As we get more and more fencing completed we are planting pastures and groves for the pigs to rotate through. In the video below we had just moved the young hogs into a fresh wheat field. It did not take long for them to get to work on it!
There was a great article about raising backyard chickens in the San Francisco Chronicle today – here is the link. There a a lot of good information about the fun and benefits of having chickens in your backyard. Chickens actually make great pets and I would call them some of the “green”est pets. Here are some of the reasons why:
- Chickens are great at bug and grub control! They will eat ants, rolly pollies, slugs, snails, crickets, and other forms of creepy crawly creatures. Just think if everyone had backyard chickens how much less pesticides and sprays would be needed in residential neighborhoods.
- Chickens provide fertilizer. Roaming chickens distribute the fertilizer themselves (sometimes in unwanted places like your lawn chair but mostly on the ground). Fertilizer from the coop can be composted and used in gardens and flower beds.
- Chickens provide eggs. The environmental benefit of stepping into your backyard to get fresh eggs cannot be understated. Collecting your own eggs has eliminated transport of feed to CAFO hen houses, eggs from CAFO to distribution center and then on to stores and then on to your home. CAFOs produce a lot of waste that, due to its volume, becomes hazardous waste. If everyone got their eggs from their backyward we would need no CAFOs and that hazardous waste simply disappears.
There are some downsides that need to be considered with backyard chickens such as:
- They till the soil which in some cases can be great but is not so great in new flower beds and gardens that have just been seeded or have small plants.
- Part of their “fertilizer distribution” strategy includes fertilizer placement in undesireable locations like on the porch, lawn furniture, lawn mower, kids bikes….anything you might have left within their reach.
- The curiosity and constant drive to “turn over the soil” also leads them to knock items off shelves and tables to see what is underneath them. A trash can without a lid is too much temptation for a chicken – she will HAVE to see what is in that can at the very bottom.
Of course chickens require care – good housing, food, fresh water – like any other pet. And they are good pets! They have interesting and different personalities, interact with people, and form bonds with their favorite people. Some people even put little “chicken diapers” on their chickens and let them roam the house. I think people who cannot make the 40 year commitment required for a parrot might want to consider a chicken. Of course they are not as smart as a parrot but certainly are smart enough and their 10 to 12 year lifespan is a much easier commitment to make.
Like many Americans I was concerned about the recent pet food recall and the harm done to possibly a large number of pets. But I was shocked and disgusted to later hear that poisons actually reached food animals. In case you have not heard – it turns out that REJECT PET FOOD was fed to pigs and chickens in several states. And not just any pigs and chickens but animals soley intended for human food.
What are people thinking feeding REJECT pet food to pigs and chickens? Are they crazy? Do you want to eat an animal that ate something not suitable for your dog to eat? Geez!
A lot of “light” is being shed by this event – such as the lax inspection of imported foods, the questionable ingredients in pet (and other) foods, and the feeding practices of commercial hog and chicken growers. I just hope the reforms that should be put in place are and that they result in transparency for consumers to really understand what they are getting in their foods.
The Sustainable Farm movement has gotten some good press from the Washington Post with this recent article. Kudos to the Washington Post!
We are down to three plus Carin – Carin continues to do very well with her “hen” Moms. She is too heavy to fly but she does engage in all other normal chicken activities including rooting, digging, dust baths, and re-organizing all the equipment on my shelves.
The other three cornish cross were ousted from their flight pen by the other chickens. They were so slow and so docile that the other chicks their same age could eat their feathers (and a little flesh) without so much as a movement. I was afraid I was going to lose them like Mongo so they are now in the front yard. They run loose during the day with the puppies and turkeys and are in a secure pen at night.
At about 14 weeks these birds are VERY large and have outgrown their genetic capabilities. They cannot fly or get any lift at all. One of them can only hobble to food or water with a kind of stilted gait that reminds you of a pirate with a wooden leg. But despite their physical limitations they enjoy things like dust baths and are having a good time in the front yard. They are getting very tame though. Jimmy has to watch out to make sure they don’t become pets.
It is with a heavy heart that I have to report that Mongo died. She was in the flight pen with the other chickens but not taking advantage of her space and not getting much exercise. Her “insides” kept growing and growing and stretching her skin. This made it appealing to the other chicks to pick off her feathers and peck at her skin. They succeeded in creating a few small holes in Mongo’s abdominal cavity and she died within 24 hours.
The size Mongo was at her death was very abnormal for a chicken. Her innards protruded off her back end like a middle aged man’s beer belly. She probably would have been considered the ideal commercial meat bird – fast weight gainer. I feel sad that we breed birds to grow up like Mongo for fast weight gain and an early death.
Mongo and Carin are the same age but they are living vastly different lives. Carin lives with her “mom” hens and siblings and spends a lot of time searching for worms and grain. Despite having free choice high protein food available at all times she eats a wide variety of things and prefers to scratch and peck for a worm than sitting down by the feeder and chowing down. As a result she is pretty fit for a Cornish Cross chick and looks almost “normal”.
And then there is Mongo – who so fits her name! She is huge and lumbering. She is in a very large flight pen now so has plenty of exercise, sunlight, and time to scratch and peck. She tends to eat a lot from the free choice feeder and I think that is what is making her grow so large. But I also realized that Carin eats more corn than Mongo so am trying to transition Mongo’s diet to include more corn to see if that will keep her more slim.
As you can see from the picture above Mongo is larger and less balanced than Carin. When you pick her up its like picking up a ball rather than a chicken. But even though she is large and out of proportion she is still in pretty good shape compared to one of the other Cornish chicks. The chick below lacks any muscle tone and is very sparse in her feathering. She has trouble getting around and just eats all day. I guess this is good for commercial poultry operations but I can’t help but feel sorry for her as the other chicks fly and run and play around her.
This experiment is interesting and depressing at the same time. It appears that genetics, environment, and food all factor into the health of these chicks. But seeing how these factors can be manipulated to optimize weight production is really depressing to me. I prefer to see chicks living happy chicken lives.