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my opinions re. raising chickens for meat production

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turkeylurkey


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First of all, lets make in clear. I raise and sell live stock not meat. The only chickens, ducks, or turkeys that I sell are alive and kicking. But I do get a lot of requests for "meat bird chicks" or advice on where to obtain an alternative to the fast growing "Cornish" type. I've done a lot of research and observation on the subject and come up with a few opinions.

There is really no substitute for the Cornish Rock Giant hybrid (sold under any other name is still essentially the same mix of breeds). Most commercial growers process this bird at 39 to 42 days of age where weights are a uniform 6 to 8 pounds. Readily available chicks cost around $2.00 each depending on quantity purchased.

Slower growing and more suitable to free ranging hybrids are available in North America. Problem is that the breeding flocks are mostly in eastern United States. Cost of shipping, importing, and picking up from this side of the border brings the cost per chick to at least $5.00 . Add this to the cost of feeding to finish a slower growing bird and the ratio of birds that are undersized results in a much more expensive finished product. Many of the small producers who raise broilers for resale and who have tried these hybrids have opted to go back to the Cornish Rocks.

Examine the reasons you want to raise chickens for meat production. Is your motive to sell the finished product at a profit? Or is it simply to have a few for your own family's consumption?

If the motive is profit oriented my unqualified recommendation would be to learn techniques commercial growers use to make their operations successful and productive and minimize mortality rates. They'll be considering such basics as heating, lighting, ventilation, litter management, and feed and watering routines. Each bird will be allocated enough space. There's a broiler operation close to where Island Girl lives that pumps out more than 40,000 on a regular schedule. They'll have a few losses but most will survive to become the product seen in local supermarkets. There is no reason the backyard producer of 50 or so should not experience similar results.

If the motive is to produce a few for personal family use then I'd recommend sticking to a proven pure "heritage" variety. Select a variety that has a good size and a proven egg production record. Buff Orpingtons, Black Austrolorps immediately come to mind and there are strains of Rhode Island Reds and Barred Plymouth Rocks that mature to a good size and are proven layers. Raise the surplus roosters to about 16 to 20 weeks. Females of proven egg producers always have good saleable value with a 20 week old or "point of lay" pullet fetching at least $25 each. The roosters should process at 5 to 6 lbs. or maybe more if from a good strain fed quality feed. The finished product won't look exactly like the supermarket product. It might be a little "chewier" , but will actually "taste like chicken".

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2 ty on Wed Nov 30, 2011 2:28 pm

pawsdaisy

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turkeylurkey: your message just confirmed, what I had been thinking re: the buff orpingtons. what do you think about the columbian wyandottes, gold laced wyandottes and cuckoo marans for family use? I do have some anaconas too, mostly for the eggs and they tend to be good foragers as well. thanks Dianne aka: daisymae

turkeylurkey


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The first thing I'd consider before selecting for "dual purpose" would be year-round egg production. The males will be around for a few weeks but the hens could be around for 4 or 5 years and you'd want them to pay for their keep not just look pretty.

I'd have mentioned Cuckoo Marans but I don't think they are known for good egg production. The males do bulk up quickly.

Some of these rarer breeds are rare because they aren't proven egg layers.

http://www.guppy.ca

4 still... on Wed Nov 30, 2011 3:11 pm

pawsdaisy

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we don't really sell eggs, I have 6 production hens and the eggs are gone quickley, we like to barter Rolling Eyes I realize that the heritage breeds only lay, maybe 180 per yr. some like to set some don't, I just like them and when I get eggs, or some for food that's ok. here just something else to barter..this truly is the best hobby.. Laughing

turkeylurkey


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Wyandottes are listed as Meat Breeds in Storey's Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds. Says the cockerels should be 8.5 lbs. Which should yield 6 lbs. dressed.

As a "barter" item, the rarer the breed, the more value it has particularily to the first time "collectors".

Let's hear others opinions on the subject.

http://www.guppy.ca

pops coops

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turkeylurkey wrote:The first thing I'd consider before selecting for "dual purpose" would be year-round egg production. The males will be around for a few weeks but the hens could be around for 4 or 5 years and you'd want them to pay for their keep not just look pretty.

I'd have mentioned Cuckoo Marans but I don't think they are known for good egg production. The males do bulk up quickly.

Some of these rarer breeds are rare because they aren't proven egg layers.

My Marans are laying about 6 eggs a week each and nice size eggs to.



Last edited by pops coops on Sun Jan 15, 2012 4:34 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Hidden River

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I will weigh in my thoughts here.
I have been doing this chicken business for a few years now and I have to say I make my money in Heritage Layers/chicks, and the franken monster chickens for meat. I dont make much for selling eating eggs, and rarely do I make anything on Heritage roosters (unless they are young and in a package deal with some hens).
I find growing out the heritage roosters to be not economical, possibly it is my line of breeds I raise but I find to grow a nice plump hertiage rooster you need to grow them to at least 35 weeks old, many here will start fighting and killing each other long before that time, it frustrates me to no end.
The franken chickens we range in pens on grass, feed them high quality grain rations, and move them daily to fresh grass. They do well and we have minimal losses. I like that I can grow them in 8 weeks and have a nice 5 lb or more bird, and not have to deal with them for months on end. Mine taste wonderful, nothing like store bought, commerical raised birds.
To us extra roosters we butcher for the BBQ are just an added bonus.


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Raising Heritage Chickens, Guinea Fowl, Waterfowl, Katahdin Sheep, Angus and Jersey Cattle. Mother of 2 wonderful girls and wife to a very understanding Husband.
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BriarwoodPoultry

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I just posted elsewhere about butchering out my heritage birds. I had a age range of 5mos-8 mos (only because there were only a couple of the older age, not enough to warrant processing until I had more ready to go with them). My average weight was 5.5lbs, the largest was over 7lbs and the smaller was about 4 lbs. They are lean and beautiful! I raised them in tractors and smaller, move-able pens all on grass, fed veggie crumble and scratch. We have never had an issue raising roosters together, without any hens they never fight. The breeds I processed this time were marans, blue orps, ameraucana, blrw, and sussex x. They were almost all perfectly proportioned, broad meaty breasts and nice meaty thighs and drumsticks. I was happy with the finished weights on them, and sold them all at $4/lb and customers were extremely happy. I can't say I made money on them, but I probably broke even which is fine. Heritage roosters are a byproduct of raising heritage birds and if they don't cost me anything but time I can't complain much.

I don't know how much validity the statement about rare breeds not being good producers are, I think some of the rare breeds fell out of favour simply because of the creation of hybrid layers and meaties. The best heritage layer I have is my ameraucana, wyandottes and sussex. They are also extremely fertile. The worst layer I had was the barnevelder which I no longer keep, perhaps because it was hatchery stock, who knows. I am very happy with the laying qualities of all of my heritage birds.

http://briarwoodpoultry.weebly.com

DoubleSSRanch

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I am quite impressed with my blue orpington cockerals. they grow like MAD! I have yet to finish one out to an age of eating yet, but the ones I had around were growing like monsters. they were heavy too, not just all leg. When I butchered some free roosters I got from all over, there was chanteclers, barred rocks, jersey gaints and ameraucanas. The amracaunas were tiny, look llike pigeons. The 1 barred rock was an old bird, around a year old, he was big. The canteclers were maybe too young, no breast on those at all, but good leg. The Jersey gaints had the nicest carcass. Good breast and all, and they werent that old, around 6 months I think. hadnt started crowing or fighting, still at the manageble stage. I was told they grow so slow, but the ones I got did well.

http://www.doublessranch.webs.com

Omega Blue Farms

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comparing heritage chicken to conventional meat birds is like comparing apples to oranges. They are completely different products with completely different growing requirements, different feed input requirements, different cooking requirements, and even different slaughter requirements. The end products are also completely different providing different texture and taste. Comparing heritage chicken to conventional meat birds is like trying to compare turkey to chicken. Any attempt to treat them as the same product will usually end in compromise and/or dissapointment.

However, when it comes to diet, we humans are very adaptable, and someone raised on heritage meat can learn to appreciate factory produced meat just as someone raised on factory produced meat can learn to appreciate traditional heritage meat. We can adapt to the differences if there is reason to do so. At this stage in our evolution, the majority of us are adpated for factory food and I don't believe there is sufficient incentive to change.

A very tiny minority of us are concerned about who controls our food and feel that there is security in maintaining a food supply owned and controlled by the general public. Due to this incentive, some of us have adapted to traditionally produced heritage meats, others are in the process. The first thing one needs to do to sucessfully make this transition is to dispense with the idea that one food should equal the other. One needs to embrace the merits of heritage meat and appreciate it for what it is, not what it isn't. Learn to embrace the heritage meat for what it is, not try to make it into something it isn't.

Someone brought up the economic card, suggesting that there was no profit in raising heritage chicken for meat. There is some truth to this, but it doesn't need to be. Armed with the knowledge that heritage bronze turkeys are sucessfully being used commercially, requiring 26-28 weeks rearing, I knew profitable heritage chicken was still possible. It was not an easy task, but I can now sell my quality Omega3 enriched GMO free heritage birds for $4 a pound and generate a modest profit. I have found there are three main barriers to profitable heritage chicken meat production.

1) genetic. Most heritage genepools don't perform as they did traditionally and production efficiency needs to be bred back into them.

2) knowledge. Efficienty raising a traditional meat bird requires knowledge, experience, and not the kind that comes with a google search.

3) regulatory barriers. Mainly our slaughter regulations that make it impossible to legally have my heritage birds slaughtered in a manner that will preserve flesh quality. Stress detroys flesh quality on birds 20 weeks and older and can easily turn a premium bird into a stewing hen.



Last edited by Omega Blue Farms on Sun Jan 15, 2012 6:40 pm; edited 1 time in total

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KathyS

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comparing heritage chicken to conventional meat birds is like comparing apples to oranges. They are completely different products with completely different growing requirements, different feed input requirements, different cooking requirements, and even different slaughter requirements. The end products are also completely different providing different texture and taste. Comparing heritage chicken to conventional meat birds is like trying to compare turkey to chicken. Any attempt to treat them as the same product will usually end in compromise and/or dissapointment.

This statement made by Omega Blue Farms is the key. I'm probably going to just re-state what has already been said by OBF, but I agree whole-heartedly, and think it is worth re-stating in my own words. Smile

Heritage chicken is nothing like a conventional meat bird. This is why, as breeders of heritage chickens we need to help others to view our product as something different from the typical supermarket chicken. And by this I do not mean a lesser quality, tougher version of factory farmed chicken! It might be better to compare a grain-fed Angus steak with a carefully prepared bison steak. Both are delicious, but...different. The bison is lean and must be cooked with extra care, but the end result is worth it.

I think we need to help others learn to appreciate what we are raising:
- a healthier, safer choice of poultry meat than the products in the supermarket.
- a morally responsible alternative to intensive poultry farming
- different breeds offer a variety of flavors and textures
etc..

Lately I've been doing a lot of thinking on this issue. I believe it comes down to marketing and education. Here's an interesting scenario:

An upscale French-Canadian restaurant serving CHICKEN BREASTS AU CHABLIS, featuring the rare Chantecler heritage chicken of Quebec origin, prepared with care and served with pride.

It is all about presentation. Tell people they are eating something special and unique and they will approach it with a positive attitude. And if a market like this one existed for those of us with extra Chantecler roosters, we'd make a lot more money selling them for meat than we ever could as breeders at $10.00 each.

I believe there is potential market for heritage meat birds, and as a result a profit in it. We just have to either find it or if it doesn't exist, create it.

It's about thinking outside the box.
Anyone up for the challenge?

http://www.hawthornhillpoultry.com

k.r.l

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Keep in Mind Heritage Dual Purpose Breeds were what feed families in the past. It can be done again. Too many (almost all heritage breeds) have been kept as colorful laying hens. The meat traits have been neglected and that is why most strains lack the muscle that they were once enjoyed at mealtime for.

I just butchered 15 cockerels on the weekend. Most were pure bred heritage : Buff and Partridge Chantecler, Sussex, Ameraucana, Barnevelder, and some Buff Chantecler crosses (oh and a friends Dominique x faverolle). I was impressed with the muscle on most of them. The Buff Chanteclers had the largest frame and weight. The Ameraucana was the narrowest carcass.

I look forward of slowly improving the meat and carcass traits of the birds I raise. This is not a short term project. I believe if they were noted for their dual purpose traits in their past that it is possible for any of these breeds to be known for it again.

smokyriver

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I really think the size of the bird depends on where you purchase them. My Silver Laced wyandottes are half the size of the lavender orpintons I had, My cuckoo marans are on the larger size, but were weaker in nature, giving up instead and going hungry instead of pushing in to get the food (not that they were lacking feed just what I had observed, they ate last out of all the chickens) My black australorps are huge about the same size as my lave orps ( I call them my mini turkeys). The orpintongs and australorps were birds I hatched from eggs from breeders and the others were hatchery stock.

http://Www.poultrypalacecanada.com

uno

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I appreciate where this topic is going. It works against all of us to say that one bird is superior to the other. That heritage/dual is better than meatbird. * Note: home raied meat bird is what I mean, not factory raised meatbird.

I admire the Angus people who have done a phenomenal job of branding and promoting their breed. Your burger isn't just run of the mill beef, heck no, it's Angus. I think with some creative work AND improving the utility of these birds, why can't the same be acheived for poultry? KRL said it, the utility-ness of some of these heritage breeds has been lost. To....cosmetics (me kicking dirt on the SOP).

But for MY cooking desires, for MY bird raising set-up, the meatbird works best and I have never been unhappy. Except that one year I put them on a restricted diet to keep them from crippling and I ruined them!

Meaties and dual/heritage are NOT the same and cannot be compared. THey are two means to an end and the superiority of one can only be determined by the person who wants to eat them. Some of us have tried both and settled on what suits and pleases us. I think it's safe to say in my case, whatever I had that was labelled 'dual purpose' bird was a very poor example of what might have been. I agree with the people who feel that there is room for improvement and not all stock is created equal!

Omega Blue Farms

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there is a 1948 documentary called The Chicken of Tomorrow that can help put our dual purpose expectations into perspective.

hmmmm....

well this site won't accept the link from me, you will have to google it yourself. Worth the effort.

http://www.OmegaBlueFarms.ca

KathyS

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No wonder they were looking for a meatier chicken. Some of those little fryers looked pretty scrawny.
That was quite the contest they held - very good incentive to farmers. And a real interesting scientific study that followed. Good documentary!

http://www.hawthornhillpoultry.com

Nom_de_Plume

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As far as chickens go....
I raise the "big dumb white" variety ... about 2200 a year.
I raise them in a "very" free range manner, I've tried raising other breeds for meat and it just doesn't go over well with my customers.
especially when selling parts, like breasts.
A lot of people like the "idea" of eating heritage but not the reality of it.

The heritage variety are also more difficult to process, tougher skins, more deeply embedded feathers smaller pelvic opening etc.
They also take way longer to meat up to any sort of decentish size which reduces the number of flocks I can run per year.
I've found that I can achieve a very happy and tasty product using "meat birds" as a free ranger.
Now I do have more luck with heritage turkeys (hens only) because they will achieve a very similar breast ratio eventually, also with the shrinking size of families I've noticed that people are actually looking for a smaller turkey for their table and the heritage work great for that.


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