Thursday, June 10, 2010

Free-range chickens

In April 2009, we started raising egg-laying chicks just for fun and for eggs. In May 2010 we began our adventure of raising meat birds on a much bigger level. We currently have birds at 3 different stages.

Stage 3. We have about 40 cornish-cross chickens which will be ready for processing in about 2 weeks. As I type, they are eating weeds and bugs, giving themselves dirt baths, and sun bathing out on pasture. They are getting big! These chickens are the traditional chicken that we all eat. If you eat chicken, chances are likely you have only ever eaten this breed. They are bred to eat and eat and get big for quick growing and processing. Cornish-cross chickens can eat so much that their bodies outgrow their organs and their legs, making them immobile and likely in pain. We ration their food at weeks 2-4 to prevent that from happening. To us, the words chicken and immobile just don't seem to go together! Our chickens are currently free-ranging on pasture, with access to food, water, and shelter for shade and protection.

Stage 2. We have about 300 white plymouth rock chickens and delawares out on pasture also. These chickens eat and grow more slowly, so they will probably be on pasture for 5-6 months (as opposed to 2-3 months for the cornish cross breed). They will likely be a bit smaller. They are quite active and sadly we have lost some in inclement weather when they were unable to find their shelter. Chickens are amazing, entertaining, and don't seem to retain certain pertinent information- such as 'get under shelter when it's raining'. We too are learning as we go, and we are sad whenever we lose an animal.

Stage 1. We have 100 cornish cross chickens and 60 turkeys (3 different breeds) in brooders (heated shelter for chicks until they grow big enough to be outdoors). Having birds at all stages in the process will allow us to sell meat all through the summer up through Thanksgiving (turkey lurkeys).

Danny has worked hard to build the brooders and the shelters, put up the electric fencing to keep the predators out (like this fox that we spotted the other day on the field), and make sure there is enough food and water every day.

And lastly, we are getting some naked neck chickens (aka turkins) as well as red rangers in the near future. We will try to post a schedule of when the meat will be available. Please be patient as I am just learning how to blog and we are busy starting this adventure!

We will continue to share our education with you as we learn more about free-range poultry and meat. We have learned quite a bit thus far at each stage of the process (pictures are coming). We have not named the chickens because we can't get too attached (and how could we remember 500 names) so we (actually I, Shawnee) have resorted to calling them 'chicken licken' and 'turkey lurkey.' I know, quite original. Please let us know if you or any of your friends would be interested in purchasing one or some for your tastebuds to enjoy! It is so fun to watch the chickens running and jumping around having a happy life before they will be humanely slaughtered - can we put those two words together?? At least they were loved and cared for while they were alive. And...we are learning to really appreciate the process of where our food comes from, and be thankful to our animals for our sustenance. TTFN (that's ta ta for now).

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