Project: Farming for Dummies
Posted by Alexandra Berendt over 10 years ago
So I've lived with chooks before, it just seems I never took much notice!
I know they lay eggs and their meat tastes nice but I also know about some of the horrible conditions they are kept in commercially, including battery hens. I also know that I really REALLY like to eat chicken products. So since we are finally living on our own piece of land, with no neighbours to be bothered by the racket, I finally went and bought 15 unsexed Plymouth Rock chicks.
Before I decided on a breed, I did do a fair bit of research. Barred Plymouth Rock is the breed I finally went with because the roosters have a large carcass and make a decent table bird. The hens are not as large but lay a nice amount of egss, about 200 per year on average (or so the internet would have me believe, I have not had mine for a year yet and neglected to keep records of their laying history thus far!).
Last, but not least, I enoy the look of them. They are, in my opinion, a rather nice looking bird.
Of the 15 chicks, only 3 turned out to be chooks. Well, I probably should have known this was going to happen...
In any case, I was not too bothered, as the roosters made excellent table birds for my partner and I. Two cockerels were taken by foxes when they were only a few weeks old, however, the remaining 13 birds grew well and I did not loose any after that.
One rooster was kept for me to raise more chicks from, the rest ended up on our dinner table and were possibly some of the best tasting chickens I remember eating. Ever.
I have to admit, I really did not enjoy killing and plucking those birds and I realize that this would definately not be for everyone, however I do feel responsible for the animals whose meat and products I do consume and I am glad that we are taking steps to stop supporting factory raised meat and animal products.
Anyways, back to the birds. Turns out that the fat on my birds was actually yellow. I've never seen yellow fat on a chicken before so, understandably I kind of freaked out a little when I first came across this. Further research seems to link the chickens' diet to colour of the fat. Apparently the straight grain diet that many commercially raised chickens are fed is what makes their fat pretty much colourless or white. The carotene in green grasses which free range poultry like to eat apparently makes their skin and fat yellow. Who knew. I also found this blog on home slaughtering and cooking chooks nicely written and very informative.
Not sure if the colour has anything to do with the taste at all...
The scraps and insides went to the dogs, in any case, and they liked it!
The eggs, also, are slightly different from the grain fed ones. The yokes are a brilliant yellow, also caused by the grassy diet I assume. They have much more flavor than what I was used to. The first couple of eggs from our own chickens actually tasted disturbingly eggy... Not bad, just stronger than I was used to. I could actually taste the eggs, despite all that bacon-ey goodness we piled on those buns! Wowza!
Raising that first bunch of chickens was actually kind of easy. All I need was a coop (which was already here from the previous woners), a light (bought one at the local farm center, including the bulb, think that was around $40 all up?) and a feeder + waterer.
I started to let the chicks out into the enclosed outdoor run once they had a decent coat of feathers going and stopped using the light once they were fully feathered. Unfortunately I didn't take any notes of all this, so I have no idea how old they were when I stopped using the light.
Things are getting a bit more complicated now. One of my hens went broody several weeks ago and I did not move her and her nest until the day after the first chick had hatched. I spoke to someone about my broody hen and they mentioned that the roosters can sometimes peck chicks to death.
Well, I had no clue about raising chicks from scratch using a mother hen, so I guess my bad management kind of cost me the rest of those chicks.
I moved the hen into an old rabbit cage, along with her nest and her single chick, and she hatched another chick successfully over that night. Unfortunately after that, she started to wander about the cage with her two chicks and the other eggs were left to cool down during the day.
Sadly, none of them made it and I have since spoken to more knowledgable people who ahve advised me t take any chicks that hatch off the hen and keep them under a light (with food and water, of course!) until all have hatched. Then return the lot to the hen to raise.
Well, wish I had made those inquiries a bit earlier. As it is, the secong chick has now died and all I have left is a single chick, from a nest of six :/
I definately learnt my lesson and will be more organized and knowledgable next time.
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