I was telling some friends at work about our new chicks, and when I mentioned that we were growing them out for meat they asked if our girls – aged 4, 6 and 8 – knew.
To be honest, we’ve been upfront with them since before the chicks hatched. We’ve been clear all along that these chickens are for eating, and they don’t have a problem with that. They know that they’re being well looked after, and they’re not living in the cramped conditions that most commercial meat chickens endure.
The cows in the neighbour’s paddock next door are beef cows, and the girls also know where they’re going to end up. Like all kids, they ask questions (like “how do they turn them into meat?”), which we do our best to answer in ways they can understand.
If you’re going to eat meat, I think it’s best to understand fully where it comes from. Once you do, and you still choose to eat meat, then raising your own meat animals is very appealing from both a food quality and animal welfare standpoint.
That said, the kids aren’t going to be helping with (or even seeing) the actual killing and processing until they’re much older! They do help in the kitchen with cooking the prepared meat, though.
These chicks are crossbred, so they don’t have any value in keeping for breeding. Since their mothers are hybrids (ISA Browns), which won’t breed true to type anyway, they wouldn’t be great egg-layers either. The father is a Brahma, which will mean they’ll have a bit more meat on them than the normally-lean ISA Brown. There are better crosses for meat birds, but they’ll still taste good.
So why did we breed them, then? We wanted to test out the incubator and get experience with raising chicks, growing them out in the pastured-poultry style, and killing and dressing them. Rather than starting with expensive fertilised purebred heritage eggs (which can run $30 or more per dozen!), we figured it was much better to start with what we already had available for free. Our Brahamas will be coming into lay soon, and when they do we’ll be ready to breed purebreds from them.
We also have a spare rooster at the moment, rescued from a friend’s parents’ flock. He was getting too aggressive with their new pullets and killed one, so they had to get rid of him. I’m not 100% sure yet, but I suspect we’ll be eating him too. Our youngest daughter has named him Apricot (as in apricot chicken!).
When the time comes, I’ll do an article about processing the chickens. It’s actually not very hard, and well worth doing if you’re a meat-eater with any interest at all in where your food comes from.