Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hummingbirds gone and chicken news

The hummingbirds stuck around through the 12th of September this year. It seems that anything past the labour day long weekend is a bonus. The grass is slowing down and the meat birds are looking very edible.

Some other small stock owners have commented that the birds have struggled with some respiratory ailment and some of ours have some raspy breathing too. We didn't have to medicated them, but maybe we should have. More will be told when we see the lungs I suppose.

After all the hundreds if not thousands of gallons of water hauled and the mountain of grain fed, it leaves me a bit tense to think that some of that work may go for naught.

The less domesticated layers are so darned robust and I'm so grateful to have them. I will continue to breed these myself for as long as I can. I often wonder how long we'll be allowed to have chickens. We can only buy meat birds from one producer in Manitoba now and have to travel quite a distance to pick them up at a specified time. It would be sad to have to go back to commercial poultry. For flavour and integrity the supermarket bird follows in a very distant second place next to the omnivorous free ranging foragers we're used to.

I remember my body reacting negatively to the stress of kill day. Now, not so much. They have a great life here from what I can tell. The meat birds are freaks of genetic engineering and can grow so fast that they can die from it. Their legs break, they fall over dead from heat attacks and generally aren't very strong. They're bred to sit in cramped quarters, move as little as possible while they eat and drink themselves into a medicated six week life binge. Six weeks, from what I've heard, lands you a KFC special. I expect it's even less time on those ones. It disturbs my sleep to think too much about it. I've heard that the North American standards for keeping commercial birds is well over on the draconian side.

The layer flock is always so tidy and feminine. The meat birds can't even keep their back ends clean until about this time of year when they are ready, or maybe I'm the one ready for the chopping block. By now, near the end, I've usually gained a genuine affection for the meat birds. This fall they look fabulous and I'm taking great pleasure in them. They've cleaned up some, and there are enough white feathers involved to make attractive lawn ornaments out of the flock.

Here's how I manage the birds for those that might like to take a swing at it.

I feed a mix of what farmers call chop. It's mostly oats, but there is at least ten percent barley in the mix too. I buy 50 kilos of crushed corn and 75 kilos of soybean meal and what comes out of the farmer's mix mill is about 800 kilos of feed in as course a cut as the mix mill will permit. It still comes out a little too fine for chickens, but with the addition of the tasty corn and barley the chickens don't get too fussy.

If they do get fussy and won't eat it well, I've mixed the feed with water just before feeding time and fed it wet and they all really like that action, but it's a messy proposition to dance with twice or three times a day.

For good healthy birds it's really a game of being very observant of your flock. Too little feed and they won't be growing like they should. Too lean a feed will do the same thing. It must be rich enough to help them be thrifty.

Too much feed and there is no end of grief. I use to think I could have feed in front of them continuously like I hear the commercial growers do, but I learned differently. They get really discontent and begin the sad song of cannibalism. Ideally it's a bit like I've heard Zen masters suggest for us. Eating about ten percent less than one needs is a very healthy way to live.

I wish I could live that way. I'm trying to learn, but it's tough slogging.

The feed requirements change as they grow, so it's difficult to give an exact quanity or quality of feed. To get a feel for it, I watch how the heavier birds are walking. When they begin to lope I know I'm feeding about as heavily as I can before some begin to go lame. If I have a lot of fliers I know I'm nowhere near the calorie requirements for good growth. Yesterday was the first day that they didn't clean up the third feeding. There is hope!

I add salt and calcium to the feed too, but it's just a sprinkle on the top of the feed pail. I may try and include that in the mix mill next year to try and simplify feeding time a little more again, but I'll have to do some math before I make that commitment.

The new chicken run has been a boon. Finally there is no pressure on the flower gardens! A good wing clipping hasn't hurt either.

It looks like it's going to be a beautiful and cool day on Saturday for the sacrifice. It's always been a festival of friendship, good cheer and old school fun. I wish Rita and Mum could be here to sit by the fire and knit while they spice the banter. Young kids, old kids, friends and family will pitch in until it's done for another year. With every passing year I grow in my gratitude for our fortune. Thank-you chickens.



  1. Hope you had a great day yesterday!

  2. Thanks eme. The days don't come much better than that. What an great crew. There were a bunch of kids around, of all ages. ;^) The weather was stellar and the work was light.

  3. Making me homesick for the home I don't yet have. Xxx

    1. Every form of refuge has it's price.

      The first properly cold night is blowing our way. The fire is on and the dishes washed. Just the two of us home and the shop beckons. Cinched up tickets for March to head out to the island with Pierrette. The rhythm continues. Be well.