WARNING: this post refers to the killing and eating of animals.
I’m hatching a plan for a regenerative chicken flock (chicken pun!). Twice a day when I put Ollie to sleep, I’m on my phone scouring chicken forums and permaculture texts* for info and advice.
We want eggs and meat and birds that will hatch and raise their own young. We want heat tolerance, winter laying, and friendly disposition. It’s a tall order, but from what I can tell, Buff Orphington fits the bill. Buffs have been part of our flock since the beginning and we’ve found them to be docile, most likely to go broody, good layers, and beautiful to boot. They aren’t very meaty compared to the jumbo cornish meat birds we are used to, but one bird will provide a nice meal for our family of three with a little left over.
The idea is we’ll get about 50 “straight run” (male & female) day-old chicks and start harvesting the roosters at 12 weeks. We’ll process one or two a week (putting some in the freezer) until they are about 20 weeks, at which point we may decide to process all but one to prevent fighting and optimize meat texture. Then we’ll have a bunch of hens and one rooster. Hopefully a couple hens will go broody and hatch us some chicks. Once the chicks are growing we can harvest a few of the first generation hens to make room for the new birds. I don’t know if we can hatch 50 chicks a year, but if we can get close, then I won’t need to buy chicken or eggs ever again.
*I just finished Peter Bain’s Permaculture Handbook, it was excellent. I just started Mark Shepherd’s restoration agriculture, it’s revolutionary.
2009 was, for many reasons, not a very good year for our garden. our challenges included a lack of time devoted to gardening (death of a loved one, starting a new job, and starting school were factors), depleted soil, a non-native squirrel population explosion, a broken watering system… not to mention the usual extreme heat and dryness, wind, and pests. ugh. despite all that, we did harvest a few peppers and plenty of arugula. a few peppers and some arugula is not why we garden though, so damian and i have made a strong intention to go big this year. damian spent a week digging and amending the soil with goat manure (when i say he spent a week digging, i mean he spent a week digging. dawn till dusk, that’s how he does things). he got rid of all the old dead stuff that was depressing us when we looked out the window, he completely revamped the watering system with drip lines (we were using the thin gauge soaker hose, but the high mineral content of our water clogged them all up.) then he lowered the re-bar hoops and installed bird netting over the beds. the bird netting is practically invisible and we are hoping it will prevent birds, lizards and squirrels from eating everything. the fence around the whole garden protects just from rabbits, rats, and most ground squirrels.
i made the garden plan, researched varieties, ordered seeds and got busy planting. it’s still early, so outside i restrained myself from planting more than chard and beets. inside i started our pepper plants. soon i’ll start eggplant & tomato inside and plant lettuce and potatoes outisde. when it warms up a bit more we’ll plant the carrots, cucumbers and radishes. and then just before it gets really warm in may, we’ll plant EVERYTHING corn, melons, okra, squash, and transplant the eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers.
here’s a little video of the waiting garden. you may notice it’s raining! i couldn’t resist filming our silly rooster standing there getting soaked. you may also note that you can barely see the bird netting.
we came home from a whirlwind trip to vancouver yesterday. vancouver in the summer is a glorious place indeed. the purpose of this trip was to help with and attend my oma’s memorial service, and help organize all the stuff that belonged to oma. we managed to squeeze in a few dinners with old friends and a couple sunsets viewed from the beach. i didn’t get to see enough of my cute niece or my beautiful sister-in-law, but we did get to eat greek food with my dad, play in the kiddie pool with my niece, eat my brother’s amazing home-cured bacon and try some of his home-brewed pale-ale. i was also able to get a bunch of work done thanks to my portable office, and had some time to reconnect with damian while we waited for a bus or walked to oma’s house. there’s plenty more i could share about this trip, but this post is actually about what happened to our car while we were gone.
i think i’ve mentioned the fact that our property has been invaded by squirrels this year. big, fat, smart, gray squirrels. they scale the fence to the garden and ravage everything. they scale the fence to the chicken yard and eat our chickens expensive organic feed. it’s terrible.
luckily, my fabulous father-in-law has come to our rescue. steve has shot 2 and trapped 4 of the little jerks so far. these guys aren’t native so i don’t want any of you animal lovers shedding any tears on their behalf.
one squirrel made it’s home under the hood of our car. it wasn’t doing much damage until a neighbors dog came and tried to catch it. in process of trying to catch the squirrel, the dog tore off our front license plate, detached the side of the bumper, riped out the wires and bulb to a turn-signal, and bit holes in both front tires, flattening them. honestly! this may be why i don’t own a gun. i know dogs like to chase squirrels, but destroying the front end of my car is just not cool.
some of my chickens have little bald patches on their backs. i thought maybe the rooster was picking favorites, but my friends who have no rooster said the same thing is happening to their chickens. i did a bit of research and it looks like my chickens don’t have enough to do in their fenced in yard. they get bored and peck at each other. i don’t like this as all – i want my chickens to be the happiest of chickens.
i decided to let them out of their pen in the evening when i’m home. when it gets dark they’ll go back to their coop and i can lock them up again. yesterday afternoon i dramatically opened the gate wide and announced that they were free to roam the garden. they looked at me for a bit, and then went back to huddle in the shade. they like to do that, silly chickens, they huddle to keep cool…
all afternoon they stayed on the familiar part of the open gate, not venturing even a toe into the land of plenty. when i tried coaxing them with greens, a few came out long enough to eat, and then hurried back to safety. damian decided they are “too chicken”(hardy har) but i’m not giving up.
we have two broody chickens. a broody chicken is one that only wants to sit on her eggs. she’ll even settle for sitting on a nest with no eggs. she won’t eat, drink, or poop unless physically moved outside which is not really sustainable. advice varies on what to do about broody chickens. i’ve tried a few things, including dunking her head in water, with no luck. so until i work up the nerve for some bolder treatments i’m just tossing them outside a couple times a day and gathering the eggs as much as possible. here’s a little video of how one bird takes my hint. the reason for the stick is that this little buff orphington bites hard! she bit my thumb and it got infected and i couldn’t type with it for a couple days. when i do get her outside she makes such a racket and keeps carrying on even while she gets herself a long-overdue drink of water and some food. chickens aren’t like people, they can squawk even with their mouths full. my other broody hen doesn’t bite, which i appreciate. all my other chickens are very happy with the spring time and are laying eggs like crazy. my rooster seems to be feeling extra frisky and is causing some of my girls to get little bald spots where he’s been having his way with them! you’d think with 16 hens to attend to nobody would get too much action. maybe he has favorites?
yesterday morning as the sun was still a red-orange smudge at the bottom of the sky, i was dreaming about an opera singer. actually, i was dreaming i was having a conversation with someone and was rudely interrupted by a very un-talented opera singer doing her vocal exercises. the singing was so bad that i began to wake up. as i was waking, i heard the sound again. a sort of bleating-croaking-shrieking sound that lasted for a second or two, then faded into early morning silence. what was making it? was our neighbor screaming? i heard it again, no, not the neighbor, it didn’t sound human. is gilmore the cat in some kind of perril? maybe, but it didn’t sound cat-like either. is somebody killing a goat? that seemed plausible given the nature of the noise… suddenly i bolted upright in bed. the chickens! are they being massacred again?! in my half asleep state i decided either the chickens or gilmore were in some kind of dier trouble. i jumped out of bed and ran out the door looking for the bobcat or dog or whatever was harming my animals. i ran to the chicken coop and there i saw the creature responsible for this horrific noise.
our rooster is learning how to crow.
i laughed at myself for a few minutes and then went back to bed.
my babies are 6 weeks old tomorrow. which means that anytime within the next five weeks is the perfect time to ‘harvest’ my jumbo cornish cross birds.
i’m not sure how i feel about this… it’s not that they are too cute or cuddly or sweet. they aren’t. it’s just that they are alive now, and i’m the one who will decide the moment at which they stop being alive. i’ve never done that before.
part of me wants to slaughter one today and have him for dinner, but we still have two of our prematurly deceased chickens in the freezer so i guess we better eat those first. maybe i’ll cook those up and add some shredded meat to my black bean & corn salad. that’d taste good. maybe fresh chicken barbeque on tuesday…
wish me luck!
song is “best game” -damian lester, abandon ship
i was showing darlene how to embed video onto her blog, and needed an example so i thought i may as well post this video of our new chickens. it’s a lot like the video of our old chickens when they first arrived, but i like to think our new chicks are cuter than the old ones were. this video shows me teaching them the joys of drinking water.