Saturday, August 6, 2011

Life with Chickens: Part 2

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Last week I picked up some young chicks. In Trenary, Michigan. Eighty of them. At the feedmill. That's where they hang out. Now I'm not saying Trenary chicks are easy to pick up, but if a guy like me can do it, well, then I'm guessing you can too. It helps if you have a cute toddler like J.

Known fact: Chicks dig toddlers; toddler dig chicks.

Okay enough silly stuff. For the third year we're raising a bunch of Cornish X (stands for "cross") broiler chickens. Also called "meat" chickens, as that's what they're raised for, not eggs. Obtaining eggs would be hard, since these chicks are dudes.

Dudes that grow really big breasts and shapely thighs. Fast. Like 400 pounds of frozen chicken in 8 weeks fast.

In 8 short weeks these little peepy cute fluff balls turn into enormous, voracious, look-at-me-funny-and-I-will-eat-you-too metabolism machines. This is the same breed of bird cranked out of factories for the likes of Tyson and the Colonel.

But we do it different. Same bird, WAY different process. We raise them in mobile coops on pasture. They spend about three weeks in the brooder in the garage where we can keep them safe and warm until their feathers come out (the awkward teenage years; even the word "awkward" looks awkward). Then they move out onto our hayfield into the coops. Coops are moved once, sometimes twice a day so the birds can get fresh grass and get away from their poo.

A couple things happen when you raise birds this way. They fertilize your hay field with an INCREDIBLE amount of manure. They eat a bit less feed (which is mainly GMO corn and soybean unless you go for the organic stuff which we can't really get up here). They eat less feed because they are eating pasture and the critters that lurk on pasture, like hoppers, beetles, frogs, mice and snakes. Yes, frogs, mice and snakes--I've seen it. Nothing left but a red smear in the grass.

They also get exercise to keep their legs and lungs in good shape (broken legs are a common problem in birds that grow this fast). And the best part is they supposedly are better for you since they are partially grass fed, so have higher good fats, lower bad fats, etc. You can look that stuff up and get a better explanation than I can give here.

Or just crack a grass fed hen's egg next to a store bought egg. One is the sun (grass fed) the other is the moon (sad store egg). Try it if you haven't already. The taste difference is there too.

Oh, if you're wondering what in the heck we do with 80 chickens for a family of three (soon to be 4). The answer is that we only keep about 30 for ourselves, and that lasts us the year. Friends come out for one day in September to help process and package the mature birds and we sell the birds to them at cost for helping with the harvest. A good time is had by all (humans anyway). We call it Slaughter Fest. It's not so bad. Really.

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