Spring Surprise

We’ve had the wettest March on record followed by the coldest and the wettest April on record.  Now, May is acting like March roaring in like a lion, boy do we have wind today.

Even though we have lambs and baby bunnies and baby goats, it still doesn’t feel like spring around here.  Today, between the wind and the rain, the kids and I were still trying to get out and get some things done in the garden.  As we were working away, the sun came out and a chicken came out of nowhere with 7 chicks behind her.  This chicken has been trying to go broody for a LONG time, and I kept finding her nests and stealing her eggs.  I guess I missed out on the nest this time!  The chicks are a mix of Astralorps and Easter Eggers!

It was so lovely to see the mama out with her chickens, but I was scared to death all day that something was going to find them and kill them.  With three dogs and two cats running around, it was a distinct possibility.  I was planning to get some chicks next month to replace the flock I currently have, so we just headed out and picked up some additional chicks to add to the flock.  We’ve now got 19 little birdies under the heat lamp in the barn, much to the kids and my delight!

Chicken Butcher

We started a batch of meat chickens back in January.  Every other year, we have raised the same old cornish cross drones that are so popular in the meat world.  They grow sickeningly fast and are not hardy at all.  This year, I decided we were going to grow a heritage breed called Le Poulet.  They are a breed developed in France.  They grow more quickly than the 16 week dual purpose birds, but they finish out beautifully.

We started with 100 chicks.  However, due to mishap at the feed store where the feed was switched out on accident, I lost 60 or so in a period of a few days.  We came down to the wire with 42 birds.  Of course, I decided to do right by them and feed organic and or locally grown food because I wanted to produce the best chickens I could produce.  Of course, in the middle of the grow period the feed store increased the price of the feed by $10 per 50 pounds!!!  In the end, I certainly learned a lot, but the chickens that came out were fantastic.

Of course, in the spirit of do-it-yourself, I decided that I was going to butcher all of the chickens myself, rather than take them to the processor.  The processor is not inexpensive (and very fast), but I was already very upside-down on the chickens because of the feed increase that I opted to try to reclaim some expenses.

So, I invited a friend over to butcher the chickens she was getting and we got to work, each with a baby on our backs.  Let me tell you, butchering chickens is emotionally and physically demanding work and at the end of the day, we had 16 done!  Add this to the 5 that I did last weekend and it seems that we are making progress here on finishing up the chicken project.

In the future, we will be doing chickens, perhaps in smaller batches.  Until then, I’ll be enjoying some good eats!

Mistakes Were Made

It is so easy to start a new project and think of how much fun it is going to be or how easy it is going to be or even the profit margin it might make.  Yeah.  Farming never really turns out the way you plan.

I’ve raised batches of meat chickens every year for our family table.  It has been occasionally hard, especially when our “farm” used to consist of a 50 by 10 foot patch of grass.  I did it, and I was successful, and I only ever had lost one chicken.  Turns out that raising chickens for meat can be a dirty and a gross job.  The Cornish Cross breed of chicken is the breed that is used by 98% of all chicken farmers today.  They were bred 50 years ago to grow VERY fast and to produce insanely large breast meat.  The thing is that these chickens are walking stomachs, and they are drones.  They have no personalities and, unlike every other animal I’ve ever worked with, there is NOBODY home.  They are ugly, hungry and they have no will to live.  True, they are delicious and they grow fast, but I was looking for something a little more in the heritage department.

This past year, I was turned onto the Freedom Ranger, Le Poulet chickens.  They are a heritage breed of chicken bred in France as a meat bird.  They dress out nicely, they are incredibly delicious.  True, they take 16 weeks to grow out, but they have the will to live, and they are known for their foraging skills.

One day, when I was sitting next to my son waiting for him to fall asleep (as I am doing right now), I started planning for the farm.  The pigs are currently pastured on the section of pasture that is going to the the garden this year.  They have done a good job tearing it up and eating out the roots.  The soil is much richer than it was when I put them on that ground just 4 months ago.  I thought what a fantastic compliment it would be to raise a batch of meat chickens on that ground after the pig butcher but before it was time to start planting the garden, brilliant, right?  Well kind of.  By a stroke of luck, everything was starting to work out just fine.  The chickens managed to hatch out and be delivered the right week and we were off to a good start.  They were brooding nicely and eating up the Organic feed by the bagful.

One morning I went out to find a pile of dead chicks.  It looked like a massacre.   All told, there were 17 in the pile.  I was horrified, and I took precautions to stop it from happening again (I assumed it was a predator).  The next morning, nope, another 18 dead.  WHAT?  I quickly thought the feed was contaminated and I grabbed the tags from the last few bags and headed off to the extension service to get some help.  Then I saw it, the feed I had gotten the week before had been switched out.  Rather than giving me the Organic chick starter, I was given Organic Layer ration.  It has a very high amount of calcium, and, surprise, it kills chicks.  Well 39 dead chicks later, I had my solution.  Voila!  I took the feed away, replaced it with the correct feed, and the chicks are off growing again and not piling up in dead heaps.

What lesson did I learn?  Well, farming never turns out like you plan.  Yeah, I think it’s a lesson I’m going to have to learn over and over again.  I assume that with some more experience I will have less and less losses, but in one mistake, one little oversight, I lost a huge percentage of my chick population and all of my potential profits.  I’m not complaining, and I will carry on, but it just goes to show that you can never be too detailed in the way you manage your livestock.

Until then, I’m going to be grateful for my well fertilized garden space and the chicken meat that will soon be filling my personal freezer to bursting.