For five or six years, we have raised laying hens and enjoyed them immensely, for their eggs, foraging for bugs, and alerting us to predators, as well as for their entertaining antics. We have kept 4-6 at a time, and named them. I have never been able to kill any or eat those that died.
However, I do like to eat chicken, so I thought it time to explore raising and butchering meat chickens. A friend had the same idea. So she bought 25 Cornish cross chicks, which are the ones most commonly raised for meat in the U.S. We agreed that she would care for them for 6-8 weeks, we would split the cost of purchase and feed, and then my husband and I would join her for the butchering work.
Here is what I learned and what I will do in the future.
When we arrived, my friend was fuming that the development of this breed is unconscionable and she will never buy them again. The Cornish cross is bred to gain weight so rapidly that by 6-8 weeks (6 weeks for us), they are unable to live with their unnatural weight distribution. Their hearts, lungs, and legs cannot support them. Many had respiratory problems, three appeared to have died of heart attacks, and one had a broken leg. None behaved like her laying hens, which are active, social, and curious roamers. These chickens were listless and sedentary. They also SMELLED BAD – which is apparently a known trait. Her daughter cried at the state of them.
We set up the butchering area outside for five of us to work: