Tag Archives: free range

Respect for Chickens Day

Chickens as a species remain iconic across borders and histories, not only capable of interacting with the human race, but responsible for feeding billions on a global scale that almost has no equal when marine animals are counted. More chickens are consumed than any other land animal in the world, according to Counting Animals.

Chickens are easier to raise and transport than all the rest. They adapt to climate and condition changes better than all the rest. They train easily to schedules and habits as long as a basic understanding of their temperament and instinct is adhered to. In spite of being a migrationless bird species, they’ve become the most extensively tucked into every nook and cranny the earth has to offer because their relationship with humans has become so codependent that neither one could live well without the other.

“Live well” is what Respect for Chickens Day is all about. Thanks to several years of growing awareness, chickens are slowly coming to live less like slaves and more like the energetic curious creatures they were born to be. Strict genetic reengineering may have somewhat solved some cost-benefit problems, but also reveal a disturbing darker side of human industrial development. While we hope to be advancing beyond our own racial and gender socioeconomic typecasting, large and small scale chicken keeping both reveal a dastardly willful ignorance as the science of suffering measures the limits of tolerance and growth rates down to the jots and tittles of personal space and nutrition. Raging debates continue regarding the definitions of cage free and free range, with the public being trained to look approvingly upon pastured flocks.

Chickens by nature are born into what I like to think of as small tribes. They become proficient athletes and have been known to free range for miles. They stringently guard their own and prevent new disease by driving off or killing tribeless wanderers, while thoroughly inspecting every inch of range along the way. Their diet is so varied that they are able to subsist on nearly anything they find, and their gut is healthiest when that is exactly what they do. Raising chickens on milled feed, grit rocks, oyster shells, inoculations, parasite purges, and vitamins in drinking water is a poor substitute for what we now know are vitally missing prebiotics and probiotics found everywhere in nature. Interestingly, chickens in captivity seem to mirror humans living in big cities, far removed from our original nature, subsisting on processed foods and enhancing our lives with toys and meds that help us psychologically tolerate our crowded conditions.

Chickens are one of the most studied animals in the world, along with humans. I daresay a good look at chickens side by side with humans is telling of a world where we have all become slaves to markets, housing, shipping, education, governments, and many more interacting world systems. It might sound cheesy, but I’m going to say it- We must look to the chicken to see the future of man.

 

I have this chicken thing

Originally posted on 7-23-12.

I grew up around chickens and started raising my own when I was about 18, I think. I live in an area that’s like a chicken mecca, big hatcheries in several directions, and big production barns a little further out. There are breeding farms within half a days’ drive that specialize in rare breeds of quail and partridge, turkeys and pheasants, geese and ducks, and even peacocks. It’s not unusual to see emu ranches, and I even had an emu fall out of a trailer in front of me on an exit ramp one year. Don’t worry, I didn’t run over it.

My dream since I was a child was to have peacocks, and there are so many cool ‘collector’ colors out there now that I positively drool, so that’s definitely on a bucket list. Problem with peacocks is they are *noisy* thangs, so I’m hoping we move to a bigger place for those. A rural subdivision full of fancy dogs is no place for peacocks.

When you grow up on farms and ranches and have to name a lot of animals, it becomes kind of a game, and sometimes you develop themes. When we were teenagers we had goats, and one set of twins was called called Bunny and Jack (put Rabbit after that), another set was Timex and Speidel (watches). My niece named a calf Tuna when she was little, and her sister had a cat named Amino. I try not to name pets after people I know, especially chickens, because chickens tend not to live that long, and you hate to go, oh, so and so died… I know my sister finds it frustrating when someone pops up that they have a dog or pig with the same name as her, and other people might find it disturbing, too, so I try to stick to themes. For instance, my last flock before this one was named after retailers, although Macy was technically named after the parade. I also had a Dooney (& Bourke), Bean (as in L.L.), and Spencer.

This year’s flock is named after tv characters. I started with 8, but Zelda (after Ocarina of Time) went into seizures her first week and didn’t make it, so I lost my first ever Cuckoo Maran, which would have laid ‘chocolate’ eggs. (I’m linking so you can see pictures if you want.) The names don’t always fit, but I had the names picked out before we ever got the chicks.

Myka (from Warehouse 13) is an Indian River, and I was under the assumption she would turn out red like her mom with the Delaware markings like her dad, but she’s a beautiful white. Supposed to be a super egg layer.

Mary Margaret turned out not to be as ‘Snow White’ as I thought she would be (from Once Upon a Time). She’s an Austra White, another mixed breed for vigorous laying. I’ve never had a pink faced white chicken with black legs before, so the joke is that she’s my naughty Catholic, a lady of the night in her stockings, as it were.

Abby (from either NCIS– Scott’s choice, or Primeval– my choice, take your pick) is a puzzle. I knew what a Columbian was supposed to be like, it’s a particular color pattern, and our Abby is spot on. But she’s turning into a monster. The hatchery guaranteed 93% accuracy on sexing, and out of 8 chicks, that means there is a fairly strong chance of one of them turning out to be a rooster, so we’re hoping Abby is just going to be a big gal. I’ve had heavy breeds before, but our Abby is only 3 months old and already bigger than all my old hens were, so I hope it’s not a growth hormone problem. Sometimes you see weird stuff.

T’Pol (from Star Trek: Enterprise) turned out to be my most aptly named chicken, very first one to investigate and do everything. She’s a Speckled Sussex, and already looking more petite than Bean from my last batch (who got pounced on by a hawk when she was 3). I’ve never seen a more curious breed than this, not sure if it’s common trait or I just got two flukes in a row.

Nadia G (from Bitchin’ Kitchen) is a Golden Laced Wyandotte. A Wyandotte trait across the board is a rose comb, which I’d never tried out before in all my years of raising chickens. Kinda reminds me of the little dress hats my mom used to wear to church. So far Nadia is our tamest, likes to come see what we’re doing and stand by us, lets me get pictures without freaking out.

Morgana (from Merlin on Syfy here in the States) is a Silver Laced Wyandotte, and my most drop dead gorgeous chicken, easily the most photogenic, so I think I matched the name up pretty good with her.

   

Amy Farrah Fowler (from The Big Bang Theory) is our wonky little oddball. She’s a ‘Blue Egger’, basically a mutt that is supposed to have the blue egg gene, which is dominant. She was the cutest chick because of her little muff around her face, but she’s grown into something so cartoony that we can’t help thinking that her front half looks like the chicken hawk from Looney Tunes. She grew funny and has an unusual gait, so her back half moved like a pigeon until she matured, and she still uses her legs like they were patched on by an Igor. She has never cried and eats like a pig, so I don’t think she was ever in any weird growing pain, but she’s always going to be tiny and weird. The coolest thing about her is she has awesome super fluffy ‘blue’ feathers underneath the funny light ginger color.

So I’m trying out Wyandottes this year. I’ve tried so many kinds of chickens, but never before Wyandottes, and I’m finding out there is a worldwide hobby devoted to new colors called feather lacing (scroll down that page for some truly beautiful birds). Might try it myself one day. Click on the icon for more about designing your own chickens.

Blue laced reds are on my bucket list, one of the rarest varieties in the world.

Personal note on Egyptian Fayoumi, one of the many breeds I’ve raised, you might wanna treat these like game birds for awhile, they tend to fly off into the trees and don’t necessarily come back. The ones I had were about as wild as any I’ve seen. Somewhere in Missouri is a flock of wild chickens…

This continues at SAVE FERRIS.

chicken style pumpkin pie

My chickens love watermelon and cataloupe on hot summer days and equally like to slurp up oven roasted squashes as the season transitions into fall and winter. I accidentally found out they really like pumpkin one year when I tossed an old jackolantern towards the edge of the woods and it broke open- they cleaned it out in no time, right down to the rind. A year later I put one in the pen, same thing. This year I decided to cook one up like I would any other leftover squash, and it sure made a rainy week all better.

Roasting anything is so easy. Line a roasting pan with foil, spray with a little nonstick spray, place a cut open gourd, squash, or pumpkin open side down, and fill with about an inch of water.

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This goes into a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes or so, mostly just to get it softened up. You can poke the skin with a knife or fork and see if it’s easy to pierce. I caught this one about five minutes before it would’ve been so soft that it would have fallen apart, about an hour. As soon as you can easily pierce the skin, remove it from the oven.

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This is the most important part for ease later- flip that onto its back as soon as you can. If you let it cool even for five minutes first, it will seal down to the pan like a lid on a hot jelly jar. Slide a fork under the rim and very carefully lift so steam won’t burn you or you don’t splash hot liquid on yourself, ease it up and over onto its back. Now walk off and leave it however long you want because it’s too hot to do anything else with. Also, this gives it time to steam out a little. All squash will continue to ‘melt’ and collect a syrupy liquid, so the more it can steam and air out, the better.

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After it has cooled enough to handle, carefully lift and slide it over onto a plate. In case it’s soft enough to fall apart, don’t lift very much or move too quickly. After it’s on the plate, I sometimes shred it a little with a fork so the chickens can start digging in when they get it. I think they have more fun when they have to work at it, though, because it’s so boring sometimes, and really, what else does a chicken have to do?

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Since my hens have been stuck in the pen during a rainy week instead of out chasing bugs, I tossed a can of tuna onto the pumpkin for a protein boost. Getting all of one’s protein from grain isn’t necessarily the healthiest diet, and a little extra protein from something else once or twice a week definitely perks them up. Today it was tuna. Sometimes it’s a little bit of leftover burger or old shredded cheese. Protein nibblies! Please keep in mind these are NOT daily meal supplements, just once in awhile snacks. Overfeeding chickens ‘people food’ can result in malnutrition and impacted crop, which can cause death. If you see a chicken gorging, remove the food. Gorging might also indicate an underlying problem such as parasites, illness, or stress. By the way, as I set that pumpkin down on the ground, I bore through the skin in several places with a fork so the liquid could drain instead of sitting there getting muddy and fermenting. Makes the pumpkin easier to slurp up over the next 24 hours.

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Chickens walk around while they eat, changing places and circling, darting in and out, keeping an eye on each other in case someone else has a better bite. It’s fun to watch chickens take turns checking out new snacks, tasting and nibbling, talking to each other comparing notes like foodies in a Cheesecake Factory.

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Healthy chickens that aren’t stressed out will do this until they get bored again, which is actually fairly quickly, and it’s not long until the circle widens back out and next thing you know they’re thinking about shopping and talking about maybe hitting the salon. They will come back to the pumpkin once in awhile for a few more bites here and there.

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Some of you wish really bad that you could have chickens so you could watch them. Here are some videos.

 

 

 

Notes for people new to raising chickens-

Chickens are connoisseurs of a large variety of foods by nature and aren’t made to live off leftover garden produce like herd animals that graze. They also need fairly large amounts of denser proteins in order to keep pumping large amounts of protein right back out into eggs and still be able to keep healthy feather growth, healthy tissues, and healthy immune systems. I know it’s trendy nowadays to demand that chickens be fed an all-vegetable and grain diet lacking in animal products, but consider that our demand on them for eggs and their genetic enhancements that allow them to do that for us more often than they would in the wild actually make it difficult for them to live well if they live on the edge of nutrition deficit. It’s ok to supplement with snacks, but make sure one food group isn’t edging another one out and causing a nutritional imbalance. The best supplement to regular feed is getting to run around eating bugs and greens, and maybe the occasional small reptile, which is full of calcium because it has a skeleton. Chickens are opportunistic and will also eat mice if they are hungry enough, which isn’t a good idea because wild mice carry disease. If you allow your chickens to free range, make sure you don’t spray pesticides or use chemical fertilizers where they roam, because it will wind up in your eggs.

If your chickens eat every scrap of food you give them and don’t look or act well, like missing feathers that never grow back and pecking on each other, they might not be getting enough to eat, or lacking a specific kind of nutrient. Some people find that feeding chickens a little bit of meat will help with this. If your chickens won’t eat food you put in the pen, they either can’t handle eating it or they are too full of food already and becoming fat, which will slow down egg laying. If they are leaving food laying around to mold, remove it because moldy food can make them very sick. Chickens like to alternate actively foraging and napping through the day, and the exercise they get foraging helps keep their stress levels down when they’re back in the pen. If they must stay in the pen, keep the snacks small so you can distract them with something fun and different more often. Sometimes a head of lettuce is the bomb when chickens are bored.