Meat birds: searching for the perfect heritage breed

Initially, when we decided to raise chickens, it was going to be strictly for meat. We eat a lot of chicken in this house. A lot. We probably eat chicken three or four nights a week, mostly breast meat. It gets a little expensive, especially when you buy organic like we do. So we thought we would raise some ourselves and stock our freezer. I read a lot into the different breeds that were out there and talked to a couple of local farmers about their chickens. They recommended the Cornish Cross (around here it’s also called a White Rock) which is the standard in the poultry industry. I was ready to follow the flock and raise these guys since their conversion rate is amazing. In just eight weeks these guys are ready for the dinner table — and you better be ready, raise them much longer and they are known to keel over because of their enlarged breasts or have heart attacks. If you are truly looking to save money on food costs, I would go with this breed.

The search is on for the best heritage meat birds |

The search is on for the best heritage meat birds. Image courtesy of Simon Howden at

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Pasty what? Lessons in chick rearing from a wannabe farmer

Sure, chicks are cute, but they are also disgusting little poop balls.

Sure, chicks are cute, but they are also disgusting little poop balls.

I have a confession: chickens freak me out. Scratch that, birds freak me out. I’m not sure what it is about birds, maybe it’s the feathers, maybe it’s the bony structure or maybe it’s the beaks. Regardless, I have had a lifelong aversion for feathered friends.

Raising chicks is a bit of a courage test for me. Oh right, I haven’t blogged about the 17 peepers keeping warm in my basement as we speak. So, now you know, now where was I?

One week old Plymouth barred rocks being raised dual purpose for meat and eggs.

One week old Plymouth barred rocks being raised dual purpose for meat and eggs.

The other night, I had to reach my hand into the brooder box and pull out a chick with a little dried poop on his butt. This condition is called pasty butt and it can be fatal. And it’s gross. Chicks are gross. Luckily, I had read all about pasty butt, though I had hoped I would never have to put that knowledge into use.

This little chick looked weaker than the rest as he plucked at his chick food and slowly moved around. When it bent over I had a look and my fear was confirmed: there was poop and it was stuck.

In nature, mother hen takes care of this but with her not around, it was up to me to save this little guy.

Although I’d had the chicks for almost a week at this point, I hadn’t done much handling (though I need to get on that or we will have problems when they grow up). Chickens freak me out, even teeny weeny baby ones. I mustered up my courage, reached my hand into the brooder and picked up the pasty-bummed bird. Instantly it began squeaking and squirming. I was terrified I was going to crush the little fella.

Now, there are a few ways you can treat pasty butt. The way that popped into my head first was to soak the little birdie bum in some warm water and then gently wipe away the fecal matter. Gross.

Still fearing I was going to crush my baby bird, I called the husband down for wiping duty (he was not impressed). It didn’t take long. A little soak in the water and a couple swipes and the vent was cleared up.

Success. Not only did I handle a baby chick, I saved its life. Think about a cork in a wine bottle, the pasty poop does the same job. So yes, I can say I did save the little guy’s life (or maybe Dave did, since he did the said wiping). Let’s go with we saved it.

Another way you can treat pasty butt is with a moistened Q-tip or by running their rears under warm water. I think next time I will try the Q-tip method as the chick won’t be so wet in the end. I feared for his life as I laid my head on the pillow that night. Would the chick be OK? Will it freeze?

When I woke up in the morning, I couldn’t tell which chick was the past butt. They were all happily chirping around the brooder box waiting for fresh feed.

These chicks will eventually provide for us. We are raising them for meat and eggs. The hens we will keep for laying and we will keep one rooster but the rest will be dinner. I know this offends some, but hey, I’m a meat lover and that’s not going to change. The great thing about raising chickens ourselves is knowing exactly what goes into the bird. In a world where labelling is only required on foods grown without pesticides or genetically modified ingredients, raising and growing your own food is one way to eat without worry. Even if it means having to pick up a few chickens here and there.

A few more gross details about baby chicks.

They poop in their water dish. All the time. I have to change it several times a day because these little peepers like to potty where they drink. They also like to potty everywhere and can carry e. coli so make sure to clean their brooder box frequently and always wash your hands after coming into contact with the little guys.

They are also pretty damn cute.

We are raising Plymouth barred rocks and they are mostly black unlike the traditional yellow chick. I do enjoy checking on them each day and seeing how much they have grown even if they are gross little poop balls. Another thing I’ve learned about chicks is they grow fast. Really fast.

The lucky thing about having an aversion to chickens… they won’t become pets and it might be easier come dinner time.

Wanted to thank my good friend Caitlyn Van Leeuwen again for the babies!

And one more picture of the peepers

And one more picture of the peepers