I thought it might be interesting to cover 2011 animal by animal to look back on the past year in farming. At worst, this year in review will be extreemly helpful for me to figure out our plans for 2012. I’ll start with chickens, as let’s face it, they are the gateway animal to homesteading.
Our chickens arrived in August of 2010, so January of 2011 saw our first eggs. Success!
This was followed up nicely when Will processed our extra rooster and discovered why coq au vin is so named. We will never make this dish with broiler chickens again. By late February, we were knee deep in eggs and able to sell our first few flats to Rev Soup, and egg washing became the newest chore at Red Row Farm.
Even if by some horrible twist of fate we leave this farm, I think I will always keep chickens. I simply cannot go back to store bought eggs.
In May, 15 polish chicks arrived, which we originally planned to use as broilers.
We also borrowed (adopted?) our friend’s broody blue lace wyndotte, who hatched out a clutch of guinea keats in late May.
We had officially produced poultry on the farm. No incubators for us! This turned out the be a short sighted victory, as we failed to get any hens to sit on a clutch of New Hampshire Red eggs later in the summer, although we will still give it another year of trying things au natural before bringing on the reproductive technology. It was just so much easier to let Ashley tend to her flock than mess around with heat lamps like we were with the polish chicks.
Speaking of the polish chicks, Will built two awesome chicken tractors and moved those crazy birds around as part of our pasture rotation.
Will processed all the roosters, and while they were very flavorful, the polish birds were pretty scrawny. We expected them to seem small compared to the cornish cross you find in grocery stores, but these birds had half the meat of the rooster we’d processed earlier in the year, so I suspect we’ll try a different variety for meat birds in 2012. As for the polish hens, they never took to the hoop house coop where our other chickens roost, instead prefering Alston’s playset.
I don’t know if we waited too long to introduce them to that space and they simply prefered to free range in the woods with the pigs, or if the older chickens and Tom Waits (our rooster) made it clear that newbies were not welcomed.
Regardless, I’m not even sure how many we have left at this point. They tend to make an appearance when we toss corn kernels to the piglets, picking at the scraps. If they are laying, I’ve never found a single egg.
The 2010 flock of hens started molting in October and egg production is just now recovering, albeit slowly.
Right now, the plans for 2012 are to order 30 more laying hens and some amount of meat birds for arrival in mid-April. By the time the newbies start laying, our older hens will likely be out of the egg business. This may mean we need to build a second hen house, which has zero chance of timely completion. As usual, I suspect we will improvise, and that in the midst of improvisiing, we’ll curse ourselves for not having planned better. I have no idea what breed we’ll choose for meat birds, and I am welcome to suggestions, especially if anyone has any heritage breeds in mind. This is all part of the greater quest to raise and eat chicken that truly tastes like chicken, as annoyingly platonic as that may sound.