Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Where Does Your Meat Come From?

When we first started keeping chickens a few years ago, each hen had a name and we got to know each one individually.  This flock of about a dozen birds kept us amused as we unwound after work by sitting and spending time with them at the end of the day.  I decided that even when they stopped laying, they would be allowed to live out their natural lives as pets.  We were able to rehome a few roosters that we picked up, not wanting to think about the alternative.

Our jobs moved from Arizona to Texas and when we packed up the house, the chickens came along.  They traveled in dog crates in the back of the Impala and the Suburban.  They were part of the family and we weren't going to leave them behind. 

When the Fleece Fur and Feathers farm become an official business entity and our flock expanded, it was harder to keep track of who was who, especially when they all looked alike.  We could still recognize our Arizona girls and they had a special place in our hearts, surviving the long trip and a stray dog attack on arrival.  A couple of those hens are still with us.

We have about 50 birds now and we band them so we can distinguish birth dates to know how old they are and how much longer we can expect them to lay.  For the most part, they don't have names.  The troublemakers and the 2 roosters are exceptions.  We've hatched lots of babies and sold most of them to people wanting to add to or start their own flocks.  We've also sold to people who want to butcher and eat them, something we hadn't done yet. 

Though all of our hatches, we didn't have a rooster mature.   Sales had taken care of that.  Until last week.  One of our 14 week old birds, who we were fairly certain was male, attempted to mate with one of the younger birds.  He had to go.  Our 2 resident roosters are plenty for the flock and this boy was obviously going to be a problem. 

Chet had butchered a couple of older birds before, but we didn't eat them.  The older the bird, the tougher the meat.  I kept the meat and used it for training treats for the dogs.  

We're not vegetarians.  We try to eat local foods.  Our meat purchases in the last year have been locally raised and slaughtered animals from local ranchers; nothing from the grocery store.  Our vegetables come from our garden.   Just a short step from eating chicken from our own flock, and one we decided to take.

The guys did the killing and cleaning over the weekend and last night I roasted the bird.  It was, by far, the best chicken meat I've ever had.   Can't get much fresher and the meat was tender and moist.  It was smaller than a typical roaster bought in the store since it wasn't a "meat bird", but it was enough to feed the 3 of us.

This animal lived its entire life with grass under its feet, eating what chickens are meant to eat; no hormones, vaccines or antibiotics injected in its system.  It enjoyed fresh air and freedom, the company of other birds, being part of a family unit, flapping its wings and flying around once in a while.  You can't say that about any commercially produced chicken.  While it was a bit weird preparing the bird for cooking, it's something that I know I'll do again.  It's the way this country used to eat, the way my dad describes his Sunday meals when he was a boy. 

So, in honor of this bird, here's his photo.  Yes, he had a face, but so did all those who end up in the meat aisle at Krogers.  We still enjoy watching our birds each evening, but realize in order to have a sustainable homestead, everyone's got to make a contribution.  This guy definitely did.

Thank you.


  1. Wow Barb - what a step! I think it's great that you guys are moving "backward" in your eating and doing what people did generations ago. I imagine that it is very hard to first prep and eat an animal you know, but kudos for treating him with respect and care.

  2. Hi Barb,
    Just checking out chickens and ran across your Fur & Feather site. Just curious if he was the one I exchanged for another hen?? I'll have to look back @ my pictures too. Also, my red hen is doing great. She still chases the cats and gets into their food occasionally, which I know you said was not a good idea. She went into brooding when I was late collecting & left two eggs in her nest. I broke her of that but she hasn't started laying again yet. Last egg was 12/12/11, today 12/21. Anyway, trust she will soon. All the neighborhood kids like to pet her. Let me hear from you @yahoo or hotmail.
    Shelia 689-1006

  3. I used to raise chickens in Florida and we always got enough chicks to have some to eat as well as layers. I agree that fresh chicken is far and above store bought, just like veggies from the garden.