Can you believe it? We’re almost at the end of another year. How quickly time has flown!
Looking back, there sure are a lot of new things that we’ve tried, learned about, and accomplished over the past year out at our Happy Homestead, Whit’s Acres, the most recent being the raising up and processing of our own broilers – Cornish Cross Chickens, to be exact.
To raise them up as lean and healthy as possible, we built a small, portable paddock for them to live in, where they could graze on grass and weeds, scratch for worms and other bugs and insects, and get plenty of daily sunshine and exercise. (I don’t know what all the talk is about Cornish Crosses being horrible foragers. This bunch could not get enough of the green stuff and bugs — they absolutely loved it!!!)
Besides all of that, after reading about how much better it is for your flock, we decided to supplement the greens and bugs with our own homemade feed – a mix of whole grains, legumes, and seeds. (In anticipation of a most logical question that you might ask, here is the recipe that we’ve settled on, which comes from a combination of several different sources that we’ve mod podged altogether):
12 cups whole oats
8 cups whole barley
16 cups Wheat berries (a mixture of hard and soft)
2 cups flax seeds
2 cups sesame seeds
6 cups millet
2 cups diotamaceous earth
8 cups milo
4 cups alfalfa meal
8 cups black sunflower seeds
6 cups popcorn
16 cups sweepings (mixed human-grade legumes, seeds, and rice that fall to the ground during the packing process and are no longer fit for human consumption. We get these from a local packing plant, and never know what is going to be in the mix, but generally we find a mixture of yellow and green split peas, wild and pearled or long grain rice, mung beans, lentil beans, pumpkin seeds, and other small beans and seeds)
When we put it all together, it looks a little somethin’ like this – much different than the crumbles and pellets that we were used to feeding our layers…
All of our birds now enjoy this whole grain/legume/seed mixture. It took a little while for the layers to adjust to the switch, and they were quite picky about what they did and didn’t like in the mix, at first, but now they gobble most of it up (yes, there are still a couple of picky eaters in the bunch who peck out what they don’t like but, for the most part, there is little waste).
Now, back to the broilers…
It took thirteen weeks, from beginning to end, to process all of the meat birds (we started processing the first ones when they were about nine weeks old). The average weight was about four pounds. They all had a beautiful, yellow skin (which I’ve never seen in store-bought birds), and did, indeed, have very lean meat. So lean, in fact, that I had some trouble cooking them — homegrown, free range, pasture raised and whole grain fed birds, apparently, can not be cooked like a regular, store-bought chicken!
I did have great success, though, with my final bird, that I decided to just stew. The meat came out tender and juicy — a perfect starting place for the chicken fajitas that I’d decided to make for lunch, that day, and then the broth that followed afterwards…let me just emphatically tell you, right here and now, that I am NEVER going back to store bought broth EVER again — it is absolutely that amazing!!!
So, let me finish my post by sharing how I created that fabulous concoction so that the next time you bring home a bird (homegrown or not) you can get it to go a few extra miles on your dinner table, and create a homemade chicken broth that’ll make you turn your nose up at the store-bought variety, too!
Simple Stewed Chicken
Remove neck and giblets from chicken, rinse, then place into a large stockpot, slightly cover with water. Bring water to a boil, then lower temperature, cover, and simmer bird for about an hour, or until you see meat pulling away from bones on legs. You may want to skin the bird first, if you want a lower fat version. You may need to skim away some foam at the beginning of cooking, using a wire strainer, or by blotting with paper towels.
When chicken is finished cooking, remove from stock pot, saving the broth, and place entire chicken onto a large platter. Let cool a little, then remove as much of the meat from the bones as possible. When finished, place all of the bones (including back bone and ribs) back into the stock pot to finish making the broth.
Use your cooked chicken however you’d like to at this point. It’d be great just by itself, or used in a casserole, soup, for a chicken salad sandwich or, as I did, shredded and used as a filler for a Mexican dish, like fajitas or enchiladas. In fact, here is the recipe I used, which will also make use of your fabulous homemade chicken broth, so you might want to store your cooked chicken in the fridge until your finished making the broth (which takes about five more hours).
And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for…
Homemade Chicken Broth
To your stockpot, that is filled with the starter broth and bones from your stewed chicken, add:
1 onion, peeled and quartered
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peel left on
3 stalks of celery, including tops
2 carrots, end removed and chopped into thirds
a large pinch of salt
1 bunch fresh thyme (about 7-10 sprigs)
1 bunch fresh rosemary (about 3 small sprigs)
1 bunch fresh sage (about 2 small sprigs)
1 bunch fresh parsley (about 6-7 stalks)
Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 5 hours.
Allow to cool a little, then pour into containers by straining through a wire sieve. ( I used two half gallon glass jars, and poured through a canning funnel with a wire sieve on top, like this)…
And, there you have it!
Store broth in the refrigerator and use soon, or put into freezer-safe containers and freeze for future use. This stuff is so yummy that I am known to drink it all by itself! (I actually read it’s one of the best ways to keep your immune system in tip-top shape during the winter, too – ’cause of all the minerals in the bones – drinking a cup a day can help keep the doctor away!)
If you’ve never made your own, homemade chicken broth before, I hope you will give this a try. Then let me know what you think!
If you do, do you make yours any differently? Any tips you’d like to share?