Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Raising Chickens for the Table

Note this truly middle class hen serves up her chick crumbs in a Le Creuset dish!


I wanted to try a few table birds last year, but didn't get round to it, so this year I've been busy researching the best breed to try for this new venture. There appears to be some disagreement, not to say ferocious argument, between afficionados of Sasso, and Hubbard, which are both modern hybrids developed for slow maturing and increased flavour. And then there are the traditional and rare breeds such as the Ixworth that others swear by. Anyway I decided to go for the Hubbard hybrid and picked up a dozen day old chicks (actually 14 because I got two free!) from a specialist organic breeder FAI Farms near Oxford.

Raising chickens for the table isn't something to be taken on lightly, for the fairly obvious reason that you will have to deal with, or make arrangements for, slaughter and preparation of the birds for consumption. I have killed the occasional surplus cockerel in the past and although I found it challenging at first, I did find the satisfaction of producing my own roast chicken very rewarding. And tasty. However, I now have a secret weapon in the form of my good friend Sid, a retired and skilled butcher and sometime smallholder has kindly offered to deal with my birds for me. He still does quite a bit himself by way of supplying game from the local hunt, and has a plucking machine, so I'm hoping that will make everything easier,come D-Day (Dispatch Day).


I brought the chicks home in an insulated picnic box and slipped them surreptitiously under the broody hen, or at least as surreptitious as you can be with a hen who is doing her best impersonation of Sid Vicious and giving a good peck at anything that has the audacity to come within beak distance! I was a bit worried that she wouldn't accept them or that there would be too many for her, but as you can see from the picture she's taken them all under her wing. They are accomodated in an ark, and she brought them out after a day or so, and all is going well so far. It's so much easier raising young birds with a broody than doing it with a heat lamp and so on, the broody does the whole job for you, and I think the chicks are better for it too. My four little Indian Runner Ducks are doing fine on their own, I've put them outside now with a small lamp in their ark for warmth if they need it, but they have taken me much more time and effort than if they'd had their own mum.

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