Tag Archives: Locally Raised Chicken

My Not So Simple Confession

Some Facts:

I am an enthusiastic, all-in, 100% kind of person.

I have not posted on here in a while.

I have been neglecting my garden. On purpose.

I have been having a lot of fun lately, and am okay with both of the above facts.

My story:

Background:

I was in love with the idea of homesteading.  I still am.  But given that I am such an “all-in” kind of person, the second we moved to our mini-homestead, I got to work.  Within weeks of moving in, I had a large garden planned, I had chickens ordered, and my dreams were going BIG.

In fact, I’m staring at a paper where I posted my goals as a homesteader.  One of my goals was to supply 50% of our food needs.  I don’t think I got really close, but most of our meals contained at least one ingredient (and sometimes most of its ingredients) from our land.  While this gave ( and gives) me a great sense of pride and fulfillment, I felt like I was lacking something in my life.

My life was filled with working a full-time, high-stakes, high-stress job, and still is.  And then when I got off of work, I had a constant to-do list.  I had to pull the weeds, I had to plant the seeds, I had to harvest, then I had to be sure to process the harvest so it wouldn’t go to waste.  I always felt behind and I always felt like I was failing. Failing as a homesteader, Failing as a mom, Failing as a wife.

My garden began to feel like I was never done.  Never good enough.  It felt heavy.  It felt like a burden.  But it also felt good to eat from my garden.  My pride was swelling.  My ego was full.  From gardening? From eating off your land?  Yes, it was almost 100% ego driven.

The breaking point(s):

This happened in stages.  I started to feel weighed down.  Even if I wasn’t working on the chickens or working on the garden.  and when I wasn’t doing that, I was feeling guilty.

Stress of Meat Chickens:

We had a fox in the area.  This is a very similar story to the hawk from last year.  The fox would get through our electric fence, God knows how, and attack a chicken.  The fox must not have been big enough to actually pull the chicken, just big enough to hurt them.  So the fox would attack.  I would hear the awful  noise of a chicken in pain in the early morning hours.

This noise is almost indescribable, but it’s clear that the animal is in pain.  This first time this happened was at 5 am.  I had to butcher the chicken.  It was just about time to butcher it anyway.  but I was not prepared.  I was late to work and emotionally exhausted.

I had butchered a chicken before, but it was with the help of my dad, and I was a little more prepared for this. The actual taking of the chickens’ life was peaceful, and I know the chicken was not in pain.  On the other side of the coin, when I had to butcher the chicken that was attacked by the fox, it was clear the chicken was in pain.  It was so sad to hear, and my heart wept.  I cried when I was finished.  The images haunted me throughout the day.

I had no choice but to butcher the chicken.

Then, the fox struck again, but must have been able to drag the chicken off.  This was easier to deal with.

I stopped sleeping well.  I was always on alert for that fox.  Many times, I would hear an odd sound outside, and wake up in the middle of the night to run outside to try and scare a fox away.

To set the stage:  My husband and kid went on a weekend trip away, so  I had planned to butcher chickens.  Not something I was looking forward to, but something that had to be done. If you’re going to raise them, butchering them is part of it.

A week after the last strike, it was a blue  moon.  My husband and child were gone for the weekend, and I was home alone.  It was Saturday, around 2 am, and I was planning on butchering on Saturday, by myself.  I was sad that I would be butchering the next day and I wasn’t sleeping very well. I woke up to that awful sound. I hoped I was wrong.  But when I checked two chickens were injured and one was dead, but still warm to the touch.

My butchering had to start right then and there.  I started with the most injured chicken, did the next most injured.  When they were done, I processed the dead one.  It was sad and exhausting.  When I was done, I had no emotional energy left.  AND I had five more chickens that needed to be butchered.

I waited a week and butchered them.

At that point, I was so emotionally exhausted, I ordered a turkey from Ledamete Farm and named the two we were raising for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We now have two turkey pets: Priscilla and Turkey Lurky.  They entertain us and help provide a richer soundtrack of country living with their gobbling.

Lack of Adventure:

Before we moved to the country, we were rock climbing, and whitewater kayaking. I was running and biking and had a fulfilling yoga practice.  Moving here, I cast those activities off, and focused on homesteading.  While I enjoy(ed) it, I felt so one dimensional.  I felt like I was missing a part of me.

So I made a decision:

Something’s got to give. I can’t have it ALL.  My job, being a good mom, my homestead, my blog, my adventure.  I had to determine what made me me.  What made me tick.  What lit me up, made me feel alive.

What can I talk about all night?

What makes my heart happy?

What am I doing when I feel drunk off life?

And I came to a conclusion.  I have a few loves in my life: I love my family.  They are a source of deep joy.  I love adventure, activity and the outdoors.  I feel whole and like my truest self in that arena.  I love to express myself through written word.  Even if no one EVER reads it.

I have some likes: Gardening, cooking, homesteading.

And I have some needs: My job.

And I have to give something up.  I need to do what makes me happiest.  That way I can be the best mom, wife and person I can be. My best shot at living out my mission statement is to be as genuine as I know how.  And right now, I genuinely need a break from homesteading seriously.

Now what?

I’m going to keep on keeping on.  I’m going to continue to blog it up.  Although my topics may be a bit less focused on homesteading.  I’m going to continue to have my adventures: running, climbing, kayaking.

and I’m going to continue to be my most honest self, leave myself open to coming back to homesteading, and I’m going continue to share my journey with you, if you are so interested.

Thank you for coming along!

Meat Birds – 3 Weeks Old

Time is flying.  Our meat birds are not.

All is still going well, and our routine remains the same with them.  We empty the brooder of all of the dirty pine shavings, replace with new, fill up water and food.  Done.

Except, they have been knocking down their feeder and waterer a lot, so I have ordered a new feeder and waterer off of Amazon so that we can hang it from the ceiling.

I ordered two of these feeders:

This feeder holds 3 pounds of feed, and should last a little longer.  The fact that I can hang it up should prevent and spillage of food.  I ordered one for the brooder inside and one for the Chicken Paddy Wagon outside.

I also ordered one:

I already have one outside, and I only need one inside.  It is only 5 quarts.  This seems to be a complaint for many, but I think having a little less water is good.  That way, you clean it every time you change it.  This should prevent it from getting too yucky.

Also, I’m only raising 10 baby chicks at a time.  If I was raising more, I would want larger food and water containers.

I will let you know my impression of these purchases once I use them for a bit.

Our chicks are feathering out nicely.  Their feathers are coming in on their wings, and now on their tail.

IMG_0516

We also bought 10 “Miscellaneous” chicks.  We got 3 black ones, 3 light colored chicks with stripes and 3 orange-brown ones.  The orange brown chicks are about 2/3 the size of the other chicks.  I have no clue what kind of breeds they are, but they are all clearly different. The size difference is quite obvious in real life, but a little more difficult to capture in a picture.IMG_0515

Raising meat birds is so much fun.  I think this is something we will continue doing in the future.   I’m excited (kind of) about tasting these guys.

3 week old Chicks-progress

The journey continues…

Weekly Video:

 

Meat Chickens – Week Two

Our chickens are two weeks old!!!  Time is flying.

All ten chicks are still in good health.

What’s Changed?

I no longer have to do the daily Pasty Butt check.  But I do shovel out the brooder daily, and put in new pine shavings.

We have also removed the heat lamp, since they no longer need it.  We are in the beginning of Summer, so the weather is warmer.  When removing the heat source, observe the chicks to see if they start huddling together to gather heat, or if they act normally.  The types of chicks and the current weather make a huge difference as to the exact time to remove the heater.  That’s why it is so important to observe.

And finally, we have to do daily cleaning of the brooder.  This means we scoop out most of the (poopy) pine shavings and replace it with fresh pine shavings.  I put the used pine shavings around my blueberry bushes.  They love the acidity of the pine.

The chicks are quickly feathering out, and I think they will be ready to move to the chicken paddy wagon (outside) next week, or the week after.  Again, it’s all about observation.

Progress Pictures:

Here is a the progression of the birds aging:

From Left to Right: 1 Day Old, 1 week old, 2 weeks old

From Left to Right: 1 Day Old, 1 week old, 2 weeks old

Previous Meat Bird Posts:

Weekly Video:

Meat Chickens – One Week Old

Our meat birds are celebrating their one week birthday.  It has been a relatively easy week.

Notice the chicks are starting to feather out.  They start this at the tips of their wings.

Notice the chicks are starting to feather out. They start this at the tips of their wings.

The how-to’s of their first week of life is pretty easy, and not very time consuming.

What is the daily chores for week old chicks?

I check on the boys (as we ordered cockerels, all male) at least once a day, and usually twice a day.

Once a day I pick up each chick to check for Pasty Butt.  Pasty Butt is when the chick’s back end (poo hole?) is clogged with poo.  This can actually kill them.  So as soon as you find it, take a warm, wet rag, sponge or paper towel and gently clean it.

The bummer about this condition is that if your bird gets pasty butt once, they are likely to get it again.  BUT it’s super easy to take care of.

I check to make sure that they have plenty of fresh drinking water and that their food is full.

The chicks eating their feed.

The chicks eating their feed.

Then, I add in some more pine shavings to keep everything clean and smelling fresh.

Why Pine Shavings?

I like pine shaving over other bedding for the brooder because the high acid of the pine neutralizes the smell.  Also, the chicken droppings are high in nitrogen, while wood is high in carbon.  This makes the perfect combo for fertilizing your plants when it’s time to clean out the brooder.  While the  nitrogen in the manure is good for plants, it can be a little too much in the fresh poo and burn the plants.

Be Careful NOT to use:

  • Cedar Shavings – the oils from this will hurt the chicks lungs.  Avoid this throughout the chickens entire life span.
  • Newspapers – the newspapers create a slippery base.  Chicks also have a natural desire to scratch and dig.  Please let your chicken express his chicken-ness, and give him something to dig in.

So far, so good.

It’s been amazing to watch these guys grow.  They have two or three more weeks in the brooder and then we’ll be moving them out to the chicken paddy wagon.

Left: Chick One Day Old Right: Chick One Week Old

Left: Chick One Day Old
Right: Chick One Week Old

Here’s this week’s video:

Our New Adventure – Day 1, Batch 2

As a family, we want to make sure we source our meat from local, humane and sustainable resources.  Sometimes we aren’t successful, but over 95% of the time we are.  We have a great resource for chicken, but we have agrarian dreams and we wanted to raise our own.  Okay, mostly, have agrarian dreams and a very supportive husband.

Our First Batch

So our newest adventure is raising meat birds, particularly chickens.  We started our first batch five weeks ago, and we got our second batch of ten chicks last night.  We start them in our homemade brooder, where they live for three to four weeks.  You can read about this DIY brooder here.

We ordered six cockerels (male chicks) for our first batch.  I also picked up two turkey poults at that time, one male and one female, from a different local farmer.  This first batch of chicken should be ready to be processed (a nice way to say butchered) in about three weeks time.  The turkeys will take about six months and should be ready around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Six chicks and two bronze Turkeys.  Another agrarian adventure begins!

Six chicks and two bronze Turkeys. Another agrarian adventure begins!

 

I’ve read that we should raise the turkeys away from the chickens, and I’ve read it doesn’t matter.  Having the turkeys and chickens together so far seems to working out wonderfully.

Our Second Batch

We ordered 10 chicks for our second batch.  That seems like the ideal amount for the Chicken Paddy Wagon.  The Chicken Paddy Wagon is a 8 foot by 4 foot shelter that we move daily.  This is the Joel Salatin Method.  Everyday, we move this enclosure to a new section of grass.  We do this so:

We got a mixed batch of broilers.  Here they are:

IMG_0426IMG_0428

And a video describing their second day:

Types of Birds

We order “broiler” chickens from a local hatchery.  They are a mix of large bodied heritage breeds that will have a decent amount of meat in a little bit of time.

We did not choose to use the “Cornish Cross” chickens.  Those birds come to full maturity at 6 weeks. If they are not processed by about 8 weeks, they start to die from enlarged hearts, or their legs collapse beneath them from the heavy body weight.  These Cornish Crosses get so large their feathers do not cover their body.  From what I’ve read, these fraken-chickens are not interested in eating bugs or grass.  Essentially, they have lost the “chicken-ness” of being a chicken.  This seems highly unnatural to me.   And a lot of that extra nutrient which pastured poultry is known for comes from the birds eating bugs and grass.

That being said, I think I will experiment and buy a few Cornish Crosses in the future.  I have had a lot of experiments go differently than what I read.  My plants and animals have not read the same resources I have.  So I would like to see the results given our inputs.

Processing the Birds

We have processed birds here before.  We did that last fall when we found that we had 4 roosters, and we ordered all hens.  It’s not a great idea to have that many roosters.  It’s really rough on the hens, and the roosters can fight with each other.  So we had to cull 3 roosters.  (Culling is when you process chickens due to excess roosters or if they have lived past their laying prime.)

Costs

I am also keeping a running tally of the costs associated with raising meat birds.  I saw a whole organic chicken for sale at the grocery store for under $8.00.  I’m pretty sure our birds are going to cost more than that.  However, organic isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Organic is better than conventional, but it stinks compared to pastured.  These organic birds that you can buy at a store just eat organic food.  They probably still live inside of large over crowed chicken houses with little to no ventilation.  The birds are probably not eating any bugs, digging in dirt, or eating any grass or weed seeds.

We are feeding our birds 100% organic feed while they have access to the outdoors during the last half of their life.  We want our chickens to be happy and to live healthy lives.

So join me on our journey with meat birds from day one to our table.

 

Link to the water and feeder for your Brooder:

Baby Chick Feeder Bottom

Water Bottom

Bottle for Food and Water

 

Chicken Share from our Neighbors

For the past three years, my husband and I have purchased a chicken share from an awesome local family farm, Ledamete Grass Farm.  We selected to get a share of five whole chickens once a month over the Summer and into the Fall.  We picked up our first share last Thursday afternoon, and had chicken for dinner on Friday.  It was so yummy after not having any of their chicken for a month (we stocked up to get us through the winter). Even buying them directly from the farmer is more expensive than those “organic chickens” for sale at the grocery store, but I don’t care.  These chickens are worth every penny and then some to me.  Here’s why:

  • The taste is superior.  We have had the “natural” chickens from another local provider.  Please note, the word “natural” means nothing when it comes to your food.  This label can contain GMO’s and other yucky chemicals.  There is so much more flavor to these CSA chickens.  Having them back on our kitchen table after a short hiatus was a celebration for our taste buds.
  • The chicken has more nutrition.  I know it sounds silly, but it is easy to tell the superiority of these chickens on their skin alone.  The chicken’s skin is thicker and has a beautiful yellow hue.  A range of feed, including forage and bugs leave the skin this color.  I have to believe that this equates to a more nutritious meal.  In fact, Joel Salatin, who raises animals on grass, had his chickens tested at a local university for their nutritional density.  The scientists rechecked their equipment to make sure it was functioning properly since the nutrition in these chickens (in vitamins and minerals) was off the charts.
  • The chickens live happy lives.  These chickens are only raised during the warm months when they can eat, scratch and frolic outside like a chicken should.  When fresh chicken is available in mass quantities during freezing months, it is not raised in a sustainable model.  At that point, the chickens do not have grass, bugs and ample ground to scratch and are being raised mostly on grain.  Please be aware, DO NOT buy any chickens or eggs that were feed 100% vegetarian diet.  Chickens are omnivores.  If there is a bug around they will eat it.  If you see this on a package, you know this chicken was never allowed to see the world outside their chicken house.
  • You are voting strongly with your dollar.  I don’t like GMOs in my food.  I don’t like chickens raised in battery cages with no access to the outdoors.  But instead of focusing on all of these evils (and I do believe this is evil), I focus on the positive actions I can take to make sure I am supporting a food system I believe in.  Not only does my money help to make this sustainable and healthy system stronger, it goes to local farmers who reinvest in our area.  This makes our area a healthier, better place to live.  When you buy from the big manufacturers, you are supporting a system that creates stinky, vile landscapes.  When you visit the farm, the landscape is picturesque.  The grass is green and their animals are happy.  It doesn’t smell.  It is a joy to pick up the chickens monthly.  At which point, you can (at our treasured farm), purchase other items a la cart.  You can buy things like homemade soap, pork products, and beef.
  • You get to know the people raising your food.  This has been a real bonus for me.  I am so lucky that I found a farm that not only raises food in a way I can get behind, but also is run by amazing people.  I pull up, and they know me and my husband by name.  We are always greeted with a smile.  They ask about my son, and we chat for bit.  When we pick up our chickens, it feels more like visiting a friend than running an errand.  They even gave me some advice about integrating my newest layers in with my older layers.  The people who dedicate their lives to working the land and raising food sustainably are overwhelmingly awesome people.  (NOTE: I have never met anything but great sustainable-type farmers, but I hate to say every single one is a certain way).
  • It costs more to raise chickens right. My costs for raising my layers are a lot higher than I initially suspected they may be.  A 50 lb bag of food is $15.  If I want organic, to guarantee no GMO’s or yucky pesticides, it is $30.  That’s twice the cost.  (the price is lower on the yuck grain due to agricultural subsidies, which organic farmers are not as privy to.  So you actually are paying a lot for the regular feed by way of tax dollars)

So, yes, I pay more for my chicken in dollars, but I pay far less in the long run.  Because I eat their chicken, I know I am supporting a way of life, a landscape and a livelihood with which I agree.  I love the chicken and so does my family.  Buying our chickens from Ledamete Grass Farm is a good decision for me, my family, and my community.

In the coming weeks, I will outline how I easily cook a full chicken (with VERY little hands on time) and turn it into several meals including a nutrient dense chicken broth.

I wrote the date on the label, so I would know which chickens to pull from the freezer when we are ready to eat them.

I wrote the date on the label, so I would know which chickens to pull from the freezer when we are ready to eat them.