Fattening-Killing and Marketing
During the chicken-rearing season it will be advisable to separate the sexes as soon as sex can be determined, so that the surplus cockerels may be disposed of. The lighter bred birds, such as the-leghorns, can be separated from the opposite sex when they are from four to eight weeks of age, and, unless there is likely to be a demand for them as stock cockerels, it is advisable to put them on a soft-food diet for a week or two and dispose of them as milk chickens to private customers, or to some better-class poulterer whilst their flesh is plump and soft.
It is useless running them on to gain size, as with size their flesh becomes hardened and unpalatable. All that is necessary to get the birds in fit condition for the table is the restriction to exercise to maintain softness of flesh, and two feeds of soft food each day to increase the size. It has been contended that it is useless to attempt the improvement of the lighter bred chickens by any special feeding, but experiments have demonstrated the fact that such birds, if taken in hand whilst very young, show a marked improvement, and yield a bigger margin of profit when fed on fattening foods for a couple of weeks prior to being killed. The birds should not be over eight weeks old when placed in the fattening-pens, and as, at such an age, growing chickens have a good appetite, they will soon take to the change of diet, and settle down quietly in their limited quarters, whereas, if they were subjected to the fattening process when fully grown, they would lose rather than gain flesh through pining for freedom.
Cockerels of the heavier breeds, such as the Orpingtons and Wyandottes, are at the best age for fattening when between three and four months. From the time they are hatched until they are relegated to the fattening-coops, they should be fed on ordinary foods such as are used in the feeding of general utility birds, and they should have plenty of exercise, the object being to get size of frame and a healthy constitution, the latter being most essential in fowls intended for close confinement and fattening foods.
But, apart from the surplus cockerels of the lighter or heavier breeds, if we consider poultry rearing and fattening as a small branch of commercial production, the undertaking is a remunerative one where a private trade can be worked up for table birds of special quality. There is no comparison either in size, appearance, or quality of meat between the poulterer's unfattened wares and the birds specially fed for the table, and wherever the latter are once indulged in, the former seldom again find favour, as, although costing less than the fattened birds, they are proved to be less economic on the table.
Where only a few surplus cockerels are to be fattened, they may be confined to any good-sized airy coop or other structure that is rain and draught proof, and easy of being cleaned out, and the trough necessary to hold the food may be raised off the floor to prevent dirt from being scratched into it; but where the regular production of fattened birds is to be carried on, the subjects under treatment should be confined to specially constructed wood cages, or fattening-pens as they are called by the Sussex fatteners. These pens are light and strong; they measure about seven feet in length, and are divided into three compartments by means of slatted partitions. They are about two feet deep-i.e., from front to back-and twenty inches high. For use under cover, their tops, bottoms, sides, and ends are constructed of wood bars, whilst those intended to stand in the open have slanting roofs to carry off the wet. The bars forming the bottoms narrow from an inch and a half at the top down to about an inch at the bottom, and are placed about an inch apart, by which
Sussex fattening-pens for poultry. If erected out of doors, the pens should be well sheltered from wind and damp. Fowls fatten best in the open air during genial weather means the excreta from the birds falls without hindrance to the ground underneath, the pens being raised by means of wooden stagings. On the ground, sand, or fine, dry earth and slaked lime may be put, and, with the droppings, can be removed daily.
To those carrying on fruit or vegetable culture much valuable manure with which to dress the land is obtained during the time the birds are being fattened, and as the fertilising qualities of such are improved by the nature of the food fed to the fowls, it constitutes a substantial by-product that is by no means to be despised.
The building in which fattening-pens are erected must be airy and cool, as congested conditions are not conducive to good results in fattening. Should the appliances be erected outside, they should be well sheltered from wet, and cold winds. It has been proved by experiment that fowls fatten best in the open air during genial weather, and under cover during the winter-time. Extremes of temperature must be avoided when locating the pens. These must be kept clean and free from insect pests whilst in use, a good dressing of limewash being applied to them prior to their occupation by fresh batches of birds, and, during the process of fattening, nothing likely to upset the quietude of the fowls must be allowed to occur.
It must be strictly borne in mind that fowls intended for the fattening process must be in a healthy condition when put into the pens, otherwise they will lose, rather than gain, weight, and, to prevent restlessness among them, they should be well dusted under the wings and at the roots of the tails with sulphur to rid their bodies of any lice that may be present.
The fattening-pens, such as have been described above, will each accommodate fifteen birds, five being placed in each of the three compartments, and the inmates must be fed twice daily, and at regular times, allowing twelve hours to elapse between the meals. The food is best served in V-shaped troughs placed outside and at the fronts of the pens.
The process of fattening by the aid of special cramming machines need not be dealt with here, since it is unlikely that a sufficient number of birds will be dealt with to warrant its adoption. Should, however, the output of fattened chickens increase to such an extent as to require the use of a special machine to deal with it, then the appliance can be got, with full instructions for Operating it, from any reliable maker.
When the birds are placed in the pens, they should be given no food for twenty-four hours, the object of fasting them being to create a good appetite, and, subsequently, better contentment. The best food to use is undoubtedly a mixture of Sussex ground oats, skim milk and fat. Before the food is mixed the milk should be allowed to turn sour, as its acidity will assist digestion. If whole, sour milk is used, less fat will be required in the preparation of the food. A quarter of an ounce of clarified mutton fat per bird may be allowed during the first week of feeding, and this may be increased to half an ounce per bird during the final week of fattening. The food at the commencement should be mixed to the consistency of cream, and should be made a little thicker at the end of the first week. The birds must not be overfed at the beginning or they will lose, rather than gain, condition. The food supply should be gradually increased till, by the beginning of the second week, they are allowed all they will greedily eat.
A course of trough feeding for a fortnight will generally suffice to get the birds into good plump condition.
A Humane Method of Killing:
During the process of fattening, the birds should be handled occasionally to ascertain their condition, as individual ones sometimes fail to take to such a process kindly. If any bird is found to be lagging behind its companions in the production of flesh, it should be removed, and turned on to the open run for a time, when it may be confined to the fattening-pen again. At the end of a fortnight most fowls will be ready for removal from the pens, as they then begin to lose appetite, and if the killing process is delayed, they will soon lose much of what they have gained in flesh.
The cleanest and easiest method to adopt in killing fowls is to dislocate their necks. The legs, tail feathers, and flights of a fowl to be killed should be grasped firmly in the left hand, and that part of the neck joining the head should be grasped between the first and second fingers of the right hand, the back of the latter facing the bird. The neck should then be stretched to its fullest extent and the head suddenly bent back, when dislocation of the neck will take place. The bird should be held, head down, to allow the blood to collect in the neck. Plucking should be done whilst the bird is warm, as in that condition the work is rendered considerably easier.
When plucked, the fowls should be allowed to get stone cold before being despatched to customers, and especially does this apply to birds sent by rail. If dead fowls are packed and despatched in a warm condition they will probably arrive at their destination in a discoloured state. The object of the chicken fattener should be to turn out the birds as clean, fresh, and dainty-looking as possible, as appearance goes far towards securing fresh orders from customers, as well as recommendations to friends.
To be continued.