The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Eating heirloom chickens

Cooking an old chickenThe final chicken topic we spent a lot of time experimenting with in 2012 was raising heirloom chickens as meat birds.  We continued learning how to cook heirloom chickens to highlight their extra flavor while dealing with more chewiness than you'll find in a grocery store bird, and we also got more sophisticated in our methods of eating up tough old hens.  (The trick is slow, moist heat.) 

In fact, we got so good at eating homegrown chickens that we ran out in October --- I can't wait for our last set of broilers to hit their Thanksgiving kill date!  I chose to part out all 28 broilers we grew this spring and Pastured chicken stocksummer so I could cook their carcasses into stock to form the base of a winter's worth of soups.  So we haven't consumed all that chicken goodness yet, but I don't want to dip into our soup stash until we really need to.

As you can see from the photo to the right, our broilers produced extremely rich broth.  Part of the reason for the bright color is that I let our meat birds have access to unlimited feed this year, which means my feed conversion rate was worse than last year, but the birds grew bigger during their three month growth window.

Feed conversion rate for hierloom chickensMy goal in taking a less managed approach to feed was to lower my stress, but I think it was worth it.  Fat from pastured poultry is full of omega-3s that keep my familial tendency toward depression at bay, and I really did feel happier this year eating all those fatty chickens.  Although my eventual goal is still to lower our dependency on storebought feed, I think continuing to diversify our pastures and work toward growing more of our own feed is better than walking the tightrope to keep chicks nourished while restricting their intakePreventing spilled feed will also help decrease feed costs.

Light Sussex chickenAnother avenue I want to explore is variety selection.  We gave away our Light Sussex last year because they were just too friendly, which means they spent less time foraging and more time hanging around waiting for handouts.  Our Black Australorps are good, hard workers, but they don't grow quite as fast as our Australorp X Marans hybrids, and they aren't laying as well as the Golden Comets I remember so fondly.  We picked up three new Rhode Island Reds this fall and I'm looking forward to seeing what their genes do to our mutt flock.

Experiments aside, it definitely feels good to be producing nearly all of our own chicken meat on-farm starting with eggs laid by our hens and fertilized by our rooster.  Plus, it's delicious!

Our chicken waterer keeps the broilers healthy from day 1 in the brooder throughout their life on pasture.

This post is part of our 2012 Chicken Experiments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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There are two ways to get your chickens' omega balance right. One is to supplement their feed with omega-3 (flax or fishmeal).

The other option is to feed them supplemental food that has low omega-6. Since the problem is the 3-6 balance, you don't need to give them extra omega-3 if their omega-6 is low to begin with. This probably means formulating your own feed. I think barley is supposed to be low in omega-6. I’m no expert on chicken feed -- I assume there are a number of options. As long as the feed has calories, the chickens can produce most of the other fats they need (just like us!).

Comment by BeninMA Thu Nov 15 15:43:04 2012

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