After three days, we get a good look of the new chicks. They are off to a good start and before long, the hen will be taking them outdoors to find lots of good things to eat. Life can be very good for chicks on a farm.
On a winter day when snow blankets the ground, there’s always something good to eat in the compost. When it is time to turn a compost pile I can always count on chickens rushing over to feast on worms and bugs in the pile. Chickens are far from vegetarians. Skilled hunters, it is a good thing they are small. If they towered over us we would be their dinner.
It’s day two of the chicks, but you can’t see them because mother is being very protective. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a good picture soon.
And here is one of the Turken hens. Originally from Romania, Hungary, and Transylvania, they are a curious, friendly breed. I ended up with Turkens when someone nearby unexpectedly ended up with some this summer and asked me to take them.
Earlier this year I was examining chicken at a Whole Foods store and reading about the way they grade chicken. They have 5 grades of chicken and depending on the grade they tolerate from 0.5% up to 15% of a flock to have hock burn. Hmm, I thought, what is hock burn?
I discovered that
Hock burns are marks found on the upper joints of chickens and other birds raised on broiler farms. These marks are where the ammonia from the waste of other birds has burned through the skin of the leg, leaving a mark. Many meat processors now remove these marks as they discourage customers. Hock burn normally does not surpass 15% of a flock, according to poultry industry standards, but independent studies have found incidents of hock burn more common. Researchers at the University of Cambridge found that hock burn could be identified in 82% of chickens sold in supermarkets. (Wikipedia)
I was aghast. What farmer would ever raise chickens in such dire conditions that parts of their bodies get burned because they are sitting in so much shit! How can the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration allow chickens to be raised in such filth? And these deplorable conditions are so prevalent that even chicken sold at Whole Foods has hock-burn.
You will never find hock burn in any of my chickens. For one, my chickens are out and about all day running through grass, pasture, garden and woodland. Two, at night they sleep high above the ground on roosts. The straw and hay under their roosts is cleaned regularly. Their thighs are never in a situation where they would be sitting or standing in piles of shit. Chances are good that chicken you buy in supermarkets, even high quality ones like Whole Foods, is chicken that is wallowing in so much shit that it’s thighs are getting burned. Do you really want to buy and handle such meat?
Today Consumer Reports posted an article, The High Cost of Cheap Chicken, about the high levels of bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria, on most chicken sold in supermarkets. This isn’t surprising considering the deplorable conditions under which most chickens are raised. Also most chickens are fed feed containing antibiotics, increasing the likelihood that bacteria on these chicken farms will develop resistance to antibiotics. None of my chickens ever receive antibiotics. They forage for a large percentage of their food eating grass, bugs, earthworms, berries, and other delicious food they find. I supplement their diet with certified organic grains. According to the National Chicken Council
In practice, most chickens stay close to water and feed, which is usually located within the chicken house.
I’ve never had chickens that stay close to water and feed. Even if I dump out buckets of grain in the chicken yard, my chickens will feed on it for a few minutes and then move on to explore the brush, gardens, and woods. Perhaps the reason chickens on your typical chicken farm don’t venture far from food and water is because they don’t have acres of brush and pasture.
It means that the price of my chicken is exorbitant compared to other chicken, however you will be hard pressed to find more humanely raised and contented chicken.
These chicks are just a few hours old. I usually do not let the hens hatch chicks this time of year, but I made an exception for this hen. For 21 days she has been incubating the eggs. Tonight, when it got dark, I moved her and her chicks to a quiet spot in a small house in the covered chicken yard so she won’t have to worry about any rain or snow. She hatched these chicks in a dog house out in the open. Tomorrow or the next day when she takes her chicks out of the house, she’ll have a private yard for her chicks, and then in a few more days, when she is ready, she will take them outdoors to explore.
If you turn the volume up, you can hear the deep, clucking sound she makes as I reach underneath her. That is the call hens make to warn their chicks that danger is nearby.
And this is what the eggs look like after they have hatched. Normally the hen or other chickens would eat these.
December isn’t the best time for hens to hatch chicks. Usually when hens go broody this time of year, I replace the eggs they are sitting on with wooden eggs. That way they will keep sitting and eventually give up trying to hatch the wooden eggs after four to six weeks. I’ve discovered that if you remove the eggs and leave the hens with nothing to incubate, they can become quite upset at losing their eggs. They go through a period where they are clearly distressed. The nearest I can describe it is that they go through a mourning period. This doesn’t happen if I let them go through a full brooding period and let them give up trying to hatch the wooden eggs.
Does it really matter taking this much care over chickens? It does to the chickens. Compared to our complicated lives, chicken lives are simpler, but they aren’t mindless creatures without feelings and desires. They are more than animal robots. Each hen has her own style of mothering. Each chick has its own personality. When you purchase one of my chickens, it has lived the most natural life a chicken possibly can.
It’s a cool December day, but that’s no problem with a chick who has a mother. This picture was taken around noon when the mother hen was resting in the dust. All morning she’s been taking her two-week old brood far and wide to feed. When it’s time for a rest, the brood always has a warm place to snuggle under her feathers.
Is it worth it to take the time-consuming method to raise chickens this way? I often read comments from people who say, “We’re just going to eat them. Who cares how they are treated.” My response is, precisely because we’re going to eat them, it matters more than anything how they are treated. Food is not just something we consume for pleasure. Our bodies take what we eat and turn it into the energy and raw materials needed to recreate the cells of our bodies. The cells that make up our bones, hair, eyes, skin, muscles, internal organs, everything that makes us are constantly dying and new cells being made from the food we eat. Every 30 days or so, our bodies recreate all the cells of our skin. Many of the cells in our bodies live only a few days to a few months. Our bodies recreate our livers every year to a year and a half. The quality of the food we eat determines the quality of our bodies.
When chicks have a mother, it’s only a matter of days before they get to adventure outside and explore this wonderful world. Hatchery chicks need to wait two to four weeks until their feathers have fledged and they can tolerate the cold on their own. Chicks with a mother always have a warm mother nearby to warm them up when they get too cold. And at night, they can sleep in the dark without having to sleep under the constant light of a heat lamp.
To purchase a chicken, call or text me at 360-202-0386, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chickens cost $15 a pound. Chickens weigh from just under 3 pounds to up to 4+ pounds, so count on spending from $40 to $60 per chicken.
When ordering, let me know if you want the neck, legs, livers, gizzard, heart, or extra fat.
The Special Poultry permit I have from the State of Washington only lets me sell whole chicken from my place. You will need to come here to pick up your chicken.
By law, I can not butcher your chicken more than 48 hours before you arrive. I also need to chill the chicken to 45 degrees before I can hand them to you. Since it takes 30 minutes to process a chicken and about 90 minutes to chill a chicken to 45 degrees, I need at least two hours to get a chicken ready for you. If you want to pick up chicken in the afternoon, I will process them that morning. If you want to pick up chicken in the morning, I will most likely process them the night before.
These chickens roast the best if you let them age two to three days before roasting. If you are wanting a chicken for Sunday dinner, pick it up Wednesday or Thursday.
I butcher my chickens one at a time. When you purchase one of my chickens, it has been butchered as if it was the only chicken in the world. Unlike chicken you buy in a supermarket or even from most farmers markets, my chickens never see another chicken being butchered, they never share the hot water other chickens are dunked in, they never share the ice water other chickens are chilled in. They are not bleached like many commercial chicken. Each of my chickens is processed individually. Before and after each chicken is processed, the work area is disinfected. They are too precious to be treated with less respect.
Here is a description of how a chicken you purchase from me is processed. I have nothing to hide.
Using a piece of netting, I gently herd the chicken into an enclosed pen so that none of the other chickens see me catching the chicken. Once I have the chicken, I immediately cover it with a towel so that it can’t see. Once a chicken can’t see, it becomes very calm.
In the dedicated kitchen I use to process my chickens, I put the chicken in a killing cone and gently pull the head out the bottom of the cone. I make sure to cover the chicken’s head with my hand so that it can’t see a thing.
I quickly cut the carotid arteries in the neck. In 30 to 60 seconds the chicken will have bled out and be dead.
I pull the chicken out of the killing cone and it is now ready to be processed.
The first step is to dunk the chicken in 145 degree water for a minute or two to loosen the feathers. If you prefer, you can request that I dry pluck your chicken instead.
It takes five to ten minutes to hand pluck a chicken.
Once I’ve eviscerated the chicken, I truss it and it is ready to be chilled. The State of Washington requires that I chill the chicken to 45 degrees within 4 hours. Mine chill to that within 2 hours in a freezer. I do not chill them in ice water. Once they are chilled to 45 degrees, they are moved into a refrigerator and kept there until you pick them up. They are never frozen.
These free roaming, grass and bug eating, running/flying chickens have remarkable meat, liver, and gizzards. But their fat is amazing. It is creamy, soft and yellow. You can use it, as is, to fry.
Until Madeleine secretly hatched a clutch of nine eggs under a porch in May 2010, I was content to purchase baby chicks and raise them.
When they were just a few days, she brought them out to explore the big wide world.
It didn’t take long to realize that a mother hen offers a lot to baby chicks. Not only does she show them where to find food and water, she provides a warm place to take naps. You don’t need any heat lamps when you have a mother hen. You don’t even need to get starter scratch. A mother hen will crack larger grains for her brood, and if given the freedom to roam outdoors, she’ll dig up plenty of bugs and worms for them. Chicken farmers who raise broiler chickens on pasture don’t actually let their chicks outdoors until they are four weeks old. By using mother hens, my chicks get to be outdoors enjoying the sun, pasture, woodland and creeks within a few days of hatching. They also are often outdoors at the crack of dawn, and stay out until it starts to get dark.
And she keeps careful watch over them as she takes them around.
By the time the chicks are two weeks old, they are running all over the place. It takes a lot of work for a mother hen to keep her brood together.
Chicks are very curious and love exploring new places.
Here they are at three weeks.
And by the time they are a one month old, Madeleine is ready to set them free.
Her mothering done, Madeleine takes a well deserved stroll through the woods.
After watching all the care Madeleine put into raising her brood and how much her chicks loved having a mother, I decided that as much as possible, I’d leave the chick rearing to mother hens. The next time you pick up your chicken in your grocery store or farmers market, ask if it was raised by a loving mother.
So how fast does a chicken grow up? Here are some pictures of Lucy and Sunny. Sunny hatched October 14. Usually hens hatch clutches of 6 to 15, however once in a while we have hens who end up with single chicks. With the weather getting colder and wetter, I try to keep hens from hatching clutches after September, but sometimes hens surprise you.
Here is Lucy and Sunny on October 15. Sunny is just one day old.
By November 9, Sunny is nearly fully fledged.
Here the two are on November 23, Sunny is nearly six weeks old. Many broiler chickens weigh 4 to 6 pounds by this age and are ready to be processed
And here is Sunny on November 30, almost eight weeks old. She has at least another four months to go before she is fully grown.
Next week, Sunny will be two months old. Its about the age at which hens stop raising chicks and let them be on their own. Since Sunny is an only chick she will most likely hang close to her mother for another month or more. Chicks with siblings have an easier time leaving their mothers. They’ll hang out together and form a clique that lasts a long time. Without siblings, single chicks take longer to develop their adult friends.
And here is Sven, our Swedish Flower Chicken rooster. He has a very impressive crow.