The Unexpected: Veggie Share Week #4 – 6/30/21
My kids love chicken. For the most part, I will only eat the meat I raise. So this winter I called up a farmer friend and asked if she’d give me the low down on raising meat birds. She was. I took copious notes. She assured me if I already raise pigs (I do) and laying hens (I do), then this would be no problem.
First step was to build a movable chicken coop/hut/tractor. I enjoyed doing the carpentry work of building the hoop hut on my own. I was feisty and determined not to let anyone tell me what to do. I watched farmer extension videos, talked to other farmers, and printed out plans. I asked loads of questions and learned how to use new tools. I made many errors, but now I have a hut. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but I made it and so far it works.
Other farmers suggest raising the chickens in a protected area. Our barn spaces are pretty well used and aren’t near water. So I thought, why not start the chicks in my garage? I have an extra parking spot there. So I moved the hoop into my garage and set up the baby pool with mulch inside of the hoop just like was suggested to me.
Easy peasy right? Just give them water and food everyday and they started growing. No problem, right?
A chick died after day one. No reason, just dead (unexpected).
By week 2 the chicks were already jumping out of the pool, but not able to jump back in, thereby stranding themselves from food and water (unexpected).
So I cut a hole in the side of the little baby pool, giving them a gate to pass in and out of the little blue pool (problem solved?).
They begin to jump flap higher. They start to jump into the water jug hanging from the top of the hut. One day I find one standing inside the hanging water bucket – alive but too wet or cold or stunned to try and jump back out (unexpected).
I remove this chicken, and raise the bucket higher from the ground. I also make sure to keep the water low enough that they can’t drown (problem solved?).
Next time I check the bucket there are 4 chickens, dead in the bucket. One jumped in. Another followed and stepped on the first one’s head, drowning it. Then another jumped in, standing on the second birds’ head, raising the water level. They kept jumping in, raising the water level and drowning each other (unexpected).
So I fashion lids with wide long pipe out of the tops and duck tape the lids shut to the bucket. This way I can fill the bucket through the pipe, but the chickens can’t jump in (problem solved?).
The next day two are just dead on the ground. No rhyme. No reason. (unexpected).
The birds are just shy of 4 weeks now. It was time to move them out of the garage and put them on grass. Turns out when you move chickens they crowd toward the point of friction and movement instead of away. The birds panicked when I started to move the hoop. Even with another person’s help, the first move was so shocking to them that several got their feet damaged – one even died. It got caught in the corner where the hut was dragging on the ground, trampled and sort of shoved under the base of the moving hut by its fellow chicks (unexpected).
Now that the hut is safely on the grass, it drags nicely and how it should (problem solved?).
I feel terrible about all the losses of these birds. I was warned however – farmer adage is to always start with way more chicks then you hope to have as chickens at harvest time. Much of their intelligence has been bred out of them, and death is commonplace.
So sad. But also an important part of eating meat. If I am gonna eat it, I want to a) raise it myself and b) be very intimate and real about the process of raising and killing something in order to sustain myself.
By my count, I’ve now lost ten birds. I’m halfway to harvest time. Here’s hoping between my hut and my herding dog, the rest of the birds see their way through. But odds are, something unexpected is right around the corner.