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Chicken Love and Death

May 26, 2009

IMG_1768I think I am in love with chickens.  Not in that romantic way that people mean when they say it to one another, rather I could sit and watch them and never get bored.  They have such comical mannerisms and idiosyncratic motions, they always seem to be either in an extreme hurry to do whatever life necessity is happening, or they can not be bothered to do more than blink from their ruffled spot in the corner of the pen.  I often get a hearty chuckle or bemused smile when I get caught just watching them.  It was as if there were mini dramas playing out in every corner because life is a free-for-all of who gets the prime spot at the feeder.  No one else here seems to find the same humor in their ways but it never fails to make me smile.

This week the roosters are really starting to show their combs and wattles and they have begun to face off against one another as the other more smoothed headed hens look on apathetically.  It seems appropriate that as they grow and mature so too does their set on which so many dramas unfold: this week I we moved them out to pasture.

IMG_1710It was a messy, squaking journey from the shed to the pasture where we had set up the four “chicken tractors” for the now two hundred and four chickens.  A chicken tractor is basically a portable chicken pen that we drag around the pasture so the chickens can eat grass, grubs and many other goodies as they drop their own precious, nitrogen rich goodies on the soil.  The tractors are a wooden frame covered in chicken wire, with most of the roof and sides covered with a white plastic to give them shade and shelter from the elements.  They have an automatic waterer hooked up to our livestock, gravity fed watering system, and a feed trough.  IMG_1722Every morning we move them to a new patch of grass, check their water and give them feed, and they sure can eat.  When they were just a week old the whole batch of them would eat a few scoops of feed a day, probably no more than a few pounds.   Today they are six weeks old, and we feed them about a hundred to one hundred and twenty pounds of feed a day.  And that is assuming that they are getting a good thirty percent of their daily calories from the pasture. That is more than half a pound of feed, per bird, per day and they only weigh about four to six pounds each.  That is roughly a tenth of their body weight, it would be like if I tried to eat seventeen pounds of food everyday.

IMG_1843There are of course, dangers to being outside, exposed to all the dangers of what chance has to offer.  This morning, as we moved the tractors to their new spot, the dinner menu changed.  Out from the under the dragging end of the one of the tractors rolled two chickens.  They both looked well feathered out, and healthy, except that they were no longer alive.  And there were suspicious looking red spots just below both chicken’s heads.  My immediate reaction was vampires, and my guess was not far off.  Skunks and weasels will catch and kill a chicken through chicken wire and then suck the blood from its neck.  Since it cannot get the bird through the chicken wire, it will then leave the dead bird and often kill again.  This time we were lucky, it only took two, so chicken was on the menu tonight.  You can’t get chicken much fresher than that, and it doesn’t get much better either.

In memory of a dear friend of mine I roasted the chickens with a lemon inside, some potatoes around the edges of the pan, and then basted the whole bird with a mixture of garlic, chicken fat and thyme.  It wasn’t seventeen pounds of food per person, but no one complained either.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 31, 2009 12:32 pm

    I can’t help thinking that each of the 200 chickens has its own personality and its own role in the drama you talk about. And I’m pretty sure there’s one with a folky poetic soul screaming out each morning: “Oh, mama, can this really be the end?, to be stuck inside a chicken-mobile with the Ontario blues again”.



  2. Ben permalink
    June 20, 2009 9:19 am

    I love chicken with a lemon inside!

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