So this happened this weekend.
Maybe it is because some friends have been posting unbearably cute baby animal pictures from their farms. (Talking to you, Judi and Christopher!) I mean, am I seriously expected to see adorable baby goat, lamb, and piglet pictures and not get something cute and fuzzy? If so, somebody has seriously overestimated my self-control.
We really have (*ahem*) enough chickens right now – eight full size hens, three Silkies, and five Old English Game Bantams – and of course the three ducks. Most of the full size chickens slowed down egg production over the winter, which is perfectly normal, and the three oldest quit outright. Jeremy was thinking it was time to replace them, but they have started laying again with surprising productivity. I am not sure exactly what “replace” meant, in terms of the future of those older three, since we never had to define it. In any case, we decided that in order to plan for the future, we probably still needed to start some new chicks. It takes roughly six months until they begin to lay eggs, so these cuties just get to grow for a while.
The initial plan was four new chicks. That would be the Eater Egger (the lighter multicolored one,) and the New Hampshire (the buff colored one,) reserved at Agway, along with two Cuckoo Marans – which are not pictured here, because they didn’t come in with this hatch. Agway receives chicks weekly through much of the spring, so the Marans may still show up, but I’ll be canceling that order. When you purchase chicks more than a day or two apart, there is a greater risk of bullying if their sizes are substantially different, so we would have to set up a second brooder, which we didn’t want to do.
Yesterday we went to help a friend tear down her hoop house that collapsed under the blizzard, only to realize we were a week early. (I blame Daylight Savings Time.) So instead, we went to the Mill, another feed store nearby, to see what chicks they had. That’s how we came home with the Silver-laced Wyandotte (the darker striped one,) and the two Black Jersey Giants. Yes, I am aware that is a total of five chicks, one more than planned. The Mill, for reasons we don’t completely understand, would only sell chicks in groups of three. So we took the Wyandotte, a variety we’ve wanted, and the two Jersey Giants. And this is where our story gets interesting.
Standing over those chicks and considering the requirement to get three, Jeremy made a tenuous plan. The Jersey Giants are dual-purpose birds, as many heritage varieties are, meaning they were kept for egg production and for meat. They will grow into big birds, probably the biggest in our flock, but more slowly and naturally configured than the Cornish cross birds that have been developed to grow so big and fast that they can be butchered in weeks- but they also can’t really stand and can never breed naturally, because of their Frankenstein-ish engorged, breasts, among other things. So, Jeremy presented me with this plan; we would get two Jersey Giants with the intent of raising them until late fall and then have them butchered. This would accommodate the increased numbers of the flock through summer and fall, when they are primarily outside and they supplement their food with all kinds of plants, insects, and worms. The Jersey Giants will be gone before we have to be ready for more confinement over the winter, leaving us with a sustainable winter flock for the space we have.
This is the first time we have purposefully bought chickens for meat. We did it by accident last year, when one of the chicks we bought, Mrs. Patmore, a Buff Brahma, turned out to be Mr. Patmore. It happens sometimes, not very frequently, because sexing day old chicks of most varieties is not the easiest thing to do. We didn’t want a full-size rooster, being in Wrightsville borough. We have wonderful neighbors who never complain, but we want to keep it that way, so we try to be considerate. We do have two Old English Game bantam roosters, (one, a son of the original, will have to go soon, as two is one too many,) but they are so small that their little crows are barely noticeable. But
Mrs. Mr. Patmore had to go. Jeremy asked our friend Wendy if she knew anybody who might want a rooster, but she suggested a local farmer who she was sure would butcher him for us. So, one day Jeremy delivered Mr. Patmore to the farm, and the next day the farmer delivered Mr. Patmore in a slightly altered state back to Jeremy at school. And Mr. Patmore, it turns out, was delicious.
The understanding of the difference between commercially raised chicken and naturally raised chicken is becoming more common, but I am not sure many people have actually experienced it. That chicken was richer, more flavorful and chickeny than anything we could have hoped to find in a store. The stock it made was outrageously good. Eating Mr. Patmore (Hmm… future book title?) really wasn’t difficult, especially after the first bite. No, we didn’t butcher him ourselves. Perhaps someday we will, but I have no shame in letting somebody else do our dirty work. Raising him and knowing what he ate and the quality of his life allowed us to appreciate him more. And did I mention that he was delicious?
So, we are now raising chickens for meat. The Jersey Giants will probably begin to lay before we butcher them, so they will, briefly, contribute to our egg production, too. It really wasn’t a difficult decision yesterday. If I had to do the butchering myself it probably would have been harder, I’ll admit. Come November or so, we should have two big, beautiful, healthy, and happy ten-pound birds; one for the table and the other for the freezer. It won’t come close to keeping us in chicken for any real period of time, of course, but it will be a start, and a scrumptious one at that.
As the clerk was catching the chicks and putting them in the box to come home, Jeremy said, with just a bit of sternness in his voice, “We don’t name them.” The clerk, who had heard the entire exchange, with a tiny ball of fluff in her hand, quickly agreed, “No. Don’t name them.” I nodded, but to be honest I had my doubts about our will-power in that regard. Those doubts were confirmed when, in the car headed home just a few minutes later, Jeremy said, “We’ll call them Nugget and Patty.” Granted, those names denote their eventual destination, but still, they are names. I’m counting it as me being right. (I have to take those when I can get them.) So, Nugget and Patty (who, by the way, were named BEFORE any of the other new chicks, just sayin’) will grow up here and will (thankfully,) grow out of their cute stage rather quickly. They will have sun and air and green stuff and all the bugs and worms they can eat, and will lead a happy chicken life. And then we will eat them.
I know this is probably ridiculous to my real farmer friends, who have lived this circle of life for years, but it’s kind of a big step for us. If/when we ever end up on a real farm, I want to be able to raise some of our own food, and that includes meat. Every meat product we eat starts out as a cute something, so if we are going to be able to do this, we’ve got to accept this and be able to value the process. Our first little step, by accident, gave us the reason to take this next step. So, Patty and Nugget – I’ll give you the best chicken life I can, and then, in return, you’ll give us delicious and healthy meals. Yes, we get the better end of that deal, but it’s our house.