Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A Meat Chicken Wrap Up

Over the weekend we killed the last 5 of our meat chickens so now that we have finished I thought it would be a good time to share our experience in a bit more detail (don't worry no gory photos).
Just to refresh here are the facts.
We started off with 14, week old, commercial meat chicks ($30) and a 20kg bag of chick starter ($18).
They grew very quickly and right from the start there were some that were much bigger that others. Sadly 2 chicks died early on, we are pretty sure they got too cold which is always a potential issue with chicks.

All they did was eat and poop and they did a lot of both.  They grew very quickly and were fully feathered in 2 weeks. It was becoming obvious why they were used by commercial growers.  We purchased a second bag of chick starter when the chicks were 4 weeks old.   The chicks end up pooping into their food so you loose a bit just trying to keep their food clean.
Check out the size difference.
At 5 weeks they looked weird, with over sized breasts and short legs.  They also did not really behave like chickens.  I was now very clear why these birds were used by commercial farms.  They were huge!!
Although we planned to keep ours a few weeks longer than the standard 7 weeks that commercial farms farms finish at, they really were ready to go.
As they got older they started to act and look more like chickens, albeit very chunky chickens.  They had access to grass and clucker tucker at all times and they loved to just lie in the sun and eat.  
We then purchased a bag of broiler finisher ($19) to get the chickens to the butchering stage.  I investigated a number of different food options because I was really not sure what was different about the broiler finisher compared to the grain or layers mask we buy for our laying hens.  I discovered that the broiler finisher ($19) was 22% protein compared to15% for layers mash ($14) and 11% for mixed grain ($11).  As it got towards the end we decided not to spend the extra money on a second bag of finisher so instead we did a 50/50 mix of grain and finisher for the last week and a half.  The back of the bag advised the broiler finisher should not be fed to laying hens and I was a bit puzzled at the time but now I have a theory.

You see when we butchered the first chicken it was 7 weeks old an weighed in at 1.3 kg and the meat did not have any more fat that a store brought bird.  The next 6 that we butchered a week later were definitely bigger and weighed in at an average of 1.7kg.  They also had a fat deposits on different parts of their bodies (across the breast and back) and a bit of fat under the skin around their rear end/cloaca.  The last 5 that we killed 2 weeks after the first were heavy weights.  They averaged 1.95kg and the 2 heaviest weighed in at 2.2 kg and 2.3 kg dressed weight (plucked, gutted and ready to cook).  Not only were they that much heavier but they were fat.  They had fat in all the same places at the 6 the week before but there was more of it and it was surrounding their organs and thick around their rear ends.  This is why I think there is a warning not too feed the broiler food to layers.  I know that if laying hens get too fat they have trouble laying so the higher protein food could really cause issues.
The heavy weights from the last batch
 All of the chicken has now been portioned out and packed away and we are looking forward to home grown meals ahead.
The conclusion that we have come to is that we will no be purchasing some Light Sussex eggs and repeating the process so that we have a even playing field to compare the two methods.  Using the Light Sussex will take longer but we will not have to buy the chicks or be stuck to a very tight time schedule for when we have to kill the chickens like you have to with the commercial breeds.
But that is another story and for another day.


  1. Good post Fiona. We started with a few of our own home bred Plymouth Rocks when we first moved here. Don't know why we tried with them - they were much too heavy and muscled. It's been a good exercise that you have done and benefited others too. So do you think it was cost effective overall? I didn't do the math but it does sound cheap (cheep?)! cheers wendy

  2. It will be really interesting to see how the sussex compare. The Rhode Is Red rooster that we butchered recently weighed 1.7kg, so he wasn't too light, but he was about 6 months old, I can't believe how big those meat chickens grow! I prefer to grow the heritage breeds, then we're not relying on commercial hatcheries to supply chicks.

  3. Hmmm, good food for thought, excuse the pun. It's quite startling how large the meat breeds get. How did the taste compare to bought chicken? I also notice that your chicken has a more yellower skin, which is probably a result of actual sunshine and grass in their short life? Interesting.

    One of our silkies has just started laying, hopefully in the spring she'll become broody and we can find some heritage breed/dual purpose eggs to place under her and give that a crack..again, excuse the pun!

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Fiona. :)

  4. Great info Fiona, it's been very interesting following the chicks from start to finish. Comparing the price for a whole organic chicken, producing your own is certainly much cheaper.

  5. Very interesting Fiona. We've now got our Light Sussex girls and our new rooster Bruiser. This weekend we'll be separating the layers from the Sussex's and then get to it. Bruiser has been jumping all over the girls and seems to like the smaller layers, but hopefully he won't mind a diet of big bottom girls in future. Then we'll be able to join your experiment and see how the Sussex's compare as a meat bird.

  6. Wow. I didn't realize it was only 7 weeks to butcher age.

    I'm very curious how the other breed with go.


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