We raise egg-layer chickens, as you know.
Cows too. We raise them on grass and send them to a small, local butcher shop to process. Grass-fed beef is an altogether different type of meat – it has a leaner, healthier feel to it and doesn’t make you feel all “greased-up on the inside,” to quote one of my friends. And it’s no wonder – these cows eat nothing but green grass and good hay as nature intended.
Our chickens too are raised with the same philosophy in mind.
Let me define “free-range”:
This is truly free-range – as soon as the snow begins to melt and there are patches of bare dirt, our chickens get to roam outside wherever they want around our farm’s perimeter, and, as chickens go, they never wander very far and always come home to roost at night. They get to scratch around for bugs, and clean out the seeds that fall from my bird feeders – handy!
No you see something strange about this chicken’s beak? This is how not to raise a chicken. We got the chicken this way when it was being discarded as one of the so-called “spent” layers from a commercial organic farm. At the time, the chickens were only about one-and-a-half years old, and, by a commercial producer’s standards, were no longer worthwhile to keep because their output level did not justify the cost of feeding them, since a chicken’s output will drop to 75% in the second year. Often it is these kind of chickens that we buy for our farm, especially as you can get them for as little as $1/a piece (that’s right). They will still lay more than enough for a homesteader, and get a second life, so to speak. A much better life, too.
But anyhow, this chicken’s beak has been trimmed – the practice that supposedly reduces “pecking” – chickens pecking each other or their eggs (hence, the term “pecking order”). But in realty, pecking will rarely be a problem if the birds are allowed adequate living space, plenty of light, and the ability to go outside, and they will almost never peck their eggs if they are provided with the correct nutrition. Space in particular is not a luxury chickens are known to enjoy in confined commercial-operator quarters, so it is pretty much only when they are thus crowded and subjected to stress that pecking and cannibalism (chickens killing other chickens) could arise.
This is what a healthy chicken beak will look like. This chicken was raised by us from a day-old chick, and of course we prefer to keep things on the natural side around here.
But look at their eyes. Myself, I absolutely love chickens – I love being around them, and I like the look and the feel of a farmstead with critters running around free, adding life and company.
And the eggs they lay! If the only eggs you ever had came from a store, you have not experienced the rich flavor and the incredible freshness of something like this. And look at that color! I have not enhanced this color digitally in any way. Only one thing can responsible for that color: sunshine. This color testifies to the fact that the birds got to run around in the sun and scratch and dig and find bugs and other good things a healthy soil has to offer.
I get to make quiches like this one (a step-by-step recipe on the way)…
Which nourish children like this one…
And this one.
Their robustness is not an accident – it is the result of a largely home-grown diet and plenty of fresh air. And this approach. But the most important thing to keep in mind (and forgive me for sounding all hippie-dippy-tree-hugging here) is that we are all connected. The animals and plants that we raise and consume as well as the ones raised by mother nature for us to harvest in the wild, our food’s habitat, and the way we treat all of the above affect who we are and who our children grow up to be.
Do not underestimate the importance of the connection to the natural world, both through the cultivation of food and through simply getting out – it is a powerful source of life force, for the lack of a better word. Not to go all Thoreauvian on you, but I did come to believe that it is not possible to fully be happy from within (rather than through the pursuit of external stimulators) without consuming happy plants and animals and being exposed to the natural world.
And since one of the primary purposes of my site is to bring people closer to the possibility of raising their own food, or at least to the understanding of what “healthy” food really means, I am planning a how-to post on raising layer chickens. Stay tuned!