forwarding the fowl

IMGP1799My boy is a chicken fanatic. I know I’ve mentioned that many times before but I’m saying it again now: Ira loves chickens. At this point in his chicken-fancying career, he seems most intrigued by the many different (especially rare) breeds of chickens that are available. He likes to place a big chick order from a hatchery each year. Then, once those chicks have matured, he likes to let all of those strange varieties of chickens cross-breed with one another and set the eggs in his incubator or under a broody hen, just to see what the outcome will be. He says he wants to invent a new breed of chicken and I don’t doubt him. Some of the resulting chickens have been quite strange, indeed. Most of the time, I don’t think his cash outlay gets recouped, unless you take into consideration the entertainment/enjoyment factor, which certainly has its own merit. Especially since we don’t go out to movies or buy a bunch of video games to keep the kiddos occupied. Having activities on the homestead that the children are passionate about, and can learn valuable lessons from, is hard to put a price tag on. IMGP1774In our own chicken rearing, Eric and I have always tended to favor old-fashioned heavy breeds of chickens that lay a consistent supply of eggs. Selling eggs at our market has always been a source of cash-flow for us… some years certainly more lucrative than others, depending a lot on the local fox and hawk population. We can proudly say that our style of chicken rearing produces one mighty fine egg. Arguably one of the best eggs you can acquire. Plus, what the chickens do for the pasture, under our rotational grazing system, is incredible (which is another benefit that is hard to put a value on). For the most part, we enjoy keeping chickens and we certainly enjoy gourmet omelets.

But, sometimes, unexpected things happen. LIke a broken leg. Or maybe an unplanned pregnancy. Or a father-in-law enduring cancer treatments. Sometimes all of these things collide and leave a person feeling winded and over the top.

And then sometimes… sometimes we reach a breaking point and something’s got to give. Sometimes, we have to stop beating our heads against the wall and make a change. Don’t we all know that sometimes change is a blessing?

Over the weekend, Eric and I sold our flock of about 100 laying hens to a fellow farmer.(Thankfully, a sweet farming family that were thrilled to find organically produced, pasture-raised, very healthy hens. I know our hens will be well cared for.) We just had to let something go. It was the first big step in lessening our chore load right now. We can always get more chickens, and I’m sure we will again someday. But as it was going, that one more chore might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.IMGP1773Then, there are those moments we suddenly see what was a burden turning into an opportunity. A win-win situation developing from a severe headache. Or… killing two birds with one stone if you would rather. We have a child that currently has eighty-some-odd young chickens of his own. Eighty-some chickens that are getting bigger and bigger and requiring more and more space to range. We always raise our chicks down around our homestead for the ease of caring for them, but as soon as they are big enough, they get moved up on the hill to the pasture where there is more than enough space. Down in the hollow, our space is quite limited and eighty-ish chickens quickly learn that the outdoor kitchen is a great source for all kinds of treats. Like the shiny perfect tomatoes that were intended for our lunch. Or the melons in bins that might have made their way to our freezer for winter smoothies. Or the cat’s food. Have you seen the resulting mess when a whole slew of chickens have a gorge-fest? Have you ever had to clean that resulting mess up out of your kitchen? Gross. Ira’s chickens were driving me so crazy that I’m afraid to admit that I threatened the use of the shotgun as an option in curbing their errant behavior. (You know I’m only kidding, right?) What I wound up doing was having Ira put a net fence around our outdoor kitchen to prevent his chickens from walking freely into that space. Not perfect, but better than the shotgun. Also understand that my patience might be slightly more compromised than usual as I am seven months pregnant, it’s ninety-five degrees each day with no A/C and I can’t get relief from swims in the creek because I have a broken leg and a hot-as-hell cast. IMGP1781With all of this said, our light bulb moment came when we realized that liquidating our flock would not only lessen a chore and put a little cash in our pockets, but would leave our coops vacant and available to a little boy and his fledgling chicken operation. (This also results in no more chickens in my kitchen!!!) So that’s just what we did. Ira immediately moved his flock up to our coops in the pasture and has officially taken over the Bugtussle poultry operation. In exchange for the use of the coops, feeder, fencing, guardian dog, guardian geese, and solar charger he just has to manage his birds according to our standards (with a little help from Papa, I’m sure) and give us some eggs to eat once his chickens start laying. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

Oksi is even excited about her new charges...

Oksi is even excited about her new charges…

 

right now :: chicken guardians

There has been a fox on a mission in the neighborhood as of late. Several neighbors who keep chickens have been suffering losses on a grand scale. While I do understand that all creatures must eat in the overall scheme of things, it’s hard to bear witness to folks losing their precious birds. I understand that feeling of desperation when part of your sustenance and livelihood seems like it is being sucked down the drain. There have been years when we have suffered major losses, too, but this year we feel like we have finally, finally, provided enough protective measures to keep our chickens free from predation. So far (and I dearly hope I’m not jinxing anything here!), the villain at large has left our birds alone…IMG_7634 IMG_7636First of all, we use an electrified net fence (from Premier) around our chickens as our first line of defense. The fence allows us the flexibility to continually move the birds through the pasture, following our ruminant livestock and acting as pasture sanitizers. The continuous movement of the chickens also serves to thwart the predators as they can never get fully accustomed to the poultry always being in the same place.

As you all have seen from many of my posts over the past few months, we also introduced four Brown African goslings into the chicken scene this year. Well, they seem like they are mostly grown now and their alarm-honks are verging on obnoxious. They run through the paddock with wings outstretched… a very intimidating sight to see. Their purpose is mostly to ward of daytime predation from hawks, as a fox could certainly pick off a goose to feed her pups (and sly foxes are also known to lurk about in the middle of the day). But their noise (oh, the noise, noise, noise, NOISE.. as the Grinch would say) helps call in the dog if she is off sleeping in the shade. IMG_7656 IMG_7660Our dog, Oksi, has been on the scene for several years now and she is awesome. Once guardian dogs grow out of their mischievous puppy stage, they are well worth the time spent training. I don’t really think we even realize just how valuable she actually is. And she is so tolerant and passive that she actually allows the geese to preen her! What a hoot that is to see!!IMG_7663 IMG_7669 IMG_7670And finally, the most important factor in keeping the chickens safe is a caring and devoted farmer-guardian who has the wits to outsmart even the slyest of foxes!

right now :: flock flock goose

IMG_7257A few days ago, the young flock of pullets and their guardian geese were integrated into the adult flock of laying hens. They had outgrown their chicken tractor/brooder and were ready for more space. And I was ready for two separate chores to become one. So with a little fence manipulation and chicken herding, (and maybe some sweat and curse words) the task was complete. We are still keeping the pullets in their own paddock within the bigger hen paddock, as the two flocks are still eating different feed rations, and so the big hens don’t take to bullying the young birds. But all’s well so far and I’m sighing a big sigh of relief as chore-time gets more refined…IMG_7263 IMG_7264 IMG_7265 IMG_7270