We just completed our first experiment with raising our own meat chickens. We received 15 chicks from Hoover Hatchery on June 22. We were supposed to get a call from the USPS that morning but the mail carrier ended up driving them up our driveway and hand delivering them! All 15 were alive and healthy looking. We quickly put them in the brooder and made sure they all were drinking water. Despite keeping their brooder clean and the food and water full we had 2 die within the first week. Although we knew this was not an unusual death rate it made us question whether we would want to do this again. The remaining 13 chick made it to 2.5 weeks when we moved them outside onto the grass, and our spirits were up.
The chicks seemed happy to be outside and were eagerly eating the grass and bugs. We kept their food and water on opposite ends of the enclosure so they would be forced to move. We were concerned they would just sit and eat since that was what we had seen with other Cornish Cross chickens we had visited on other farms. We were happy to find that they were very active and even grew in all their feathers.
We did have a bit of a bump in the road when we lost a couple birds two nights in a row about a week after we put them outside. They simply vanished without a trace during the night. Since we have an electric fence and it occurred at night we are guessing it was an owl but will probably never know. We lost 5 birds that way bringing the total remaining down to 8. We fitted the coop with a new door and began locking them in at night and had no more losses.
At nine weeks we took the birds to be butchered. The original plan was to do the butchering ourselves but we located a Mennonite farmer nearby in Pennsylvania, Berry Blossom Farm, who would process them for $2.50 each. After considering that it would probably take us all day to do a poor job processing the chickens, we decided the money was well worth spending. We went out early on processing morning thinking we might have trouble catching all the chickens for transport. It turned out that they were hungry, since we had not fed them that morning and they walked right up to us. We put them in the transport crate (big thank you to our neighbors Walter and Tina for letting us use the crate) and off to processing they went.
Even though we never named these chickens and they were not like pets it was still a sad event. Processing day is just not enjoyable. We are, however, thankful that we have the opportunity to be this close to our food. Part of why we moved here was to think about where our food comes from. It is easy to forget the reality of the life of a typical grocery store chicken, when all you do is pick it up off the shelf in sterile packaging. At least we know that our birds only had one bad day.