Are you wondering how best to nourish your flock so they can, in turn, nourish you? Have you raised up a nice batch of fryers and are ready to butcher them, but are wondering how you’re going to preserve all those birds?! Never fear, canned meat is here! Plus, a review of The Frugal Chicken’s Feeding Your Hens Right e-course.
To learn more about the various points there are to ponder on raising your own meat animals, be sure to pick up our book The Do It Yourself Homestead – there’s a whole section on this topic! With 400 pages of homesteading information presented on four different levels of homesteading experience, you’re bound to find a lot of other projects and goals, as well. There are four different livestock sections – would you like to read one of them? Just email me at Tessa@homesteadlady.com
Homestead chicken isn’t like the chicken you find in the store. For one thing, it’s not pumped full of saline solution to make it look bigger than it actually is. Though taste is relative to each person, I think homegrown meat tastes more like chicken and less like plastic. Even eggs from homestead hens are different from those you find in the store. Although The Washington Post will tell you they taste the same, homegrown eggs typically have a higher nutrient content than store bought simply because of how they’re fed and allowed to dig in the dirt. Mother Earth News can break down the differences for you here.
But even if you disregard nutrition, homegrown eggs and fryers are fresh! Chicken raised on your homestead to become meat in your stores has a life history that you’re familiar with and a feed history that you’ve personally sanctioned. You KNOW what’s gone into your chicken dinner because you’ve been a part of that chicken’s life cycle.
Feeding Your Hens Right
All these are factors in their favor but, I’m not gonna lie, raising chickens right is work, just like any other worthwhile endeavor. We want to feed our hens and roosters well and increase the nutritional content of their food so they can be healthy. A lot of times we’re just looking for some new ways to bring healthy rations to our flock. Maat, from The Frugal Chicken, has created a course just for us called Feeding Your Hens Right. I was recently able to review this e-course complete with downloads, online teaching and videos. Although I’ve kept chicken for over ten years, I was still scribbling notes as I learned and re-learned several key points.
Some Things I Learned
For one thing, Maat reminded me of the importance of quality feed prepared in healthful ways. Now, I mix my own feed and haven’t bought commercial pellets for several years. Though, as Maat will tell you, even if you may object to some of the contents of commercial feeds, they will keep your flock satiated. So don’t worry for now, if that’s what you use.
I just like mixing my own feed from whole grains because I feel it’s more true to what they’d be eating naturally and I can control what kind of ingredients are used. I also like mixing a whole grain ration because, as Maat explains in her course, I can ferment or even sprout my grains to make them healthier for my flock. Fermenting covers the grain in lactobasillus – just like fermenting your own foods can do for you. Fermenting and sprouting fodder (something Maat also explains) will increase the basic size of the flock’s rations, too; taking what I’m already purchasing and doubling its size in a healthy, beneficial way.
To get more of the details, check out her course here, where she’ll also go over which grains she recommends, some troubleshooting issues and even how to make cultured food products like yogurt and apple cider vinegar for your flock! Plus, she does it all in her laid back, true-to-farm-life way.
Canned Meat: Homestead Chicken
Once you’ve raised up a flock of fryers in the healthiest way possible, there comes a time when you need to butcher them. In the past, I’ve frozen all of our fryer harvests. We had a stand-up freezer that had plenty of space and it was easier than pressure canning all those birds. We’d butcher 30-50 at one time. We had to get rid of that freezer in our move and we don’t have room for it in our much smaller house anyway. Plus, it sucked a lot of electricity every month – especially in summer!
I have several canning books but, for some weird reason of my own, I hadn’t really thought much about home canned meat and meals until I read Daisy Luther’s The Organic Canner – read our review here. I realized that this year, I was going to need to bite the bullet and can whole chicken. Never having done it before, I went to the best place for learning anything about canning; Ms. Sharon’s Simply Canning site. I looked up how to raw pack chicken – here.
I can’t improve on Sharon’s advice but here are a few things to keep in mind as you pressure can (no easy water bath for canned meat) your homegrown chicken.
Tips for Pressure Canned Meat – Chicken
- If you’ve grown it yourself, you may also have butchered the chicken yourself. You’re going to be really sick of dead chicken by the time you get to canning it, if you’re like me. After your newly harvested birds have had about 24-48 hours to mellow in a refrigerator, you’ll need to get them canned up quickly to keep them fresh and bacteria free. Make sure you’ve cleared your schedule not just for the butchering, but also for the canning. And making bone broth, if you’re going to do that – more on that in a minute. Brace yourself to get it done as fast as possible.
- Having said that, however, it took me several days to can all my birds what with DH going out of town, the toddler having the flu, the hens escaping and the…you know how life is on a homestead. If you can find one, get a friend to come over to make the canning process more fun and to help it go a bit faster. Even so, with a pressure canner, it takes longer for the canner to prepare for canning than a water bath canner, and the process times of low acid foods (like meat) are a lot longer than something like jam. Then, the canner has to cool down on its own before you can open it. From start to finish, with my pressure canner, it takes about 2 1/2 to 3 hours for 7 quarts of chicken (one batch). You can only do so many batches in one day, so plan accordingly. Someday, oh someday, I’m going to get another pressure canner. You know you’re a homesteader when you ask for stuff like that for your birthday.
- Make sure you’ve re-sharpened your knives from butchering, unless you’re lucky enough to have several sets of sharp knives. Use the absolute best knives you have because you’re going to be doing A LOT of cutting. Sharpen them before you’re sitting in front of ten birds that needs to be butchered asap.
Butchering the Meat for Canning
- To learn how to easily cut up a chicken, follow this link. Don’t hack at it; learn to cut it apart at the joints and save yourself a lot of work and cramped hands. I do keep a small hatchet close by for chicken bones and joints that just don’t want to come apart easily, but I don’t have to use it that often.
- I took the skin off for the meat I canned because there’s nothing more gross than soggy chicken skin. Ew. Some I gave to the pigs and dog but most of it I tossed into my crock pots along with extra bones and fat to make broth.
- Do you preserve meat on the bone, you might ask? You can but you don’t have to. I left all the meat on the bones except the breasts so that I could fit, on average, one chicken per quart jar. I wanted the bones in with the meat to create good gelatin and broth. So, I put the wings, thighs and legs into the jar with the bone. I cut the breasts free and put them into the quart jar whole. You don’t need to fill the jars with water because the chicken makes its own broth in the canner.
Make Broth with the Rest
- I have two crockpots and they ran non-stop for several days processing all the extra bones and fats into nourishing broth. But there was no way I was going to be able to keep up with all the breast and back bones I had left over, and I had no space to keep them in the freezer attached to my fridge. So, I decide to can the neck bones, back bones and as many breast bones as I could fit into quart jars. These bone jars I filled with water to about an inch below the rim so that, along with preserving the bones for a later date to make more broth with, they would make an initial quart of broth just in the preservation process. Sharon mentioned that her bones came out soft and crumbly when she canned them. Mine are all still strong and I know I have at least one, maybe two batches of Crockpot broth left in them. (I usually get three batches of broth from one batch of chicken bones by adding a tablespoon of vinegar to the second and third batches. It’s thinner broth, but still nourishing. Then I give the bones remnant to the pigs.) I’m not sure why my canned bones are still hard while Sharon’s are soft, since I followed her instructions for canning – maybe a difference in chicken feed? Take Maat’s course and you tell me!
- Home canned chicken is creamier than commercially canned chicken. I don’t know how else to describe it. Its texture is soft and the flavor is rich. It makes killer chicken salad sandwiches, but you can also add it to soups or casseroles on busy nights. I’m looking forward to having it in the warmer months so that I can add a touch of protein to our summer meals without having to heat up the house. Plus, we use bone broth medicinally and I’ll be so glad to have broth on hand whenever I need it without having to cook up a whole chicken just to get it!
Do you do home canned meat? Have a favorite? Share some recipes, if you have them, on your favorite things to make with canned chicken.