish Cross birds and we butcher at 9 weeks. We've never once had a spontaneous death that people speak of. We raise these birds separately from the regular flock -- they are in a big tractor arrangement and I've been doing this for more than 25 years. Yeah, before Salatin came to the urban-crowd. The chicken tractor is moved daily so they get fresh grassy greens to pick at and we keep them in a tractor to confine them somewhat while also utilizing the benefits with a fresh daily grass 'floor'. Generally, we have either 25 or 30 Cornish at a time, depending upon the order we place. We feed the Cornish a 19% protein organic feed and supplement with hand-picked forage and garden veggies. When we butcher, we have a full weekend. We butcher half of the flock per day, and we skin them to save time and energy. We don't eat the skin anyway.

Our dual purpose chickens are Barred Rock, Astralorp, Orpington, Wyandotte, and Sussex. We have a flock of 24 (they're 12 months old) and this year, 1 Speckled Sussex rooster. We are incubating a few eggs here and there to perpetuate the flock -- they'll be mixed since we only have the one rooster. Over the years, the Astralorp and Orpingtons will lay year round if we provide a bit of supplemental light (Zone 7, north Virginia area). This is a desirable trait for us. Although we do cull and butcher the dual purpose chickens, the finished bird (the young roo) is generally between 2-3 pounds instead of the 7-8 pound dressed Cornish Cross. Last year we opted for a new breed, the Silver Laced Wyandotte and will cull them as we find they're a bit territorial and not as productive or docile as the other breeds are. Hands down, the Rock, Orpington, and Astralorp are our favorite dual purpose birds and they have also weighed out the best as dual purpose upon butchering.

In my opinion, the only way to cook an older bird is by slow cooking or pressure cooking, ground up, and fed to our dogs.

As for the commercial poultry business -- we're not far from a number of processing plants so we see the truck traffic once in a while. Most transported birds are dead while in transit to the slaughterhouse. Disgusting.
Daniel Morse


Joined: Feb 13, 2012
Posts: 215
Location: SW Michigan
    
    3
Well we always went 10 to 12 weeks, depending on the chicken. Seasonal also. No need to feed other than egg layers in the cold months. You get into a rotation.


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