Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Eagle Has Landed

We have the chickens! A quick rundown of our preparations: Josh cobbled together a coop from materials we already had on hand. It's a simple triangular wood frame with chicken wire stretched over top and a tarp over that. Not the fanciest thing in the world, but we only had two days and it'll work for two or three weeks. We bought a 5 gallon waterer and a 40 pound feeder. We also bought 150 pounds of feed. All the broiler feed we found in town was medicated, so we opted to go with starter/grower feed because it's un-medicated. The important part was to get close to the right protein percentage (this is 21%)---too little protein and they take too long to grow (for instance, the laying hens only get 16% protein), too much protein and they grow too fast and become prone to heart attacks and broken legs and all sorts of not nice things. We fenced off a section of the yard with snow fencing so the chickens can roam the grass during the day and just return to the coop at night. It appears they were in a fairly small pen on plain dirt up to this point in their lives, so hopefully this is a little upgrade for them. We transported the birds by just using bungee cords to tie a tarp onto the bed of our little pickup--it made a closed in space that the birds weren't at all thrilled with, but it kept them contained.

The initial transfer from truck to yard was a bit stressful for them, but not horribly bad and in no time at all their little chickie instincts kicked in and they started grabbing bugs and grass to eat.
It also didn't take them long to find the feeder

We ended up with 41 chickens and they all seem to be handling the transfer okay. These are Cornish X birds. They are meant to be slaughtered around 8 weeks, though I've seen 12 weeks in some places. I don't know. They're 6 weeks now and when you pick them up, you can tell there's already a really decent sized chicken breast under those feathers (not at all like our red and black sex linked laying hens). I can't imagine letting them go to 12 weeks, seems like they would just get so big you'd be torturing them at that point.

Sierra has (of course) asked umpteen million questions about what these chickens are for and we've told her. We want her to understand where her meat comes from and also to respect the animals by caring for them well and slaughtering them as humanely as possible. She will not be in the middle of everything when the day comes, but we have explained the process to her and why we'll do it the way we're planning on doing it. She doesn't seem at all bothered---she's very matter of fact about it. Not the right way for every family to handle the situation, but it works for us and she is ready to handle the information (presented the right way). I'd rather her know the reality now than go through life blindly eating chicken nuggets only to find out later the horrifying things that happen in a factory slaughterhouse. Maybe when she's grown, she'll support (or run!) small scale farming operations.

The only other garden news is that some of the potatoes got their first extra layer. Josh had piled up grass clippings when he mowed the yard. They are thoroughly dried out and were shoveled onto the potatoes that had grown tall enough to be covered.

And inside the house, Sierra kept up her track record of amazingly loving and interested older sibling by reading Sedona a book (and yes, she really did read "Tails are Not for Pulling", which suprised me because I didn't know she was quite to that level of reading yet! She had to sound out some words, but she made it through!)


TennZen said...

Congrats on your chickens! I'm anxious to see how it goes for you. We are considering meat rabbits...

The Hills said...

We know someone who raises meat rabbits, but can't stand to eat their own, so they and a neighbor both raise them and then trade at slaughter time. Not sure I could handle rabbit (unless I was in a survival situation)---I know it's hypocritical of me, but they're just too furry and cute for me!

One Acre Homestead said...

Very exciting! I'll be watching to see how it goes for you. Thinking of trying to talk my dad into doing the same thing next spring...keeping the chicks at his place as he has a small ranch. I'm afraid my neighbors might go into shock. That's one bad thing about living in a small chance at keeping anything quiet, doncha know?

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