Weighing chickens

Weighing chickens

Booked a chicken processing date today: slaughterhouse day is July 29. They’ve been looking good all along, but suddenly, the White Rocks are seeming especially mighty tasty. I keep remembering one of them hurrying by with a long worm trailing from his beak, then quickly slurping it down. The last batch was raised just on feed, but these guys have foraged for a varied diet, literally free-ranging (no fence!) for most of their lives. Along with feed. Should be a delicious combo.

On this, only my second flock of meat birds, I’ve noticed a new feeling for food animals. The first round was a novelty and a learning experience, now, it’s a comfortable routine. I observe the chickens…appreciatively. I like them, talk to them (although, not about much), hang out with them when I have time, but I also clearly see their demise and transformation into FOOD as I  look out for their comfort, well-being, cheerfulness every day. No pet-based sentimentality, instead I am grateful. The I-raise-you-then-eat-you feeling may sound harsh, but it feels…natural.

Weighed a few for the first time today, using a hanging scale and a trug (flexible plastic utility bucket). This can-do set-up works just fine for spot checks. With the handles pulled together, the top of the trug is pretty well closed, so the chicken inside tends to sit still for a while before starting to look around…

At 9 weeks, most of them are around 7-8 lbs (3.6 kg). About 6-8 of the 39, like the one in the pic, are visibly a little smaller: they’re around 6 lbs (if you’re checking the scale in the pic, the outter measure is kgs, inner is lbs, and the trug = 2 lbs). Overall, that seems good! According to the hatchery catalog, the White Rock average is 6.3 lbs (2.7 kg) at 7 weeks, and that I assume is confined with constant feed. These guys are out and about—exercising—and I let the feed empty for 4-5 hours every day, so the lighter weight seems to make sense. A couple more weeks and they should be suitably White-Rock-plump, still healthy and happy, and…supertasty!

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35 Responses to “Weighing chickens”

  1. bmtea says:

    What you dismiss as “sentimentality” is actually a quite natural feeling of compassion and caring for others. You are practicing, and getting good at, lying to yourself and hardening your heart. You know that if you would build a bond to any of these animals, you would not want to kill her. So, you work actively at NOT building bonds. That impoverishes your thinking and world view. The only reason you are doing this is because you like to eat meat — and for that you are willing to breed, raise and kill other sentient beings, even when you fully know that you don’t have to in order to nourish yourself. The “processing date” will be your ultimate betrayal of these beautiful animals, but as long as you convince yourself that you’re doing the right thing, it’s all good… the chickens can’t fight back.
     

  2. Kristin says:

    I have wanted to have a hobby farm so I can control how my food is treated.  I go vegan most of the day, only have a little meat for dinner and I splurge like others during holidays and get togethers.  I eat that way because it helps me lose weight when I need to.  These chickens are treated far better than anything you can get at a grocery store.  How rude of bmtea to come to a tiny farmer’s blog and harass them – you should be going to the factory farmers where chickens only have enough room to turn around and absolutely no access to sunlight.

  3. Chris says:

    Hi, I’ve just discovered this blog and really enjoy it.  As a beginner to vegetable gardening I find the blog comforting and informative.  To comment on the previous post, I’d like to say I agree.  As a vegan, I personally don’t approve of the acts and feelings you mention in your post.  Also, the idea of a “chicken catalog” as mentioned in previous posts made me sick.  However (and that’s a big however), it is a step in the right direction of the treatment of animals used for food.  Anything different than a complete disconnect to the meat industry is a good thing.

  4. Jessica says:

    Oh for crying out loud. I read your blog a lot, though never leave comments, but as a vegetarian myself I couldn’t let this one pass. I whole-heartedly support this! Bmtea, being anonymously preachy doesn’t help anything. However one feels about eating meat, these chickens are darned lucky compared to where their brooder-mates no doubt ended up! Raising and eating your own food is what farming is about. My choice not to eat meat is based on the horrendous treatment of the animals and the disgusting health and environmental effects of factory farms. Small operations like your “tiny farm” are the answers to these atrocities. I’d even eat your chickens!
    Oh, and while I’m here, since I may not comment for awhile, thank you for your terrific blog. My veggie garden thanks you too.

  5. Kevin says:

    Ooh, a chicken processor.  I never thought of that.  The last thing holding me back from raising chickens was that I didn’t think I would be able to pluck them well, and am not interested in eating chickens with quills still in them.  Thanks – you’ve finished unintentionally convincing me.  Next year, chickens!
    Hey, one last spate of questions:
    -Do the free-range chickens develop any gamey flavor?
    -I understand that they will be tougher than the chickens we get in the store, but that doesn’t sound like a big deal to me.  Is it noticeable to you?
    -Including the feed, processing cost, cost of chick, and subtracting out any eggs that you might get, could you take a guess at how much it costs to raise a chicken?  Is it cost-effective?  Or just healthy and fun?
     
    Thanks again!  By the way, I am also a part-time vegan, but only when I’m asleep. ;)

  6. crowjoy says:

    Glad to hear your happy birds are coming along. We too strive for “only one bad day” in any animal’s life. I’m curious why you don’t process yourself though… ? Hands on slaughtering and butchering is no picnic, but for me  it feels like a necessary part of the whole cycle. Then again, we’re only providing for our family and not a commercial operation.

  7. Jedidja says:

    I’ve processed a couple recently (White Rocks as well) and had a rooster at 6.5 weeks who was already up to 8 lbs. Came in at 4 lbs 14oz dressed. The rest of the hens seem to be around 6lbs or so right now.
    I like your scale :) I’ve been stepping on a real scale holding onto one to measure it hehehehe.

  8. cathy says:

    hi mike
    i’m glad you had a good experience with the white rocks this year…….it’s like i said last year if you get them out on greens and pasture early enough …they know how to act like chickens should.

  9. Scott says:

    It looks like you are showing those chickens a respect that they deserve!  We raised white rock X this year and Barred Rocks for comparison.  The first mistake we made was getting them too early in the season and they couldn’t get outside until later in their lives which meant they didn’t have any interest to.  The Barred Rocks took almost twice as long to grow ~18 weeks.  We do the processing our selves and the slower growing heritage breeds are nice as you can take a few here and there unlike the white rock X which are all ready at the same time.
    Good luck!

  10. Chris says:

    Vegans commenting on sentient beings (chickens or any farm animal) and the possibility of a living eco-system (the farm) with no animals in the rotation are far removed from the reality of farming.  I say before you point a condemning finger, make sure you know what you’re talking about.
    You (vegans) make your own moral choices, but to come and condemn someone who is making such a difference and showing by example how a truly sustainable small farm can be run is pretty much the lowest of the low.  Your ignorance would be excusable, but your comments are not.
    Chris

  11. Jim says:

    A sustainable farm does not require killing animals.
    And you don’t even have to be vegan to know that.

  12. Dan says:

    It is amazing how fast chickens grow. I bet that fresh chicken is mighty tasty. I’d be getting the grill warmed up on the 29th :-)

  13. EtienneG says:

    You feed the chickens.  The chickens feed you.  I think it’s a good deal for both party.
     
    Farm animals have co-evolved with farmers in a symbiotic relationship and would not exist in their current form if it wasn’t for the humans consuming them (or their offspings, eggs, milk, etc).   These White Rocks have very little in common with their wild ancestor of South East Asia, and would not roam the temperate parts of North America for sure.  Also, in nature, herbivore invariably fall to predators.  There is no such thing as natural death in the jungle.
     
    Farming is about reproducing natural process in a controlled fashion for the benefits of the farmer.  The vegetables we grow have been carefully selected over centuries to their current form, often time so radically transformed in the process that there is no recognizable kinship to their wild ancestor left (think maize).   These plants are being artificially grown in climate and condition that could not possibly be suitable to their wild ancestor either.  Finally, we harvest the plant, sometime ending its life in the process.  We perpetuate the cycle by harvesting their seeds to grow the next crops.
     
    Animal husbandry is pretty much the same things.  We have bred animals over time for certain characteristics that are useful to us, farmer. These animals would not exist in their current form and current location is if wasn’t for farming.  We raise these animals in places that are far removed from the natural habitats of their wild ancestor.  Finally, we “harvest” them for meat (and sometime, for other byproduct such as eggs, milk, wool or honey).
     
    In their natural habitat, their wild relatives feed predators.  In the artifical habitat of the farm, they  feed humans, their surrogate predator.  It is pretty much in line with the act of farming, and consequently with the natural cycle of life in the wild.  In fact, I would tend to think that well-cared for livestock (which exclude most of those raised industrially) probably have a much easier and pleasant life than wild animals.  As such, I wouldn’t pity the farm animal; he might actually be priviledged.
     
    That being said, there are animals we bond with.  These are pets.  Pets are fine (and fun!), and I am sure a chicken would make a very fine pet indeed.  Thirty of them, not so much.  Hence why you need to keep a certain emotional distance with the livestock you raise.  :D
     
    Also, remember that the vole that died when his nested got plowed to make room for an organic soy field was certainly not in a position to fight back anymore than the chicken being processed.  Yet, I rarely hear vegan express guilt over the animal that dies in the preparation of *their* food.  I guess, at some point, you just need to get over it and feed yourself!
     
    In good spirit,
     
    An omnivore.

  14. Mike (tfb) says:

    Wow, thanks for all the support for my chicken-raising-and-eating endeavor! :)

    bmtea: I understand what you’re saying. And maybe the feeling I was talking about involves some sort of emotional distancing. Whatever it is, I think it’s good. The main thing for me is, I eat meat, and now I’m producing it. There’s no avoidance or hypocrisy. Remember, I’m coming from a lifetime in the city, where meat just pops up, neatly wrapped in plastic. I didn’t have to think about factory farming, animals stuffed with antibiotics and gorging on bizarre, unnatural feed, or anything else to do with modern meat production. THAT stuff disturbs me. With these chickens, it seems like an honest, straightforward deal.  I think they’re having a pretty fine time, and when they die, they will be honored in many meals. As a meat-eating animal, maybe I’m feeling some closure.

    And what EtienneG said! Especially about the vole…

    Kristin, Chris, Jessica: Yeah, once you have even a minor idea of the volume of meat our first world eats, and how it’s produced, it kinda lurks constantly in your mind. I don’t know what percentage of industrially-raised animals are in really bad, undercover-video conditions, maybe it’s relatively low, but then there’s the high-speed slaughter. Altogether, that’s a lot of bad karma, bad energy, being generated around meat production. No-one involved can feel good about what they’re doing, and that I’d bet is carried forward in the food itself.

    Kevin: No real answers, yet. I’m hoping to notice the difference in taste. This is the first batch that’ve been really foraging and making up part of their diet on bugs and plants. Before that, it was all purchased feed. I don’t think they’ll be tougher, maybe a bit firmer meat, because they’re still growing fast and not exactly zipping around all the time. We’ll see! As for cost, I never ended up doing the numbers last year. I will this time. It’s expensive! It’s all in the cost of feed, so this time, maybe it won’t be too bad, but last year, those White Rocks were sailing through feed! Depends what you do. Maybe look at the cost of free-range organic chicken in the store for a high end. Check Whole Foods, from what I hear, you’ll get a shock!!!

    crowjoy: “Only one bad day” is an interesting way to put it. I guess that’s how I do think of it, without having put it into words. I definitely want to do the processing myself, but we’re not set up for it. That will come!

    Jedidja: It’s surprisingly hard to find solid scales without paying a fortune. I do the step-on-scale thing too, only with heavier stuff, like bushels of veggies.

    cathy: So far, they’re doing great! They’re putting on weight now, and getting a bit lumbering, but seem active and fine, flying out the door of the chickenhouse when I open it every morning.

    Scott: Thanks. We had some Frey’s Dual Purpose last year, along with the WRs, and the difference in development was like two different animals. But I want to get to raising non-WRs as well.

    Chris: Sharing different opinions and outlooks is great, it’s only when people try to impose their ideas on others that things get tricky. But I guess that’s what we all do as humans, try to impose our will on everything… Oh, well. ;)

    Jim: I know you’re replying to Chris’ comment right above, and I’m not arguing the whole point. As it relates to this farm, sustainability is clearly quite far from self-sufficiency. I’m not even on a “sustainability” exercise, just trying to keep things manageable and understandable for me, which means, relying on as little outside inputs as I can, and trying to use less as I go. Raising meat birds here is another stream right now, parallel to the veggie growing. They don’t produce much manure relative to the market garden size. But we bought in alfalfa pellets and compost to start this year, because there is no on-farm manure. I’m working on green manure-only, and we’ll see how that goes.

    Dan: That’s the idea. The first chicken fresh, the rest, into the freezer. I liked hearing a story where a house guest was asked if they wanted chicken for dinner, said yes, and the host stepped out the door and grabbed a chicken from the yard… Always fresh!

    EtienneG: Nice essay! (I’m not quite sure how, but I imagine there’s fuel there for a dozen big debates. :)

  15. Kevin says:

    This was a very fun thread to read.  Not only for the TFB staff’s input on raising chickens, but the vegan’s condescension was funny too!  Funny because it’s so arbitrary.  They won’t eat a chicken, but they’ll gorge on pea fetuses.  Fish is taboo, but they’ll eat a lettuce plant while it’s still completely alive! They’ll much live soybeans into a paste to rot until it’s tofu, but don’t eat a pig, because that’s gross!
     
    I love vegans :).  They crack me up.

  16. Sharon says:

    What an interesting conversation about meat! Haven’t had time to check your blog in the last few days…..trying to keep up with our farmer’s market and CSA. We’ve raised chickens in the past for meat and eggs, but wound up losing most of them to foxes that the neighbors had de-sensitized to humans by feeding them chicken scraps in their back yard! We allowed them to range outside freely during the day and shut them in their coop at night. We do miss those fresh, home-grown eggs! One of these days we’ll probably get a few chicks and start a new flock. Our son considered our big, beautiful rooster a great pet and carried him around under his arm during the day. He got very good at hypnotizing the chickens and entertained his friends with this little trick.

    Several of my family members are Native American. None of us are vegetarians, but we all share a great respect for all the food we eat, be it meat or vegetable or fruit. We care for our animals with dignity and compassion and are grateful for their gift to us. This is how we choose to live our lives.

    I would never deride anyone for their food choices and ask only that they show the same respect in return. This world would be a much nicer place if the humans treated each other with the compassion and respect they claim to afford to the animals we share this planet with.

  17. deb says:

    This is our first year raising chickens. We have a total of 26 (mixed variety) with 13 of them being White Rock. All of them are free-ranging during the day and they are as happy as can be. They provide a never-ending amount of entertainment as well.

    We are uncertain as to how long we should let the White Rocks grow before processing them. Since they are free-ranging they do get a daily exercise and a nice buffet of food each day and I think that helps tremendously. They are just about 12 weeks old.

    I just found your wonderful blog and I’m certain I’ll be making many more visits this way.

    As far as all the comments on this particular post, I grew up on a farm. I have a strong connection to the land, the animals and the life we make of it all. I think that Sharon said it best in her comment above:

    “I would never deride anyone for their food choices and ask only that they show the same respect in return. This world would be a much nicer place if the humans treated each other with the compassion and respect they claim to afford to the animals we share this planet with.”

    So very true.

  18. Chris says:

    Kevin, in case you weren’t aware, farm animals have nervous systems, allowing them to feel pain and suffering.  Plants do not.

  19. Hmmm… that’s a tough argument to make.  Nervous system = Human feelings?  How about earthworms?  Nematodes?  How about rotifers? ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotifer)   Where do you draw the arbitrary line?  Are the animals that cause other animals to suffer morally wrong?  Are we not animals ourselves?

    I don’t think we all need to see eye to eye on this, but I just wish that those who view this more strictly than I (vegans) would use their energies to fight areas in which I believe we have a lot of common ground.  There are plenty of areas in which we as humans are doing a lot more bad (factory farming; ecological destruction).  I see a lot of good things happening on small-scale mixed farms.

    Chris

  20. Mike (tfb) says:

    And (in addition to agreeing with Chris aka The other Chris about “where’s the line”), for the sake of argument, it is apparently “scientific fact” that plants use electrical signals to sense environmental conditions and regulate behavior, and do have some sort of nervous system. For example, plants respond electrically to wounds. Whether you can make the leap to “feelings” is of course debatable, but by current science, plants do feel in a physioligical way similar to animals, in that electircal action impulses are triggered.

    So, for example, plants do feel pain. Whether that translates into “suffering,” I dunno. Could we ever know? We’d have to ask the plants. And other animals.

    Some easily-found-online stuff:

    New functions for electrical signals in plants

    Historical Overview on Plant Neurobiology

    The Nervous System of Plants

    That’s interesting…

  21. vickie says:

    You know I have always have wanted chickens but just for the eggs because I thought I would become attached too. I think you deal with this issue well -just think of them as food.
    vickie

  22. Chris S. says:

    Vickie – We have eight hens (“yard chickens”) that we raise for eggs here in Virginia.  My wife keeps telling me that we will need to “process” these hens when they stop producing eggs, but we’ll see.  It is entirely possible that these pet chickens will get the same burial rights as past pets that have passed on.
    My wife says (correctly) that that would be a waste of good food, but I pointed out that there is probably 40lbs of meat and an nice fur coat on our old lab (Buddy), but we aren’t going to “process” him when he gets too old.
    It’s really up to you, but I have to say that chicken make very entertaining “pets with benefits”!

  23. gentlewomanbuckeyefarmer says:

    I too am a mini farmer, I do the vegetable gardening and my husband and kids do the chickens, hogs and Dexter cows.  At the end of summer my 8′x14′ pantry is stocked for the winter with beans, tomatoes, canned beef and chicken, and pie fillings.  And my freezer is also stocked with raspberries, blackberries, pork, chicken and beef.

  24. crowjoy says:

    Hey Mike, just wanted to let you know we processed 32 chickens Saturday. It took 3 of us 8 hours, including the time we stopped for lunch. We had some trouble with our plucker right at the end but over all it went very smoothly. Maybe next year is your year!
    (S0 glad it’s done, the laying flock is much calmer.)

  25. Chickens says:

    this blog is Unique
    all the information are rare and proven
    i saw some article which is so new to me !
    keep up the good job man…

  26. Lakeview says:

    I love this blog!!  We will be getting 10 “Yard Hens” this spring.  We have not had chickens in a few years but are looking forward to this.  At the end of their best laying years, they will be sent to a processor and put in the freezer.  I am sure that I will be sad but that is the way of things.  I will then look forward to the new chicks.  If I am lucky, I will get a “setter” in my first batch.  I was raised on a farm and raised my kids on a mini farm.  I think it’s a good idea for kids to know the source of their food and to enjoy the better taste of your own farm products whether it be from meat or veg.

  27. Kevin says:

    Damn that a fat ass cock

  28. Scales Guy says:

    Confession, I used to raise 30,000 laying hens but have turned from my old ways and prefer the natural approach now.  As to what I do now…
    If you need hanging scales like the one shown go here.  But if you really want to upgrade and go digital go here.
     
     

  29. Scales Guy says:

    Sorry for that last strange looking post.  I was trying to point you to a scale like the one in the picture you can find here:
    http://internetscales.com/235semeha.html
    But the digital one is here:
    http://internetscales.com/eldihasc.html

  30. JoeFromVT says:

    Just found the blog so I haven’t been through it all, but so far I like it.  We just processed 110 chickens last Thursday.  These birds along with the pigs help feed my family of 5 plus a dozen other families of varying sizes.  My family does the processing for all our birds, turkeys will come next week and will be done in November.  I do send our pigs out to be processed, I am very particular about who does my animals because I want them treated with the utmost respect. All our animals are on pasture or wooded areas. The pigs have ½ acre of woods to root in. What some folks who commented above don’t understand is most small farmers do truly care about the animals welfare; it is the reason I do it still. I wouldn’t buy a puppy from a puppy mill, how can I buy pork raised in worse conditions and feed it to my kids? The hardest day isn’t working in the glaring hot sun, or cold rain or snow, the hardest day it is always the last day.
     
    Keep up the good work… maybe I should start a blog too… any advice?
     

  31. lynn says:

    To the last comment from bmtea.
    I have my own chickens whom I love and care for.  Yes, I do slaughter them and eat them but I do it in a way that I believe is humane and compassionate.  Humans are evolutionarily programmed to eat meat, we are omnivores by nature and, in many ways, it’s conducive to human health, but because I don’t want to eat meat from battery farms, I raise my own.  Shame on you for going after a small farmer and not venting your frustration and gearing your energy towards the million other circumstances in which chickens are raised in the most cruel conditions under which their only hope is to go to slaughter.

  32. Sheila says:

    I think this kind of sentimental feeling that you have with the chicken’s you raise are similar with the feelings/reason why vegetarians dislike eating meat. I think they feel compassion and sympathy for the “food”/animals since they have LIFE even before their future is deemed to be doom. 

  33. Digestion says:

    This one sure is an interesting write-up that the author came up. Interesting in a sense that he/she actually has this kind of sentiments towards the chickens that he/she raised which will eventually become food. He/ she has one fascinating thought at hand, talking to the chickens in some occasions and next thing you know they’re off to be sold.  

  34. Guinea Pig says:

    I think raising chickens would be fun as well. I like to try this one as hobby and afterwards maybe I can expand this one and have my own chicken farm. However, there are some factor holding me down in raising chickens and that is the location. Money and funds to start would not be a problem however my main concern is where to raise the chickens. It is hard finding good locations for your farm nowadays.

  35. Chicken House says:

    Raising chickens is quite tough. You have to take good care of them very well and feed them. You have to spend a lot of time with them as well. And I think parting with them is also tough since you have been with them for quite some time. 

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