10 for 10

This year I bought ten baby chicks and all ten have made it through week 3.   This has never happened to me before.     The chicks are now in various stages of feathering out.   It is way to early to tell, but I am beginning to bet I have a Silver Lace Wyandotte rooster.    Statistically in ten there should be two roosters.   I have consistently beat the odds in prior years so if I am really unlucky this year I will end up with more than my fair share this year.

Today I put an empty stock tank in our little shed with the hopes of moving the chicks out to it next week.   It is the high country in Montana and next week is still going to be in the teens and 20’s.  One night they are even predicting snow.   So that move outside may have to be postponed, even if I do hang two heat lamps to keep them warm.

A Chicken in Every Yard

Apologies to Herbert Hoover who said  “A Chicken in Every Pot.”  There is a big push to know where your food comes from; grow it or know your farmer.   I believe much of  this has to do with concern about our food processing system in this country.   This latest pink slime issue drives home the problem once more.

With this has come the revival of small flocks of  chicken a.k.a. backyard flocks.  There are lots of concern about folks not knowing what they are getting into with back yard flocks.    Chick days are being heralded all over the country right now.   First timers are flocking to buy chicks for eggs. Little thought is given to what happens if you end up with a rooster,what you will do when your birds get old or decide you no longer wish to have a flock.   More shelters are seeing chickens turned in, and folks wanting promises that their birds will not be killed.

I recently came across the great class being given at a place selling baby chicks.   I thought the agenda was awesome in that it covered everything and even folks who would not consider butchering, would at least be exposed to the idea.    I wished I lived closer  because even though I have been at this awhile,  I am sure I would learn something from this class.   Not only that, the idea that I could rental slaughter equipment at the local hardware or farm supply if done here would make my day.

Spring in Montana

Springtime in Montana can be warm one day and snowy the next. We had unseasonably warm weather last week and now we in a single day we had of the most snow we have had all season.  My husband and I went out and built a snow man.   Once we got him done and my husband decided that Mr. Snowman would make a great golf partner.

Good Dog

Dogs and chickens don’t always mix.   Fortunately for me my dog is indifferent to chickens.   He can go out  in the yard with my free ranging chickens and is totally disinterested.  I have many pictures of him surrounded the flock of hens.

This is Harley’s second year with us and his second spring with baby chicks.   He is always such a good boy with them.  He will spend hours sitting outside the chick’s brooder, watching them darting from one end to the other, and then falling asleep.     I don’t doubt for a minute that if one got loose it would be a tasty morsel he will swallow whole.  In spite of that possibility I continue to allow him to come with me when I check on the chicks.   I hope that this will reinforce his indifference to chickens and hence baby chicks.   I am also hoping that this will make for a successful integration of these chicks not only in to the existing flock, but with our dog when they all run free in the yard.

Ten!

The debate is over.   Today I got ten chicks.   We were out of town and the farm store had enough of what I was thinking of getting to make up a clutch for this year.  It wasn’t the perfect  flock, but it will do.  Gas here is $3.39 a gallon and the idea of a 2nd trip, both in time and money just seemed silly to not buy today if I could make do.

I paid for them upon arrival in the big city, that allowed them to hold them for me, while did my shopping.  I went back and picked them up just as we left town.   I committed one of the sins of baby chicks, I did not have everything all set up for them before I bought them.   That first week is the most critical to their survival and the set up you have can make such a difference.

But this is not my first time through this so I got out my hose, turned on the water and rinsed down the necessary supplies for my new babies when I got home.   With in a half hour we had them set up and in the  brooder.   Several hours have passed and they look to be settling in well.

For those of you who are in to chicks, we got the following:

  • Australorp
  • Dominque
  • 2 Silver laced Wyandotte, my star breed from last year
  • 2 buff Brahmas
  • 2 dark Brahmas
  • 2 speckled Sussex.

Decision Made

This week I did my homework on all the local farm store’s  chick days.  I spent time calling stores and quizzing their chick person on what was coming and when.   I was surely not the only person calling this week because I hardly got the word chick out of my mouth and they knew who I was looking for.  I am sure these calls were being placed from California to New York to any place known for having those magical “Chick Day.”

Most of the folks were patient and very helpful with what I am sure was their 100th plus call with the same questions; What are you getting and what day are they coming?    I did not need them to run through the list of everything coming in, I just wanted to know what heavy dual purpose birds they were getting and the planned arrival dates.   Most of them knew then exactly what I was looking for and the call was short and sweet.    One location, the chicken man  talked about a couple breeds saying how well they dressed out for him last year. One location asked me what a dual purpose bird was, it made me smile wondering if she thought it meant they dueled like chicken fighting.    He should have spent a little time reading up if he was going to be in charge of birds for the store.   Lord knows what advise he will give to beginners.

All the time I spent finding phone numbers of farm stores on the internet, and then placing phone calls, drove home to me that the farm supply stores don’t really get the value of leveraging the net. I know that ordering chickens is a little unpredictable, but I honestly don’t know why farm stores don’t post a list for the store of the planned delivery/order schedule of chicks.   They can add a disclaimer at the bottom that the actual in store chicks are subject to change due to hatchery availability and shipping schedules.     It would save tons of their employee’s time.    They make changes to their website to announce chick days, so adding the schedule would be no big deal for their website manager.

My decision is that my chicks will becoming from either Bozeman or Helena.  I will be at the store early to get chicks, and will make the best with what they have that week.   I won’t have the prettiest group of hens that my neighbors and friends have come to expect.   But as always they will  lay well and tolerate Montana winters just fine.  In the end I will have some nice egg layers and a few birds in the freezer.

Six, ten, twelve?

Right now as I ponder this spring’s chick selection I am also debating how many to get.    I know that six is the best number to over winter, no questions on that number.   So the debate is how many do I want for the freezer?  How many do I want to butcher?  What chicken breeds do I want to work with?    The answers are still rolling around in my head, but they are all over the spectrum and the decision is not clear yet, but I need to have a single answer soon.

I would definitely like some chicken for the freezer.   Using my Mom’s old rule of thumb when we put up veggies from the garden, a chicken a week would be nice.   Reality sets in and there are just two of us with a half a steer and half a lamb already in our little freezer.  So I guess I will take what I can get, but the number in my freezer is not a big deal.

I really hate butchering.  It always sucks for me because I hate it for that moment when  I kill them.   After that deed is done, I really don’t mind the rest of preparing them for the freezer because I don’t pluck them.   None of the scalding.   None of the feathers. I have a system down where we strip the skin off and clean them out that is pretty quick.  It also works well when you only butcher one or two at a time because all you need is a method to kill the bird and a boning knife.    Occasionally I wish for a roaster, but the thought of plucking them stops me in my tracks. We do run into a problem if we do too many at a time, because we have a small refrigerator.   Chickens like beef need to be aged a few days before you cut them up and put them in the freezer.

The breed choice is somewhat hard for me.   If I get the breed considered the best meatie, Cornish Rock X, the bird will be in the freezer in 6 weeks.  It is the result of selective breeding to have big breasts and grow fast.  Sounds like an easy choice, but the CRX is plagued with health problems, legs that can not support its weight and high mortality due to congestive heart failure, because its heart can’t keep up with its size. Another issue for me is that the CRX has lost its native chicken survival skills.   They don’t forage; they are the couch potato of chickens.  They eat and poop over and over, and the idea of moving to even so they don’t sit in their own waste is too much effort. So what is the point of eating chicken to be healthy if they aren’t.    As I write all this down I come to realize that decision is really already made for me, I am going with old-fashioned dual purpose birds.  These birds that Grandma used to keep.  My chickens can lay eggs for breakfast and be dinner at night.  The downside of the dual-purpose birds are: they are not as meatie, the muscle tissue is firmer because the chicks have had exercise, and most significant they grow slower, much slower than CRX. The upside is that I can save what I think are the best egg layers for the winter and the following spring.

This review has cleared up lots for me I am thinking ten dual purpose birds will work well for me.    Of course 12 would make one a month.    I guess the day I get chicks will be when I determine the final number.