Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sustainable Chickens

The Family

When Viking Dad and I decided to follow the path of sustainability one of our discussions was about a source of protein to feed our family. Our little farmstead is large enough to support chickens and in the future goats and alpacas but not cows. We made the decision to eat both the eggs and chickens. This decision wasn’t made lightly and was made with great deal of soul searching.

Here is some of ours thoughts and preparations.

  1. What breed of chicken to use for meat and eggs?

Backyard Chicken and City Farms have been two invaluable resources for us regarding supplies and information on raising chickens. The Backyard Chicken website has resources on how to build coops, what breeds to purchase for individual purses and support. City Farms is a local nursery/ city farmstead in San Diego. Bill, the owner, lives on the property which is in the city limits of San Diego. It is proof one can have a sustainable farm inside a city. Plus, Bill is full of useful information and the occasional weird joke.

Other valuable source: Hobby Farms-Chickens and Mother Earth News

Mama Buff brooding on a clutch.

  1. Do we eat the hens and/or the roosters? What age?

We made the decision that we would eat the extra roosters first and then the hens after they are too old to lay. We discovered through Backyard Chicken and talking to other chicken owners that small flocks only need one rooster. Roosters are very territorial and dominate and they can hurt the hens and each other if allowed to stay together. In the magazine, Hobby Farms-Chickens there was a nice article about what to do with hens who are beyond their laying stage. Hens only lay for about two years and in the past they would have become stew. In this article the author mentioned using some of the hens, especially the brooders and successful forgers, as “Wise Grandmothers” of the flock. This is one of those situations where knowing your flock and how many you want to keep is going to determine your reasoning for keeping the flock.

  1. How many chickens do we need to sustain a family of four plus one?

Hens lay, naturally, one egg a day with a day off every four or five days. The big factory farms chemically enhance the hens to increase egg production. How many eggs a family eats determines the number of hens a family needs. We originally started with five and then inherited nine more and discovered that ten eggs a day were more then our family could eat. To keep a long term sustainable routine we needed to grow our own chicks and that needed to be incorporated into the numbers. We found last summer that we had two brooder hens who happily sat on five to six eggs (a clutch) for twenty one days. We expected half to hatch. When a hen sits on her clutch she doesn’t lay any eggs during that twenty one days. At the end of last summer we had successfully hatched seven chicks that have grown to adulthood. Of the seven chicks three have grown to roosters and the rest are hens. These hens now are starting to lay their own eggs. We have also eaten two of the roosters. Yes, you read correctly.

Papa Royalty and his "Children."

  1. How do we educate the children on the purpose of the chickens?

We have been honest with the children about the reason for having the chickens. We have had concerns about how the children would react. Then my Son’s Vegetarian teacher told me this story. She used to come to school and share her pet chicken, Ms. Frizzle. The students, including my Son loved this chicken. One day, we sent our Son to school with chicken nuggets for lunch. He apparently, stood up and waved his chicken nugget in the air and exclaimed, “Look, I am eating Ms. Frizzle.” His teacher thought it was funny but it reassured me that our Son had properly processed the idea of eating the chickens.

I have read many articles on how to educate children about raising chickens and sustainable living. The Viking Kiddos have experienced death with our pets, both from coyotes and Mother Nature. We have explained to them in a holistic manner (cue Circle of Life music) that animals “drop their bodies” and their Spirits go up to heaven with the Angels. In regards to the chickens we explained that the chickens “drop their bodies” so we can sustain ourselves with nourishment.

Resources: Mother Earth News and Hobby Farms-Chickens

  1. Do we have enough brood hens and would we need to incubate any eggs?

In the human world to have a brooder is a bad thing. But, in on a sustainable farm a brooder is a necessary thing. I discovered through the help of Backyard Chicken that it is important to have a brooder hen to have healthy chicks. There is always the incubator to help with hatching eggs, but this last year we discovered it wasn’t necessary since we had two natural brooders. I have also heard horror stories of incubators failing and the poor chicks being cooked.

  1. A rooster?!!

We lucked out and our family was gifted with a handsome rooster. We have joked that he is our “Organic Alarm Clock.” A farm doesn’t need a rooster to get eggs, but to get chicks one is biologically necessary. The Viking Kiddos do understand that the rooster, aka Royalty, is a Papa but we haven’t gone into great detail how he is a Papa.

We also keep bees. So, we do have the birds and the bees covered.

First baby chicks.
  1. How to “Do the Deed.”

Resources: Respectful Chicken Harvest Part 1 and 2 One of the best set of videos on how to “Do the Deed.”

WARNING: There are other videos on Youtube on how to slaughter and process a chicken but we feel they disrespectful and gratuitous.

The Ominvore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen

Wonderful book on getting in touch with your food. The chapter on a Polyface farms is particularly enlightening.

We have been asked this question. Yes, we have eaten two of our roosters. After eating our own home grown meat it is really hard to go back to store bought meat. Providing our meat for the family has been a goal of ours since we started this path towards sustainability.

It was really important to us that our chickens be handled respectfully and gently. The website we found that showed the most humane way of processing a chicken was from the . The permaculture groups are another form of sustainable farming. Plus, the Lady in the video is too sweet.

No, we, meaning Viking Mom, isn’t ready to have the Viking Kiddos watch the Deed. They are aware it is done and do not have any problems eating the roosters. In fact, our Son picked out the one for Viking Dad’s birthday meal

Papa Royalty

  1. Who would complete “The Deed.”

Right now Viking Dad does the Deed. He has processed two roosters. Each time he does the Deed he learns something new. Both roosters have been under a year.

All parts of the rooster have been used. Each rooster has been five to six pounds. What is left is boiled down to stock. Once again, home made stock is amazing and tastes nothing like the store bought.

Out of curiosity, I did some historical research regarding Vikings and chickens. Chickens are not native to the Scandinavian countries. It is believed that the Romans brought chickens to the British Isle and into France and Germany. The Vikings did eat pheasants and other wild game bird. Like bees/honey I am pretty sure the Vikings would have gladly traded for chicken.

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