Originally Posted by Ridgerunner
There are so many different ways to go about this. I’ll make a few general comments then explain how I do it. There are only two of us also.
You can eat any chicken regardless of age, size, or sex but you have to adjust your cooking methods to account for age and sex. A young chicken can be cooked hot and dry, like frying or grilling. But as they get older you need to change your methods to slower and with more moisture, otherwise the meat gets so tough you can’t eat it. Cog au Vin is a traditional French way to cook an old rooster. Baking, crock pots, pressure cookers, stews, or maybe chicken and dumplings are other ways to use old chicken. Pressure canning also cooks it while it cans so you have meat ready to use and it is really tender. Older males have more texture and flavor than females.
The chicken you get from the store are the Cornish X type broilers that reach butcher size at 6 to 8 weeks on the feed regimen the professionals use. You can cook it any way you wish, but it really shines as fried or grilled. The problem with our chickens is that if you butcher them that young there just isn’t any meat on them. We all butcher at different ages for a variety of reasons, too many to go into but one important one is how you wish to cook them.
If you are basically buying all the feed they eat you just cannot beat the efficiency of the Cornish X type broilers. They are bred to eat, poop, and gain weight. That’s about all they do. Some people restrict feed and/or mostly pasture them to slow their growth, but if they are fed well they have to be butchered sometime around 6 to 8 weeks, otherwise they grow so big they start to die. Their hearts can’t keep up or their skeleton breaks down under all that weight. With these you basically have to buy all the chicks since they are so difficult to keep and breed, and you have to butcher them within a pretty tight time frame.
There is another type of broiler, often called Rangers, that are bed to be a little slower in growth and be able to forage better than the Cornish X, but they are also bred to be butchered at a reasonably young age. If you are buying all their feed they are not as efficient as the Cornish X but if yours forage a lot they are not a bad choice.
Then you have the dual purpose birds, the type your great-grandparents had on the farm. These lay a fair amount of eggs and provide a reasonable meal, but are not as efficient at either as their specialist cousins, the commercial layers or the commercial broilers. Some of the advantages of these are that they can reproduce if you want to hatch your own chicks, they do not need to be butchered by a certain age, and they can maybe provide a lot of their own feed by foraging if you have high quality forage. Most of us don’t. Since they don’t outgrow their bodies at a young age you can butcher on your schedule, not theirs. But the older they get the more restricted you are in how you cook them.
These are the basic meat birds but there are a lot of variations in how we do any of this. Some people only look at cockerels, but since half the chicks I hatch are female, half of what I eat are female. One forum member is working really hard to get a strain of dual purpose birds that can reproduce but at the same time put on enough weight by 14 weeks to be worth butchering. In China, Silkies are considered a delicacy. With their dark meat many people here would not want to eat them. There are just so many approaches.
I raise dual purpose chickens, mainly for meat. The eggs are just a nice side product, I give most of mine away or sell them and donate the money to a special church fund. I hatch my own, not a special breed but a barnyard mix of different breeds. If I have a broody hen I use her but I cannot hatch enough chicks just with broodies so I also use an incubator and raise many myself. We basically eat one chicken a week but with visits to see my grandkids and other events with other people I only need to raise and butcher around 45 chickens a year. Half of what we eat are male, half are female.
I roast a chicken on Thursday and that’s supper. This is the breast, wishbone, thighs and drumsticks. But there are always left-overs. We have that Saturday night in soup that I can from stuff from my garden, just shred the chicken and heat it up. If the chicken was a female, that’s it. If it were a larger male, I have chicken for lunch a time or two.
I also save the rest of the carcass and use that to make broth. The back, neck, wings, gizzard, heart, and feet go into broth. Yes, I know what those feet have been walking in, but I scald them and peel off the skin and toenails which gets it clean enough for me. I can that broth and pick the meat off the bones and freeze that. That cooked meat is great on tacos, in soup, in casseroles, sometimes I just eat it for lunch on a sandwich.
I normally butcher my cockerels around 5 months. I put five 23 week olds in the freezer last week. To me that is a good age, they have hit the end of their rapid growth phase. They will pack on some more meat for up to a year old or maybe even a bit more but it is really slow and not at all efficient. Besides too many roosters in the flock can lead to behavioral problems. Also I want to control which rooster is the father of the chicks. Five months works out pretty well for my cockerels. But with my limited freezer space, sometimes I go longer.
I generally wait a while on the pullets. I want to evaluate how they lay and what their eggs are like before I butcher. I raise my own replacements so only want the best. Normally these get butchered around 7 to 8 months of age. Mine forage for some of their food so it’s not like I’m buying everything they eat.
Every year or two I butcher and eat my old rooster, that’s enough meat for two weeks plus about the best broth you can get. They do keep packing on meat as they age, it’s just really slow. And I eat my old hens when I bring in pullets to replace them. That amounts to about a third of my laying/breeding flock every year. I only have 7 to 8 hens total so it’s not many.
That’s about it for me. I know I’m not that efficient in raising them for meat, but with the forage I have it’s not that bad. I could do a better job of evaluating the pullets if I waited an extra year to process them but that doesn’t fit how I do it. There are a lot of things I could do more efficiently but this is how I do it. Hopefully you can get something useful out of it. Good luck!