Monday, 21 June 2010

Spring Harvest

We harvested half of the meat chickens yesterday. They just couldn't go on any longer. Their bulk - i.e. all the tasty bits - were too much pressure on their joints and internal organs. The biggest ones had to go. I would have harvested them all if Paul had room in his chiller, and time to pluck them. I may end up doing the last 6 by hand over the next week.

We're still here, it wasn't our turn yet..

I never thought I would believe that a chicken was better off in an indoor rearing unit than as a free range bird, but this breed is. When I collected the chicks, I visited the unit. It was a high-tech chicken palace. I've had apartments in college that weren't as nice.

The temperature and humidity are regulated by computer and it was pleasant, not too hot or stuffy. There are skylights to let natural light filter in. Food and water is ad lib, measured out by computer so drinkers never ran dry, and bigger birds didn't push smaller ones off the feed. The shavings on the floor were spotlessly clean and dry. The chicks weren't cramped, and as they grew half were taken away to double the floorspace and accommodate the remaining birds. In fact it was the perfect environment for a lazy, quiet, fast-growing chicken with no desire to range about exploring.

Forcing a healthy outdoor lifestyle on this bird was a mistake. One had a heart attack. Most of the others we killed had corns, or bumble foot, from carrying its own weight. One had feathers missing from the back of its neck where it looks like a buzzard attempted to harvest it first, but was defeated by the size of its potential meal. The meat chicken was too big to have taken any evasive manoeuvres, if it even noticed it was being attacked.

They didn't show any curiosity in kitchen scraps, so they only ate pellets which is less efficient economically speaking. When I drove them back into their hen house at night, they needed a rest stop to complete the whole 5 foot trip.

Even if the end result is exceptionally tasty, I think we're putting this breed in the 'no' pile as a future table bird for Milkweed Farm.

I put 20 buff orpington eggs (and some hybrids) in the incubator as our next test case, but the fertility has been poor - only 25%. We used our neighbor's stock and he has a new cockerel. We will see if we can figure out what's gone wrong and try to set another batch.

The wild birds in the hedgerows are having a bumper year of chicks. I have to re-home a fledgling on a near daily basis that's fallen out of its nest onto the road. Usually it's easy to find the nest and tuck the chick back in to it. I found a swallow fledgling on its back in the road, exhausted from whatever endeavours a swallow gets up to. I put it in an empty hen house overnight and it recovered enough to take flight when put back in a tree. Success!

We also have a few new additions - quail. They were a gift from a local breeder. I just keep them for quail's eggs and for the sweet chirruping noises they make.

All mothers are out with their chicks now. Susan has already started laying again even with a chick still dependent on her -

The dogs can have them for tea. The pheasants have stopped laying so the dogs are back on chicken eggs.

Gertie has done a stellar job with her mixed brood -

The morning I let her out to range with her chicks for the first time, Gertie stood at the entrance of the house clucking and pruupping to her chicks. It sounded like a lecture - "Stay close, don't go running off, if I call you I expect you to come right back. Don't sass me, don't fight with your sister, and stay away from the dogs.". Kids and moms are the same regardless of species. The chicks are behaving impeccably, to her credit.

So that's the start of the spring harvest. I'm just off to meet with the contractor who's cutting our first batch of hay from Milkweed Farm. Our first hay harvest, to feed our own animals. I'm really excited about it.


Paula said...

Good to know about the meat breeds. I don't think the nice environment you describe is the norm, though.

My mother wants me to try New Hamphires when I get around to chickens because they are a good dual purpose breed, but that's also the breed my grandfather used for his chicken/egg farm, which I think was in the San Joaquin valley. I've read Orpingtons are also good dual purpose birds, so I'll look forward to hearing how they do as well.

Jenny said...

Our Light Suusex went broody last year, so we ordered some hatching eggs from meat chickens and I don't think we're ever going to go down that route again.

All they wanted was to eat and they weren't pleasant companions, either, not at all like the laid back girls we have! We didn't seem to make any relationship with them and it wasn't for trying.

They tasted good but I thought they weren't really worth the effort we put in. If any of the girls goes broody, I think we'll just get some more eggs and rear them all, cocks and girls, and then eat the cockerels.

You mention your quail. I bought some quail eggs today, as I wanted to see what they taste like. I have been thinking of perhaps diversifying from teaching and starting up a very small unit. BTW, diversifying is another word for retiring, which I ought to do as I'm 65, but I still need to earn!!!!

I'm still having the shivers about your little Barbu D'Uccle, the poor little thing! Have you managed to get any eggs/birds yet? My first port of call is this:

There's lots of people out there with them, I think.

I hope this helps!

Jennifer Montero said...

Paula - We seem to lack the US dual purpose breeds here like the New Hampshires, and the Plymouth Rocks. Light Sussex and Orpingtons are the most common and they're usually kept predominantly for eggs. If I can get some orpingtons to hatch I'll let you know! I keep reading that they taste of buttered popcorn - intriguing.

Jennifer Montero said...

Jenny - I suppose if you're going to eat a bird you could view it as a plus that they're not very good companions, but it sort of sullies the experience, don't you think? Different than watching your sussex scratch around and generally interact with the world. I didn't feel "right" about the meat birds, at least in our system.

Quail eggs fetch a premium price here. There are large table quail which people eat too. I've never tried those. Quail are personable little souls.

Thank you so much for the link. Sadly Bob didn't make it, even with my attempts to syringe meds into him and clean his wounds. Fingers crossed I can find another pair. They're great broodies and so pretty.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Disenchantment with meat birds is running rampant. I've read several people yesterday who have raised them and decided not to do it again. Although you're certainly right that, if you're going to raise an animal to kill in just a few months, you don't want a close friend, there's something uncomfortable about seeing chickens with the chickenness bred out of them.

As for Orpingtons tasting like buttered popcorn, I'm holding that over the heads of Queenie and Blondie, who are both showing signs of going broody again. Try it, I tell them, and I'm going to test the popcorn theory.

Jennifer Montero said...

Tamar - Maybe there's a market for Jiffy pop Chicken??