Thursday, June 12, 2014

How We Ended up with 26 Teenagers

We are three weeks into being chicken farmers and it is actually going really well!  I can’t say that we have learned a lot so far but we haven’t killed any yet, so that is something.  

Our 25 chickens arrived by mail three weeks ago.  In my 30 years, I don’t think I’ve ever had such a surreal experience as I did when I was handed a box of chirping wild things from the amused postal worker.  The kids were delighted on sight while I was immediately second guessing our decision.  Well, you can’t really return chicks so we took them home with fingers crossed.

We had ordered 15 Cornish Cross chickens which are yellow and meant for butchering and 10 egg layers; a mix of Black Astralorp and Barred Rock.  We got one extra black one so we ended up with 26 chickens.  I imagine they throw an extra one in in case one perishes during transport.  

One important tip I got before we got the chicks was to take each bird out of the box individually and place their beaks into the water bowl then set the chick down by the water.  They are too stupid to often find the water by themselves and will die if they don’t get water quickly.  I took each chick out, counting with E (which is how we discovered the extra bird), stuck their beak in the water then set them down.  

After making sure they were secure, we left them to be for a bit to acclimate.  I checked on them 15 minutes later and discovered that most were huddled under the heat lamp.  This is a sign that the lamp needs to be lowered, so I moved it down a few inches and the chicks then started milling about.

The first week, the chicks had their food trough and water bowl refilled in the mornings.  In general, neither were empty but just needed refreshing.  By week two, the chicks were already grown enough to widen their ring by a few feet.  We laid down new bedding on top of the old to fill the empty spaces the widening of the ring created.  At this point, the chicks needed new food and water in the morning and in the evening.  Right now, they are in their awkward teenage phase, growing feathers which are reminiscent of teenage acne.  The yellow ones are especially deranged looking; the blacks all have their feathers now and look pretty cute.

Now at week three, we have upgraded to the larger feed trough and are getting a larger waterer as soon as we make it to the store.  They have almost gone through the huge bag of starter feed we purchased when they first came.  We also had to widen their ring another few feet to accommodate their rapid growth.  By now, the yellow chickens are almost twice the size of the blacks and will be ready to butcher in about 5 weeks!  It truly is amazing to see how rapid they grow- even in the time of checking on them in the morning to night you can see a difference!

A friend came by and checked the chickens and said they all looked great and was shocked we hadn’t lost any.  Though, he warned us to not be surprised if we walk in one day and find a chicken flat on their back.  Apparently, they grow so rapidly, it is not uncommon to have one die from a heart attack.  Seriously!  What is more gruesome than that!?!  We are not aggressively feeding the broilers, so hopefully this will not be an issue for us.

Yesterday, Andy went with our previous chicken supplier to arrange for butchering with an Amish family nearby.  Though Andy REALLY wanted to do the butchering himself, I didn’t want the bloodbath on the farm and though killing is pretty easy, the cleaning and plucking was not appealing.  This Amish family takes the live chickens in the morning (imagine us, driving our mini van with 15 full grown chickens in a cage in back, YIKES!) and returns them in evening, cleaned and individually bagged.  To prepare for all these chickens, we purchased a second freezer for the basement.  

E helped us shop for the freezer and asked what it was for.  

I said, “For the chickens.”  

She replies, “Mom!  They will get cold in there.”

Me… trying to decide how in depth with this I want to get in the middle of the Home Depot. “Well, when they get a little bigger, they will be killed for us to eat.”

Esther, “No! I don’t want my yellow chickens to be killed.”  ::hysterical crying::

I tried to explain that the black ones would be staying with us and we would get to collect and eat their eggs and then I went for the tactic of this is where our food comes from, don’t you want us to make chicken nuggets from our chickens.  Well, nothing got through to the hysterical child in the back seat of the car so I finally had to say, let’s move on for now and discuss it later.

Fast forward a few days after a McDonalds run.  

Esther:  “I guess you can turn my chickens into chicken nuggets.”

Phew!  Crises averted.

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