Monday, February 22, 2016

A Word On Growing Your Own Meat

Several years ago, chickens were the only animal we kept. We'd just moved to our first little block out of town and suddenly we had the room to breed our own chickens.
We didn't just hatch a few clutches of chicks though, we jumped in the deep end and took up the offer of a friend (whom has years and years of chicken breeding experience) to fill her incubator with eggs. We ordered fertile eggs, the beginning of our Silkie and Australorp flocks, and filled up the remaining gaps with eggs from our beloved flock of crossbreds.
I can't remember how many we actually set but we hatched out somewhere around fifty or sixty chicks.
And you know what? We named them. Every single one.

This has been the only time we've used an incubator, and it was a wonderful experience and a great way to get our chicken numbers up quickly. These days I have two Silkie flocks who are used as surrogates and hatch and raise all of our chicks. It's easier to let the mama do it herself, and watching the hen lovingly care for her brood is so enjoyable.
As the chicks grew up it became clear who would be sold, kept for breeding and raised as meat. Out of all those chicks, twelve were raised as our first table birds.
This was our first time growing our own meat. Being this in touch with where real food came from. Our first step to no longer supporting factory farmed chicken.

I'd be lying if I told you it was easy. When the day came there were tears. But for the first time ever, there was also a deep and satisfying connection with the food that was on our plates a few days later. It was the first time in my life that I'd been able to eat chicken confident in the knowledge that it has been raised without chemicals, drugs and most importantly without inhumane treatment.
I know for many the idea of raising your own meat is too confronting. And that's ok.

The thing is now, that since that first day I haven't eaten any chicken from the supermarket. The only poultry that has graced my plate as been from our own land, raised and processed by us. I still don't enjoy butchering day, but it has gotten easier and there are no more tears. It doesn't mean that I don't raise these animals with love, that I don't treat them with kindness and that I don't care for them to the best of my ability while they are here. I am aware, however, from the day they hatch which chicks are destined for the table. And I make sure I get attached to our breeders, our bantams and our retired layers, rather than the birds in the grow-out pen.

I am so grateful that we have been given the opportunity to raise our own meat. In this day and age you're privileged to have this close a connection with your food. (And that's really sad).
With raising your own poultry comes a new way of approaching food too. You really are going to adopt seasonal eating. The time span for getting that bird onto the table is quite long, compared to the amount of food you end up with.
It takes three weeks for the eggs to incubate, then depending on the breed those birds won't be ready for the table for anywhere between six and twelve months. Doing this has given me a greater appreciation for poultry. It has become a treat, and suddenly we use the entire bird, rather than just eating thighs or wings. Even when we roast a chicken, the bones and scraps are then returned to the pot the next day and made into nourishing bone broth.

There have been time where we've had heaps of chicken to eat. And there have also been times (like now) where I haven't eaten chicken for months. Usually we try to keep a steady supply up but after having to wait for our new pullets to start laying, combined with some other things that prevented a lot of time being devoted to breeding chickens this spring, we've been chickenless for months. That's just the way it seems to roll when you decide to do things yourself.

Sometimes it's great, and sometimes it's annoying but mostly it's good.

I'd love to know your thoughts on raising your own meat.
Have you ever done it? Do you ever plan to?
Let me know!

PS Kate wrote an excellent post a few years ago: Chicken - A Vegetarian's Perspective
And Tricia wrote an excellent article: Understanding The True Cost of Cheap Food

PPS I've been questioning myself on writing a post like this for some time. And now it comes to publishing it, I just want to say that I understand some of you may not like the idea of either eating animals, or eating those that you have raised yourself. I value your feedback, thoughts and opinions but please don't leave any nasty comments or take offence at what others might have to say. I believe everyone is free to make their own choices and I hope you think so too. Feel free to comment anonymously if you prefer.

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  1. I really enjoyed reading this post ... your blog is such a wonderful & inspiring place to visit. We run a dairy farm (we dont own it, just run it) & we raise our own freezer beasts ... beef cows & a pig. My two sons have become vegetarian due to marrying girls who are vegetarian. Its interesting that when they come here for a meal they will eat our meat (the sons, not their wives) because they always tell me its been raised in a humane way & on good pasture, fed & treated well & cared for, no drugs or chemicals, & then killed in a humane way also. I used to take all this for granted until they became vegetarians & pointed it out to me. I have tried to give up meat (once) but strangely I missed it too much, even though I cook lots of meat free meals. Like you I believe everyone is free to make their own choices. Thanks for your lovely blog ...I so enjoy my visits.

    1. Hi Julie,
      Thanks so much for your kind comment.
      That's interesting that they are happy to eat the meat grown by you. I guess they must only not eat other meat because they don't like the way it is raised then?
      I couldn't give up meat either, I wouldn't know what to do in winter without hearty soups :-)

  2. I strongly believe that anyone who eats meat should confront the reality that what they're eating was once a living animal. I hate the fact that supermarkets have broken that link - cubes of meat on a wrapped plastic tray as opposed to the old fashioned butcher where sides of meat hung on hooks for all to see. Similarly, we have the choice to buy from somewhere we trust or simply buy the cheapest we can find with no thought of welfare conditions. Sometimes, I don't think that home reared is good (I've seen well meaning but inexperienced people rear pigs in their gardens in far from ideal conditions). Sorry, I could rant about this for ages :)

    We fatten a couple of pigs each summer for pork and if one of my hens hatches too many cockerels, we eat them. I totally agree with you that it gives me a greater appreciation of the meat and makes me value every part of the carcase.

    1. You're right, unfortunately homegrown doesn't always mean it has been treated well. I've seen lots of examples of that too and it saddens me.

  3. We have raised both chickens and pigs for meat. The only negative is that it is work. Well worth it though. It has been an evolution of sorts. We started out with cornish hens in a woodshed and quickly decided we wanted free rangers outside! With pigs we decided they needed more space as well. I love knowing how clean the animals are and what they are eating or not eating.

    1. We've had homegrown pork for the first time this year Vickie and it has been lovely, but yes keeping the pigs was work but I enjoyed it too. We had them out in electric netting in the paddocks and moved them weekly. It was lovely to see them being able to be clean and healthy and wallow.

  4. My family are in the sheep business so as a child I was a part of this cycle from beginning to end. It makes for great tasing meat and an appreciation for animals and sustainability. I do know mum had 101 ways to cook lamb in her head!!!

    1. We've just gone through the same thing after putting two pigs in the freezer - we've come up with so many new delicious pork recipes due to being tired of eating chops all the time :-)


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