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Make Chicken Work For You

January 28, 2014
Cabin at the cabin

Cabin at the cabin

I used to teach a quilt class called Make Color Work for You, to show that the sky is the limit once you start manipulating the goods you have on hand.  These two quilts use the same concept of the basic Barn Raising setting.  One is an actual Log Cabin quilt the other is a Lady of the Lake using the barn raising setting of the blocks.  Color did all the work.

Lady of the Lake

Lady of the Lake

I know you’re wondering what in the heck do quilts have to do with chicken, but every Sunday I take a basic chicken and turn it into a lot of food for the week.  I’m manipulating the goods to take an expensive bit of meat and turn it into meals for work, broth, dinners and dog food.  Food patterns if you will.  Despite what goes on at the supermarket with cheap subsidized chicken, chicken is not a cheap meat to produce.  You can buy a chicken already cooked for half what I spend to raise it, that doesn’t count processing and storing that food.  Therefore I have to practice fiscal responsibility for my home economy.

Your home economy may be different.  Mine is ruled in part by my husband’s food needs.  It used to be that we ate the same, cooking was easy.  He’s always been a little delicate in the digestive department, until finally after decades of suffering he had three feet of his small intestine removed.  Your intestine is not just a thirty foot length of pipe, he’s missing a part that works to absorb nutrients from food.  Gah.  I have the cast iron stomach around here, which is kind of interesting.  He was breastfed, I was not.  I was a formula baby like my milk cow.  I should be the delicate one.

So enter bone broth and stock.  It’s a weekly deal around here, I raise 50 chickens to get us through the year.  Rather than part all the chickens out when we process them, I freeze them whole and use up one a week.  With the whole chicken I have a blank slate to work with, keeping them whole works with the way we eat.  We eat differently in summer anyway, you won’t catch me making pot pie in August…

Every Sunday because I have to prepare my husbands work week lunches, I work up a chicken.  As a side note here, I have a little leeway on taking a couple of days to do this because we process the chickens ourselves and they are clean.  Store chicken, I would not trust it to be frozen, thawed and refrozen.  Organic or not, the bacteria load is just too great.  If you don’t raise them yourself, seek out a small farmer.

We raise the controversial Cornish Cross, and we’ve not found them to be the terrible bird that you hear about so often.  For my home economy they fit because they are efficient and fit in with our workload in early summer.  When we sold eggs and were raising hundreds of replacement pullets each year,  we ate the roosters that came with the “sexed” pullets.  Times change, the cost of the roosters went in the egg production expense column.  Now I would find it hard to feed and protect those roosters for 5 months to get them to a good size.  Again, this is what we do, others may have a different approach.  I have no expectations that these chickens will do anything but produce a good-sized carcass and provide me with a lot of manure for the pasture, and I certainly don’t want to throw more money or time at this project.

Once the chicken is thawed, I work it up.

One breast butterflied into five pieces and sauteéd for lunch.

One breast chunked for fajitas.  Usually we eat this Sunday night, if not I put this back in the freezer for another day.

Thighs and drumsticks removed.  I refrigerate the thighs and one drumstick for Monday dinner (oven fried chicken), and put the remaining drumstick in a gallon sized freezer bag that holds drumsticks from previous weeks.  They could be made into several meals, stock…picnic you name it.

At this point I have a carcass with wings and neck still attached and whatever meat I have missed while parting out.  The meaty carcass goes into a covered roaster with about 5 or 6 quarts of water and carrots, onion, and garlic.  I roast this for about 4 hours at 400°F.  This becomes my first broth.  I tried stockpot, crockpot, roasting first, not roasting, and reduction.  All took too much time and gave me differing results.  The high heat in the covered roaster does the trick.  I no longer have to reduce the stock just to add water later.  When chilled the broth gels slightly and that is what I need for a gut soothing food for my husbands meals.  The yield is about 6 quarts of broth, which is about right, he drinks a pint for breakfast and takes a pint in his lunch.  The broth easily keeps for a week in the refrigerator so there is no more energy consumption, no canning or freezing.

At this point I pick off any meaty parts from the wing and back for pot pie or soup.  Depending on the chicken’s size this may be a cup or two.

So far I’ve got 6 quarts of broth, 5 lunches for one, 3 dinners for 3 and I’m still not done with the carcass.

Since the first broth of 6 quarts is spoken for, I need some broth/stock for cooking too.  We eat a lot of braised greens or cabbage and stock is usually the liquid of choice.  Soups and stews take up quite a bit too so the carcass goes this time in the crockpot with more garlic, onions, carrots and chicken feet with about 4 quarts of water.  This will yield another 4 quarts of stock for cooking throughout the week.  I find if I have it in the refrigerator I will use it instead of water.

Finally the rest goes to the dogs.  I strain the broth and pick through what’s left pulling out all the bones.  No cooked chicken bones for dogs.  Usually with the skin and all the gluck…I end up with about 2 quarts of goodies for the pups, and a good-sized handful of bones for the fire.

So the breakdown from a five-pound home-raised broiler:

10 quarts of broth.
5 slices of breast meat for a week of lunches.
3 meals with chicken meat for 3 – dinner usually because we are all home at night and enjoy our big meal together. (Usually fajitas, oven-fried chicken, honey glazed chicken, chicken vegetable soup or chicken curry pot pie)
2 quarts of dog food.
1 pint of bones for ash.

MiG Cornish Cross meat birds

MiG Cornish Cross meat birds

So yes, the chicken is expensive but you can make the chicken work for you by intensive management in the pasture and in the kitchen.  Not quite a pretty as a quilt but certainly tasty enough.

52 Comments leave one →
  1. Across the Creek Farm permalink
    January 28, 2014 2:27 pm

    We eat a lot of chickens, because we do a lot of chickens on pasture – we’ll end up doing around 20K this year. That many chicken can take the rockiest, most over hayed Ozark field and turn it into a verdant grassland in a few years. Very little gets wasted – if the feed doesnt get turned to chicken, it become fertilizer. Anything not guts or saleable parts, we grind up into GMO-free dog food. We’re a family of 5, and we get a lot of meals out of a 3.5 – 3 lbs chicken. First we roast it and eat it, then we’ll make a stew or soup with the frame…usually with a breast or thigh attached. As cold as it’s been, it’s wonderful for me and our farm worker to come in to a hot lunch of chicken soup after putting fence up all morning. Today was a pozole with tomatillos, chicken, and hominy. Last week was chicken & dumpling. I think when something costs more you get more out of it because you steward it better.

    • January 28, 2014 4:54 pm

      You’re making me hungry! It is amazing what they do with that worn out ground. I have to say chickens rejuvenated a couple of our worn out pastures faster than anything I’ve ever seen. Congrats on the 20K you guys have really come a long way 🙂

      • January 28, 2014 7:01 pm

        Thanks for the compliment – we’ve been blessed to make it through all the failures (somewhat) intact. There’s a price for wisdom I guess.Your husband drinking chicken broth…what a great idea. Some of the guys we get working on the farm have real bad stomachs, especially the Afghanistan vets – (we hire/intern other veterans). The broth thing sounds promising. Does he do anything to give it staying power for physical work? Love reading your posts. Interesting to see how the left coast folks make a go of it!

        • January 29, 2014 6:14 am

          AtCF, besides the broth, meat, eggs, sauerkraut, yogurt, raw whole milk, and most vegetables except a potatoes and peppers, the most popular solanum, tomatoes don’t seem to cause a problem. Mostly it’s small meals, if you can imagine one chicken breast sliced into 5 pieces, one per day. And you know – good salt – Celtic sea salt or Redmond. He’s not a big guy – 5’10” 170 lbs…he’s able to work all day without tiring out too much. A fellow he works with is much younger and lives CrossFit – eats healthy…at Subway wink, wink, and he can’t keep up with my husband. He’s 25 years younger too.

  2. Chris permalink
    January 28, 2014 2:32 pm

    I have never seen anyone stretch a bird into so many meals/uses. You are a wonder! I think you use every bit except the feathers…and I bet you compost them? Where is that beautiful cabin? Is that on your property? It’s almost as beautiful as that quilt you made! 🙂 You truly are the pioneer woman…not that frilly thing that shops at Target! 🙂

    • January 28, 2014 4:52 pm

      That is DH’s house before he was DH 🙂 The different color logs on top are from a gap in work due to him breaking his neck in the middle of the project 😦 He sold it…I owe him big time for that.

      I am definitely not frilly.

  3. January 28, 2014 3:22 pm

    I raise (gasp!) Cornish Cross chickens here at our place, too, usually around 30 each year. They start in our basement, move to the garage, then out to a flimsy temporary structure that my husband built for me years ago, out of PVC and chicken wire. I move that “tractor” around every few days, so they will have fresh grass. They grow fast but I disagree with those that say they have no personality. Check out the pictures in this blog post from last summer, if you have a moment: they have plenty of personality. Also, they are guileless. They have few ambitions.
    I have a quick question: what do you raise your Cornish in? Do you have a big enough building for them or do you have them in a sort of chicken tractor? I’m going to see if I can coax my husband into helping me build a sturdier structure for this summer, and am trying to decide on what, exactly, to build. (I don’t sleep so well when I have Cornish out in the yard: we’ve got too many foxes and coyotes in the neighborhood who would just love a warm guileless chicken dinner.)

    • January 28, 2014 4:48 pm

      I start them in a small greenhouse (our old chicken brooder) and then move them into one of our old field pens (10 x12 ala Polyface) at about 3 weeks and move them each day. They stay safe that way, and I can put the manure where I want it. Too many predators here to try electric netting and day ranging. I usually do brood my meat chicks and new pullets at the same time, cutting down on my chick care labor.

      I don’t have any bone to pick with CX they are great chickens and serve their purpose well.

  4. vicki permalink
    January 28, 2014 3:34 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. It’s interesting to see how different people work through their chickens. You know you can get more than two batches of broth from a chicken. I usually get 6 batches per chicken. True, the gelatin only lasts the first couple of batches but then it starts breaking down the bones and extracting all the minerals. Amazingly, it still tastes good and chickeny. After 6 days the bones are as soft as if they’d been pressure cooked.

  5. CassieOz permalink
    January 28, 2014 3:51 pm

    Fantastic! My chooks don’t have that much breast meat (because the only commercial meat chicks I can get here are seriously ‘fragile’ so mine are mixed old breed ‘farmyarders’, but it doesn’t take much work to make a chicken go a loooonnng way. Thanks for the details of how you do it.

    • January 28, 2014 4:56 pm

      Cassie, it makes me kind of miss the roosters they tasted so good, and if you get some time on them you really get that yellow broth. I feel kind of spoiled though, we never had chicken when I was growing up.

  6. January 28, 2014 4:51 pm

    Mmmm. Back meat. When we roast a whole bird I pick that off for myself. The 6 of us usually get 3 meals out of a bird including soup. We freeze enough backs and necks to keep us eating chicken broth every day of the year…except when we boil pig shanks.

    I think some of the issues people face with CX are because they use a bad supplier. I wouldn’t buy a bird from a farm store. Also, improper feed and bedding factor in.

    My friend Darby Simpson raises S&G heritage whites to market size in 56 days and they do well in summer heat. That’s an attractive alternative for folks who have become convinced that CX are the wrong bird.

    • January 28, 2014 5:02 pm

      Definitely there are some bad suppliers out there. Of all breeds meat and laying.

      I think Freedom Rangers suit more people because they don’t require the commitment, and labor. I’ll stick with my fresh range as opposed to free range. I know they are getting good grass and forbs because of where I put them. I always wonder why folks get so upset about cattle free ranging and it’s okay for chickens. Cows don’t shit on my cars…

      How big do those S&G whites get at 8 weeks?

      • January 28, 2014 5:11 pm

        I had to go back to a text he sent in August of 2012. Horrible heat in Indiana, peak of the drought he said, “Birds averaged 4.55lbs (straight run). On farm 56 days. Parted out weights as good or better than Cornish.”

        • January 28, 2014 5:14 pm

          Excellent – protein content of feed?

        • January 28, 2014 5:57 pm


          I’ll have to do some checking. I would bet he does the normal 21% in the brooder and 19% in the field.

        • January 28, 2014 6:11 pm

          Okay I re-read that text – 4.55 live or dressed?

        • January 28, 2014 6:48 pm

          That’s dressed weight.

          I read through the text messages again. He ran them on 21% feed for the first 7 weeks. Sorry about that. It was fall of 2012.

        • January 28, 2014 6:49 pm

          Also, this past year he had a few that didn’t make weight by the butcher date so he kept them an extra 5 weeks. He said they were as big as turkeys at that point. I would have to plan ahead if I wanted to try keeping CX going for 13 weeks.

  7. January 28, 2014 5:04 pm

    Reblogged this on eastwestfarm and commented:
    I’m often asked by the uninitiated, “How can someone afford to eat your chicken ?” Well here’s an excellent post by one of my favorite bloggers on how she feeds her family of three for a week on one pasture raised bird. I don’t know the financial particulars of each household that consumes birds raised on our pastures, but I know that they all budget tightly for their nutrition. For them, the healthiest food has the highest priority and they know that we strive to produce the healthiest food possible. So if you are trying to work out how to make nutrient dense food fit your kitchen, start with pasture raised, non-GMO, soy-free chicken and take a read.

  8. Charlotte permalink
    January 28, 2014 5:16 pm

    MoH, the Lady of the Lake picture and quilt are both so beautiful, together they remind me of an iconic piece of Americana history. I share the same issue as your hubby, lost about the same of my small intestine, too, this past summer. Bone broth has been tremendously healing for me but boy, I sure do miss my old eating habits. Did you raise your chickens this year? For some reason, I thought you bypassed in lieu of the pigs.

    • January 28, 2014 6:01 pm

      Charlotte, thank you. Those old habits are hard to shake, for sure. We bought chickens from a friend this past season because after the intestine work, there was shoulder repair 😦 Too much lifting to process the chickens so we didn’t raise any last summer. So I missed out on fertilizer, organ meats, etc. Also we butcher at a friends house and his wife was injured in a riding accident, so two people out of commission didn’t bode well for a good chicken year. This year will be different. I might bypass pigs this year…extra milk will be too late.

  9. January 28, 2014 5:37 pm

    We raised our own meat chickens last summer for the first time. They have a taste and texture so much better than store bought, for sure. I read with amazement how many meals you can get out of one chicken. From now on I will leave them whole, too. We also raised the meat birds with the laying pullets and had no problems. After reading your posting today, I will never buy chicken broth again….even if it is organic. You are amazing.

    • January 28, 2014 6:02 pm

      Emily, you’ll find the broth is amazing! Especially with the garlic and other vegetables added.

  10. barefootfarmflower permalink
    January 28, 2014 5:38 pm

    It’s amazing to me how much chicken my family used to waste before we started raising our own. We never made broth, passed most of the dark meat and pretty much only ate the breasts unless we were making hot wings. Then we just bought a bag of wings. I remembered listening to people talk about how many meals they would get out of one whole chicken. I almost didn’t believe them. And I don’t think they got as many meals as you do! But all that has thankfully changed now that we raise our own- and we prefer the Cornish Cross too. I was absolutely giddy the first time I made stock from chicken feet!

  11. January 28, 2014 6:02 pm

    Excellent post, last summer I grew the red rangers, i shift the chicken ark twice a day, following the cows, and I am thrilled with the chicken I have to eat all winter. In fact I did not grow enough as they have been my most popular christmas presents to all those who help me all year. But you are so right, they are not cheap to raise. But, I think, that cheap food makes us wasteful. Like you I boil the leftovers for stock and then boil the bones for another day on the woodstove and feed all the bones, and the last of the broth to our old dog. He has been eating chicken carcasses all his life without a problem. But they must spend a few days above the fire first. I hate to waste anything.. c

  12. January 29, 2014 4:52 am

    I think we must have really wimpy chickens in the UK! Are you sure yours are not small turkeys? :-)) I use everything on organic shop-bought ones – they are so expensive – however I don’t get as many meals as you. What do your dressed chickens weigh?
    Although I make broth/soup it looks as though I could improve that aspect – good tips, thanks.

    • January 29, 2014 6:05 am

      Carrie, they dress in the 4 – 5 pound range, they are hybrids and they do grow fast being bred specifically for meat production. Many people don’t like them for that reason. It helps too to leave the necks on, that’s the beauty of home processing, you get all the parts.

  13. vicki permalink
    January 29, 2014 6:18 am

    Do you feed your chickens milk? I soak my feed in clabber, as much clabber/milk as it will soak up. It cuts the feed bill by about half. I also raise Cornish Xs. We’re all about the breasts here. What age do you butcher? I let mine grow to 10 weeks to get as big as possible. They’re super healthy with all that milk.

    • January 29, 2014 6:20 am

      Yes, I do, and my hens too. We usually stop at 8 weeks, trying to get the birds done before we start haying.

      • mom24boys permalink
        January 30, 2014 11:20 am

        We had a problem with our CX at 6-7 weeks. We lost 7 out of 30 and it appears their crops ruptured. After reading comments, I am thinking it was the producer/bad stock since we got the chicks from the feed store.

        Hub is reluctant to raise meat birds again because of it…. maybe I’ll just have to find a source of good chicks here in south Lane Co.

        Also, a question about your chicken feet. How do you prep those? I tried several different timings and methods found on other blogs but had a heck of a time. Either I couldn’t get the scaly skin off at all or all the tissues under it came off too. It was very frustrating.

        Anyway, thanks for all you share with us.

        • January 30, 2014 12:56 pm

          Mom24boys, it’s discouraging when you get a bad batch of chicks for sure, usually just ordering in the mail is better than the feed store. Many times the feed store gives medicated feed from the get go and I don’t think that is necessary really, but it is pretty common. Prophylactic antibiotics can set the chick up for a short life of digestive upset. Anyway, chicks in the mail is not a bad thing but you do need to order at least 25. Grit from day one too is helpful as that serves as the chickens teeth and helps them grind their feed and keep things moving.

          The feet are usually skinned because of the scalding process, if they aren’t you can just scald them again and cool, sort of like blanching and peeling a tomato. After that, I clip the toenails and throw them in…

          If the chicken was pastured and moved to fresh range often, there should not be any dark callus on the bottom of the feet.

  14. Barb in CA permalink
    January 29, 2014 7:08 am

    Every peek we get into how you use the food you produce is so helpful and informative! As usual, I have a question… the burned bones? They go into the compost pile? Garden? Clearly I don’t know enough about composting or I would know this. Thank you again for the ongoing education.

    • January 29, 2014 8:33 am

      Barb, I put the ashes from the stove on the garden and orchard. I have pressured cooked them too and fed them to the dogs, mostly it just depends on what is the easiest way to use them up at the time. Usually they are pretty soft and I pull off the soft parts for the dogs. The weight bearing bones are the worst for dog problems, raw not so much, cooked is a different story.

  15. Michelle permalink
    January 29, 2014 7:26 am

    Hello there MoH, I am wondering about the part you give to the dogs. Since there is onion in the broth making, do you remove that at some point before the dog’s share is gathered? My understanding is that onions are poisonous to dogs, but maybe that only applies to raw onions? Thank you for posting so much that is useful to even those of us who don’t (yet) get to live the farm life!

    • January 29, 2014 8:31 am

      Michelle, I’ve heard that too, but our dogs get the onions, and once in a while eat a chunk of raw onion too, since they position themselves under the cutting board. Not saying they should have them, but with dogs in the kitchen there is no 5 second rule 🙂 I would be curious to find out what the difference is between garlic and onion since garlic is touted as a health food/wormer for dogs.

      • January 29, 2014 11:20 am

        I looked at garlic re cats because in the UK many pet supplies companies began pushing garlic wormers and garlic-based tonics for cats and dogs – after all, it’s natural!

        If they ingest significant amounts of the Allium family, both cats and dogs (horses too I seem to think) can suffer from haemolytic anaemia and Heinz body anaemia. Dried and concentrated forms of garlic are the greatest risk. Cats react more than dogs to garlic and onions.

        The research may be done by now but when I looked I could not find a definitive intake limit per Kg of body weight (for either cats or dogs). The general conclusion about un-concentrated forms of garlic/onion/shallot/leek etc was that small, infrequent, amounts were unlikely to harm. In the case of cats, I give garlic-based wormers and treats a miss. I’d probably do the same if I had dogs.

        • January 29, 2014 12:03 pm

          I know what you mean, garlic is the “wonder drug”, but no one here (animals) really cares for it unless it is masked. Jane ate some scapes out of my basket once, but only about 3 right after freshening. I don’t use it for the animals anyway and they rarely get much onion or garlic.

  16. January 29, 2014 8:06 am

    Even when I lived in the city and worked full time I preferred parting up my chickens and get a few meals out of them. My neighbors thought I was nuts. But you get even more out of a chicken than I do.

    Now in a rural setting we just have a few roosters and old layers. Most of our poultry meats are from ducks, goose, and turkeys. I think most people think these birds need to be roasted but I find them more valuable parted out.

    Even on thanksgiving the turkey gets parted out and I braise the dark meat parts in carrots, celery, onions, and garlic in the morning. I get some stock from the turkey back and neck the day I part them out and use this in the braising. The breast on the torso frame goes into the oven just for about 45 minutes (closer to dinner time). I generally find the stock from braising the dark meat adequate for gravy with our now smaller family. I do throw in some of those roasted drippings before serving but the gravy is for the most part just from that turkey braising liquid. I usually make stock from the roasted torso and other bones. The turkey is generally served without bones but i sometimes leave the drumsticks on the meat platter.

    A half goose breast is plenty of meat for a meal and so fast and convenient to brown in the cast iron pan and finish in a hot oven. Sure a whole roast goose is festive and delicious but I think we waste too much that way and II is more time consuming. Waterfowl half breasts and hind quarters are frozen separately. I usually braise them sometimes in a large batch in a slow cooker. But pulling just the number of hind quarters you want from the freezer is very convenient. I do make stock with the carcasses after parting and concentrate the volume for convenience. This gets frozen and is used when braising the hind quarters or as an old friend called them running gear (vs flying gear).

    And of course I render waterfowl fat which is my first choice for oven roasted veggies.

  17. susan permalink
    January 29, 2014 1:14 pm

    I thought I was good at getting the most out of a chicken – you make me feel like a rank amateur! I am going to bookmark this post so I can see how close I can get to your numbers.

  18. Bev permalink
    January 29, 2014 1:38 pm

    The CX has always been our chicken of choice. Raised them for so many years. Have had excellent results and premium tasting chicken. For years beef has been bred to provide us with better cuts. Why not chickens. Many posts back you discussed how you used your chicken. Since then I do much the same, leaving our chickens whole when froze. When we butchered our turkeys we did piece them out. They took up too much freezer space. We would split and bone a turkey breast (skin left on) into two pieces and bone two thighs skin on.) We would take one-half breast and one thigh and tie them into a turkey roast. Before tying we would add butter and diced garlic. Each roast would weigh out to about 9 lbs. Our family was happy becasue there was light and dark meat. Later we would purchase netting from our local butcher and use instead of string. With turkeys I would always do a big batch of broth to can or freeze. Our chickens and turkeys always cost more to raise than pruchased ones. The main thing for us was knowing what kind of feed (organic) they were getting. The final thing is how your chickens are butchered, for us we knewi because we did it ourselves.
    Love your blog. It is always interesting. Learn much from you and your readers.

  19. January 29, 2014 6:19 pm

    I do very much the same thing – right down to the scraps for the dogs 🙂

  20. January 29, 2014 8:06 pm

    This chicken info is very welcome – thank you!

  21. mumofteenagers permalink
    February 1, 2014 12:28 am

    I usually buy small chickens here in UK – they come out around 3.3lb. I manage to get 1 roast dinner for two and then 3 or 4 pasta type curry dishes for two people out of them. I thought I was doing well but I can see I have a lot to learn! When you make broth do you put the skin in? Great post as ever! The log cabin and quilts pics are lovely to see.

    • February 1, 2014 6:30 am

      Mum, yes, it makes a great difference in the broth I think. It was fun looking at those old prints, makes me want to dig out my quilting stuff 🙂

  22. Chris permalink
    February 4, 2014 8:37 am

    DH? I thought he was HD? 🙂 And he really broke his neck? That’s horrible? If so, then I guess he knows the true meaning of a pain in the neck!

    • February 4, 2014 9:56 am

      Chris, it was horrible – but he survived, it’s been 30 years, and he tells me to be careful of his neck when I want to wring it sometimes 😉

  23. Chris permalink
    February 6, 2014 11:13 am



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