Monday, June 16, 2014

Keeping chickens (aka mini-pterodactyls)

This will come as no shock to anyone who knows me very well: I am terrified of birds. To me, they are just so unpredictable. An unpredictable animal with the ability to fly...not sure why this is not a more common fear.

For whatever reason, I have wanted to have my own flock of chickens for a long time. It could be because keeping chickens is very "in" right now (I mean seriously, look at some of these chicken coops!), but it's more likely because it fits with our values of knowing where our food comes from. Collecting the eggs from our own ladies (as I like to call them) is an amazing feeling and I look forward to cooking my first meal using one of our meat birds and know exactly how that bird lived his life. However, when planning for this, I think I forgot somewhere along the line that chickens are birds and therefore they are monsters.

The decision was made to order 12 MORE baby chicks from a local feed store. Six little baby buff orpingtons (for laying) and six Cornish rock (for meat). Like I mentioned before, our home came with some hens and a rooster that the previous owners left for us.

Side note about the grown flock: they essentially take care of themselves. We leave out food and water for them and have a coop and that is basically the whole story. They also enjoy the occasional rummage through our compost pile. They are so independent that when we first moved in our rooster, Little Jerry, was leading group hikes through the woods. Little Jerry was not long for this world and we assume he protected his flock (RIP Little Jerry Seinfeld) because he never returned from one of those hikes. We fixed the holes in the fencing so now the ladies are still able to free-range on the pasture, but are moderately safe from attack. Raising and keeping chickens is all about personal preference and we like to err on the side of "these are NOT our pets, these are our food and producers of our food, but we still want them to be happy and healthy". Others may disagree and to that I say, to each their own and you should stick around for the posts about brewing beer instead. Okay, back to the monsters.

Twelve little baby chicks, stuffing their faces with medicated chick starter and water full of electrolytes to make sure they survived the first few days. Our brooding box was pretty simple (large Tupperware container lined with paper towels until they could use wood shavings as bedding), but in hindsight, we would have started with a much larger brooding box to make transitions easier as they grow (we separated them at about 2 weeks into two containers).

We learned this with the meat birds in particular because when they started growing there was no stopping them. In fact, I don't have any pictures of the meat birds from about two weeks to four weeks because they were absolutely hideous and repulsive. At one point, I thought I would never eat chicken again. They reach a point where they have stuffed their fat faces enough that their legs can't keep up with how fat their bodies are getting and as a result can hardly stand to walk. It is actually pretty sad, but once we were able to move them outside into the chicken tractor to forage and walk around a bit more, they started to look much healthier.

Absolutely terrifying.

They say Cornish rocks are a "7 lbs in 7 weeks" bird, meaning you should be prepared to process them in 7 weeks. Ours will probably go for a bit longer since they are foraging more, but if you let them go too long, they can die from heart failure (or so I have read).

The buffs have grown at a pace much more suitable for a living creature and they aren't quite as scary.

Once they were ready to go outside, we started integrating them in with the older ladies using the "playpen method", meaning you put some sort of wire or fencing until the hens become used to them. When they aren't in their playpen in the barn sleeping or meeting the ladies, they are free-ranging in the dog run like bosses. Maybe this is completely wrong, I have no idea. I have read just about as much as I can and this seems to be like a pretty logical approach to the whole thing.

The compelling side of all of this is getting to see the fluffy little balls of down grow into the feathered chickens you see above who will either become your food or make your food. Fortunately, my values outweigh my fears on this one.



  1. I love chickens and pterodactyles!! oh and your blog!! keep it up, I will definitely be following along as I enjoy your humor so far!!

    1. Hey Emma! That's so sweet and thanks for stopping by.