Chicken butchering tools

Chicken butchering tools

Our Freedom Ranger meat birds are near butcher weight and we thought it would be a good time to discuss chicken butchering tools.  We have been raising and butchering our own meat chickens for years.  As a child I learned from my parents as we butchered around 100 a year for our own consumption.  As an adult I use many of the same tools as my parents but have added some luxury time saving items like a scalder and a mechanical chicken plucker.

Chicken butchering tools - chicken plucker
Home built chicken plucker

A few basic tools can get the job done, many of which most folks have already.  Our list will include a set of the basic and inexpensive tools as well of some of those luxury items that make the process easier and faster.

Basic chicken butchering tools

A good set of knives is on my essential list of chicken butchering tools.  A good thin blade for cutting into the cavity of the chicken and a second knife with serrations for cutting through the neck and tail bones.  You can use the same blade for everything but cutting into or nicking the bones is hard on a blade and will cause it to go dull quickly.

Knifes and related cutting tools

For the thin blade I like a boning knife, like this UltraSource boning knife. It has a decent blade and the grip is easy to maintain control with wet, or bloody, hands.  The edge is easy to renew with a decent sharpening steel between chickens.

For my serrated blade I like an inexpensive hunting knife like this Gerber folding knife with serrated blade.  Half the blade on ours is serrated and the rest a normal blade.  If you you were wanting to work on a budget this single knife would work by itself.  Just keep in mind that a thin blade is easier to control inside the chest cavity of a chicken.

I consider our sharpening steel is a essential if we are butchering more than a few chickens at a time.  Being able to dress the edge of a knife between chickens makes the process much easier.  An inexpensive steel works.  We have been using our oval diamond sharpening rod for a decade and love it.

Tools for bleeding out a chicken

A couple different size kill cones are a valuable tool to have on the homestead where you are butchering your own chickens,  You can buy commercially made kill cones that are made from materials like stainless which are easy to clean.  In the link above is a XL model.  It is my preferred cone for large roosters from a bird bird breed,  For meat bird hens and smaller breeds we like the large size of cones.  Here at our homestead we run two cones and move them to some baling twine, which is discussed below,

An budget minded alternative to cones is simple baling twine.  We secure one end to something like a tree or fence post and tie a loop in the other end.  By simply pulling the line through the loop you create a hoop.

Scalder for plucking

Scalding a chicken makes the process of removing feathers much easier.  A large pot filled with water can be easily brought to temperature for plucking on a propane cooker.  A turkey fire kit that includes the burner, a big pot and a thermometer can be cheaper than buying individual components.  It goes without saying, you’ll need propane too.

After scalding the feathers will be removed by hand and simply pulling the feathers from the skin, or with the aid of a plucker.  You can make your own or buy one commercial made,  It is expensive, so it will be discussed in the “luxury item” section near the end of this blog entry.

If you’re not opposed to having skinless chicken you can remove the feathers without a scalder setup by skinning the chicken, the feathers are removed by by pulling of the skin and the feathers.

A cooler and ice

After butchering it is important to cool down the carcass.  We use a cooler and add ice and water to drop the carcass temperatures.  If you have a little extra cooler space and some plastic bottles you can save money by filling the bottles with water and prefreezing them.  You can reuse the bottles of ice in the place of ice from the store.

Chicken butchering tools - a cooler of ice water
ice water used to cool carcasses after butchering

Clean water

Clean water is an absolute necessity.  You need it to clean the chicken, yourself and the random accidental messes that occur.  A few buckets of water will work, but a hose with a nozzle of some sort is recommended.  We use a garden hose and the watering wand from our garden.

Luxury chicken butchering tools

The top two luxury chicken butchering tools would have to be a chicken plucker and a scalder. For the plucker to work properly you need a scalder capable of bringing your water temperature to 145 degrees.  If you don’t dip the chicken in that hot water the plucker won’t remove any fethers.

Chicken Plucker

A plucking machine is a massive time and labor saver. But they can also be expensive.  We built our first one off a set of plans, you can see it running and doing its job in the video below.  There are lots of DIY plans and even build videos on YouTube if you want to build your own.  For those who don’t want the hassle of building your own, there are a few companies that make a decent plucker that is made from stainless steel.  Coops n More carry a few different models.

Scalder

A comercially manufactured scalder is another luxury item but is such a time saver.  We are better able accurately maintain a constant temperature in this unit over the turkey fryer setup we originally used.   The turkey fryer was always tempermental and more difficult to keep at a constant temperature.  We saw fluctations in the temperatures which would delay the entire butchering process.  Water temperatures that were too high, or too low, make plucking far more diffucult. A good scaldeer that maintains a constant temperature streamlines the entire process.

 

Chicken butchering tools - 220 volt scalder
220 volt scalder from coops n more being powered by an electric generator

Shrink wrap freezer bags

A more inexpensive luxury item is the chicken shrink wrap freezer bag.  As you can see in the picture

chicken butchering tools - shrink wrap bags
Chickens packaged in shrink wrap bags and ready for the freezer

 

 

Pruning cabbage leaves

Pruning cabbage leaves

This week we are pruning cabbage leaves in our garden.  They had been neglected and had become over grown making it difficult to water, fertilize and inspect for insects.  This task should have been completed a few weeks ago and things were really getting out of hand. Fortunately they’re

Why should you be pruning cabbage leaves

There are a few reasons your cabbage leaves should be pruned regularly, three of those reasons were mentioned above.  When the cabbage gets lots of leaves on it the plant takes up a lot of room.  This can make the task of watering and applying the Mittleider weekly feed challenging.  Inspection for insects can be nearly impossible when not properly pruned.

Pruning cabbage leaves encourages the plant to start new growth and put more energy into new growth and growing the head of cabbage.  Pruning a couple leaves each week provides you with some nutritious leaves to eat or use in a smoothie,

What leaves should you prune

Any leaves that are touching the soil in a Mittleider garden are the first ones that get trimmed.  Leaves that have turned yellow, are broken at the stem or just particularly damaged by insects are also trimmed. Leaves that overlap other plants can also be pruned to make it easier to apply weekly feed and water.

What tools are needed

There aren’t any special tools needed for pruning cabbage leaves besides your favorite pruners.  For this task I prefer the same pruners that get used to prune our tomatoes.   The short thin blades on the Fiskars micro tip pruning snip are sharp and allow for precise pruning.  This pruning task can be completed with bypass pruners or even a good pair of scissors.

Pruning cabbage leaves
cabbage after pruning leaves

Watch our cabbage pruning video on YouTube

Other pruning topics

How to prune zucchini 

How to prune tomatoes 

meat chickens – Freedom Ranger update

Meat chickens at 8 weeks

Our Freedom Rangers meat chickens are now 8 weeks old and growing well and we thought we would do an update.  They spent almost two weeks in the brooder and then went out onto grass inside our chicken tractor.  It will be another 4 weeks before this straight run batch of 26 chickens get to butcher weight.

meat chickens
Freedom Rangers meat chickens at 8 weeks

Observations about our Freedom Ranger meat chickens

Without question, these Freedom Ranger meat chickens forage more than the Cornish Cross we have raised in the past.  We have watched as they tear up clover, grass and scratched for insects.  I’ve thrown a few bugs in the tractor and watched as they ate them.

Although they do forage for additional things to eat, I don’t think they take in very much of their daily calories this way.  They still spend the majority of their day at the feeder eating the chick grower.  Considering these chickens are fed for an additional 4 weeks as compared to the Cornish cross, I am not convinced they will require less feed to get to butcher weight.  We are documenting how much feed we use to feed them to butcher weight.

This fall, after the heat of summer has passed, we hope to bring some Cornish cross to butcher weight as a comparison.  We will record how much feed we give them and compare it to our results from the Freedom Rangers.

Freedom ranger meat chickens
Freedom ranger rooster at 8 weeks

Our second batch of Freedom Rangers

At the 6 week mark of our first batch of these Freedom Ranger meat chicks we ordered another 25 chicks from Freedom Ranger Hatchery.  For this order we elected to get all cockerels for the same price as straight run.  We received 27 chicks with our second order and lost a single chick on their second day in the brooder.  The remaining  26 are healthy and growing well.  They will be moved to a second John Suscovich style stress-free chicken tractor next week.

John Suscovich chicken tractor

John Suscovich chicken tractor

Recently we built a modified version of the John Suscovich chicken tractor for our Freedom Ranger meat chickens.  We bought his book, Stress-Free Chicken Tractor Plans, with the plans and built a modified version of it.

A chicken tractor for a tall person

After watching several videos on YouTube I noticed folks having to duck their heads to get in or out of the chicken tractor.  As a tall guy who is forever bashing my forehead into things, I decided I’d build it a little taller.  We went and looked what widths the wire we needed that was available in our area.  After looking in 4 different stores we found it was available in 24 and 36 inch widths.  Ultimately, we decided to built our chicken tractor 1 foot taller.

From the parts list in John’s book, parts A, B, I and K were cut 1 foot longer.  Parts A and B are what give the sides their height.  In the picture below, parts  A are the 2 vertical boards in the middle below the tarp.  Parts B are the two, one on each end.

John Suscovich chicken tractor
John Suscovich chicken tractor

Other slight modifications to the Chicken Tractor

Roosting bar

Because we are raising Freedom Rangers, we decided to add a roosting bar to our John Suscovich chicken tractor.  A 2×4 was used to provide them a place to roost.  You can see it, and one of the two addition pieces of lumber we used in this photo.

John Suscovich chicken tractor
Roosting bar added to our John Suscovich chicken tractor

Closet shelf and rod bracket

In the picture above you can see our yellow bucket automatic waterer hanging from a closet shelf and rod bracket.  We use it, and 18 inch length of chain to suspend our bucket waterer.  It uses the automatic water nipples to provide clean water to our chickens.  You will notice in the picture below that the chain links fit over the rod hook.  Raising the bucket height a link at a time is easy.

John Suscovich chicken tractor
Closet shelf and rod bracket

Adding a door closure

The first week our John Suscovich chicken tractor was in use there was a small incident when the front of the tractor was pointed downhill.  while inside to top off the feeder several chicks escaped out the door that swung open with the aid of gravity.  By adding a simple door closure spring no more chicks escape while we are inside the tractor.

John Suscovich chicken tractor
door closure spring used to keep the door closed while inside our John Suscovich chicken tractor

A long tarp to cut down on the wind

Our first batch of meat chickens were going to be in the tractor while it was still pretty cool and windy at night.  Because of the wind, we elected to get a tarp that would go all the way to the ground on both sides.  During the summer we will roll the sides up to give them plenty of breeze. (See picture at the top of this entry)  We went with a 12 with the extra length used to partially cover the back end of the tractor.

 

Mittleider grow box maintenance

Mittleider grow box maintenance

Mittleider grow box maintenance needs to be completed once or twice a year.  Grow boxes in a Mittleider garden are filled with sand and sawdust.  As the gardening season progresses the sawdust will decompose.  As it decomposes the growing medium in the grow box drops.  The lost material will need to be replaced.

Mittleider grow box maintenance
Mittleider grow box being topped off with sawdust

How often to add more sawdust

Here on our little homestead we will do Mittleider grow box maintenance at before each gardening season right before planting.  In grow boxes where we rotate in a new crop for our fall gardens the grow box will get topped off a second time.   There are a couple things to consider when deciding how often to add more sawdust.

What to consider when deciding when top off a grow box

Performing mid season Mittleider grow box maintenance on crops like kale or tomatoes would be a problem because the fruit and growing tip wouldn’t get buried with the added sawdust.  To try and top off a bed with crops such as cabbage or spinach you would end up partially burying your crop.

A common side effect of adding fresh sawdust is a drop in available nitrogen.  Watch for nitrogen deficiencies if topping of the grow box during the growing season.  If you see symptoms of a lack of nitrogen you will need to correct for nitrogen deficiencyUrea is a common nitrogen source that is widely available.

What sawdust will work

A common question I see asked is what type of sawdust is correct to use and what size it should be.  The type is easy, anything but walnut sawdust will work.  Walnut contains tannin that will kill seedlings and severally stunt the growth of established plants.  Avoid any sawdust that could possibly contain walnut.

The size of the sawdust is important.  Anything too large, or too small, can cause serious problems in your Mittleider grow box.  See my blog entry on identifying the correct sawdust size.  Another acceptable source of sawdust that can be bought is from equine pellets. Equine pellets cost around $6 per 40 pound bag and will roughly triple in volume once wet,

Mittleider grow box maintenance in our potato box

In this video you will see our potato and sweet potato grow box.  Because of the length of the sweet potato growing season this box is only filled once a year.  It gets topped off right before we transplant the sweet potatoes.

Freedom Ranger meat chicks

Freedom Ranger meat chicks

This year instead of raising Cornish cross for meat we decided to try the Freedom Ranger meat chicks. Our first order of 25 chicks arrived yesterday from Freedom Ranger Hatchery in Pennsylvania. They all survived the journey and appear to be in good health.  They’re on the back porch in our custom built brooder.

In only a few minutes after being moved into the brooder they were using the chicken nipple waterer to get their first drink. It took them about an hour before they started eating.

Why the Freedom Ranger meat chicks?

We have raised and butchered lots of the Cornish cross meat chicks over the years. They’re a great bird and grow to butcher size quickly. They don’t do much foraging and rely entirely on the chick grower we provide.

I’ve read and seen videos claiming that chicken breeds like these Freedom Rangers have a better feed conversion rate and are great foragers. When provided with fresh grass each day with the aide of a chicken tractor they should hunt for insects and browse in the grass. I’d like to see for myself how they do in a chicken tractor.

Freedom Rangers in a chicken tractor

When these Freedom Rangers are ready to be moved out of the brooder, they will go into a modified John Suscovich stress free chicken tractor.  Ours is being built one foot taller than the plans indicate in the book.  I’m making it a little taller to help avoid smashing my forehead.

The chicks will be moved to a fresh patch of grass in the yard at least once a day. As the get larger they will possibly be moved twice a day as they eat all the grass.  It is our hope that by supplementing their diet with grass and insects that the amount of grower they consume will drop.  We hope that the supplemented diet in our chicken tractor will reduce our cost.

Tracking cost of raising Freedom Ranger meat chicks

To track our total cost of the butchered chickens we are using a simple spreadsheet to keep a running tally of our costs.  We do our own butchering, we will not have that added cost.  The only cost I am not going to track will be electricity for the heat lamps  and for the rural water.  Both are relatively inexpensive when compared to feed and won’t great affect our final cost.  We are more interested in the food cost for rearing these chicks.  That is why we ultimately decided to not bother tracking electricity usage or total gallons of water.

Eventually we will raise another batch of Cornish cross broilers to have something to compare to these Freedom Ranger meat chicks.  To be perfectly honest, I like the idea of the chickens diet being comprised of grass and insects.  If they forage well there is a possibility that we stick with the Rangers.  Time will tell.

See the update on these chicks

You can see our Freedom Ranger meat chicken update.

Raising chicks with less mess

Raising chicks with less mess

I wanted to talk about raising chicks with less mess.  Our Freedom Ranger chicks arrived in the mail today and went into our brooder.  It was our special built brooder that gave me the idea for this topic.

Raising chicks with less mess
Raising chicks with less mess

Chicks are messy

As a young boy, I helped my parents to raise and butcher hundreds of meat birds over the years.  When we first brought them home they were cute and easy to clean after.  As they got bigger everything turned into a big mess.  Those big waterers full of nasty water were my least favorite job.

A few decades later when I started raising meat birds for my family I was quickly reminded how messy those birds are when they get big.  I grumbled about it and started thinking about ways to cut down on the mess and waste of food and water.

Chicken nipples to reduce wasted water

A blog on the internet about mess free waterers provided the first gem on raising chicks with less mess.  Chicken nipples.  They’re wonderful and you need some.Chicken nipples provide the chicks and full grown birds with a clean source of water.  They cant get into the water to poop in it or spill it out into the brooder.

Raising chicks with less mess
Chicken Nipple waterer for chicks

Turbo feeder

This Turbo Feeder from Rite Farm Products is another great way to cut down on the mess from the chicks.  The design of the feeder discourages the chicks from getting into the feeder to scratch out the feed or to poop in it.

Raising chicks with less mess
Turbo feeder

See our brooder and setup on YouTube

Watch our video on raising chicks with less mess on YouTube.   You can see the brooder, turbo feeder, and our chicken nipple waterer.

Greenhouse heat sink

Greenhouse heat sink

The greenhouse project got started on Monday and the greenhouse heat sink is completed. Our greenhouse heat sink is comprised of 120 yards of 3 inch screened rock. It is surrounded on four sides with 4 inches of styrofoam and is covered with 2 feet of soil. There are 6 feet of foam that insulate the rock, the heat sink, and the soil over the heat sink that is inside the greenhouse.

In this picture the foam is 4 inches thick and 4 feet tall.  There is 6 inches of rock in the bottom of the hole and we have begun covered the first 10 lengths of the perforated drain tile.  Three feet of rock will go over the top of these lengths of drain tile.

Greenhouse heat sink being built under the greenhouse
Greenhouse heat sink being built under the greenhouse

The second set of drain tiles

In this next picture there is three and a half feet of rock inside the foam and the second and final set of drain tiles are ready to be covered with rock.

Once covered with  rock we covered the rock with a 3 mil barrier fabric that will allow water to pass through but will exclude the soil.  This is important to prevent the rock from being plugged with dirt and rendering the heat sink useless.


Greenhouse heat sink being built under the greenhouse
Greenhouse heat sink being built under the greenhouse

Once all the barrier fabric is in place it gets covered with 2 feet of topsoil.  The soil was compacted with the track hoe and then leveled in preparation for the greenhouse assembly.

Greenhouse heat sink being built under the greenhouse
Greenhouse heat sink covered with 2 feet of soil and leveled

The last two feet of foam

We had a small mishap and breakdown in communication.  As a result we are going to have to put in the last bit of the Styrofoam with the aid of a trencher.  In a future blog entry I will cover the lessons we learned during this process and the mistakes we made.  Hopefully you can learn from us and not make a similar mistake.

Watch us build the greenhouse heat sink

So far there are 5 videos in this YouTube series and I expect to have two more before we begin assembly of the greenhouse.  You can watch the videos of the heat sink build on my YouTube channel.  Here is the first video in the series.

heat sink greenhouse build

Heat sink greenhouse build

We are excited to finally have our start date for the geothermal heat sink greenhouse build. The heavy equipment should arrive tomorrow and the site preparation work beginning on Saturday.   Before starting the project we have some trees that need to be removed to make room for the greenhouse.  They will need to be removed to prevent shading or because they are within the footprint of the desired location.

Monday we should begin work on the actual heat sink portion of this build.  The hole will be dug, our 125 yards of rock will be delivered, and the process of burying two layers of drain tile will begin. Here is the site of our future geothermal heat sink greenhouse.

geothermal heat sink greenhouse build
geothermal heat sink greenhouse build site

Preparing the greenhouse site and heat sink

To prepare the site for the greenhouse we have hired a local guy.  He is going to utilize a track hoe to push over several trees and use a bulldozer to push them all into a manageable pile.  The trees will season throughout the year and then be cut into firewood this fall.

Once the trees are removed the 5 1/2 foot deep hole for the heat sink will be dug with the track hoe.  The topsoil will be set to one side and eventually placed back over the top of our 125 yards of rock.  The clay and any excess soil will be pushed out of the way and spread out over the yard.  They dropped off the bulldozer tonight and the track hoe should arrive tomorrow.

geothermal heat sink greenhouse build
geothermal heat sink greenhouse build

Documentation of the Geothermal heat sink greenhouse build

We will be recording the build process on a couple different cameras.  One will be camera tripod and setup to record the activity around the heat sink site.  I’ll lug around another camera and try and explain the steps and show what we are doing.  Those videos will be posted to our YouTube page during this process.  Subscribe to our channel on YouTube to get notifications of any videos.

Freeze drying leftovers

Freeze drying leftovers

Another terrific use for our Harvest Right machine is for freeze drying leftovers. As a family with children we generate our fair share of left overs. We try to use up leftovers but we often resorted to throwing food away before we bought our freeze dryer. Now that we have our Harvest Right machine no food gets thrown away because we are freeze drying leftovers.

Freeze drying leftovers
Freeze drying leftovers

A reason to buy a home freeze dryer

Recently I saw an advertisement from Harvest Right that claims the average person throws away something like 290 pounds of food annually. I decided to go looking for other sources to see for myself. This article suggests that the average family of 4 wastes around $2,275 worth of food yearly by throwing it in the trash. According to the EPA, “In the U.S., 40% of food is lost or wasted, annually costing an estimated $218 billion or 1.3% of GDP.”  That is a lot of wasted food and money

If our household falls close to that national average we could arguable make our machine pay for itself in two years.   If you add some loads of food from your garden it wouldn’t take long to make a home freeze dryer pay for itself.

What food could you avoid throwing away

In addition to food from your table you can freeze dry stuff like condiments, sour cream, pudding, milk, yogurt and fruit.  Bananas are one of the items that many homes invariably end up throwing into the trash.  Bananas freeze dry nicely and taste wonderful freeze dried.  They’re also very easy to prepare for freeze drying, we no longer throw away bananas.

Seasonal meals such as Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners often result in an abundance of leftovers.  Most of that leftover food will freeze dry nicely.  It can even be packaged into individual and complete meals to go into your food storage pantry.

Freeze drying leftovers
Leftover stew going into our home freeze dryer

The stew you see in the picture above is going to be stored in 7 mil mylar bags with a 300 cc  oxygen absorber once freeze dried.  It will be added to our food storage pantry once completed.

Our quest to be self reliant and grow a healthy garden