This was our first year to raise meat chickens. I have had chickens for years, enough to be too spoiled to eat commercial eggs. Fresh eggs from home raised chickens have a dark orange yolk that stands up and doesn’t break easily, the whites are not runny or watery, and the flavor is outstanding. The only downside is they are very hard to peel when hardboiled unless you let them get old, like store bought eggs. No problem. Fresh eggs keep for a very long time. In fact, ours is the only country that refrigerates them from what I understand.
We used to have to keep the chickens cooped up all the time, because owls and hawks would try to snag them. We had a bobcat trying to break into their coop and there is a rash of raccoons, coyotes, cougars and bull snakes that would love to dine on fresh chicken or at least the eggs. The boss had 30 chickens delivered once and said they were gone within hours, because of the owls…and the hens were hiding in a brush pile!
Enter Cletus and Bruno, our two year old Maremma Livestock Guardian Dogs. Cletus, especially, has always had a great fondness for chickens. Unfortunately it used to manifest itself by running down any loose bird, pinning it between his paws and gleefully undressing it. This resulted in the loss of a couple birds and a dressing down of Cletus himself. He actually couldn't wait to show me his surprise once, as he led me around the corner and through the weeds where he happily presented me with a naked rooster. He was sorely disappointed in my response to his gift. It was just more than he could contain, this fascination and love for chickens. Once he understood the chickens were MINE and not to be molested, he has become our main and most faithful chicken guardian. He makes sure to flop down somewhere he will have a good view of the chickens as they free range.
He has set up a ‘no fly zone’ around the yard where hawks and owls are not allowed to pass. He and Bruno have run nearly all the way to the horse corral in pursuit of a wayward owl. The hawks, owls and eagles just don’t bother anymore, there must be easier game out there on the ranch. The chickens often nap with him during the day then get locked into their coop at night so he is free to go patrol with Bruno and protect the rest of the critters here. Come morning, Cletus is asleep outside the coop, faithfully keeping watch over his charges.
So we bought some Cornish X chicks. These are a hybrid chicken developed for meat purposes only. They grow incredibly fast, have very meaty breasts and thighs and rarely survive longer than 8-12 weeks due to their massive size. A lot of people don’t like raising them because they are sort of lazy…have leg problems and poop a lot. They also eat a lot. In fact, they will eat themselves to death if you don't ration their food. The first 3 weeks I was not a fan of the breed, but then we put them outside where they could move around and forage a bit. They LOVED it! They started roaming farther and farther across the yard, catching bugs and picking grass. They remained healthy and happy. Knowing they would not survive beyond several weeks of age made it easier to reconcile ourselves to butchering them for the freezer.
As I pondered this, I realized all things will die. We can either give them a good life, a purpose and a quick and humane death, or let them suffer from starvation, disease, the pain of old age, or be eaten alive by predators. It is a service to our animals to choose the former and by doing so, insuring the quality and safety of the food on our family table.
Unsure if there was going to be any difference in the flavor of the chicken we raised, compared to what we bought, we decided to purchase one and cook them together. There was a definite difference. The home raised meat was flavorful and almost sweet, whereby the store bought chicken was bland and mushy by comparison.
The next chicken-y meal was fried chicken from 2 roosters that were always fighting and crowing and generally driving us crazy. As there were only 2 hens of laying age 3 roosters is WAY too many, so our choice to was put two in the frying pan. It was, by far, the BEST fried chicken I have EVER had. Add buttermilk biscuits made with fresh buttermilk and dripping with homemade butter, some corn on the cob and lemonade and you have a meal fit for a king. The fringe benefit is that we now only have 1 "alarm clock" to deal with, which makes the hens happier too.
The leftovers made great stock too!
I found one of the little 'eggers' practicing today. She was trying on the nesting box for size. Too cute.
Lots of cities now allow backyard chickens, so lots of people can partake of all the good things chickens have to offer. They are great entertainment too, not to mention eating all the bugs that would attack your garden, fly larvae and kitchen scraps. Another "must have" for me. Move over Colonel. Ain't nuthin like the real thing!