we just purchased our very first batch of baby chicks! scheduled to arrive September 14! we have TONS, I mean TONS of prep work still to do. In fact, I would argue and admit, we haven’t prepped at all. We have tons of ideas and things waiting in the amazon cart, but we haven’t pulled the plug. We want (NEED) to be frugal, and smart, and frugal, and smart. So with an over-thinker (me) and a low-energy go-with-the-flower (Grant), we find ourselves going back and forth on lots of ideas but never really settling.
- building chicken coop for the layers! We got 6 layer chicks coming our way. We’ve scoured facebook market and tractor supply and craigslist, but we have decided we will build our coop from the ground up! It’s a huge endeavor but our hope is that it will grow with our dreams and be sturdy and safe for our chicks for years to come!
- decide on brooder! the first three weeks our layers and meat chicks (we got 25 of those) need a home. and the homes should be separate, according to our research. so we are trying to decide what to do!? haha we could go the aesthetically pleasing route and buy the super-expensive galvanized beautiful stock tanks so pictures are pretty, or we could go cheap and use cardboard and our green turtle-shaped sandbox lol I mean honestly we go back and forth everyday. Yes, we will have to decide soon, but for now, we will keep torturing ourselves with the options. Also, add to that, the heat lamp, the bedding, the feeder and the waterer. And the location – should we do basement or garage. Decisions, decisions.
- Next up on the list: tractor! chicken tractor to be exact! We plan to build this from the ground up too! I’m really excited about the simple design we’ve landed on for this, but again, time and effort and supplies must be mustered up, and we shall continue to stare at these project plans in the face and smile. Luckily, the meat chickens can use the tractor for their whole life, and then we will move the layers in there for some sunshine and free ranging. We have no clue what predator life will be like on our property, so I’m the mama hen in this situation and I am not going to take any chances with my babies.
you couldn’t pay me to eat a mushroom, but they are a masterpiece!
- Ok, what the heck else?! oh that’s right! we bought a CRAP TON of seeds for the garden! It’s fall garden prep time, and the pressure is on to get everything planted on time, etc. etc. But wait, where is the garden?? Yeah, about that, well, it needs to be built haha We’ve added a garden bed project to the list too. Our front yard gets beautiful 8 hour sun and we have been missing the full opportunity to take advantage of that glorious light — so we are going to put a bed in the front yard. Grant has successfully and diligently cut all the lumber he needs for the job – next is assembling – then filling with soil and then planting planting planting! I’ll share a list of all the goodies I will plant soon. So far, in our backyard beds, we have our peas in the ground and they are already climbing the lattice. I also see some carrot tops starting to sprout. We have cauliflower starters growing in the basement under a grow light – we shall see what happens with those. The broccoli doesn’t look like it has sprouted yet – but it has only been a little over a week for those.
ON TOP OF ALL THAT, there is just constant research and learning and trying to not spend more than we have and trying to raise the babies and making all the dinners from scratch and trying to remember to shower . . . probably not a problem most of you have, but it’s true for me.
One thing I also wanted to share, was after all the money and time we have invested in our chick journey, I came across a beautiful woman farmer/homesteader who shared her opinion/experience/perspective on Cornish X meat birds. Well surprise surprise, those are the birds we have coming our way in September. 25 of them to be exact. I’ve followed so many homesteaders that I admire and respect who have explained what these birds are, how great and easy they are, some of the complications with them, and the COMMITMENT to butchering them at the appropriate time. I thought we knew what we needed to know. However, as with many things in life, when I hear a differing option I really TRY to open my heart and ears to what is being shared. I’ll leave her words here below. It’s a longer explanation, but I genuinely think it’s worth the read. I do enjoy learning from a wide variety of perspectives and although our family will move forward with raising these Cornish X chickens and ultimately butchering/processing them on our property, we will look even deeper into the topic moving forward.
THE FOLLOWING WORDS/THOUGHTS/SENTIMENTS shared from the slowdownfarmstead.com.
I do not own these thoughts or words:
On reconsidering how we view chicken.
I put up a post the other day showing the carcass of one of our roosters. I asked when you last, if ever, saw a chicken that looked like that. It ended up starting a hefty conversation about chicken breeds that I would rather have flushed out here, where people can communicate with each other in the comments.
Look, this is an instagram post and many people won’t even read what’s here before commenting or moving on. I get that. It’s a stifled medium to communicate big picture issues, so consider this an introduction. An opening of the conversation, if you will.
Most people understand the difference between the factory farming model and a free range, organically raised bird. Big differences, there, to be sure. But what is lost on many is that in an attempt to meet the expectations of what chicken meat even is, both of those models are anchored in one issue: the breed of the bird that is commonly used – the Cornish X (X = “cross”). These birds are hybrid anomalies. They grow incredibly fast, making chicken raising somewhat profitable – very profitable for the Perdues and Tysons of the world for which these birds were originally intended. These are the birds you have come to understand as chicken. They have enormous breasts, plump soft meat, skin you can tear apart with your fingers, and bones you can cut through and break apart with a hand.
The Cornish X grows to “market weight” as early as the 6-8 week mark. In fact, you can’t keep them much longer than that as their rate of development, with muscle weight exceeding bone/ligament/tendon strength means that they have to be butchered expeditiously. It’s common for their legs to break under their own bodyweight. They are also prone to internal cysts, sores, heart attacks, and are not able to breed, or in fact, stay alive much longer than a few months. They are quite literally bred to sit and eat.
Ok, I hear you farmers getting steamy, but I’m on your side, I swear. Yes, you can raise them BETTER than the factory models. We’re not even going to consider the factory chickens edible so let’s wipe that out of the conversation altogether. And, yes, absolutely the meat of these birds from a free range, organic system is going to be very tasty and meet your expectation of what chicken is. But I think that’s the part I have trouble with. What is chicken, really?
We have this warped idea of chicken precisely because of these birds. Some 50 years ago, when they hybridized for the commercial market, our understanding of nutrition was also radically changing. Healthy animal fats were being replaced with margarine and toxic vegetable oils. Low fat was all the rage. And here was the perfect vehicle for our changing ideas on health and nutrition – an incredibly fast growing animal that could provide a huge source of lean breast meat that garnered top dollar. Skinless, boneless white breast meat – still the most expensive part of a cut up chicken. Cardboard at a price. At the time of development, those birds were a gold rush. The incredible amount of grain it took to feed them was dirt cheap and fossil fuels – abundant. It was a bird for the times!
But are they still? We’re running on the fumes of familiarity when it comes to understanding what it is to eat and raise a healthy chicken. Let’s go back further than the hiccup of the post-war mechanization and centralization of our food to a time when chicken was a luxury. When an old hen, no longer laying eggs, or an abundance of roosters, would be added to the dinner plate on a special occasion.
Maybe we can be a bit more generous than that and consider the chickens that were sold or bartered within communities. Chickens that were left to free range, hunt for some of their food, thrown a few wheat middlings and whey after butter making. Chickens whose muscles were oxygenated from movement and whose fat was deep yellow from sunshine and grass.
I can break down a free range Cornish X chicken with a knife and my hands. Breaking down a free range, heritage breed chicken that’s been running around for months or a year is a serious challenge. The difference in bone mineralization is astonishing. That is what we are eating! That is what is filling our bubbling pots with nutrients to feed our bodies.
Does it have to be one or the other? Can smaller farmers today raise birds that still have instincts, that deliver meat that’s a deep maroon, covered in golden fat that slicks your plate and sticks your lips together? Yes, they can. But, that’s not the real question.
The real question is whether you’re willing to pay for that chicken. Are you willing to reconsider what chicken even is? One chicken = one life. One life dependent on grain no matter the model. One meatloaf = one tiny fraction of one life. One life not dependent on grain.
It’s astonishing to me that everyone accepts that foraging pigs are best suited to heritage breeds. Very few people raise the large framed continental breeds of cattle designed for feedlot growth in a solely grass finishing model. And yet, we persist with this bird. We compromise to meet an expectation that comes from conditioning.
Are we willing to have honest conversations and back up our talk with our money? Are we willing to understand that those plump, tender birds may not be what chicken ever was? Chicken meat is a bird, right? Bird meat can be tougher and require the development of alternative cooking skills and techniques. Are you willing to forego some tenderness for flavour and nutrients?
These aren’t facetious questions. It’s useless to shake our heads in theory but keep on with the same practices. We need these conversations. We need educated eaters to support their local farmers in very tangible ways. But we don’t get educated eaters by not having these conversations.
I will not try to hide my bias for meat rabbits over chickens. Why? Because they are not grain gobblers. At any point, either as a homesteader or just a conscientious eater, we have to start asking how our dependence on grain, which depends on fossil fuels, is ever sustainable.
Look, we are not free of blame. This is not a condemnation. We are complicit too. That doesn’t mean we throw up our hands and surrender, it means we constantly try to get better. Critical observation of ourselves. To that end, our silliness around “bunnies are soooooo cuuuuuuute” is not serving us. Bunnies are delicious and will thrive on the foods in your environment. Let’s grow up a little.
The onslaught of messages I got from initially having brought up this subject in my stories could be summed up like this: Farmers: “Ugh, I know, I hate raising these birds, but it’s what people have come to expect” and Enlightened Eaters: “Oh my god, I want to eat a chicken like that one in your picture so bad. I’ve never seen anything like it!” So! Let’s get this party started! Let’s talk! The floor is yours.