Thursday, September 12, 2013

Chicken Update

It's been a while since we posted about the chickens, so I figured I'd catch everyone up. 

Last time I mentioned them, I revealed that we had a rooster. Unfortunately, it's against city ordinance to have a rooster, so it was either give him away or eat him. I tried, albeit not too hard, to find someone to swap a hen for him, but no luck. In the end, he became dinner. It was my first experience slaughtering a chicken, and it wasn't really too tough. I learned that I need make the cut deep enough to bleed him out quickly and that I need a bigger scalding pot for plucking. Everything else went like clockwork.

We wound up roasting him for a Shabbat dinner with friends. We decided to compare our home-grown, free-range rooster to a Costco organic chicken. Ours was a Rhode Island Red, Costco's was a Cornish Cross. Ours was 16 weeks old, The Costco bird was 7 to 8 weeks old. Ours was left loose in the yard to eat bugs, grass, and whatever else it found along with having organic feed available to it. Costco's was likely (since it's not designated "free-range") raised in a mass chicken house on high-protein organic feed. The difference is glaring. Ours is the scrawny looking bird. See that bit of yellow peeking out on our bird? That's a bit of fat. The bright yellow comes from the carotene in the grass, a sure sign of a free-ranged/pastured chicken.

In truth, he didn't have much breast meat at all to him. His legs were longer and bigger, tho. Once cooked, there was a clear difference in the color of the meat. The Costco bird was very pale while ours was darker through the breast, almost the same color as the dark meat on the Costco bird. There was also a distinctly more "chickeny" flavor to ours. The Costco bird was almost bland by comparison. Now, because of our rooster's age, his meat was a bit tougher and reheating the leftovers made it nearly inedibly tough. So now what we need is a faster growing heritage breed chicken. Something we can harvest at 10-12 weeks...

In the meantime, we waited for our hens to start producing. The age varies greatly, anywhere from 18-30 weeks of age. Our chickens were 16 weeks when we took the rooster, so maybe we'd only have to wait 2 weeks...or not.
It was almost exactly at the 26-week mark that we got our first egg. It started with one, then two, then 4. At about the 29-week point, we had our first 5-egg day. They lay at all different times, not just in the morning. And some days we get 3, some 4 and occasionally 5. We're averaging 30 eggs a week, which is just enough for our family right now.

So now Olivia gets to harvest the eggs every day. She loves going to check.

The boys like to check with her sometimes.

During our long wait for eggs, I did some research and decided on Delaware chickens for meat birds. It's what the industry used before the introduction of the Cornish Cross. The biggest difference between the two is that you can raise Delawares and they'll breed. Cornish Crosses are dead at 10 weeks because they grow so fast their legs break and they die of thirst, so no true breeding. 

Ordering chicks requires a minimum of 25 from most hatcheries and that's just not doable in the city, so when our good friend, Drew, mentioned he was ordering 25, I asked him to tack 6 Delawares on. 

And here they are. We got them at about 2 weeks old on/about 8/22, so they're now about 5 weeks old; theoretically, halfway there... They are growing fast.

Meanwhile, the hens have gotten big a beautiful. They're very gentle and 3 of them will actually squat down when I come close and let me pet them or pick them up. They often follow me or Olivia when we're out in the yard. They even run alongside the lawnmower, pecking at the freshly cut grass and getting at the bugs that are suddenly exposed. It's really been a great experience having the chickens. Can't wait to see how the Delawares turn out.

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