42 chicks arrived today. Most are "meat" chickens; hybrids developed for use by commercial producers. In artificial conditions they can be pushed to make a big chicken quickly; here they are allowed to range, eat sensibly & live as active a life as a meat chicken can, being the couch potato of the poultry world. All these chickens will be harvested by Christmas and put in our freezer to see us through until this time next year. I can get 3 meals out of each chicken, including the stock for soup. I know - they're really cute now....
There are a few hybrid layer chicks too. They will boost our egg production when they're all grown up. The "egg" layers will live a totally free-range existence and eventually take up with one of the cockerels (or not - ladies choice). They will be unlikely to hatch their own broods: they have been bred not to go broody and therefore are a better bet for year round egg production. One day if all goes well they will simply die of old age.
It's these chickens, the ones who lay for you year in and year out, who form not only the bulk but the personality of the garden flock. Everyone gets a name. And a mother. I fostered the 12 "egg" chicks under 2 broody hens: Barbara the Silkie hen & Grandma Brown, the old matriarch. Both happily accepted their small charges. As these chicks will have to learn to wander and scratch and come home at night to roost, it's good for them to have guidance as they grow up in the finer points of being a chicken. And the moms are happy too. Everyone needs a purpose - even chickens.
But, as Mike often says to me - "Where's there's livestock, there's deadstock". And although I spare a thought for the meat chickens come harvest, their death is expected and needful. It's when I lose an old friend that I feel melancholy.
Charles the gentleman cockerel is old and tired now. He's not been able to fight off this recent insult, most likely a tumor or infection that's reached his brain. He's eating & drinking, but unsteady on his feet. I will help him to go to roost tonight with his wives & daughters, but I won't be surprised if he's died in the night. If he shows any signs of suffering I will "put him out of his misery" though I don't relish the idea.
He's King of the Garden even now in his weakened state. His progeny are numerous. He's walked miles patrolling his borders, seen off cats and upstart puppies, and recently gave me a spur to the hand which resulted in an infection & month's course of antibiotics. This because I had hold of one of his ladies, treating her for scaly leg and she called out in distress. Charles to the rescue.
I was there for his hatching. He was hatched by his adopted mums, a pair of silver appleyard ducks. Although they tried to get him to swim as a youngster, nature overrode nurture and he simply waited patiently at the edge of their makeshift pond. He grew up and took up with my 4 old ex-battery hens who taught him many painful (for him) lessons about being a poultry patriarch. His daughters are the result: Emmeline, Mafynwy, Mrs Black. Now they have children of their own.
So I guess a part of Charles will always be here. But I will still miss him.