Took a much needed trip away from the farm only to return home and find the little (Baby Huey) chicks had grown so much, we had not choice but to move them out to the chicken run. Still have a heat lamp on the little guys and they are not too sure about the real world… but nothing like being thrown in ready or not. Luckily the weather looks good the next week!
Well… this post got lost somewhere along the line. So here it is, a bit a late but there is no way I am missing this report. I love the fair. There are few things that I look forward to quite like the fair. The bigger the better.
The NC State Fair takes place in October her in Raleigh. Being a livestock geek, you get to see cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, horses, mules, donkeys, chickens, turkeys,guinea fowl, geese, ducks and lots of other specialty animals. There is nothing like it, especially when you have some kind of personal investment (i.e. chickens). You get this nervous feeling in your stomach, winding through the rows of hundred of birds, looking for your babies, and finding them with ribbons!
We decided to enter 10 chickens. And we received 10 ribbons. Damn yes!
Blue Ribbons – FIRST PLACE:
1. Ms. Ancona (Ancona – pullet)
2. Schpreckles (aka Specks) (Speckled Sussex – pullet)
3. Goldie 1 (Gold-laced Wyandottes – pullet)
4. Silver 1 (Silver-laced Wyandotte – pullet)
5. Gobbles 1 (Light Brahma – cockerel)
6. Cornelia (Dorking (like Eric) – pullet)
Red Ribbons – SECOND PLACE:
7. Gobbles 2 (Light Brahma – cockerel)
8. Silver 2 (Silver-laced Wyandotte – pullet)
9. Goldie 2 (Gold-laced Wyandottes – pullet)
10. Big Jen (Light Brahma – pullet)
So cool. Downside, it is like sending your kids to preschool, essentially a huge petri dish of bacterial and viral infections. Our poor Schpreckles came home with Chronic Respiratory Disease. It is ubiquitous in all birds, just some fight it off and some don’t. We are way too compassionate when it comes to our birds. But it seems like when one gets sick or injured it always tends to be one of our favorites. Schpreckles is back to normal and has been reintroduced, but it has really made me take a good long look as to whether or not we will enter any birds that will come back to the farm…
Oh ya, and we get $$$ for our babies getting ribbons. We managed to rake in a net of $98 for our winnings and then we sold both Gobbles for $50. Not bad at all!
Coco Chanel: That is one nappy girl!
Fall update. Since the fair, everyone seems to be doing okay. But it’s time to molt (eject old feathers and replace with pretty new ones). It takes a lot of energy to do this so between that and the decrease in daylight length laying has taken a big hit. We have 23 layers and right now are pulling in about 6 eggs a day. Putting a big dent in the egg sales.
While they are going through their molting, they look pretty rough. We are getting late in the season for molting but Coco Chanel did not get that memo. And for some reason, she has decided to eject most of her feathers. As Eric says she looks like she was a truck. Then that truck back up over her a couple of times and then we buried her in Pet Cemetery, bringing together the quote “Sometimes dead is betta”.
Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written with an update, so thought since I have PLENTY of time on my hands this week that it would be a good chance to do just that. Where to begin?
CHICKENS – specifically Lord Harold
Chickens seem to be the most dynamic thing going on on the farm. We started out with a few chickens from last year. Everything is going well. Well, now it’s going well. You know our first chicken, Lord Harold-Prince of Fancy was our absolute super star. He was our first bird and the most handsome rooster a rooster can be. Talk about colors… strong, large and in charge. He kept our other rooster, Colonel Woodford in line.
One night, we came home and my “chicken senses” told me to check on everybody. It was pouring rain and had been for quite a while. I walked over to the chicken coop and the Colonel was sitting on the outside railing in the rain absolutely covered in blood. This waddles were torn to shreds. Blood all down his front, down his back… I mean he got his ass handed to him. So I’m thinking, “If he looks this bad, what does Harold look like?”. I take the Colonel inside and put him on his usual perch then I turn around to check out Harold – who was not in his usual spot.
Harold was not on his usual perch… OH NOOOO… I scream for Eric to come and bring every light we had. It didn’t take long. We found laying in about a 4″ deep depression full of water, on his back, gasping for air. Lord knows how long he had been there, but since chickens pretty much go to bed at sundown (about 7:30 at the time) he had been there at least 4 hours.
We picked him up to stand him up and he would fall over. This happened several times. We picked him, put him in a towel and got a good look at him. He was wet to the bone, bleeding everywhere – comb and waddle almost unrecognizable, both eyes swollen shut, the top of his bill broken off, blood everywhere and likely had a concussion. My first reaction was to put him down and put him out of his misery. Eric said it looked like two heavy weight fighters went at it and Harold lost. He said if he made it the night and when morning came we’d evaluate him then.
We put him in our chicken ICU and hardly slept a wink. Morning came and miraculously he was still alive. Barely. He was still wet, shivering, eyes swollen shut, still bleeding from some of the major cut and just an all around mess. We thought if he made it through the night, he still had a little fight left in him.
Since he so covered in mud we decided a bubble bath was in order. He was so out of it he didn’t put up a fight even when we used a hair dryer to blow him dry and warm him up. We have a big tub in our bathroom so we decided it triage him there. We wedged him between 2 towels, gave him food and water but he wouldn’t eat or drink. We put antibiotic ointment on his wounds. Tried to pry his eyes open after a few days – not knowing if he even had eyes left.
Every day we tried to get him to have a tiny bit of water. This went on for weeks. We were wondering if we had made the right decision keeping him alive this long. His wounds slowly healed, then to our complete amazement he began to stand. Not a lot, just testing the old legs. He continued to slowly improve. Eventually he took baby steps. He couldn’t walk very well, lost his balance every step and would flop over. But every day or two we could see a little improvement.
It took a while until one morning, about 3 months into rehab, we heard an amazing sound. For the first time in months he crowed! That’s how we knew he was on the mend. Time went on, he got better and we got tired of a rooster crowing at 6:00am every morning. We moved him outside for a month of ‘rehab’ and eventually decided an reintroduction to the flock was in order. Harold was as top notch as he was going to be. We walked him outside, set him down and within 15 seconds, the boys were at it again. That’s we realized one had to go. And it broke our heart, but it had to Harold.
I put an ad on a pasture poultry listserve and within a day or two I got a response. A couple wanted to get into chickens and being that the fellow had gone to University of South Carolina (home to the fighting Gamecocks) he got to thinking what better way to start. The couple was FABULOUS! We hit it off from the start!
They loved him, battle scars and all and got busy on a chicken house. We went out to check the building progression and this thing was nicer than my house! We decided that we would throw in a Rhode Island Red and a Barred Rock hen so Harold wouldn’t get lonely and they could get a few eggs a day.
We went out to visit and their new life is amazing! Their new house. The new birds get to come out and run for a few hours each evening and are happy as could be! To be honest, I got all choked up and teary eyed. They had such a beautiful life with two of the best people you could imagine. We’ve become great friends and get to visit whenever we want. It is truly a fairy ‘tail’ ending.
So we knew a snake was probably getting to our eggs since we’d seen some egg shell pellets (droppings made up of crushed egg shell) around the last few weeks. One problem with free ranging chickens is that some of our hens are not content with the laying boxes we built for them so they find other comfy and “safe” places to lay. Sometimes these places are a little to close to nature. So Lisa decided to make the barn a little less snake friendly and lo and behold we had a resident. A large resident. A 6’+ resident. A black rat snake whose belly was still full of eggs. We’ve seen them around the property but nothing this size. She captured it and we relocated it to a bit wilder place around the corner but not before taking a few photos.
Addendum: “captured it”. I am a bad ass and bad asses don’t play around! I found him, reached down and pulled that _______ out with my bare hands! Yes, my bare hands! After capturing 2 opossum, a raccoon and pulling a 6’+ snake out with my bare hands, I am the self-proclaimed stuff of legends! Just needed to throw that in.
Like we did for the first time back on April 1 (not a funny fool’s prank for the roosters) we again processed some chickens yesterday, Independence Day.
– For the uninitiated “processing” means killing, dressing and causing them to go from live birds to food.
I’d always been a meat eater, and always plan to be, but had always felt a detachment from the original animal I was eating. A detachment that meat producers intentionally put it place I assume. I don’t think guilt is the right word, but there was always the sense that something died so I could eat it and did I deserve to eat it with total detachment from where it came from. While I’ve fished and done a little bird hunting, I started to feel that I should somehow honor that sacrifice by having a hand in it as well as knowing that the sacrifice was as humane as possible as well as the life leading up to it was good and as natural as is possible to do. We’ve tried to do that here. We’ve done our best to let our chickens be chickens.
Except for a select few life on a farm is often brief and does not end well for the male chicken. With no eggs produced, its tendency for very loud noises, randiness, and aggression with other roosters, most cockerels (males under one year of age, cocks after their first birthday) are not useful in the long term on the farm. As a result if they are not disposed of immediately, as in large scale egg-only facilities, they are eaten.
Large commercial chicken operations use Cornish Crosses or Cornish-Rocks which are specially bred (they can’t reproduce by themselves) for fast growth and the huge breast that we’ve been told we’re supposed to love boneless and skinless. They are the standard white chicken many think of when thinking of meat birds. Cornish Crosses fed a high protein diet can be ready to process in 5-7 weeks, usually the low end of that. Egg to 6-8 pound bird in 36 DAYS! At 36 days we were just taking ours off chick starter feed.
Needless to day, that’s not how we work things here on the WOF.
We wanted heritage breed chickens and did a lot of research into what breeds of chickens to use and decided on Dorkings and Brahmas. We selected these for both practical and impractical reasons. First off Brahmas are huge, 10-12 lbs huge. They are also hardy, docile, easy to raise and the hens are good egg producers. They originated in India, so the NC Summer is not going to be a problem for them. Dorkings are English chickens, but possibly of Roman stock, and were once prized for their meat and Winter egg laying ability. Also both breeds are lovely birds.
So we got 4 Dorking chicks (1 hen, 3 roosters) 4 light Brahmas (3 hens, 1 rooster) and due to some mix ups and deaths in a shared order 2 Silverlaced Wyandotte roosters. Originally everyone went into the chicken tractor but eventually the hens were all removed and added to the general, laying/breeding population. Our boys grew and grew, without the names or playtime the laying population receives, and after 134 days were ready to go to the processing tent. While this was probably a week or two late, still a far cry fromt he 36 days of a cornish cross. So we set up and sanitized the counter, sharpened the knives, put fire under the scalding tank and went about our business.
Back in April things didn’t get off to a smooth start with escapes and a general first-time jitters and lack of skill and process, but this time it went very well. We knew what our jobs were and we knew what to expect. I still get the feeling, right before it happens, that we are about to kill a living thing and eat it, but in a way I’m glad I still get it. And though its an up-close-and-personal operation, once we get started it becomes more mechanical. After an initial scare, the rooster does calm down and then it just happens. Once the deed is done it goes pretty easily. I do the scalding and plucking, Lisa does the dressing and then it goes in the ice to await vacuum sealing and freezing. Yesterday 4 went to the freezer 1 went straight to the smoker and 3 hours later we had some of the best bbq chicken I’ve ever had. 4 dressed out at btween 3-3.5lbs, one (a Wyandotte) was only about 2.5. Don’t know when the next batch will be raised, but its probably a regular happening on the farm now.
PS: You may have just done the math and thought “4 in the freezer and 1 to the smoker, I thought there were 6.” Prior to getting the boys out of the tractor, for their long walk home, Lisa gave the Presidential pardon to the Brahma rooster. I guess the docile, friendly traits they’re known for really worked out for him in a big way. So please welcome “Lucky” to the farm as a new permanent resident (assuming Col Woodford is OK with it.)