Sunday was slaughter day. I hatched out six eggs from our hens on September 28. I raised those chickens in the greenhouse to add warmth overwinter. I expected that a few of the hatchlings would be layers for our flock and a few would be cockerels for dinner. But, we ended up with six cockerels. One of them managed to get the tight-fitting lid off our water barrel and climb in. (I have now changed my water barrel to a lid-less model.) That brought us down to five boys.
I saved the fastest, least dominant rooster to add to our flock. I figured he had the best chance of out-running Roscoe, our 14 pound big-daddy, until he was accepted into the flock. I moved our rooster-in-training to the chicken coop after dark on Saturday night. I took him out first thing Sunday morning and put him in a fenced area next door to the chicken run all day. None of our chickens, including Roscoe, seemed too upset by his presence. Sunday night, I put him in the coop again. And Monday morning, when I let the chickens out, I left the new guy in.
Roscoe chased him out of the coop and into a corner of the run. Other than making the occassional gesture to scare the new guy back into the corner, Roscoe left him alone for the rest of the day. I made sure new guy had food and water and had to coax him into the coop Monday night. But he otherwise seemed quite happy with his new situation. Yesterday went about the same, but at night new guy let himself into the coop and roosted one bar below Roscoe. Bold sucker!
Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. Our handsome, strapping rooster Roscoe is more than capable of servicing our 11 laying hens. But, I knew I had 20 more chicks set to arrive. So, I figured even Roscoe, virile specimen that he is, couldn’t keep up with (potentially) 31 beautiful hens. I am hoping new guy will be able to pick up the slack when the time comes and keep away from Roscoe in the meantime.
We’re not entirely sure what breed Roscoe is. He wandered on to our property last year, made friends with our turkeys and ducks, then moved into our chicken coop. We later discovered that neighbors had rescued him and were letting him free range on their property. They were relieved that Roscoe found us and had a new happy home with others of his kind. And frankly, I’d wished for a rooster like Roscoe for years. I even had a replica of him prominantly displayed in my old house. So, it felt like we were destined to be together.
Based on his coloring, we initially thought Roscoe might be a Brown Leghorn, but he’s got brown ear lobes (meaning brown egg laying breed). And one hen he parented, lays brown, speckled eggs. So then we thought Welsummer… But he’s so freaking big, we know he’s got to have some other stuff mixed in his genes.
Anyhow, the lucky cockerel who won a spot in the chicken coop is the spitting image of his mother, a Rhode Island Red, but already weighs over 9 pounds. And the four boys who became future dinners dressed out at close to 7 pounds. They also had the best tasting chicken livers ever!
I fry up my livers in my cast iron pan right after slaughter with lard, an onion, a little water, and some kind of dried fruit (raisins this time). When cooked, I turn the heat off and throw in alcohol – cheap port, wine, bourbon…(Trader Joe’s Port this time). Then I give everything a spin in the food processor until the liver mix is a smooth. I pour the mix into a terrine and refrigerate. I call this my 5 minute “faux gras”. When I can no longer stand to wait, I smear my pate on bread, eat, and make noises like a chicken who just found a pocket of grubs.
I generally prefer duck as our meat source because they have renderable fat, incredible tasting liver, and dress-out at 7- 8 pounds in just a couple of months. But Roscoe’s progeny were really large with low relative feed costs. And they were so easy to process…de-feathering took minutes by hand instead of the half hour I spend on each duck. And their legs and breasts were meaty and beautiful. So, now I am thinking I might want to hatch some eggs intentionally and manage them as a meat flock to see how it goes.
In the meantime, I’ve got my new little ladies in the brooder. I wanted to branch out and try some less standard breeds this time. We got a few Black Copper Marans, Salmon Faverolles, Welsummers, Lakenvelders, Buckeyes, and some Black Australorps (for egg production).
For our not so lucky roosters…they’ll be gracing our dinner table soon. We gave them a good life, a chance to crow, and their sacrifice is much appreciated.
As for the chance to crow, I have a policy that anything we slaughter must have reached full maturity (unless there is a really good reason to process early). With our ducks, Pekins can be ready in 8 weeks, but the females don’t really find their voices until after that. So, I feed longer than necessary. I don’t exactly know why, but this feels really important to me. It also helps me come to terms with raising my own meat. Rooster crows rang out in our hollar for weeks before we did the deed.