Monday, March 4, 2013

Poultry report

(Soundtrack for today's post--you can think of it as ein Montag Musikalische Opfer)

I was in the Co-op last week, and I saw that they’ve got their chicks in.  Little baby chickens are the chick magnet—the galvanized bathtubs full of peeps were surrounded by little girls (and their parents) oohing and cooing.  Which reminds me, it’s time for a bit of an update on the chickens.  They are not the glamour animals of our farm, but they work hard and they are the only ones who have brought in any revenue.

We acquired our birds from Murray McMurray hatchery in May of last year. Their numbers have been reduced by three deaths (one was a day-old chick, two were possibly due to heat), a dozen being given to the guy who did our fencing, and one who was given to a neighbor as a meat bird rather than dying from being low on the pecking order.  Thankfully, there have been no losses to predators.  Raccoons and skunks are always a worry, and a few days ago we saw a bobcat four miles away from here.

We now have fifteen birds, representing fourteen breeds.  We’ve got a hefty Black Australorp, who makes the soft ground tremble when she runs, and the petite, neurotic Golden Penciled Hamburg.  There is a shiny, green-black Sumatra, who will follow you around all day, clucking and purring the whole time, and the Speckled Sussex, who would rather you don’t see what she’s doing and why don’t you mind your own business thank you very much.  They’re an amusing bunch to watch as they roam around the house and fields on their important chicken business, or take a dust bath under the porch.

We got our first eggs in late October of last year.  The first eggs are always funny—so small, like quail eggs!   
We joked about how this, the first product of our farm, was the $300,000 egg, more precious per ounce than pure gold.  The Wyandottes were the first to lay, but the others followed over the next few weeks.  I thought the Speckled Sussex was one of the only birds not laying, but I found that what she was being secretive about was where she was laying: in a nook in the trailer shed, where I discovered a nest of fifteen eggs.  As soon as I found those, she decided to find a different nest; a few weeks later, I found a nest of another dozen eggs behind the woodpile.  It’s been a few weeks, so I wonder where the next trove is concealed.  I’ve seen her lurking around the toolshed.

The birds give us about eight eggs a day now—sometimes five, today there were ten.  They range from dark brown to white (we don’t have any colored egg layers; they have a reputation for difficult personalities), from small to jumbo, and yesterday we got a double.  Most are deposited in their nest box, but almost half arrive in the hayroom—I guess the hay feels nice on a chicken butt. Fresh eggs are a treat, and they give any baked goodies a lovely golden color.  We sell a couple of dozen a week to friends and coworkers.  If you visit, we’ll probably foist a dozen onto you.
Four days' eggs.  The double is a first.  I bet it hurt. 
The birds are, at this point, the only revenue stream here, and they look to be it for a while.  They will probably take a break from laying in spring, in order to molt.  We’ll use the break to decide whether or not to buy more birds. It depends on how we view their role on the farm.  The first reason we got them is for eggs for ourselves, but the secondary reason we have chickens is to eat bugs and snails, which can carry worms that will infect our sheep.  If our goal is more egg money, then we’ll probably get more chooks.  If not, we’ll probably get some runner ducks, which are almost as amusing as chickens, and champion snail-eaters to boot.

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