Back in July, we ordered 45 chickens. 20 of them were a variety of laying hens, which I’ll discussing at another point in time. 25 of them were “BBQ Specials” – chickens specifically bred to gain weight for the purpose of feeding you. And, with our order, the hatchery threw in one “exotic free chick.”
When the chicks arrived, Chet received a panicked phone call from the Post Office. He had missed the first one or two calls and our voicemail hasn’t been working correctly. As Chet entered the Post Office he could hear the “peep peep peeps” of the box of chicks.
As you can see, the chicks were all the same size. But, that quickly changed. Unfortunately, I didn’t photograph the progression. All in all, we only lost two baby chicks, one Rhode Island Red laying hen and one meat chicken.
Chet got the coop built and the hen house arranged. Unfortunately, even though there is a good amount of room for the laying hens, it was and is cramped quarters for all the chickens. The laying hens are little buggers and began cannibalizing on the meat chickens by pecking at their feathers.
So, we lost a few to cannibalization. Most of the time, Chet was there to “take care of business.” However, he was out of town for a week, and let’s just say, the cannibalization would have made a great scene for a slasher movies. Unfortunately, this poor chicken was still alive, and suffering. Our neighbors had been over (I asked them to give my car a jump) when this was discovered. I was asked what I was going to do. What choice did I have? I had to put the poor bird out of its misery, so I said to them “well, I have to kill it.” With that response, they couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
Bless the heart of of our son, Gabe, as he wanted to be there with me. I needed him to not be there, for me, and I needed him to watch after his sister in the house while I to took care of things. I am proud to say that I am not longer afraid of breaking a chicken’s neck with my bare hands. Now, is it something that I want to do, gosh no. But, I can do it – particularly when it’s followed by a shot of tequila, a very large shot of tequila.
So, we “harvested” most of the meat birds a few weeks back. They were only 6 weeks old, but they averaged 3lbs. a bird. Not to shabby. But, the laying hens are horrible little buggers, and the just kept cannibalizing the remaining meat birds.
As of now, we’re done with meat chickens. Of the 25 we ordered, about 18 of them ended up in the freezer. Only one died as a chick, so you can do the math on the cannibalization rate. The fear now is that the laying hens are going to turn on one another or the eggs when they finally start laying.
It’s been an interesting experience this time around. Our first time around, we started with 9 chicks, 2 turned out to be roosters and were culled from the flock. One hen met an untimely demise at the well intentioned hands of Gabe. Only time will tell how many of our laying hens will make it to maturity. Chet and I are dreading the thought of having to cull out the entire flock and start over, but if that’s what happens, then that’s what happens I suppose.
It’s life and learning on the modern homestead.