Monday, August 10, 2009

Chicken Update: August

We let the hens out to free range yesterday and BOY HOWDY were they happy. It was the first time they had been free in months. Probably about six months. I'm too lazy to go back through the blogs and figure it out.

The garden is fenced and the ding dang squirrels have been eating all the tomatoes anyway so we figured we didn't have too much to lose. The hens are starting to molt for the first time so they are looking pretty rough. I thought they need a little pickmeup.

I swear all that trouble and turmoil with those tomatoes, first the seed starting fiasco, then finally buying plants from Baker and now we have AWESOME huge plants and lots of green tomatoes that end up in the dirt every day with bites out of them from what could only be SQUIRRELS.

Color me NOT happy.

I told Bryon he may have to take a vacation day and sit out there and pick them off one by one.

I'm about ready to build a six foot fence around the garden, cover it in chicken wire and put a cage top over it. Extreme yes, but seriously, how much more can we be expected to take?

Sure we live in the middle of the woods but these animals just aren't fearfully respectful enough of our dominion. We are scary mean creatures who wish them harm, seriously.

At least the chickens had a good day.

Ruger, however, was penned up all day. The twain shall not meet so one of them had to take one for the team. It was Ruger. I finally let him out after the hens roosted and he was prancing around like he just discovered birds for the first time. He sniffed EVERYTHING they touched the whole day. He was pretty excited about the whole thing. We probably ruined his bird hunting skills yesterday.

On another birdy note, one of the quail flew the coop last week as well. I opened it up to haul out their soiled waterer and out it flew. I knew it was just a matter of time before it happened but it was still surprising. Grace and I tried to catch it but it was a goner. I'm not sure if it's still alive of if Ruger finally tracked it down but I haven't seen it in several days. I'll be it was wishing it was back in the coop after a night out. I figured it was probably the ONE quail that was laying eggs but we have since had several little eggs so I guess not.

The rabbit hutch is not necessarily the best setup for the quail considering I have to open the whole top up to get into the thing to clean, feed and water but for now I guess it's going to have to do until I can convince Bryon to build me an even BIGGER chicken tractor for my fryers.

After much reflection, questioning and consternation, I finally called this morning and ordered a dozen more Cornish Cross chicks. Sorry to disappoint you Liz, I didn't get the Buff Orpingtons, and here is why...

I asked my farmy hippie friend Liz what contribution I was really making to the "cause" of real, natural and clean food by buying heritage or heirloom breeds of chickens if we just plan to eat them anyway and not try to propagate the species. Liz's thoughts are that by not demanding or supporting the production of the greatly hybridized Cornish Crosses (think Tyson chicken here) and demanding slower growing but heirloom or heritage breeds instead ultimately it will come down to supply and demand. If people don't WANT the crazy Cornish Crosses, they'll stop producing them.

I know in my heart, she's probably right in her thoughts, but ultimately it comes down to what I CAN do and what I CAN NOT do with the small amount of time I have to "farm" and work a full time job too. If I can spend 6 weeks taking care of chickens, morning and night, and still feed my family "natural" and healthy foods apposed to spending three-four months doing it. I think that is time better spent, for me at least. Besides that, Bryon says he can't help butcher chickens during deer season (when the Buff's would have been ready for slaughter). I could do it myself or ask someone to help me, but for this time I decided it's just going to be better for us all to stick with the freaks.

The deciding factor was talking with Cody from Real Food Farms on Friday at the Marshfield Farmer's Market. http://www.rockinh.net/

They are organic and can still justify raising Cornish Crosses. I gave Cody the Liz argument and he sees it that the biggest challenge is not necessarily in WHAT you raise but how you raise it. Not confined to a chicken sized cage unable to move or forage at all, never seeing the daylight and being fed chicken byproducts, antibiotics and worse.

For the record, this was also part of Bryon's original argument. But of course, like all good journalists, I have to have a least three sources before I take his word for anything. It drives him crazy, but what can I say, it's just inherent in my being. Luckily, he loves me anyway.

He also thinks we should be able to take advantage of the "improvements" in breeding that are to our benefit, ie large breasts, fast growth, minimal feathering for easier plucking. I still feel guilty about it.

Yesterday we had chicken and noodle soup and mashed potatoes. Most of the meal was from our farm: our chickens, our carrots, our herbs, our potatoes. I have to say it was pretty yummy.

If you are wondering what makes a chicken a Heritage Breed you can find out here: http://www.albc-usa.org/documents/heritagechickenflyer.pdf Cornish Crosses are like the chicken Anti-Christs.

So if we aren't "perfect" does that discount all the good changes we HAVE made. No. But it doesn't stop me from wanting to do and be better, so we'll just keep working on it. I can still have my heritage breed hens: Rhode Island Red, Buff Orpingons, Red Sussex and New Hampshire Red and we'll eat the Cornish Crosses. When these hens get old, I plan to have all Buff Orpingtons and get a Buff rooster, then maybe we can help the cause a little more.

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