after 9 weeks, it’s time to harvest.
from day one, these chicks were the sweetest. I had a very hard time thinking of harvest day. so, like a normal, healthy person does, I avoided thinking about it. I mean, sure we bought supplies and planned, but I wasn’t *really* thinking about it.
then the day was here. it was time to reap what we had sown for the last 9 weeks. admittedly, Grant did all the hard, uncomfortable, sometimes sad, work. Truly. but from my perspective of tending to the kids, I watched a man diligently pursue this harvest for his family. And for that, I’ll forever be grateful. he prayed before the harvest, thanking Yah for this blessing of food, thanking the chickens for providing us with sustenance. We know our food has to come from somewhere, and we are so thankful to have a hand in the process, from start to finish. connecting with our nutrition in this way has changed us. we are grateful, despite the discomfort.
We learned a lot and made so many mistakes on harvest day. so, read along and learn from us! I’ll include 5 BIG mistakes, but there were like 17. enjoy!!
PLANNING THE DAY:
when you order your Jumbo Cornish X chickens, truly look at a calendar and PLAN. count 8-10 weeks from the week of their arrival. Whatever month it lands you in, clear your weekend schedule for that entire month. I’m not joking. Make the harvest your main priority that month. Don’t make plans. Because you may get to week 8 and they are ready for harvest. Or you’ll want to wait a week. You have to let the chickens lead you – not your schedule lead the chickens. You don’t want to invest this much time and effort and money into these chickens to not reap every pound from them. We went with 9 weeks because it fit our schedule. We did not plan the way we should have. We could have potentially gone 10 weeks, having the birds gain more weight, but our schedule didn’t allow for it. So clear your month for the chicken harvest – and don’t stress! Also, watch their health. They are docile, lazy birds. But you’ll know when it’s just getting sad to watch them move around. Beautifully, we didn’t experience this – but you’ll know when their bodies are just ready. You’ll also see how some birds are way bigger than others. These were clearly the more dominant birds, hovering over food, making their presence known. even though they all had access to the same amount of food, some thrived better than others. Remember remember remember, there’s no turning back with Cornish X – you can not keep these birds as pets. You must harvest them no later than 10 or 11 weeks. so plan, mark it on your calendar, and then enjoy raising them with no stress!
LEARN! STUDY! LEARN!
we ordered some whole chickens from a local farm back in august, not realizing we would be raising our own. when the farm decided on pick-up day, I was chatting with the farm owner and I told her we were raising our own birds. she invited us to come over on their harvest day to learn and help. I couldn’t take the kids, so Grant went for the day. He learned SO much! the basics of EVERYTHING. it was such a blessing for him to have some experience before our own harvest. Find a local farm in your area that extends that same invitation. Most farms are HAPPY for the help – you’re free labor to them, and you get a free tutorial. It’s a win-win for everyone.
here’s where the fun begins! Please note, there are 17 different ways to harvest chickens. Here’s what we deemed important for 26 birds – however we made plenty of mistakes.
- a BIG scolder pot and fire source (we used propane)
- THICK heat resistant gloves for bagging the chickens (you have to dip you hand in the water slightly and it’s mighty hot – protect yourself!)
- feather plucker (we invested in this for the years of chicken harvest we plan to have. we also plan to rent this to others harvesting locally)
- high waisted table (don’t buy new – find something used – but do yourself a huge favor and make sure it’s waist high or higher – for your back’s sake!)
- 4 large coolers (you can’t go wrong here – you’ll need more depending on your harvest size)
- 2 kill cones
- sharp knives
- 4-5 buckets for discarding and saving
- processing plastic bags and ties and LONG straws (get longer straws – it makes it way easier)
- water supply with 2-3 junctions
- lunch prepared or planned (with plenty of paper plates, cups, etc.)
- table for food and drinks
- cleaning supplies
- paper towels
- BIG trash can
- drying rack
- cutting boards
this list is BORING to those that have no intentions of doing this yourself haha I understand that!
OUR 5 MISTAKES (more like 6 . . . )
- Make sure your processing table is waist high! You want to stand while processing. We used a low, dining room height table. Our helpers complained of stiff backs after about an hour of processing. We felt so bad! Make sure your table is a good, comfortable height, because if you do recruit help, you want everyone happy, healthy and willing to help again in the future 😉
- Make sure everyone processing has a pair of plastic gloves. We didn’t plan for this – and it can affect quality control on the processing of the chicken. Not everyone wants to dig their fingers inside a chicken and scrape . . . sorry TMI, but we should have given our help everything they needed to be successful!! You’ll end up having to go back and redo some chickens and that’s double work – we don’t want that.
- Set up processing table on your driveway or on gravel! The amount of water needed to process WILL create a mud zone. and your help will be sinking in it; it’s just a mess. If you have a processing table with sinks and such, you might not have as big of a mess, but just know, it will get muddy regardless.
- Make sure you have something to act as a lid for the kill cones! Without being too graphic, after the chickens were in the kill cone, upside down, sometimes they still have the willpower to escape. It’s not pretty, and truly you want them to have a peaceful passing. Having something to cover the top of the cone will help with that.
- You can never have too many tables! Obviously have a processing table or two, depending on the amount of chickens you have and helpers you have. We had one processing table and two helpers – that was perfect for 26 birds. Make sure you have a table for just food and drink – keep this area emaculate and set it up before the harvest begins. Have another table for miscellaneous items, tools and for your helpers to rest things on. And finally you’ll need a table for your drying rack. I like the idea of the chickens being up off the ground drying on a table.
- Test your drying rack 😉 Grant built a drying rack out of PVC pipe for the chickens to rest on before being bagged. however without testing it’s strength, we had a massive tumble and the chickens fell to the ground. NO GOOD. not worth the effort and it’s very frustrating. Make sure whatever you use as your drying rack is sturdy and tested!
remember, don’t feed the chickens 24 hours before harvest. not even grazing. water is fine.
wake up early! get your scolder filled with water and turn on the burner an hour or more before you plan to start the harvest. you want your water nice and hot before you start. Just set it and forget it! we wanted to start processing at 7AM, and we should have started the water at 6AM.
make sure your feather plucker machine is far from the operation – preferably on a small hill. It gets MUDDY around the plucker because there is water flowing through as the plucker runs. Best to not have another mud zone.
if you use a propane burner for your scolder, test it for an hour the day before. why? well, most propane burners will have a safety timer on them, and after 15 minutes, it will shut off. SUPER FRUSTRATING. you don’t want to find this out on harvest day – you may not have time to rig it or disable this feature. so testing the day before to see how everything does for an hour is a good idea. You want your fire constantly going, keeping the water HOT while dispatching. Don’t let some annoying safety feature slow you down. LEARN FROM US.
pick a helper who keeps track of the scolder and cleans it out! basically, you use the same water in the scolder while you process the chickens. that’s no problem. however, having fresh hot water for bagging the chickens is ideal. Once your last chicken is scolded, have a (strong) helper dump out the water (far from the operation if they are super strong – again, we want to avoid mud), rinse it out with the hose really good, fill it back up with fresh water and then get it back on the fire to heat up again. You need fresh, clean hot water to bag the chickens. Having one person focused on this while others continue butchering and drying chickens, it will make things run super smooth!!
have someone in charge of prepping or ordering lunch! make sure you know the schedule of your helpers. not everyone will be able to stay for the entire harvest. plan out lunch to work with most of the helpers schedules and get them some food before they hit the road.
helpers! this is truly the most important part. the more self-sufficient other families in your area become, the more chicken harvest day will become a 3 or 4 times a year kinda thing. this will be normal part of the seasons. the more harvest days become a community effort, I scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine, together we can help put food in the freezers of our community. open up your home on harvest day for help. and be willing to help others on their harvest days. we can learn this skill together and pass it down to our children – it’s a beautiful opportunity!!
and that, my friends, is a season of raising and harvesting our own meat birds. we are better for it and plan to do it twice in 2021. we suggest smaller batches like 25 at a time if you have a smaller property like us. You wanna give these chickens the best life, and a smaller batch will allow for that. we will most likely do a spring batch and an early fall batch. That will be 50 chickens for the year. Beautiful! thanks for following along. I hope this inspires you to raise your own food, whatever that may look like, and experience a small taste of self-sufficiency.
The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.
On November 16, we harvested 26 birds from 6:30am-3:30pm. The average weight: 5.8lbs