Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Meatball Update

The meatballs are no longer small. In fact, I'd no longer call them meatballs, and more call them meatloaves.  It fits better and seems more respectful of their -ahem- stature.  This week they've celebrated their 7-week birthday, which means their time here is near an end.  I can tell you that I respect these animals, and I definitely respect the sacrifice that they will be making forthwith.  But possibly the most interesting thing I've learned about them if the way I feel about them.  Surprisingly (to me, that is), I've begun to see them as a "crop".  (That's fine, you go ahead and feel I'm a terrible person, I'm okay with that)  In the beginning, they were just little birds-just like all the other little chicks that come through here.  Only I didn't give them names or spend much time with them other than to insure they were comfortable.  As they grew, I began to look at them like little crops.  Kind of like, "hmmm. That one's getting beefy-he'll make a nice harvest", or "Yep, I can see definite weight gain", or making sure they got enough sunshine and time to run.

Don't get me wrong--I'm WELL aware that these are not pea plants I'm talking about.  But they are a lot of work.  They eat at least 10 pounds of food a day, so I monitor that, and I am refilling their water tower 2, sometimes 3 times a day.  By far, they take up the most of my time (talking birds here, not baby-bottle fed goatlings--Dulci wins the "who gets the most of my attention" award hands down).  And since they are a form of "crop", it is almost harvest time, and I want to make sure that all my hard work is going to come to some sort of fruition.

So in comes the scale.  I have been weighing them for the past three weeks now, and they have quickly gone from fitting on the scale, to no longer even half fitting on the scale.  I had to use a bowl to put the chicken in to see how much it weighed.

The birds do not like the scale.  That's putting it kindly.
Do you see how BIG that chicken is?  Yikes!  That's a big bowl, darlings, and that bird hardly fits.  That's not even one of the bigger birds--it's one of the "smaller" hens.  The boys are huge.

The weights of the chickens I could catch without stressing them into a heart attack ranged from 5 1/2 pounds to 7 pounds.  I only caught five, leaving eight unweighed.  They've gained so fast in the past two weeks I have actually cut back on their food intake.  I used to leave 20 pounds out in their yard and let them (and anyone who hopped their fence) have at it.  No more.  Now I fill it in the morning, let them eat and then graze all day (yes, they do graze like other chickens) and then I fill it in the evening again.  Then they are done until the next day.  They haven't gotten food overnight since they were 3 weeks old--only water.  Still they grow. 

We started with 14.  We now have 13.  For the last two days, one of the roosters hasn't looked so hot.  Yesterday, he was blue.  Alive, but blue.  That's not so good, so after deciding that he probably shouldn't be eaten and was in fact suffering, I took him and my husband out into the woods and dispatched him.  Not my husband--the chicken.  I took my husband out so he could see what it looked like to kill a bird.  Poor man.  He looked fairly queasy, and goodness knows what he thinks of me now, but I made a clean cut, and the bird bled out really quickly.  After the bird was gone, I showed my husband how to take off the feet (because he asked), and then how we would open the bird up.  Poor man looked really queasy at that point, but he was brave.  He insists that he will help me when it's processing time.  He said it looked like biology class.  I told him it's actually easier when the heads and feathers are off--you kind of forget it's a chicken.  Kind of.

As for me?  I think it was good to know I could still hold a knife and deliver the cut cleanly.  It would be horrible to prolong suffering, and I would feel terrible.  However, it did show me how rusty I am at this.  After all, it's been nearly a year since I learned how to butcher, and I haven't done it since.  I need to brush up on my evisceration techniques.  And for that, I found this website.  It's got great information, so I you're rusty like me, take a gander. 

My next steps? I will be watching the birds closely, to see if this weekend is their weekend, or if they can go another week.  Though I don't believe they are being overfed, I don't want to feed them to death, either.  Right now, the remaining 13 are very perky and have been moving around their yard quite well.  That's good.  I'll just be here to make sure none of it goes downhill.

All in a day's work, right?  I'll let you know how I make out!

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  1. they look good! i can't wait to get our spring meat birds too. they sure do eat a lot, and all the time!

  2. Even if I had no interest in homesteading, I would have to read your blog, it's just too funny! And informative for the homesteading crowd! Bravo to you and your hubby for having the decency to quickly end the suffering rooster.

  3. I can't believe it is time already. Did you cut the rooster open and by chance see if there was lots of fluid that shouldn't have been there? I often found that is what kills this breed. If everyone still has good strong legs then you have done very well indeed. I was looking for an email address to answer your question on my blog but am not finding one?

  4. I think you're looking at it sensibly! Those birds have a purpose in life and it's a noble one. So far we've only culled roosters for eating. Since we only want one breed, we've been experimenting with the dual purpose breeds. The Buff Orpingtons seem to fit both bills pretty well.

  5. I love this post! Can't wait to see what the final weight of your "harvest" will be!!! ;-)

  6. Oh my gosh you are brave! I'll take mine to the slaughterhouse, thank you very much! But bravo to you!


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