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We got a straight run of 25 Buff Orpingtons on May 16th. We had them first in the brooder and then in the chicken tractor by mid-June. In early August we moved the pullets out of the tractor into a small pen attached to the chicken coop, where they had access to a small screened-off section of the coop via a ramp. We let them join the rest of the hens toward the end of August, when they were about the same size, and transferred the cockerels to the small pen, where we planned to keep them until butchering time.
But the cockerels aren't eating; they're tremendously nervous, and they fight each other all the time. We caught a nice-sized one and weighed it and it was only 5 lbs. That won't make much of a carcass once it's plucked and eviscerated. We had been keeping previous years' cockerels for about four months, too, but wanted to go longer with these to get a bigger bird. Mature size for BO males is supposed to be over 8 lbs. But it doesn't seem to be happening. Any ideas about how to calm them down and get them to eat so we've got something more substantial for the table? We're afraid at this rate they'll kill each other before we get a chance to do it ourselves!
Joyce, we didn't want to let them free range because that really toughens them up. There are only about eight or nine roosters in there, and they have the house to go into, too. DH was feeding them in a metal feeder and he realized that they didn't like to use that, so now he's just spreading the food out in a long trail on the ground, and that seems to be helping. Less fighting over a more localized food dispenser that way. Thanks for your suggestion! We'd really like to let these guys go another month.
There were two roosters that were being so traumatized that they refused to come out of the hen house and just stayed huddled in a corner. DH put some sunflower seeds in there for them but one of the aggressive roosters came roaring up the ramp as soon as they started eating, and attacked them again. DH decided to let the two victims join the hens who are all free range; I'm sure they figured they'd died and gone to heaven. He's thinking next year he may just try to caponize the roosters if they're like this. We've never had this problem before, even with the same setup and the same number of roosters.
We were really astonished. They're described as very calm birds, but we have quite a few roosters that are attack machines. It's really ugly to watch. DH has been clipping the beaks of the worst offenders and then the attackers seem to be the ones that he hasn't clipped yet; I don't know if that's a coincidence or if that's really making a difference. We have only seven left in the original enclosure; we have had to let four of them in with the other chickens. I am curious to know whether that will affect their size and tenderness for the table but it will be hard to keep those four separate when we butcher and chill them for a couple of days.
The more they use those muscles, the tougher they get, is how I understood it. Age is also a factor but I've had some pretty tough young free range chickens. It was better after Jyl told me to let them sit in the refrigerator for a couple of days before freezing them, and I also dry brine them. While I'm thawing them I fill the bag with water and pour it off several times to get rid of the salt and continue the brining process.
I haven't had any that were really great meat except a Marans.. The rest were all kinda stringy and not the greatest, young, small pen or free range, they were all the same to me..
A meat bird is a meat bird. LOL Can't beat them for tenderness if you ask me.
Hmmm, our Marans weren't that great. We just had a Speckled Sussex cockerel from last year for dinner tonight - crockpot recipe - and it was really fine. Letting them sit in the refrigerator for two or three days and then dry brining them has made a huge difference. It was one of the ones we handled that way.
Green, the crockpot recipe is one I use for cockerels but not old hens; those I usually save for chicken soup, although you might be able to try them in this and see how it works:
Crock Pot Chicken W/ Black Beans and Cream Cheese
I use sour cream instead of the cream cheese and add it at the end. Cream cheese didnít mix as well for me, but you can always try it that way and see if it works for you. I also use a frozen whole chicken since that's what I have, and I cook it on low for more like six hours. This is very good, very easy, and most people love it.
4 hours | 3 min prep
4-5 boneless chicken breasts
1 (15 1/2 ounce) can black beans
1 (15 ounce) can corn
1 (15 ounce) jar salsa, any kind
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
Take 4-5 frozen, yes, frozen, boneless chicken breasts put into crock pot.
Add 1 can of black beans, drained, 1 jar of salsa, 1 can of corn drained.
Keep in crock pot on high for about 4-5 hours or until chicken is cooked.
Add 1 package of cream cheese (just throw it on top!) and let sit for about 1/2 hour.
All done and enjoy!
Re dry brining, I just use sea salt and sprinkle it all over the bird before I bag and freeze it. When I go to thaw it I fill the bag with cool water and change the water several times, getting rid of the excess salt and possibly adding some water to the flesh in the process. In effect that's wet-brining it for several hours. You can include herbs along with the salt, but I prefer not to so I can add my own extra flavoring according to the recipe I'm going to be using.
By the way, did you use one of your old hens for that, and did it tenderize it?
We butchered the cockerels on Tuesday, kept the free range and penned birds separate, and labeled the freezer bags accordingly so we could see if that made a difference. Dressed weight was from 2.5 lbs to almost 4 lbs, but I just read in Hobby Farms that Buff Orpingtons are one of the breeds that takes the longest to put on weight and be ready for butchering. The previous year's cockerels - Speckled Sussex - were that weight after only four months and these guys went five! Next time we'll try a breed like Hampshires or Delawares that were listed as getting to butchering size the fastest and see if that makes a difference.