Our adventure started four years ago when our daughter Emily came home from school and told us that the Grade 5 class just hatched chicks and she wanted to do that too. We bought an incubator and some fertilized eggs from Darrin's brother and did some research online. Three weeks later we had 9 chicks of various colours! It worked!! Our initial plan was to hatch the eggs and give them back to his brother. Emily fell in love and asked us if she could keep them and name them. We told her that if we kept them she had to keep in mind that someday we may be eating them. She said "Oh, chicken nuggets?!" She was 5 years old at the time and already had it figured out.
We named the chicks: First-Born, Favourite, Penguin, Blackie, Silver, and the "Two Sets of Chipmunk-Twins"....there were four of those. We raised them in our office, played with them, the cat watched them and licked his lips at the....it was a lot of fun. We built a little coop and fenced in a small section of the yard for them. As they grew, we discovered that Penguin was a rooster and the rest were hens. First-Born, Favourite and the four chipmunks all ended up brown and after a while, we could only tell them apart by their personalities. Penguin was mostly Barred-Rock, Blackie was some kind of silky (we think) and we never did figure out what silver was. They loved to perch on our shoulders or back and loved to be patted, they were definately our pets and we definately were bitten by the farming bug.
We decided we wanted a larger farm. We only had 1/5 of an acre which already had a bungalow, large workshop and a small storage shed. We didn't have room for much. So we put the property on the market to sell. One of the first things our Realtor told us was that the chickens had to go, along with some small upgrades in the house. We did everything to the house but kept the chickens. Months went by without much interest in the property; so we gave in and moved the chickens to the farm I grew up on to live with my Mother, Step-Dad and their chickens. The transition went well; they didn't have a rooster, so Penguin was happy to welcome the new hens into his harem and our hens even started laying eggs.
At home, we cleaned up all the remains of our adventure farm, did some minor landscaping and continued trying to sell the house. It did not sell. When the nine month listing expired in November, we were disappointed and missed our chickens.
The following Spring, we decided that if we could not sell our house and buy a larger property for a farm, we would use the space we have here. We liked the eggs we were getting from the chickens and wanted to try some meat birds. So we bought 20 day-old chicks from our local feed store. They were so cute and fluffy and yellow...how could we eat them? Well, six weeks later, they were full grown, eating, pooping, stinky chicken-machines that we couldn't wait to be done with. Darrin and his Dad processed the chickens and we put them in the freezer...they tasted so good, and we did it all ourselves!!
Along with the 20 meat birds, we thought we would try our hand at hatching more chickens and some turkeys too. So we got some fertilized eggs from our own hens and rooster and bought some turkey eggs. Turkey eggs take four weeks so we put them in the incubator first and then the chicken eggs one week later. We wanted them all to hatch at the same time...Turkeys is dumb, so we wanted the chickens to teach them how to eat and drink.... .....seriously, turkeys is so dumb that they will die of starvation or dehydration while standing next to the food and water. And it worked!
We ended up with about 20 turkeys and 11 chickens. The turkeys were all the brown/black wild ones, except two that were white. We wanted them to get used to being handled and discovered that if we held them and rubbed the side of their necks they would fall asleep in our hands...very cute.
The chickens were any even more random bunch than the first batch. Again, one rooster with the rest hens. These ones didn't get names because they were all just different, but the rooster was a strange one. If it was possible, you would think there were four different chickens involved with his creation. Mom had tuft-topped silkies, very petite and slim with a very fluffy "hairdo", and a white one and some brown ones; along with our addition. Well, the new rooster had some white feathers, some Barred-Rock feathers (from his dad), some brown feathers and a double comb! As he got bigger, we noticed that he was very sleek and had a bit of a mohawk coming in...it grew up to be the funniest, and yet very handsome Cock-of-the-Walk.
With the new brood of chickens and turkeys, and the meatbirds, we had to expand our coop and pen area to the full front yard. We kept they chickens and turkeys together for a time, then had to separate them. The meat birds stayed in their coop for the most part, close to the food. Eventually they went and we expanded the layers into their section. We soon discovered that although 20 turkey poults don't take up much room, 20 full grown turkeys are big and outgrew their welcome pretty quick. We moved half of them to Mom's and kept the rest for the fall freezer.
The following spring, we decided we could have more meat birds and try to make them more free-range. We also wanted more turkeys. We got 40 turkey eggs and scheduled the hatch for the same time we got 40 meat chicks, so they could teach them how to survive. We ended up with two of the meat chicks that became mother hens to the turkeys. They took care of them and followed them everywhere. Eventually we had to separate them as the turkeys grew and we always knew which chickens were with them because they would hang out next to the dividing fence and watch them. Free-ranging the meat birds worked out great, they were much healthier and happier during their short life and they tasted really good.
Friends and family thought were were crazy but were supported and many even got some turkeys and chickens from us in exchange for a cash donation for feed. We decided at that point that we were done with turkeys. They take up too much space, and we liked the chicken just as much for meat. We sold a few and froze a few and gave the rest to Mom.
Although we really liked the taste of the meat birds, and it worked great having them more free-ranged, they still stink, didn't give us any eggs, and just grew so fast. After some research and deep thought, we decided that we would rather have a more natural bird, that would give us eggs, and meat and were not just eating machines. So, we started looking for Barred-Rock egg or chick suppliers.
Barred-Rocks are large birds, good egg and meat producers and are a heritage breed. We found someone who was selling his brood and bought what we expected were healthy, laying hens and two roosters that got along well. We soon discovered that sometimes people just want to get rid of their problems. The roosters fought, often and almost to the death if we didn't get to them in time. We had to separate them. The hens were not consisitent layers, two ended up with crop rot, and one ended up dying for no apparent reason. We tagged all of these ones so we could keep an eye on them when we got more.
We also found a someone who sells day old chicks and he agreed to sell us fertilized eggs. We liked being hands on, so we got 52 eggs from him and hatched around 40 chicks...lots of little penguins!
We ended up with half roosters and half hens. We knew we only wanted to keep one or two roosters and all the hens so we separated them. The best looking roosters were tagged for breeding later and the rest were sent to the freezer when they were full grown. They tasted really good, but they are a little tough at first. Not the same as the meat birds, but we felt better about them.
We separated the remaining roosters and gave them each their own harem. We moved the hens back and forth depending on who laid and who wasn't. We want to have a good laying and breeding group for future production.
We are now in our fourth year of farming with Poultry! We are getting a dozen eggs a day on average, which we trade for a cash donation for feed. Our next poultry adventure will be selling day-old Barred-Rock chicks in Spring 2015 and maybe selling our eggs at farmer's markets.
More to come...