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November 22, 2011 / 74

Chickens – Some Can Stay, the Rest Gotta Go.

It’s that time of year – the time to say “bye-bye” to a lot of chickens.

We bought 25 chicks last Spring, and added them to our left-overs from the year before. The remaining “flock” from the year before was kind of pathetic since we got them from a bad hatchery. We ordered a “straight run” of birds (mixed sex – unsorted. Should yield near 50/50 males/females) and got only 5 females. 20% females is NOT a “straight run.” That’s a hatchery that sent us their male culls, and sent their “good” birds to someone else at higher prices.

So the “old” birds consisted of 5 roosters and 3 hens – only one of which laid eggs regularly. Last year, I dressed out a lot of roosters, and finally got tired of doing roosters, and settled for keeping the remaining 6 separated from the hens. We wanted to keep one for the next year’s (this year’s) hens, and couldn’t keep one rooster with 3 hens. (The “ideal” ratio is 20 hens to each rooster. One rooster with 3 hens would net me zero eggs due to the continual stress of an active rooster on them.) One of the roosters was donated to our local “wildlife feeding pantry.”  ;-D

So this Spring we ordered 25 hens… from a different hatchery. Now – let me interject something here about hatcheries. There are good ones, and bad ones, and some that used to be good but that allowed their standards to slip. We used to get all of our birds from one place in Iowa – until we got a bunch of sorry excuses for chickens that had obviously been inbred so much they were starting to have genetic problems.

Then last year we tried a place in Missouri that we hadn’t used – and ended up with a lot of roosters – and even those were less than wonderful, and of the 5 hens we got, two of them died of unknown causes. So this year we tried a new place that has a good reputation, and ordered “sexed” birds – we had 5 roosters, so we just ordered hens.

If you are going to buy chickens, ask around to see where others get their chicks before you buy. You may still get duds – but if you get duds at least you’ll have eliminated one hatchery from the next year’s consideration! 🙂

As to the KIND of bird you buy, you need to think about why you are buying them. If you just want a home flock for meat and eggs, choose a breed that will give you a reasonably large bird in a fairly short time period, yet that is also known for laying and is appropriate for your local environment. If all you want is eggs, then there are breeds that do that very efficiently on smaller amounts of feed. The larger the bird, the more feed you’ll have to buy to maintain the birds.

We like the “Light Brahma” breed because they make large meat birds, and when mature they lay extra large brown eggs and lots of them. And another consideration that argues for them where we live – it can get really COLD here, and the Brahmas have small combs and wattles and feathered legs and feet. The feathered legs and feet and small combs allow them to endure very cold winters without negative effects on their egg laying or their health. Breeds with large combs have problems with frozen combs – which will impair their health and cause them to stop laying. The Brahmas are also well tempered gentle birds – so unlike some other birds such as the Rhode Island Reds, you won’t have them attacking you or your kids and you don’t have to fight them for the eggs.

So being rank amateurs at processing chickens into meat and such, we did the four roosters and the remaining two old hens (one was killed by an owl the day before processing) on Sunday, and 6 of the ten culls yesterday.

Culls – Our criteria for culling was two-fold. Hen size and comb size. Since these were all hatch mates, they should have matured at the same rate. They didn’t. (There will always be some that will be more efficient.) And the combs are a mark of maturity. So we selected smaller less developed combs, and smaller physical size.

As to rooster culling, that was easy. We just kept the “alpha” bird. Put roosters together and, like hens, they will establish a pecking order, making it easy to determine who is the alpha rooster. We just kept the rooster with the best feathering as the lesser roosters in the pecking order were somewhat “worn”.  ;-D

Another reason for doing the old birds separate from the young birds was that the old birds have to be processed differently. If you just clean them and toss them in the freezer, you end up with the equivalent of a dog’s chew toy. So you have to boil them until the meat is falling off the bones. Then we cut the meat into small pieces and canned them with the meat broth in pint jars. (The 6 birds yielded 14 pints of canned shredded chicken in stock, and about 4 quarts of chicken stock).  The young birds were processed into roasters, bagged and tossed into the freezer.

So now, with Thanksgiving Day looming – we are taking a break this morning and doing some shopping. If we get home in time, we can do the remaining four and we’re done. If we don’t get home in time, we’ll do them tomorrow. It will take us about 4 hours to process all four of them – including lighting the fire under the hot water pot and heating the water for dipping (makes plucking LOTS easier!).

One odd bit that I feel I should mention. The livers of the new birds were not the deep red we expect from them, but a lighter dark tan color. We have fed them what we assume to be GM cracked corn and commercial “layer” feed, and they have been doing some “free ranging” so we are puzzled. Healthy livers should be a deep maroon color. If it’s the GM feed that causes the discoloration, then it’s an indication that there are negative health effects from a diet of GM feed. Since we are not yet in a position to eliminate this stuff from our animal feed that will be a mystery to be solved on another day.

The surviving rooster is penned with his 15 girls and seems happy about it – and the girls seem to be willing for his company also.  😀



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