Chickens are one of the delights of life. They are the most active and colorful animals on the farm. One cannot grow tired of watching chickens, each one with their own personality, living in their orderly society where the pecking order means what it says.
We have a small flock of mixed breed chickens that lay eggs for us. We have experimented with many different breeds and have come to like the dual purpose chickens like Black Austrolorps, Orbingtons and Barred Rock. We get a few chicks every spring to replace the old chickens that will go into the pot in the fall. We get light colored one year, dark colored the next and spotted ones the year after that. The chickens live with us for two and a half years at which time they reduce their laying to a point of not paying for their keep, so they go into the pot. It is a true delight to raise little chicks in the Spring. They are so full of life and are such joyful little critters who love it when I bring them scoops of worms from the compost.
People say that chickens are stupid. I have raised hundreds of chickens over the years and never seen a stupid one. If people took the time to understand what the chicken is interested in and what it is they want to know about, one would realize that they are in fact very smart. Some smarter than others, but still capable of learning smarter things from one another. This is more then I can say about some humans.
Our chickens live in a mobile chicken coop surrounded by a mobile electric net fencing. We can move them to any place on the farm where they are needed. This could be cleaning up the old compost area, weeding the vineyard or fertilizing and harrowing the fields. It is also very good to move them around for parasite control as well as giving an area a rest after having chickens on it for some time. As long as we keep them happy they have no issue with staying inside the fence. The fence is more to keep wild animals out then it is to keep the chickens in. Our area has a healthy population of both Coyotes and Raccoons that would love to get a chicken meal from time to time. To this day we have never lost a chicken to a predator. In the summertime the chickens can by found moving around in the fields but in the winter we keep them close to the house.
Chickens are originally from close to the equator all around the globe and need no less then 14 hours of light every day to lay eggs. So, as the days get shorter here in the Northwest, we provide them with artificial light to make up the difference. This keeps up the egg production in the darker days of Winter.
We sell eggs here at the farm. Most of our customers are our neighbors who also love to bring their kids over and check out the chickens.
The Meat Birds
Each spring we raise about 50 meat chickens. Some for ourselves and some for neighbors. We have had many requests from people wanting to buy chickens from us, but at this time we are not able to produce any more than that. We have very high standards for the way we think chickens should be raised (any animal for that matter) and at this time are not able to increase our meat bird populations.
We raise red broilers. We do not raise the Cornish X, who most chicken producers raise, because they grow abnormally fast and do not look like a real chicken towards the end. The red broilers on the other hand are just a large chicken. They do take longer to raise and eat just about twice as much feed as the Cornish X, to get to slaughter size, but they are the bird we like to eat. If we did not slaughter our chickens at 14 weeks of age, they will grow into adulthood just fine, whereas the Cornish X cannot live into adulthood because of its abnormalities.
Chickens that get to eat fresh grass, bugs and get to hang out in the sunshine are so superior to the store bought chicken. There is no comparison. They are a totally different animal. I think back to the times we bought chicken from grocery chains and it makes me sick to think we consumed that meat. Slimy and soggy. That is my memory of it. But now we eat real meat from real animals. If you have not had a small farm raised chicken you should. It is by far a superior product.
Our meat birds live in the same area as the pigs. The pigs do not bother them and at first we thought perhaps the pigs would help out with predator control, such as hawks. But, that is not so. They do not care if a hawk tries to get a little chick. Pigs are pigs when they eat and their food spills all over the place. Chickens on the other hand love to look around for things to eat and they love the fact the pigs spill so much food. We feed both of them organic feed form In Seasons Farm so we feel this is in fact a very good cohabitation.