Who doesn’t love baby chicks?

It’s that year again. The one that is both a happy time and sad. The happy being the part where I order baby chick’s. The sad, knowing some of my girls will have to go to the great pasture in the sky.

Being a homesteader I am practical. People ask me, ” Don’t you get attached to your chickens?” Why they ask is due to the time to cull, or kill, the old hens or young roosters. My reply, ” I don’t have time to become attached to them.” I’m a homesteader , but have a job that takes me away from the house 3 to 4 days a week. When I am home, I have an endless list of things I need to get to. The first time a friend from my work place came to visit she exclaimed, “I thought I had a lot to do at home, how do you ever leave here and come to work?” Let me tell you there are times when I am driving into work that I have to tell myself, to be present in the moment, that I am here now, that the endless list of things at home will still be there waiting. (That’s why I don’t want to leave home in the first place!)
Part of the being practical is knowing that the hens I have for egg production have a time period for most productive egg laying. After that time period, which is about 4 years for the hybrid hens and 5 years for the heritage hens, they will become stew birds.
I must say I do have a few favorites among my heritage girls. I may keep a few of them around. Depends on how I feel after getting the new batches of chicks. I had to order the layers from My Pet Chicken this time because McMurray Hatchery, who I almost always purchase my layers from, is sold out of most of the heritage breeds I wanted. I did order 28 meat birds from McMurray to come the week after my layers arrive. I am going to raise them all together seeing as how they will have nearly the same requirements for several weeks. That is until the meat birds start to “take off” in their growth. At that time I will need to separate the meat birds from the layers because the feed will need to be changed for the meat birds since they will be growing very quickly.
This year I am mixing up the meat birds. I am getting what is called the BBQS straight run. Straight run meaning both male and female chickens, so there will be different sized chickens when they are ready for culling and processing. This is a possible mix between the Cornish X Rock and the Cornish Roaster, which I have not tried yet. My husband loved the Cornish X Rock birds we got for the first time last fall. Myself being the main care taker of the birds was not pleased with them. The reason being they are a man made hybrid bird, the same type you get in the grocery store. Sound nice huh? They were freaks. Yes they look and sound like chickens but they do not act like chickens. Once they became larger, as in 4 lbs, they literally sat, and I do mean sat, around the food container eating. It was quite disgusting to me. They would just sit there eating and pooping. From time to time they would get up, with much effort, to have a drink of water, but that was the extent of their exercise! So needless to say with all that sitting and eating and nearly no exercise they were very “tender”. When we picked them up they felt kinda squishy! Oooooo!
You may be thinking, well why are you going to get them again then? My answer is my family. Because my family, especially my husband, loved the birds particularly when it was on the dining room table. This is why I am willing to put up with this freak of nature chicken.
I did order a variety of meat birds that we raised the first time we raised chickens for meat. They are called Red Ranger Broiler. Now these chickens are much more normal acting. They forage most of the day like the chickens I keep for egg production, but they sit around a whole lot more than the layer chickens.
My husband claims the Red Ranger chickens are “stringy”. I’m sure this is due to the amount of exercise they get. Go figure: exercise equals tougher muscle mass.
Regardless of the end result, the dressed bird on our dining table tender or “stringy”, I know that they had a life where they were raised with the utmost care and compassion. And that is why I choose to raise my own meat birds even though I know I can pick up a chicken from the grocery store for only a few dollars. It’s just not worth contributing to the mass produced chicken industry.

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What is going on?

Molting Laced Wing Wyandotte

Molting Laced Wing Wyandotte

I understand that chickens, hens that is, slow down in their egg laying during the fall/winter months due to the lack of daylight. I have had chickens for almost 6 years now. So, I have had time to live this. But this year takes the cake with the slow, if almost nonexistent, egg production of my hens.

I have looked over old record and my oldest hens, numbering only two at this point I am sad to say, are nearly 6 years old. As far as I’m concerned, 2 is not going to make the impact that I am seeing this winter, on a flock that numbers in the  40s. The next oldest “batch” are going to be 3 in the summer. Still in their laying prime. So what?!   They get a more  diverse diet than the average American does. Fresh organic fruit & veg scraps from our local awesome market! Leftover pasta,bread,stir-fry, whatever we have. They are well fed.

I thought that maybe a vermin was stealing the eggs. Not snakes, they are dormant now. So possibly a weasel or raccoon, but they would kill a chicken or four just for fun, sad to say. So what in the world is going on?

People have suggested placing a light in their coop to simulate daylight. You know, I wonder if the chickens would think,” it’s still light out”, & go outside, then go,”no it’s not” & go back in, and back & forth. Sorry to say, if you are not aware, chicken were not given the largest brains for their head size in nature. But they are sure funny,interesting, & give me food….sometimes!

The hens have been molting since late summer. Molting , which is a natural loss & reproduction of feathers, most definitely stops their egg production. All their energy goes into making new feathers. This makes sense. But…not even 1/2 the hens molted. So still, why the lack of eggs?!?

Prince, the #1 rooster.

Prince, the #1 rooster.

Solo, the rooster we saw hatch in out incubator. #2 rooster

Solo, the rooster we saw hatch in out incubator. #2 rooster

Gallioth, #3 rooster.

Gallioth, #3 rooster.

To conclude this stream of thought, I am going to give the hens, there are 3 beautiful roosters also, apple cider vinegar with “mother” (look it up if you do not know what it is) in their water. Hope this will make a difference in there “innards”.

New life has arrived!

Taking a few moments to recover after "rocketing" out of the shell.

Taking a few moments to recover after "rocketing" out of the shell.

making an air hole
Making an air hole through the membrane.

A very exciting moment occurred Thursday morning in my kitchen at 5:40. I heard a tiny “peep”. And as you can imagine, at this time of the day, I wasn’t quite sure if I had actually heard this or not. I checked the incubator that has been living on my kitchen breakfast bar for 24 days. (since the untimely death of Bart) And lo and behold, there was a piece of an egg shell laying on the wire floor in the incubator. Inspecting the egg, I could  see a tiny beak barely visible through the membrane between the shell and the wee chick. Remarkable!

Waiting for a sign of life, 3 days past the chick expected arrival date, here it is. And here I have to go to work until 3:30 in the afternoon. Oh, I was terribly nervous to leave for the day. What if the chick got stuck and needed assistance?

When I arrived home, quick as I could manage of course, no progress had been made. I thought the worst. To my relief, within a few minutes chickie started peeping! Horray! But why no progress? I called a dear friend, who has been hatching out chicks far longer than I have, for advice. She advised placing a very warm wash cloth in the bottom of the incubator with the chick. Val explained, “If the chick drys out during this process it will stick to the shell inside and will not be able to free itself”. Well this makes perfect sense. I did as instructed. And within 10 minutes after placing the-soon-to-emerge chick on the warm wash cloth, it was really starting to move. It was truly amazing the difference this warm wash cloth made in the chick’s pursuit to free itself. I believe the warm moisture was very stimulating to the chick.

We couldn’t leave the incubator! It was like the chick had been waiting all day for this moment to share with us. We had to get the atmosphere just right and the “emerging show” was on! And what a “show” it was. We were cheering and giving words of encouragement. When the chick freed itself, after about 15 minutes of pushing itself out of the shell, it came out like a rocket! It only laid still for 20-30 seconds before getting up and “crashing” into the sides of the incubator and into the other eggs. Honestly, why in the world was the tiny, wet, weak, helpless chick compelled to get up and move already? I thought only wild newborn animals had an instinct to get moving immediately after birth, not a domestic chicken. New discovery for me!

So far, our 3 day old chick is solo. Seeing as how we collected and placed the eggs in the incubator in a 10 day span,  we could still have more chicks emerging for about 8 more days. For the sake of this tiny lonely chick I hope more chicks emerge soon.