Friday, November 23, 2012

Chicken Report

Last years meatbirds in their plastic kiddy pool.

The chickens need my attention. Now that we are fully submerged in fall and it is wet and getting wetter out, I can lose interest in the chickens. They stop laying and go to bed early. I am still feeding them, at pretty good expense; organic, non-gmo, soy free, whatever, food. And I am buying eggs from the grocery store. There are 6 hens at the moment. 3 are young and viable as layers, 3 are older and molting. I am thinking about butchering the non-laying members over the next little while and then in the spring get some new chicks to reinvigorate the flock. These old gals only lay for a few years and then you feed them and listen to them squawk for 4 more years all the while attracting raccoons, sucking back the feed and making it uncomfortable for the younger hens to relax and produce eggs. I like the idea of raising birds that are reasonable to eat after they are done laying and with that in mind keeping to a strict 2 yr rotation of laying and then butchering for food. Some old timer told me once they would kill the birds before winter so they didn't have to feed and care for them during the cold months, I can see why. I did sit with them awhile yesterday, thanksgiving and gave thanks to the silly 6 of them as they pecked around doing their little chicken dance. I cleaned their house, their water tubs and gave them a mountain of fresh straw in the outside cage since they would be contained there for the weekend.

One of the things I do like about keeping the chickens is the creation of the system I employ to take care of them. I want the whole operation to be efficient and easy to use and so I have tried to work toward that. My goal is to offer the chickens maximum comfort for a minimum effort on my part. So far it's worked out pretty well and now I want to work on making the output aspect of the operation more efficient. More eggs and a little meat now and then without too much work or worry. The trouble with raising the big bunch of meatbirds is that they need near constant attention, they are so programmed to eat they have to be fed twice a day and their cage has to be cleaned at least once a day. I cannot stress this enough. Meatbirds are disgusting shitting machines and unless you are keeping them in a pasture setting the pen must be cleaned and it is disgusting and interacting with the birds is grim as they are not a smart group. I prefer the idea of a few free-range chickens that lived like real chickens, laid a few eggs and then got stewed up one at time. This is how a farm wife would do it. I will devise a system for this operation next. The tools required to butcher a chicken are fairly straightforward, the only pieces I need are a propane burner and an over-sized scalding pot. I imagine you need an extra basin with warm water to aid in plucking. The nasty bits can be buried and turned into rich fertilizer in the garden. This seems doable to me.

I had a lovely conversation with one of my neighbors the day before Thanksgiving. He keeps horses and I found him out near the road with a bucket of apples and the 4 head of horses and 1 mule all standing around him eating from his hands as he passed each one an apple holding it tightly while they bit down into it, and then passing the remaining half to next waiting muzzle. We talked about the expense and care that goes into owning the horses, he pack rides with them several times a year around the state. He towed 25,000lbs of truck trailer and beast over the Washington Lookout Pass to ride for 2 days in Mazama with his daughter and some friends. He admitted is was expensive hard work but he said he got a lot out of it too, the pleasure of horses is incalculable. Watching him as we talked, the horses waiting in line around him based on rank, the mule licked salt near his feet. His red and white paint gelding was closest nuzzling his arm and neck, it was touching how he just let the horse gently explore him. No matter the size of the creature you look after it's a mutually beneficial experience. His horses, my chickens, the activity of care-taking gives us much more than rides and eggs. It keeps us moving in the world and conscious of life around us.

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