The Benefits of Having a Mother

Chick with mother
Chick with mother

It’s a cool December day, but that’s no problem with a chick who has a mother. This picture was taken around noon when the mother hen was resting in the dust. All morning she’s been taking her two-week old brood far and wide to feed. When it’s time for a rest, the brood always has a warm place to snuggle under her feathers.

Is it worth it to take the time-consuming method to raise chickens this way? I often read comments from people who say, “We’re just going to eat them. Who cares how they are treated.” My response is, precisely because we’re going to eat them, it matters more than anything how they are treated. Food is not just something we consume for pleasure. Our bodies take what we eat and turn it into the energy and raw materials needed to recreate the cells of our bodies. The cells that make up our bones, hair, eyes, skin, muscles, internal organs, everything that makes us are constantly dying and new cells being made from the food we eat. Every 30 days or so, our bodies recreate all the cells of our skin. Many of the cells in our bodies live only a few days to a few months. Our bodies recreate our livers every year to a year and a half. The quality of the food we eat determines the quality of our bodies.

When chicks have a mother, it’s only a matter of days before they get to adventure outside and explore this wonderful world. Hatchery chicks need to wait two to four weeks until their feathers have fledged and they can tolerate the cold on their own. Chicks with a mother always have a warm mother nearby to warm them up when they get too cold. And at night, they can sleep in the dark without having to sleep under the constant light of a heat lamp.

How to Purchase a Chicken

To purchase a chicken, call or text me at 360-202-0386, or send an email to

Chickens cost $15 a pound. Chickens weigh from just under 3 pounds to up to 4+ pounds, so count on spending from $40 to $60 per chicken.

When ordering, let me know if you want the neck, legs, livers, gizzard, heart, or extra fat.

The Special Poultry permit I have from the State of Washington only lets me sell whole chicken from my place. You will need to come here to pick up your chicken.

By law, I can not butcher your chicken more than 48 hours before you arrive. I also need to chill the chicken to 45 degrees before I can hand them to you. Since it takes 30 minutes to process a chicken and about 90 minutes to chill a chicken to 45 degrees, I need at least two hours to get a chicken ready for you. If you want to pick up chicken in the afternoon, I will process them that morning. If you want to pick up chicken in the morning, I will most likely process them the night before.

These chickens roast the best if you let them age two to three days before roasting. If you are wanting a chicken for Sunday dinner, pick it up Wednesday or Thursday.

What My Butchering Process is Like

I butcher my chickens one at a time. When you purchase one of my chickens, it has been butchered as if it was the only chicken in the world. Unlike chicken you buy in a supermarket or even from most farmers markets, my chickens never see another chicken being butchered, they never share the hot water other chickens are dunked in, they never share the ice water other chickens are chilled in. They are not bleached like many commercial chicken. Each of my chickens is processed individually. Before and after each chicken is processed, the work area is disinfected. They are too precious to be treated with less respect.

Here is a description of how a chicken you purchase from me is processed. I have nothing to hide.

Using a piece of netting, I gently herd the chicken into an enclosed pen so that none of the other chickens see me catching the chicken. Once I have the chicken, I immediately cover it with a towel so that it can’t see. Once a chicken can’t see, it becomes very calm.

In the dedicated kitchen I use to process my chickens, I put the chicken in a killing cone and gently pull the head out the bottom of the cone. I make sure to cover the chicken’s head with my hand so that it can’t see a thing.

Hen in killing cone
Hen in killing cone

I quickly cut the carotid arteries in the neck. In 30 to 60 seconds the chicken will have bled out and be dead.

Hen bled out.
Hen bled out.

I pull the chicken out of the killing cone and it is now ready to be processed.

Deceased hen out of the killing cone.
Deceased hen out of the killing cone.

The first step is to dunk the chicken in 145 degree water for a minute or two to loosen the feathers. If you prefer, you can request that I dry pluck your chicken instead.

Hen in 145 degree water to loosen her feathers.
Hen in 145 degree water to loosen her feathers.

It takes five to ten minutes to hand pluck a chicken.

Hand plucked hen
Hand plucked hen

Once I’ve eviscerated the chicken, I truss it and it is ready to be chilled. The State of Washington requires that I chill the chicken to 45 degrees within 4 hours. Mine chill to that within 2 hours in a freezer. I do not chill them in ice water. Once they are chilled to 45 degrees, they are moved into a refrigerator and kept there until you pick them up. They are never frozen.

The hen has been eviscerated, cleaned and trussed.
The hen has been eviscerated, cleaned and trussed.

These free roaming, grass and bug eating, running/flying chickens have remarkable meat, liver, and gizzards. But their fat is amazing. It is creamy, soft and yellow. You can use it, as is, to fry.

Yellow fat from one of my hens.
Yellow fat from one of my hens.

Raising a Clutch – The Value of a Mother Hen

Until Madeleine secretly hatched a clutch of nine eggs under a porch in May 2010, I was content to purchase baby chicks and raise them.
Madeleine and newly hatched chicks
When they were just a few days, she brought them out to explore the big wide world.
Madeleine and three day old chicks
It didn’t take long to realize that a mother hen offers a lot to baby chicks. Not only does she show them where to find food and water, she provides a warm place to take naps. You don’t need any heat lamps when you have a mother hen. You don’t even need to get starter scratch. A mother hen will crack larger grains for her brood, and if given the freedom to roam outdoors, she’ll dig up plenty of bugs and worms for them. Chicken farmers who raise broiler chickens on pasture don’t actually let their chicks outdoors until they are four weeks old. By using mother hens, my chicks get to be outdoors enjoying the sun, pasture, woodland and creeks within a few days of hatching. They also are often outdoors at the crack of dawn, and stay out until it starts to get dark.
Madeleine and 3 day old chick
And she keeps careful watch over them as she takes them around.
Madeleine and two week old chicks
Madeleine and two week old chicks
By the time the chicks are two weeks old, they are running all over the place. It takes a lot of work for a mother hen to keep her brood together.
Madeleine and two week old chicks
Chicks are very curious and love exploring new places.
Madeleine 2010-05-23
Here they are at three weeks.
Madeleine and 3 week old chicks
Madeleine and one month old chicks
And by the time they are a one month old, Madeleine is ready to set them free.
Madeleine off on her own after raising her chicks for one month.
Her mothering done, Madeleine takes a well deserved stroll through the woods.
After watching all the care Madeleine put into raising her brood and how much her chicks loved having a mother, I decided that as much as possible, I’d leave the chick rearing to mother hens. The next time you pick up your chicken in your grocery store or farmers market, ask if it was raised by a loving mother.

How fast does a chick grow?

So how fast does a chicken grow up? Here are some pictures of Lucy and Sunny. Sunny hatched October 14. Usually hens hatch clutches of 6 to 15, however once in a while we have hens who end up with single chicks. With the weather getting colder and wetter, I try to keep hens from hatching clutches after September, but sometimes hens surprise you.

Here is Lucy and Sunny on October 15. Sunny is just one day old.

Lucy and Sunny on October 15

By November 9, Sunny is nearly fully fledged.

Lucy and Sunny on November 9

Here the two are on November 23, Sunny is nearly six weeks old. Many broiler chickens weigh 4 to 6 pounds by this age and are ready to be processed

Lucy and Sunny November 23

And here is Sunny on November 30, almost eight weeks old. She has at least another four months to go before she is fully grown.

Lucy and Sunny November 30

Next week, Sunny will be two months old. Its about the age at which hens stop raising chicks and let them be on their own. Since Sunny is an only chick she will most likely hang close to her mother for another month or more. Chicks with siblings have an easier time leaving their mothers. They’ll hang out together and form a clique that lasts a long time. Without siblings, single chicks take longer to develop their adult friends.

And here is Sven, our Swedish Flower Chicken rooster. He has a very impressive crow.


Early winter sun and new chicks

None of the chicken you buy at your favorite store ever get to spend time in the sunshine with its flock. Chicken you buy in stores are almost always hens, and not a single one ever got to flirt with a handsome rooster.

Chickens enjoying winter sunshine.
Chickens enjoying winter sunshine.

And you won’t find a single chicken for sale which ever got to spend time with its mother. Does it make a difference? It does to the chick, and having a mother gives the chick a great deal of comfort. There’s always a warm place to sleep at night and to take mid-day naps. And mother is always there to protect it.

Mother and daughter feeding.
Mother and daughter feeding.

Normally I don’t let broody hens hatch chicks this late in the year, but this year there are several determined hens. This is a two day old chick stepping outside to catch up to its mother.

New chick looking at mother
New chick looking at mother

And out in the woods is a scarecrow – not to frighten off any crows, but to stop any coyotes who venture too close. I recently saw a news report about scarecrows from around the world. According to the report, in Mongolia scarecrows are used to ward off wolves from flocks of sheep. So we’re putting up scarecrows in the woods to protect our chickens. Our two guard dogs do a great job, but there’s no harm in assisting them.

Scarecrow to keep coyotes away
Scarecrow to keep coyotes away

Roasting your chicken – preparing it

You’ve gone to the great effort and expense to procure one of these incredible heritage breed chickens from A Man and His Hoe. Unlike a whole chicken you buy in the store, which you have no idea when it was butchered, your chicken will have been butchered no more than 24 hours before you procure it. It may even have been butchered a few hours before you get your hands on it. And you’ll know the exact day and time down to the minute when it was butchered. You’ll also know when it was hatched and how old it was when it died. You may even know the mother that raised your chicken, and if you are lucky, you may get a chance to thank the mother while you are picking up your chicken. Each mother has her own way of raising chicks. Some mother hens are strict constructionists and keep their little chicks in line. Other mother hens are as carefree with their brood as a pot smoking Marin county liberal. Does it make a difference how the chickens taste when roasted? It’s up to you to decide.

These chickens are best roasted. And since your chicken is so fresh (unless you’ve committed the ghastly crime of freezing it, heaven forbid!), you will want to give it a few days rest to help it get over the trauma of dying. Chickens like to die as much as you do, and they deserve a few days to recover from their fate.

RoastingChickenDay1-A-ingredientsGo out into your garden (or if you aren’t in the mood to venture outside send your gardener, that’s why you hire him or her) and fetch a nice handful of herbs. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, sage and the like. Basically your favorite herbs.

Set out one to two teaspoons of salt.

Peel some garlic cloves.

Unwrap your chicken and rub the salt all over the chicken. As the chicken rests over the next two to three days, the salt will tenderize the meat, help it relax, and flavor it.

Stuff the cavity of the chicken the the herbs and garlic. They will help the chicken relive those many pleasant days it spent out in the garden.

RoastingChickenDay1-B-stuffedTruss the chicken. If you don’t know how to truss a chicken, search “trussing a chicken” on youtube. Have fun watching the many thousands of trussing videos and pick a method that suits you. There is no single right way.

RoastingChickenDay1-C-trussedPlace the chicken in a heavy pot which has a lid.

RoastingChickenDay1-D-in-potCover the pot with a lid and put it in the refrigerator for two to three days.

That’s all it takes to prepare your A Man and His Hoe chicken for perfect roasting.