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.