Over the last four weeks, I’ve been sending this year’s crop of chickens to freezer camp. I’ve written about saying Grace and the importance of the chickens to the way of life here at Two Mile Ranch. This is not a big-time poultry farm. Last year, I raised 50 chickens, this year 75.50 of this seasons birds are colored range chickens, 20 were white hybrid cross. The hybrids grow big and fast, but my preference is the range chicken.
Five of the chickens are replacement laying hens to add to the chicken coop. Three Ameraucana and a Rhode Island Red. Yesterday, the last 19 chickens went off to freezer camp, and four laying hens are headed to the chicken coop when they get a bit bigger.
So for those of you keeping score at home, 68 of 75 chickens survived the season. Of the seven I lost, four of the deaths were preventable; they were killed by turkeys. This year, I added turkeys to the poultry plan, and occasionally the turkeys and chickens would mix. This resulted in some pecking order showdowns that sadly the chickens always lost. Next year I’ll separate the pens even farther to keep chickens with chickens and turkeys with turkeys.
Some conventional wisdom, or old wives tales, suggest that when birds of the same type have pecking order disputes, they fight until one signals “you win” and then they go on their ways. Apparently, turkeys and chickens don’t understand the “you win” signal and the turkeys keep fighting. I never observed the attacks, just found the birds later. On days I am on the ranch all day, I typically check on the birds 2 – 3 times a day and the attacks seems to happen within a short time frame.
Which leads us back to freezer camp. Once the chickens are dressed, and cooled so that rigor mortis has left, I package and freeze whole chickens with a vacuum sealer. I use a home model Food Saver brand vacuum sealer, and purchase the bulk, 11 inch roll bag material to make my own bags.
This year chickens ranged from a huge 6 lbs. 9 oz to a smaller 2.5 pounds. They average about 5 pounds each. As I bag the birds, I double seal one end and then on roll out enough bag to be longer than the chicken. I learn from experience it’s better use extra bag than to try and squeeze it shut into the vacuum sealer. I then place the chicken in the bag neck first, and then vacuum seal the open end, and then give it a second seal to ensure a good, airtight closure. I date and mark the weight of each bird and then into the freezer it goes.
In my experience, an 11 inch, 16 foot roll of bags seals 11 chickens. Your mileage may vary. I’ve eaten the birds a year after being frozen and still find them full of flavor with no freezer taste. If you want to know the best and safest ways to keep and thaw poultry, be sure to look here at the USDA recommendations: The Big Thaw — Safe Defrosting Methods — for Consumers
I typically keep 50 chickens for the year. I’ll eat most, give away a few. The deep freeze is holding about 250 pounds of awesome, hormone and antibiotic free, free range dinners.