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By Katie Thear
The birds will be ready for slaughter when you decide, but free-range table chickens will normally be around 1.8 to 2.3kg (4 to 5lb) in ten to twelve weeks.
They will continue to grow if kept longer than this, but it is a matter of producing what you or the market demands.
Checking out demand and the availability of local farmers’ markets is crucial, otherwise you may be left with a lot of birds to store in a large freezer.
Local demand is usually for fresh, free-range chickens, with organic ones carrying an extra premium. Although the weights given above are normally acceptable, it could be that larger birds are required at Christmas and Easter.
If producing for sale and to organic standards, you will need to be registered with one of the organic certification bodies such as Organic Farmers and Growers, or the Soil Association, and meet all their requirements in relation to space, feeds and practice.
The RSPCA also has a Freedom Food scheme that producers can follow and use as a description on their produce. Details of the requirements are available from the organisations concerned.
If there is a local slaughtering facility, and there are at least 50 birds, it is probably worth having them slaughtered, plucked, eviscerated and dressed by them. The birds are then ready for freezing or selling. Alternatively you may wish to do these yourself, but they are time-consuming tasks and there are regulations to be followed.
If you are going to slaughter the chickens yourself, it may be necessary to apply for an electric stunner. The Humane Slaughter Association has some excellent publications and it is advisable to contact them for information and advice.
Feather plucking needs to be done while the carcases are still warm. It is advisable to have as many pairs of hands as possible to help with this, as well as with the subsequent evisceration and dressing. Small-scale feather plucking machines and other processing equipment are available from specialist suppliers.
Whether you are producing table birds for sale or for the family table, few would quibble with Mrs Beeton that they are indeed meals fit for the gods.
Copyright © Katie Thear 2005