Saturday, May 30, 2009

Processing meat chickens

I was thinking about ordering a dozen or so meat birds this fall, my husband who likes meat far more than I, was pretty much on board. I wanted to do this a part of being more self-sufficient and also feeling like if I was going to eat meat I should have the responsibility of processing my own animals at least once in awhile and really respect how they get to the table. Lucky me was perusing Craig's list and saw that a feed store in town had 8 week old meat birds on sale, 5 for $20. They were not organic, but you couldn't even raise a meat bird conventionally for $4, so we brought them home yesterday morning and this morning we got up at dawn to dress them.

I won't give you details, but it didn't go as smoothly as you would hope. We used a killing cone made out of a very large plastic apple cider vinegar bottle and a very big knife. We opted to go for decapitation instead of bleeding them out or any of the other methods because we thought the chickens would suffer the least this way. Plucking the chickens took us forever (about an hour each), soooo many little pinfeathers. It was so frustrating that we skinned the last three. I was in charge of gutting, which was more nauseating than I was prepared for. (This is coming from someone who loved to draw and paint from cadavers when I used to have the opportunity.)

I thought I would feel proud of myself, or at least like now I earned my right to eat meat, but mostly I just feel sick. I have no desire to eat chicken for a verrry long time. These birds will be vacuum-sealed and frozen and will not go to waste, but it will be awhile. I know most people have better outcomes and feel a great sense of accomplishment, but both of us are leaning more towards being mostly vegetarians and will never butcher chickens again.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Delilah the duck has a surprise!

Well this morning I went out to feed everyone and one of the new ducklings we got was running around, she apparently had dug her way out of the pen and couldn't get back in. After trying to catch her for about 15 minutes (and the other animals "helping") I had to go wake up my husband to help me wrangle her. As soon as we got her back in with her mom I took care of the rest of the birds and thought I heard some cheep cheeps... well there's about 15 nests around our house with baby birds in them... but none of those are in the chicken coop. Here's what I saw:

Roxie gets a little curious

These are from the first round of fertile chicken eggs I got from the friend that has Dazzler, the rooster we had to rehome. We had 6 eggs, one broke, one was clear (infertile) and she got the other four to hatch. Today was only day 20 and these chicks were already nice and fluffy early this morning, so I think they hatched late on day 19. They're really chubby, I think because of the extra humidity that ducks provide. I have read several things about not letting the muscovies brood the baby chicks, one reason being that they sometimes step on and crush the chicks that aren't prepared for giant heavy duck feet, and also because ducks try to introduce their babies to water, which for a chicken chick, doesn't work out so well. So it made me a little sad, and Delilah very angry, but I put the chicks in a brooder.

She still seems to be sitting on the nest, she had a few chicken eggs that are a week old under her (I had no room in the incubator), so she may be trying to hatch those out. I also grabbed a few of the duck eggs from the incubator and gave those to her as well, partly as an I'm-sorry-for-stealing-your-chicks gift. I'll keep a close eye on her and hopefully she'll hatch out a second round that are due in a little less than three weeks (all of the remaining chicken and duck eggs are scheduled to hatch at the same time). If she manages to sit for that whole time it would be a total of just over 6 weeks. That seems like a really long time, but since Muscovy eggs take about 5-5.5 weeks to hatch, it's certainly possible she'll do it.

I counted this morning and I think we have 45 birds here at the tiny farm. Wow.

Four Easter Egger chicks warm in the brooder

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Muscovy Ducklings!

It's the time of year for things to start hatching. The woman whom we got our Muscovies from is moving and can't take her ducks, and the duck had hatched 11 eggs last week. Today they arrived at the tiny farm! We will be finding new homes for most, if not all, of the new ducks. The mama looks so rough because she was outnumbered by males 4 to 1 and they all thought she was pretty. Her feathers have started coming back in, and we'll keep her for at least as long as it takes to get her back into good shape. Look at her blue eyes!

I hope a couple of her babies get her eye color. It's so neat to see all the different color patterns. These ducklings are full brothers and sisters to ours, the father, who died just before the duck started sitting was solid black. He was a great duck who loved to be pet and was very very friendly. His personality seemed to come through a little in our ducks, which let you pet them. I hope this batch gets that as well.

There are few things as cute as ducklings.

Quail pictures at one week

The chicks are a little over 2 weeks now, so I'm behind in the picture posting, I'll do another update in a few days to get you up to speed on their progress.
Out of the 85 that I hatched, I kept 17. One of those was a runt that I helped out of the shell (I know, never do just looked so sad stuck in there), another has a funny bend in the back, nothing serious, I just don't want to breed it, and there's another one of the Jumbos that has weak legs. I have it and the runt in a separate brooder with some additional vitamins (really aimed at the weak leg one, the runt will likely never catch up in size, though it has as much pep as any of the others). These three "non-breeders" will stay separated, if they all turn out to be females, I'll just use them for eggs meant for the table rather than the incubator.

As you can see from the photos, the chicks went from the size of a quarter to the size of chicken chicks in one week!