Montana breaks the state up into regions. If you are coming here as a tourist there is a booklet for each of the regions, highlighting the history, things to do, places to stay and whole bunches more. I live in the southwest region of the state often called the Gold West region because this is where it all started after Lewis & Clark. There was gold found in the region and it was to be during those early times, people came in search of quick riches. Last week I was in what we call the Golden Triangle. Not because of the gold that you find in southwest Montana, but because of the golden wheat fields that you find in that region. It is a pretty spectacular place to visit at this time of the year, because the wheat is curing and it is gold as far as you can see. The sky was cloudy or full of smoke from the fire in Glacier park so it was hard to capture what I was seeing but here is my best shot looking at what I had to pick from.
I just read a news article “Backyard chickens dumped at shelters when hipsters can’t cope, critics say” Why does this surprise anyone? Have you visited a dog/cat shelter lately? I am always amazed at how many adult animals are surrendered in and the reasons they are turned in.
I have blogged before about when you take on chickens you need to be prepared for the full cycle of life. I also have talked in this blog about when I have culled/butchered chickens and how it is a sucky part of owning a small flock. I haven’t done it to gross folks out or offend them, though some of the private offline emails have received indicated that I am a whole lot of nasty things because of some of the posts. I do it because I want to share with folks that there is a cycle of life to the food we eat and the animals that we own. When you fantasize about the farm life and how wonderful it would be to grow your own things and then harvest them, don’t forget just like your life agriculture isn’t all rosy. If farming or ranching was easy we would still have millions of families still in agriculture. Instead the number of people who grow the food we eat is smaller than ever. More and more of our citizens are so far removed from where their food comes from they can imagine how it all happens even if their logical mind tells the.
I am an advocate for folks growing some of their own food. I think it is important for folks to understand how hard it is to bring food to the table. But I hope you start small and think about what you will do if it is only a phase. Assume it is, it might be one season or a ten year phase, but odds are it will come to an end eventually. If you start with a small garden a little sod can put your life back the way it was. If you choose to have animals it is much more complicated to get started, but also much more complex to stop. With animals you need to be prepared to respectfully end it which in many cases involve butchering.
Remember if you want to be more self-sufficient you can’t be self-sufficient if you only do the easy things and leave the hard decisions for someone else to make.
Last night when we went out to close up the chickens in the shed we had an unpleasant surprise. We lost a meatie chicken. We had two females left, and now we are down to one. We had planned to butcher her on Saturday, but it seems we had missed the deadline of life.
At this point after trying five Freedom Rangers I would have to say it was an experiment that gave me results I won’t need to verify a second time. I no longer wonder if it would be worth it to do meat birds instead of heavy dual-purpose egg layers. At 6,000 feet it isn’t worth it.
The roosters matured very quickly and became territorial worse than any other rooster we have ever had. We butchered them early for safety’s sake. They were smaller than we had planned or expected based on the internet. The females initially grew quickly and then plateaued. They reached what we wanted for finishing weigh much slower. At 15 weeks one of the females was found dead in the coop one evening. We have to assume that it is from heart failure. Heart failure is common in Cornish Rock Cross, so much so that they are not recommended for altitudes at 5,000 and above. Freedom Rangers are supposed to be less prone to this, but I suspect that 6,000 feet puts even the heartier Freedom Ranger at risk.
Meaties were suppose to be a quick easy way to put some meat in the freezer but it didn’t work out that way. I have not butchered the last female meatie. I plan to do that this weekend. We will weigh her once we have dressed her. I am sure she will weigh in heavier than our heavy dual-purpose birds when we butcher them. But based on what has happened so far the little extra in weight doesn’t justify all that went into raising these meaties. I plan to stick to what has worked for me so far heritage heavy dual-purpose layers. Those same birds the could make breakfast for Grandma and then be Sunday dinner.
It is one of the many dangers of letting chickens have free range, especially in the country. We try to minimize the danger by keeping them confine in the early morning and late afternoon hours. We have a family of foxes who live on our property and a pack of coyotes who love to sing in the country behind us. They like easy pickings and we try to avoid making our hens such by keeping them confine during the “standard” hunting hours.
Fortunately the days are getting longer in Montana. The sun is rising earlier and earlier in Montana. It is clearly daylight here at 6 in the morning now. We love it. Just because it gets lighter earlier does not mean that Mr. Hunter’s hours are shorter, no it just means that he gets to do some daylight hour hunting. The mistake was made opening the fence to the chicken run too early yesterday. It was opened based on daylight not the hour of the day. We lost a good laying hen. Hard lesson learned for all of us, look at your watch before you open the chicken gate.