Chickenless

As of this morning at about 6.30, we are chickenless. Both remaining birds were attacked by a sex-link we had and had lost feathers in the process. The one bird grew everything back fine, but the other didn’t and got into a habit of picking herself. With a bare rump, she wouldn’t have made it through the winter, so she was dispatched along with her pal the white columbia.

Now the search is on for new birds, or we may wait until spring and get some eggs to hatch for our flock in our new incubator (apparently arriving by UPS today!).

£150,000 Chicken Coop

For anyone out there with a little extra cash who would really like to spoil their flock, why not splash out for a “Palladian-style hen house complete with hand-carved stone columns, English oak windows and topped with a Greek-style monuments.”

A British trader in England has done just that. After making £28M by predicting the economic downturn, he’s decided to treat his hens to a home the size of a two bedroom flat!

More information here:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2208357/City-hedge-fund-manager-28million-predicting-credit-crunch-spending-150-000-CHICKEN-COOP-big-bedroom-flat.html

All Reds are gone

We are now down to two chickens. Last night I dispatched the last of the original red sex link hens we bought back in July of 2011. She was over a year old and her egg production was still going strong but she had turned like the other red, and become a cannibal. The barred rock and columbian were getting pecked at and losing too many feathers, so the last red had to go.

I don’t think we will restock in the future with red sex links. Our first had a heart problem, and the last two turned into vicious cannibals (which apparently is common in this breed). The barred rock are, in my opinion, the best bird for temperament and egg laying. The barred eggs are the tastiest, but they tend to not lay in the cooler months.

So, lesson learned. The reds all lived a good life, having the outdoors, fresh grass and bugs, plenty of food and water; things they wouldn’t have had in your average factory farm.

Personnel

I thought I’d add a little widget on the sidebar to keep track of the “personnel” we have, and have had. The red “x” means they were delicious! Hopefully the cat, as much as she is evil during beer and cheese making, won’t have an “x” anytime soon.

Small victories for the suburban farmer

Very minor note, but all of our hens are finally laying in the designated nestbox. Not that it has a little sign or illustrations to help them understand, but it’s a dark, cozy, little spot that if I really had to, I’d probably pick to lay my eggs. We’ve had one bird who lays from atop the roost and just lets her eggs hit the floor in the run. Luckily, there is usually enough shavings underneath to soften the fall and we haven’t lost any eggs. But today for some reason, she put two and two together and realized that the little area with all the other eggs and golf balls (decoy eggs) in was the place to lay. I know not very exciting, but it’s now going to be much easier to collect eggs. All we have to do now is train them to put them in cartons and in the fridge.

Giant Egg!

Just got back from another trip to Home Depot (we managed to visit only two locations this time) and had a nice surprise waiting for me in the nestbox. The egg on the left is an average large egg and the one on the right is beyond extra-large:

To give you a better idea of size, the one on the left weighs in at 57g, while the bigger one is 89g! I used a digital scale to weigh the big one as it bottomed out our egg grading scale:

We’ve had a few abnormally large eggs before, but this specimen definitely is our best. I wonder if it will be a double or triple-yolker? I think the barred rock that laid it deserves a rest and maybe a medal.

All in lay!

Finally, all birds are in lay. We have been waiting for the last of the remaining three to start laying so that the investment of feed and time would pay off. Got to love their first few eggs. This one is a football (in shape, not size)! Sorry, no pic, an egg is an egg really.

Here’s a quick camera phone shot of an egg from each bird:

From left, Barred Rock, Red Sex Link & Columbian Rock (finally!)

Bully Hen

A couple of weeks ago we went away for the night and left the chickens with plenty of food and water, and the neighbours next door with the task of egg collection. While we were gone, one of our original Red Sex Link hens decided to take her mild bullying of the other birds to the next level. We came home to find her pinning another RSL to the ground and ripping feathers and flesh from its back. One of our other birds had a wound on her comb that we assumed was also from the bully. It was definitely a gruesome sight to come home to. Excitedly entering the backyard, looking forward to seeing the hens again, cooing and  strutting, I found a nasty problem.

What to do with a hen turned cannibal? Emergency head removal surgery. Don’t worry, there isn’t anything graphic in this post.

The next day before work, I crept out in the dark, grabbed our bully from her roost, and dispatched her. 100% humane, not to worry.

Then the work begins. First, it’s plucking. This is the second bird I’ve had to dispatch (the first had a genetic disease, so it was a mercy kill), so I already had some knowledge of what to do. Plucking CAN be easy. Boil up some water, dunk the bird (dead of course) and then after a few seconds, dunk into a second bucket of cool water. This USUALLY helps loosen the feathers. This bird was defiant even in its current state of headlessness.

40 minutes, sore fingertips and a pair of pliers later, the bird was plucked and ready to be processed. I won’t go into the butchering details, but if you are interested, How To Butcher a Chicken (http://butcherachicken.blogspot.ca/) is a great step-by-step guide.

One note, as the above blog only butchers pre-lay birds, they don’t get to see a very interesting bit of the bird. Hens have multiple eggs inside of them at varying stages of development. Our bully had about a dozen that were mainly just yolks, ranging in size, as well as a hard-shelled egg. A few hours later and that egg would have been laid and brown in colour, rather than white in the picture below:

These eggs are edible, but as I was butchering, the bully had a last hurrah and defecated on the counter (my fault really, I pushed down on the wrong bits). Once contaminated, eggs must be disposed of. The meat on the other hand can be cleaned and still used. Here is the dressed bird:

After the meat relaxed for a couple of refrigerated days, we had a lovely soup. If you imagine the taste of chicken, as mild as it is, multiplied by four, you’d have the taste of the above. Not gamey or tough, although, five hours of cooking helped.

A friend of mine said that next time I dispatch a bird, I should do it in front of the other hens as a warning. Funny, but I’ll pass.

As for the victims, they were treated with the appropriate ointment and all are healing well.

The truth about chicken keeping

This was posted on Backyard Chickens (http://www.backyardchickens.com) earlier today so I had to share. It’s a nice little comic strip that shows how easy it is to fall in-love with the idea of keeping hens and then the inevitable reality. Here’s a snippet but for the full strip see further below (worth the read):

I’ve had a few people ask about our hens and remark about how much they would like to keep a small flock in their backyard/townhouse complex/apartment. One simple fact seems to stop their fantasy dead in it’s tracks: You may have to mercy kill a bird. There’s no guarantee of this, but chickens can get injured or sick, and the vet bills (that’s if you can find a vet who will treat them) are outrageous considering the cost and lifespan of the bird.

Take a read of the strip (http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~atwu/firstcultural/chicken.html) and have a laugh and maybe think twice about getting them.