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When to Butcher a Traditional Chicken

Two Young Roosters

If it is one question I get more than any other in the poultry world it is when do you butcher a traditional non modern meat maker chicken. I keep forgetting I have been around a long time and many younger people have grown up where most of the chickens they have seen or raised have been the meat maker broilers ready to butcher in 8 weeks or less. A "real" chicken as I call them takes much longer and yes produces less breast meat and a smaller finished bird. There are many options available for the traditional chicken raiser to choose from and it all depends upon whether or not you can overcome the idea that a large breast is the most important part. Remember when raising a traditional chicken they move more and grow slower. The birds in the picture are an example of a white egg laying breed that grows and matures fast and a heavy breed that takes more time. There is really no set date and time when a traditional chicken is ready, it is a matter of looking for the sexual maturity of the bird. I typically think that it takes about 16 weeks to as long as 24 weeks to get a bird to table ready status. A leghorn will be ready probably at about 16 weeks but will most likely yield a 2-3.5 pound bird. A New Hampshire or Delaware is ready at about 20 weeks and can produce a 4-5 pound bird. A Giant or Dorking takes 24 weeks or longer and may produce a 6 pound bird.The real key is to look at the sexual maturity of the roosters and when that comb gets bright red and they start chasing the pullets then it is time to start thinking about chicken dinner as they will only get tougher the longer you wait. I prefer to let my chickens range and forage from about 8 weeks on so they grow a bit slower and the flesh is always going to be more firm which I prefer. The worst thing I think is biting into a piece of chicken and having the meat be soft and mushy. Most birds that are butchered of the meat makers at 8 weeks are soft and mushy. Frankly they have little flavor. You have to coat them with something or marinated in a sauce for hours to get taste. When you butcher a bird that has 16-24 weeks on it you can bite into that drumstick and the juices from the meat are strong and tasty and you need far less salt and flavorings. The best advice for traditional chicken is to watch for that cockerel chasing the pullets and pen him up for a week or so and pour the feed to him and then butcher.


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