This easily overlooked and not fully realized side of chicken keeping may not apply to those with chickens who have more than 20 or so acres, hence “backyard” chicken keeping.
So – one becomes aware of what is really going on the the meat production industry, the milk and egg production industry. ….and so on.
There is a garden to be worked, organically, and with some permaculture principles …and then – there are chickens (nvm what happened to all those first roosters, long story) The flock is loved, humanely kept, allowed to truly free range, scratch and peck and mate and some of the hens raise chicks.
Eggs are laid, all is well, delightful. Then the chicks grow up and half of them are roosters …now what?
Same thing the year after that, and the year after that ….meanwhile, the flock is huge, the oldest hens are 4 years old, eggs are less plentiful in comparison, feed costs way up ….and the roosters….
I know, some say: What is the problem…eat them. Kill the old hens and make soup …
There it is: the dark side. …….the killing…or the culling – the eliminating of the ‘extra roosters’ – or ‘non-productive’ hens. But mostly, it is a rooster issue….Unless you live in town and may only keep 3 chickens in your backyard…what are you going to do when they stop laying?
Why dark? some will ask – it is normal to kill and eat …to that I say – normal does not mean much, in some culture child brides are normal. But really – it just means the issue was not completely clear, prior arrangements can fall through, the significance and toll was not fully seen or considered, let alone felt, the necessity for and impact of “culling” not out in the open light….it was in the dark….
And strangely enough – it is getting harder and harder, not easier, to deal with the necessary “culling”.
It is not the heartache when your favorite hen is ill and she dies, or the lesson in letting go when a predator catches one, another realization about death and impermanence, not the obscene increase in feed costs, especially since it has to be organic feed, not your subsidizing of the eggs with your savings because no one wants to pay what they are worth, not the mites and the work to get rid of them, not the construction of the coups, not the getting up early in the summers to let them out, not the going down in the freezing cold to make sure they still have water, not the suturing up of a rooster who the dogs got ahold of, not the hand feeding several times a day of a baby chick that could not stand or walk …none of that. What makes chicken keeping so incredibly hard for some of us is dealing with this one thing:
It is the culling – the eliminating from the flock…of the roosters.
It is simply too hard on the hens to have that many roosters after them, especially when the hormones first kick in. There is not enough space for them to form their rooster bands and live elsewhere on the property, hence the above statement that this may not apply to those with acreage. The feed store gives them a chance to get adopted, but mostly, they end up at auction.
You got to know them, you know they are not separate from you, nothing is, and you know you are responsible for them….always and forever. They all have their own temperament and personality …their awareness, fears and trust …programs running them and learning on the other hand…you even had a contract with them before they hatched ….or you can tell yourself: some were meant to be food, go to the feedstore, or that is how it is, we all have to die sometime or any similar such line.
…you are still responsible, there still is a weight on your conscience – even if you won’t allow yourself to feel it.
My advice for any vegetarian who wants to keep chickens: if you don’t have any yet, get rescue hens or a flock from someone who has too many chickens, even if they are a couple of years old.. (getting baby chicks who have been sexed just means their brothers were killed at a day of age)
Be grateful for an egg here and there & if you need more, either pay someone who is keeping chickens the way you feel is a good way, a good enough way, and is able to cull the “extra” chickens …or don’t eat eggs any more….just have chickens around for the delight they are.
So there it is – if you don’t have a lot of land and you are the kind of person who thinks rats are cute, all animals ought to be able to live according to their nature, who has cried because the grass gets mowed or the carrots pulled out to be eaten ….…. just get rescue hens & forget about breeding any chicken ever for any reason – or keeping chickens except rescue hens for their own sake and maybe some compost.
Give a home to a few ex-battery hens or someone’s surplus hens and enjoy them.
.…you may be of the kind that is already remembering a way of life not dependent on killing any other life.
The consciousness is in all of them, in everything. I am one, there is no other…is true…but that is not even it….look at this chick in the picture
….he will grow up
…he did grow up …
Never mind the “sentimentality”issue …what right do I have to “cull” him?
Interestingly, when I first mentioned about keeping chickens, the first comment I got asked by my teacher was in form of a question: will you be able to kill them?
I had not planned to (having made other arrangements) – and I actually could in certain circumstances, but in the course of “keeping” chickens, the longer I see them, where I am at today, the answer is : NO.
No matter how I look at it: It is taking life for no good reason.
(ps ..that chick was Wildhead, and he did get picked up to be in a flock – others were not so lucky)
Once again, life came and went. It never ceases to amaze me and each time it is this: once in forever, a form, in this case – my sweet buttercup – came to be – alive – and the best we can do is give it what it needs to live the best it can, see it, love it – be kind, take the time while there is time – and be grateful and amazed. There is this very deep feeling, this painful wondering about this – that it is forever gone….like our forms will be someday, gone. It helps to know it was a life well lived, to know there was love – but still …it came and went ….
On Tuesday July 14, 2015, just at the change from late afternoon to early evening, one of my sweet buttercups went home. Her name was Middle, she had turned 3 years old in May. She was one of my first 9 original flock hens. I am just writing down some things here, because, memory fades so fast, but words can’t describe too well all the things I went through with her
I am left with a sense of gratitude. I learned with her – about chickens that seek the proximity to a human, about their sweetness, she taught me about being egg bound, about bathing a chicken to get rid of lice, about blow-drying a chicken, about being patient and accepting and about getting ready to help her go when she stopped eating, even though I don’t really know that she suffered, and about going quietly, in the midst of a thriving flock. I loved that little bird.
I am writing because – just to share the topics I explored, just because – she is no more…her expression of Being – her animated self – is no more. This is to honor her, because she had managed to wiggle herself into my heart space.
Here is some of her story.
She came to me from Sandhill Preservation as part of a straight run of 27 day old mixed Mediterranean breed chicks – my first chickens, 6 of them were Sicilian Buttercups.
From the very beginning, the 6 buttercups, (turned out there were 3 girls and 3 boys – as an aside, of the roos, 1 eventually was gotten by a predator, he roosted in a tree, the other 2 went to live in Texas), anyway the buttercups, even as chicks, were already interested in getting close and liked sitting on me, and that never changed for any of them. To me, Buttercups are the sweetest chickens when it comes to humans.
It is amazing to have them come to you and hop on your lap or your shoulder and seemingly enjoy being there, some preening, talking to you – it is just very endearing.
She had a good life, free ranged all day, organic feed, good company. There were some roosters, maybe a little bit of too much attention the first year as a hen, but live was good. She was always one of the favorites and I had to watch it till the very end.
One day in May 2014, she was not walking right, hanging around in the coop. I checked her on the roost that evening and felt something hard, an egg inside her….oh dear. I let her be there in hopes maybe she’d pass the egg overnight and that evening read all about egg binding I could find online. Next morning, no egg, I gave her the bath, nothing, then another warm bath and with the liberal use of coconut oil and some doing…the egg got out – she even helped.
After a few days, she seemed to return to normal, even saw her in a nest box a few times but I don’t know if she ever did lay another egg.
So a few weeks ago she stayed back at times from running out with the others, but I didn’t think much of it because I always have some thing extra to give. I don’t even recall how I realized she was so so skinny, and now worried about worms, I wormed her and started paying closer attention. I checked out her feathers too, and she had chicken lice…lots of them, but no nits…I dusted her with a mixture of fine dirt, wood ash and diatomacious earth, around the vent and abdomen. I observed her some more and saw she was not dust bathing. I read up all I could on lice and how to get rid of them. I didn’t see any mites, but they are so small and I wander if I missed them.
Basically, lice in free range chickens are just a matter of time till they appear, however, giving opportunity to dust bathe, chickens take care of them. If dust bathing is not possible, either no opportunity or the chicken is unable to do it because she is ill, then they start proliferating. (btw, those are chicken feather lice, they don’t go to humans, we have our own …)
I had also read a lot on chickens wasting away, none of which was good news, so I stopped the antibiotics I had started and given her for 3 days.
There was no abdominal swelling of any kind. Not other symptoms.
A lot of old timers – would just cull a hen like that.
Seeing how she stayed with the flock, but was hiding under plants or a wagon and moved slowly and not dust bathing …I decided to give her a bath to get rid of the lice, just so she didn’t have to feel them on her. Of course, I read up all about that too, the chicken lice treatment options, and yes, this does work:
2 cups of liquid dawn dish soap,
2 cups of salt,
2 cups of white vinegar in
5 gallons of warm water for 5 minutes, do the elbow test for right temperature. – dead lice will be floating in the water
rinse in 2 buckets,i found 1 rinse was not enough.
then blow dry…this is actually when most of the lice – all dead – came out.
I didn’t want to use the toxic stuff on her, and the water can be reused, but I have to say the blow drying took over an hour…and with her being so skinny, I had to get her all dry, not just sort of dry enough. She smelled good, well, like dawn …and she was clean. This would not work for a whole flock only because: the blow drying takes too much time. Luckily, healthy chickens who dust bathe take care of themselves.
I gave her special foods 3 times a day….of which she mostly picked and dropped, not ate much, but nonetheless she was actually eating something. Here are her favorites: watermelon,tomatoes (the inside), grapes, cucumber, grubs, chicken carcass with a bit of meat on it, some fermented grain, yogurt. Strangely enough, hard boiled egg yolk and scrambled eggs, an all time favorite, were not something she was interested in during the last 4 days. While she pecked and ate little, it was enough to poop. Once I saw her expel something, while she was pecking with the flock…some stuff that look like part of what I have seen described as latch egg or coagulegg (it was eaten by some hen so fast, I could not examine it). Never have seen when worms might look like if they got expelled after treatment, if they don’t get absorbed.
Every day she spent some time on my lap, though she was unable to fly up any more.
During those days, my prayer and invocation was for her to not be in pain and for that to happen which would be the best possible outcome, even if it included me culling her. And yes, I read up on all the chicken killing methods and weighed the pros and cons and then decided on what seemed like the best for her.
Anyway, the day after the bath, Sunday, she stayed in the little hospital coop except for a short time in the afternoon. I had a heat lamp for warmth at night, a fan during the day when it was hot. She ate little and I was going through all the options to help her pass. During the last few days while in the hospitable coop, I did have at least one of her sisters spending the night in there too.
But the next day, Monday, things looked better! I was surprised at the interest she had in the food. She did really have the best food choices of her life in the last few days. She wanted to even go out with the flock, she ate more and in the afternoon, spent a while outside the hospital coop inside the coop run…and even tried to dust bathe, which for her just meant sitting in the dirt tub and looking around, there were the 2 mamas and chicks and a couple of younger hens.
In the evening on Monday I let the flock in and told her – that is your flock, this is where you live. I wondered if this was the …”I am getting out one more time thing” before she left, like I has seen our dog do, …or was she getting better? She even tried to get on a roost, but then decided to stay under it, half way under the heat lamp. She didn’t have the strength.
The answer came Tuesday…she was slow to move and, while still interested in food, pecked little and ate little. Yet in the afternoon, she had walked to the edge of the little coop (which has wire on the side she went) to either be closer to the fan or to the flock …so I fed them all some fermented grain to make her feel included.
Even if it is all some chicken program and habit, I still wanted her to get the sense she was still part of the flock.
I had decided: if or when she stopped eating, I’d help her by taking her out, using a slightly modified version of the method posted at the end of this blog. I had some cloth to gently wrap her in, had decided on a location and had a scalpel.
By Tuesday evening, she had gone to her spot under the nest box. She looked at the cucumber I offered, but made no attempt at pecking at the juicy flesh. I gently picked her up one more time and she sat on my lap for a while. It just felt that she was going to leave. I told her I loved her …and asked her: is it time? You look tired. After a while I put her back in her spot. I got my camera and took some photos, but after a couple of shots, the card was full. So I told her again I loved her, and that I would help her this evening, unless she wanted to go before then.
When I came back, she was gone. Looked like she sat down where she had been standing and leaned to the side, her beak was closed, one eye was closed, the other one had the eyelid half over it. She had been so tired…and went to rest finally.
All throughout I prayed for her and did some readings. She heard the 4 lines and at least part of the Clear Light Prayer.
I was glad she didn’t have to feel any lice crawling on her during the last few days, she had the best food of her live, she was able to stay with her flock, but I wonder if I should have taken her before.
I remembered my aunt, who at 81 year old died at home of colon cancer, which had metastasized. She had gone through several chemo treatments and was sent home as there was nothing more that could be done. She didn’t really want to die, however, she was simply getting weaker and weaker, till she could not even hold the phone any more. She was catholic and always said: I don’t want to be in pain, and Mother Mary is gonna take of of that, that I won’t be in pain. If prayers to the unseen guides had anything to do with it, sweet little buttercup was not in pain.
And now she is free.
I took some feathers, and told her I was gonna have to take a look inside. She looked clean internally, skinny, and btw, not a single louse on her either. There was no abdominal fluid, no mass of egg yolks….but there was a yellow coagulated mass of something almost the size of a small egg, just more irregularly shaped in the oviduct. Maybe she was the one who had layed the occasional wind egg in recent weeks? Something did go wrong in the reproductive organs after all.
I buried her and planted a blueberry bush next to her.
The mayor issue I had is this: to cull her or not? In the natural world, no chicken would be able to survive this long this slow and weak without being eaten. But in the natural world, chickens are not laying eggs all year or have their broodiness bred out of them. In the natural world, she would not have been hearing the music she heard as a chick, or the prayers, she would not have been a teacher of mine – about life and death, dignity, egg binding & lice treatment in chickens, and the fact that no matter how many times it goes well, very young chicks need to be protected from other flock members – her included…and about the fact that no matter how similar it seems, no living creature is ever 100% the same. Modern physics now say that all of creation really is like a computer simulation – all in the mind of the supreme being. Well then, I did my best to do what was best for her, on the path to learn to be compassionate and non attached.
The way she went, I feel grateful, hoping that she just went like my aunt in Germany – just taking her last breath as the life force leaves completely. She ate and pooped till the day she died, I hope she was not in pain and she was with her flock, always home, and now home for good.
Thank you Middle, sweet buttercup & travel well.
The flock likes to hang out where she is buried.
I would have culled her on my lap, cutting the jugular with a scalpel. She would have fainted quickly. I don’t think I would have pulled her neck, just have her wrapped in a cloth and hold her. It was not necessary…her final gift.
Just some thoughts and considerations from an experience that was both intense and still, confusing and profound – because I didn’t cull that injured little chick.
Saturday, the weekend of Memorial Day in the USA, was hatchday …and she had hatched during Friday night, still not completely dry in the morning. Her sibling had hatched a day early and was fine, another egg had pipped. As I checked a few more times, just listening fro sounds and hoping for chick sightings, I noticed chick distress peeping, and that is unusual, and decided to take a closer look – shocked to see the black baby chick badly injured. At first I thought she had rubbed herself on the wire hardware cloth bottom of the nest box, but later I came to the conclusion that the other chickens had pecked her from below the box. First lesson learned the hard way: no matter how much straw you put into the nest box under the eggs, the hen will get down to the wire. And even if all went well a few times with hatching…that does not mean it will again….always put something over the wire.
I took the chick with me, set up my brooder again, and put her in after it warmed up…but she was mostly distress peeping in there, despite the warmth and the little plush toy….but was quiet when I held her.
Despite chicken’s almost miraculous healing abilities when it comes to injuries, some of which I have witnessed, when baby chicks are involved and the skin is broken – chances are slim to none because there is that infection that happens – by day 4 usually. And she was in a bad way, I didn’t even really appreciate how bad till the end of the next day.
I got some non stick gauze, had some none-lidocaine antibiotic ointment, made normal saline, used koi med (which I had used to treat bumble foot with) , warmed everything up prior to each use, fed her save a chick and even mixed in egg yolk starting day 2 and in the last 2 days, used honey and coconut oil on the wounds – but that is just a summary or the stuff over 3 days. It really was a 24/7 job.
But first, I had asked in an online chicken group what the best way is to cull a chick.
I got these: put it in a bag and then in the freezer. Bag with baking soda and vinegar. Sharp shears or scissors and cut off the head, hit head with brick, instant death. Reading up some more, freezing does kill, but can hurt, and CO2 – unless done right, it can end up being like suffocating them. I was not sure the shears were sharp enough, ripping off or bending the neck backwards might be an option, and I know they are so fragile.
I had wrapped the little chick in a clean sock after putting the ointment on and the non-stick gauze and carried it against my chest….and that is where it lived 24/7 for 3 days. Once I just for a few minutes put it back in the incubator but the distress peeping started again…
My back hurt, I was tired, I didn’t get much done, walked, talked and moved differently ….it was a bit of a challenge.
And there was always this: just take a brick and hit the head, get those sharp shears and cut the neck, don’t be s whimp…..no way it can make it, put it out of it’s misery …. and maybe it was in pain, at least when it came to dressing changes….
There is definitely a time and resource consideration in trying to help and safe a little chicks, vs just “taking it out of its misery”, which can for sure be used as an excuse to quickly kill it. However, judging by the sweet sounds it made when it went with me …everywhere – there was more than just misery…much more.
It had such live force, …and, must have felt ok and safe next to my heart, because for 3 days it delighted everyone, in between the baby chick naps, who got close enough in the house to hear it, with the sweet little baby chick peeps and chirps. We went visiting the coup, the mama recognized the voice and vice versa, it talked…it responded to the siblings, my voice, and I heard more variety of chick sounds than ever before.
It got to hear music, and hear clear light readings, gentle humming and singing and guitar sounds…it felt like it felt safe ….and it got exposed to the workshop spaces of a spiritual school.
It even briefly stood on it’s feet on day 2, even tried to peck some egg yolk once.
Once I realized the extent of her injury I also saw that only suturing would have given her a chance, if at all ….and finally, too late for her and overdue – I made that order for medical supplies I had planned to make for some time. None of the supplies have come in yet, but if you were around like you were on the first 2-3 days, I’d go all for you when they do….despite visions of needing to build you a special little coop.
I also found out about Manuka honey, the best raw honey for wound healing.
So yet, there was pain, and I was torn, having internal considerations….about just ending the life, saving her pain and myself sleepless nights, a sore back and a pounding headache …but then …it sounded so content.
The last day, today, she peeped a few times at 1 am, I got up for a dressing change, she took some water from a dropper, but not like before, but mostly on Tuesday, it was quiet, no more sweet peeping and I knew it would end. The breathing changed, she didn’t move much any more. We listened to the clear light orb over and over and in the end, Little Black Beauty took her last breath to the sounds of the Clean Light Reading – it was just before noon. I was working on making special amulets.
Even then, would it have been better to take it outside and kill it? I had gone over it in my head …it would not be so hard…but was it right? I kept her as comfortable as I could…and she passed to the sounds of the clear light readings from the clear light orb.
Life can be painful, in fact, I know of no one that has not experienced it. The worst distress for this chick was being left alone, not held, though there was pain when I changed the dressing. It was amazing how much honey and coconut oil disappeared.
Nature would have dispensed of her as soon as the Mama hen left the nest, on day 2 to 4 after hatching usually, and she would have served as food for some other creature.
In the end, her life had a different meaning, but it had meaning – she taught me about listening to certain of my perceptions….about doing things in a timely manner – listening to the same intuition. I learned even more about the life force and resilience of little chicks. because of here I learned more about coconut oil, Vitamin E and raw honey use on skin (no on the vit e) but especially found out about Manuka raw honey. She touched people who heard her chirp, or see her peek out from the top of the tank-top. She made me go through considerations about a baby chick’s life and death and what is generally considered the best thing to do, about the possibility of being too whimpy ….and/but …
And – it also was a bardo trip for us.
Instead of having a short painful life after all that work getting out of the egg and then getting injured and soon meeting a brutal death – this little chick actually got to experience something else too – feeling safe, hearing a heartbeat, being in the electro-magnetic field of a human loving heart for 3 days, hearing sounds of music, karma-wash orb – which I love, and clear light reading orb, touching people who had never heard baby chick sounds with her delightful chirps and peeps – so in the end, despite the pain there might have been, I am glad I didn’t take a brick and smash her head upon seeing that she was so badly injured. Looking at her, I even think there was some non-related difficulty with one of the legs to start with. I hope the honey and coconut oil, the non stick dressing and being wrapped and held in a sock, lying against my chest – made it ok enough for her – in any case, she made lots of sweet chick sounds during her short life, including a soft thrill sound I hadn’t heard before from a baby chick.
I saw her take her last breath.
There are bardo, or macro-dimensional aspects to this experience, but they would lead to far for this blog.
Thank you, Little Black Beauty, or Manuka, as I would call you now. Yes, I make sure that the broodys who insist on being in a nest box get extra cover under the eggs…and yes, there will be perennial flowers where your little body found it’s rest. You are free now. And I am sorry if this was the wrong choice …but it seems it was the better one….you had a more balanced life in the end, and with meaning – serving in way that a quick dispatch would never do.
What will I do next time …I don’t know till then, but I am better prepared.
There is actually quite a sort answer to it: it is an expression of where I am at in the process or becoming aware and feeling.
When people are ready for something, they are ready, or predisposed, or interested, or resonating, – then and not before. The interest for a certain way to feed yourself has gotta come from your smarts, your caring, your own nature and awakening to a new level of sentience. I was talking to some people this afternoon in March of 2015 – telling them that I don’t really know how to get people interested, magnetized or fired up about the chickens, the garden and, of course, the wonderful eggs that become available for our bodies nourishment.
However, I did ask myself: why am I doing this ….this “chickens in the garden thing” – other than that I love it – still love it after 4 years of often hard work, or “work getting a little old” and sometimes heart breaking times. I love birds in general, be around birds, listen to birds, observe birds, love seeing them foraging all over the garden, love listening to their sounds, love seeing them so healthy and well. …but I could have been a bird watcher then.
I presently “keep chickens” for the sake of the animals who provide us with a precious food, eggs – as long as we eat eggs and just about all our guests eat eggs … so for animal welfare reasons one could say, with the added benefit of deep litter compost, but there is more to it.
I have a vision and a dream within this dream we live in, a belief if you will: by keeping these healthy chickens, allowing them a chicken-worthy life free ranging in a garden, scratching for bugs, with a safe spot to roost and lay their eggs, by doing that – a template is fortified, a way of life is given strength….a way of life in which animals who are living with humans for whatever reasons, are treated with respect, are cared for, seen and loved – a quantum entanglement with this, rather than some other worlds. There is beauty and communion and magic and health and grace and flow …..
The is a way of life where animals are recognized, through their intimate observation and care, from eggs to old age, as expressions of the life force and consciousness that runs through all things.
One can hear the vegans already (nvm what happens in the harvesting of vegan foods etc) about it being unethical to “keep” any animals for any type of food or human “use” purpose. I am not going there – however, even in free range flock who gets to live out their lives, there are 2 issues that will not go away:
The rooster issue:
When allowing a hen to hatch a clutch of eggs, over time, roughly 50% will be male. What will you do with them? There are space, flock health and financial issues. Currently, the rooster issue gets handled like this: when a broody gets a clutch of eggs, I tell the “to be chicks” what life they will have, and if they are roosters…that for now, once their mother is done with them and they are about 3-6 months old, most of them will go to the feed store, where some get adopted for flocks, some get taken and raised to be eaten. They know what life conditions await them….and I tell them…don’t hatch of that is not ok with you ..because I simply cannot keep you all. And – once I started this – plenty of them have not hatched. The mind wants to find some other explanations…like heat, age of the hens or some other such reason…but really, the question already is on the horizon: is there, or rather, where and when is there a point when I either will not longer “keep” any chickens, or…start “culling” killing – the surplus roosters for food?
The old hen issue:
A hens get older, they lay fewer and fewer eggs…ok, but towards the very end, before they get some kind of infection or tumor – would it be better to “harvest” them? In a couple of years, a decision will need to be made….but it does raise this issue: to kill or not to kill while they are old but still healthy? ( harvesting, sending to freezer camp, culling – as just other words for killing in most cases). And how is it best done, with the least amount of stress to them?
Yes, the eggs are more tasty as well as nutritious from chickens that are free ranged in a huge garden-pasture. In addition, they are fed soy free organic feed. But for me, the improved freshness and general egg quality are secondary. Seeing these hens out foraging is beautiful to me. I feels like the right thing to do. And I don’t force-molt them or use lights in the winter to make them lay more eggs, and if they go broody, they get some eggs to sit on.
Yes, those kinds of eggs DO cost more than the mass produced eggs from the battery hens, cage free or no not….and after keeping chickens for a couple of years, I know why. In fact, I am spending some of my life savings on it. …and I do know – living with integrity is not compatible with doing things as usual. These days, if it is cheap, especially very cheap, be it food or clothing or anything, it is based on abuse, either of animals or humans, including children, or the environment. If people had to pay what it actually costs, they …ok, most, simply would not…or, certain items would be special occasion foods.
I no longer wish to contribute to commercial animal keeping because of the atrocities and violence and destruction done to the animals and the environment. In the case of where my eggs are coming from, that is possible….and meat and fish I no longer eat.
It is the principle, the integrity that matters to me: once you know, once you feel, once you really see what is done to animals raised for human consumption – maybe you too don’t want to keep supporting a system what is so so incredibly abusive…..and luckily, you don’t have to either…but it’ll cost ya. There is no free lunch here either.
One could argue: in eating commercial eggs consciously, one honors the life of those hens…..sure – and, you are still supporting the system. I am not saying don’t do it like that…but this is a post of why I am doing this chicken keeping thing.
If medically you don’t need to eat meat, why do you?
I would love to do art – but it is not more important to me than working on a chicken garden. I would love to have this very beautiful aesthetically pleasing chicken coop – rather than the DIY-reuse- every-bit-of-wood-you-can-find-put-together … rustic at best chicken house….maybe some day.
I do like my DIY feed storage though, even if it is rustic, here a picture with it almost done.
There are plans of doing some paintings for the coop, but the list of things to do that are basic necessity is still way too long…but never is this out of my mind: how I can I make this not only healthy and functional, but beautiful and cost effective too – and without killing animals before they have lived out their lives?
It is still a work and experiment in progress, and I am not growing much chicken food at the land yet, for a little more self sufficiency and cost saving, still working on the coops.
If I personally were capable of living off water and the energy of the sun directly, I would. Principally, it ought to be possible.
In the meantime – to all work buddies out there, does anyone wish to support this chicken garden project by sponsoring a chicken? 🙂 – hen OR rooster? Here is just one of them, a young girl not yet laying – as her sponsor, you’d get to name her 🙂 – and when you visit, you be sure to get garden eggs, even in winter, even if it means i don’t eat eggs that day….and no worries, many more chickens are available for sponsorship!
This one here gave me a heartache the other day by not showing up at roost-time…vanished without a trace, I looked everywhere…but then, there she was the next morning…I still have no idea what happened…and obviously I didn’t look “everywhere” 🙂
Once I starting keeping chickens, I took a closer look at the kind of eggs that were sold in the stores. The ones we were buying were labelled “organic” – but what the heck did that mean for the chickens?
Looking at the egg cartons in stores, you’ll find terms like farm fresh, nutritious, omega 3 enhanced, natural, happy chickens, organic, free range, cage free, pastured, humane, animal welfare approved, pretty family farm pictures, – no one ever says anything like industrial, conventional, cage hens, may contain salmonella, egg yolk contains soy, fed GMO corn, product contains antibiotics, inferior eggs, may contain traces of pesticides.
I found the whole thing confusing myself even for over a year after getting my own eggs from the garden-chicks, so really, they got us wrapped…and to this day I get emotionally fooled when I read “All Natural” on food. That is the biggest lie of all – you won’t believe the things “natural” foodstuffs can contain – and get THIS: you do NOT even have the right to KNOW what is in it. Let that sink in for a bit. It is just that “natural” STILL sounds like something so good, like nature made it, not dabbled with, left whole and wholesome – and in the United States, that could not be further from the truth.
Just the other day I was in a store looking for rye bread .oh, there is was – clear and in big letters – RYE BREAD – and STILL I have to remind myself consciously that the claim is false. When I moved to the USA in the mid-eighties, I looked for bread, decent bread to buy. Coming from Germany, I was used to all kinds of freshly baked breads – real bakeries were within walking distance everywhere I lived growing up. I remember 3 main varieties: Brötchen – rolls – the likes of which I have never seen in the USA, made of wheat four, double baked rye bread – made with rye flour (it didn’t need to say pure, 100% – is was RYE bread), and mixed bread – made with a mixture of rye and wheat flour. I was looking for rye bread …and I didn’t pay much attention to the ingredients list and ended up with the “rye” bread that had those seeds in it …oh dear. That was about 25 years ago – and to this day, when I pick up packages which are labelled “Rye Bread” – the main ingredient is WHEAT. There simply is not the same standard in food labeling here as I grew up with.
I will write a different post on what the various – and confusing, misleading, and clever terms you see on egg cartons actually mean for your eggs and the chickens.
In the meantime, just in case you are curious to find out more about just HOW WELL you are being manipulated, this here is a very powerful and eye opening video made about The Secrets of Food Marketing, Published on May 12, 2014. Below it is a response to one of the comments that made a point of saying that they did not present a solution – I say: you really need to be willing to look at and admit that what is happening may be problematic – the only way to address a problem is to admit there is one. We all have a choice to then do what is consistent with what we believe in, is important to us or hold dear.
I don’t mind if she is an actress, as long as what she says is true (if you do some research you will see that it’s not a lie !)
Compassion in World Farming : Hi Jake thanks for your reply. Please note that this video was never actually intended to offer the solution to factory farming – we simply wanted to grab people’s attention to encourage them to think about how they eat, and ways in which they can help stop suffering.
Compassion in World Farming’s aim is to end factory farming for the betterment of animal welfare, people’s health and the planet, and exposing the industry in ways such as this are vital to this work. Our work has changed laws which has led to the improvement of conditions for farm animals and better quality food for humans. We campaign for better conditions, and also work with the food industry to improve animal welfare within supply chains: www.compassioninfoodbusiness.com
We have a programme of Good Farm Animal Welfare Awards which are currently set to benefit 287 million animals.
Research has actually shown that intensive farming is incredibly wasteful and cannot be sustained. 87% of the calories that factory farmed animals consume are wasted (for every 100 calories of animal feed, made of soya and other cereals that humans can eat, rather than grass which we cannot, 13 calories of meat/dairy are produced).
Feeding the planet should not come at the expense of animal welfare, human health or the environment – all of which you can read more about on our website: www.ciwf.org. The truth is that we won’t be able to continue our current farming methods if we want to feed the planet. For a start, we need to reduce our consumption of animal products, and increase the standard of those products. I think you might find our research materials interesting, including our Manifesto for a Caring Food Policy, which starts by discussing problems of hunger and obesity and the disproportionate allocation of food across the world: http://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/5804168/Down_to_earth_manifesto_for_a_caring_food_policy.pdf. There is a wide range of research here which goes into further detail on our solutions-based approach to ending factory farming for animals, people and the planet: http://www.ciwf.org.uk/research/food/
“You got to examine your life – and you got to do it now, before you die” – E.J. Gold
Hello. Since not all who come across this webpage are homesteaders or urban chicken keepers, I’d like to start with a question or 2: Have you EVER really seen a chicken lay an egg? Have you ever seen a woman give birth? ok …
IF you had ever seen a chicken give birth …ehh…lay an egg – you would KNOW it generally is HARD WORK, takes sometimes a very long time, sometimes tears something, there is a lot of panting and pushing, sometimes makes the hen let out a yelp, sometimes there is blood – and – doing it almost every day, week after week – is demanding on their bodies. And sometimes an egg gets stuck and unless remedied in time – the hen dies.
Before getting chickens myself, I had not realized that in egg production the word “labor” really does apply. Then I got chickens of my own and saw it with my own eyes. Those girls really do work very hard indeed. I just always thought – birds lay eggs, so it is natural, meaning easy, right?…except for the “overbred” part, as “normal” chickens only lay between 10 and 20 eggs per year, rather than 250- 320 per year.
I decided to “keep” our own chickens mainly for animal welfare reasons, no longer being able or willing to support the conditions millions of hens are forced to live under in the commercial chicken keeping industry. In addition, the eggs of those slave laborers, bless them all, are nutritionally inferior and the environmental impact of those operations are sometimes downright destructive. (links to follow when those posts have been written)
So recently, fertilized eggs in hand, I am looking at getting more chickens a bit as if offering an employment. For as yet not developed eggs, I say something like this:
“Chicken spirits, we would like some eggs for our nutrition. In exchange for your product and labor, I am offering a chance for a life on earth as a chicken in our garden. This includes benefits such as bathing, sun bathing, scratching and pecking in the grasses and soil for worms and bugs. I offer a predator-safe place to sleep at night, daily free range on pasture with greens and organic soy free food, deep shade during the summer.Other benefits include: being seen, hearing the 4 lines, songs, love, preening and cuddling if desired and management of any overly interested and persistent roosters :).
This will last for however long you can do any work…..at which point you may or may not be serving for someone as nutrition. This will depend on your general demeanor as well as your willingness to also reliably hatch chicks and on the circumstances of those you serve.
There will be no fake free range in overcrowded conditions, no de-beaking at birth and your hatched baby brothers will get a chance to experience life rather than being chopped up or suffocated at birth.
On this earth, we all have to face death one way or another and it is part of the deal for you too. Yours will likely be via cone and with prayers and gratitude. Some of you roosters will be going to the feedstore – with prayers for a good life. If that is not acceptable – please don’t come here to this location to incarnate and work.
That is the best I can do.
And below is a question for you, dear reader, and put I this photo together for you ….
If you are not vegan, you probably still eat eggs, no?
Where would you rather have YOUR eggs come from? If you care about animal welfare – please consider supporting your local farmers and chicken keepers who allow chickens a life where they can express their chicken-ness. Think globally, grow spiritually – buy locally and resourced. Is it more expensive – yes, and considering, if you pay taxes, some of which go to the industry, you even pay more indirectly. And don’t be fooled by the marketing terms on the egg cartons.
I vote for better employment conditions everywhere.
Of course – pet chickens are kept for other reasons, but these chickens come here for a certain type of work.
🙂 I think our chickens have a pretty darn good job with great employment benefits.
Seeing your little lifeless body on the coop floor, your mama still
clucking to you – is a sight I won’t forget in this life.
It will not always hurt like this. I told your mama that all her
babies are gone now – and I am so sorry. Little one, you were
beautiful and I was so looking forward to your being with us here.
Sometimes – you don’t get to sing your song for very long.
Feeling heartbroken for the little one who died today.
A few unfortunate circumstances, and misguided preferences – makes it all worse.
You were seen and loved – and after what happened to your 2 siblings – you
were also afraid. …as if you knew – so very strange. I am so
Life – Life – how it bursts forth everywhere in all kinds of forms.
Attention – is what makes the crucial difference – focused attention
of someone’s eyes and heart – making another life-form seen, and loved.
Today there is sorrow that life, this grand life that bursts forth in
abundance everywhere – will not shine through you any more. The song
of your lives was short – sweet little blue chicks – and this is another
reminder – that nothing but living and being you – nothing but being
your song right now is gonna ever be exactly like that – nothing but you.
It is true, that quote – for animals and other life forms here too, not only humans
You are irrevocably gone, a momentary blip of focus in the sea of consciousness – but seen and cherished and loved …there is something about that that seems to make it eternal.
Just that – your having been seen, adored – doing what you did.
Placing loving attention fulfills a sacred purpose of all this life being born – to be
recognized in perfection and beauty – to put attention on anything
with adoration and love – does something that nothing else will do
– it brings forth another level of life in life. It creates Beingness.
And last night I took to Pencil Magic in pain – “just a little chick” they say. “They” don’t know … about all this life – connected through invisible matrix of being. Sweet little blue chicks, I can see you all there in the drawing – I even know which one of you is which. Does a drawing give some meaning – I don’t know – but it feels right to have done it….and in the morning, I noticed there was peace in me that could not be found yesterday.
Thank you little blue chicks. Glad you got to know being under a mama’s wings.
You mentioned you wanted some chickens. I think that is great – you’ll love them – and even though it might look like that there is a lot to consider, it is pretty easy – and fun. But then, I love chickens – all birds – and doing something you love makes everything easier.
A little clarity and intention put in ahead of time will really pay off later.
You’ll need a safe coop, and outside run, feed and chickens – I admire those cute coops for the suburban chicken keeper – who have something like 3-5 chickens …, but that just wasn’t gonna work for the number of chickens I was planning on…so we have a very rustic coop make with 1x2x, 2x2x, 4 posts, plywood and hardware-cloth.
I believe in providing chickens an as natural environment as possible. To keep them healthy and resilient, providing good nutrition and enough space are crucial – as are genetics and gentle up-bringing. Flapping your arms or wearing wavy clothes or walking fast – will set of their flight response – and if you ‘d like those amazing interactions – walk like in chicken tai-chi and don’t wear red colored shirts when you got them used to seeing you in black and green. If you are good at building things – that can come in real handy when keeping more than just 2 or 3 hens ….:)
I got my chicks (25 in May and another 25 in September) from a preservation hatchery and they were non sexed, meaning, they didn’t magically get rid of the males for me. My chicks are not vaccinated and I exposed them to the local dirt from the day after I got them to build up they immunity against the local coccidia. They get organic feed, first chick starter, then after 18 weeks, layer feed, kitchen scraps and free range stuff. Now that we have babies again, who can get kidney damage from eating the high calcium layer feed, they all get chick starter with the layers having access to egg shells and crushed oyster shell.
Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself before you get chickens. This only because – it just works out better later on. If you really just want 3 or 4 hens…it is real easy.
Do you care about the animal welfare side of keeping chickens?
The answer to that will play a role in where you get your chickens from and what kinds of breeds are acceptable to you. Remember, if you want egg layers, that means the breed does not have enough meat on them to make the males useful and so they usually are gotten rid of at birth. I did not want to do that, but that is the only option many folks have who live in the city where roosters are not allowed. Feed-stores have the most commonly used breeds from the commercial hatcheries.
What do you want your chickens for?
Do you want eggs? meat? eggs and meat? health? pets? Entertainment and therapy are a side effect of any chickens you share your life with 🙂 The delight they can bring is priceless. Depending on your answer as to what you want chickens for, the chicken breed you want is different. (Egg color was not important to me, even though it would be nice if some eggs were green or blue….)
(One word ahead of time – I will not discuss the meat chickens, which are bred to weight the equivalent of about 250 lbs in a 2 year old human. No matter what kind of a free range life you are giving them, I consider it fundamentally animal abuse and can’t help you there, so you’re on your own on that one.)
If you want chickens for meat only and can deal with getting some eggs, choose a dual purpose breed. You will need to kill them and dress them – I found that I am not willing to do the killing part except should it be necessary at some point to relieve suffering …. and regret having gotten dual purpose birds (egg layers with a decent weight – but they eat more – and unless you want them for meat also, it is a waste as it does make a difference in your feed cost). If you have dogs and can stomach the killing, the roosters will make good food.
Egg laying breeds are usually considered “light” chickens. The animal welfare standard is no more than 280 eggs per laying cycle…which to me means – all year except during molting, that is almost an egg a day when they are laying. I am ok with 4-6 eggs per week from a hen, which is less – because: I have seen how they labor – and don’t want slave labor. Laying an egg IS hard on them – and they do deserve to be treated as best you can.
So, how many eggs do you want each day? – get twice as many chickens – if you have extra eggs in the spring and early summer, sell them at work or give them to friends.
Keep in mind that during molting, when they are broody or raising chicks they lay no eggs. Molting (change of feathers) happens usually in the fall after maturity, in other words, my chickens from May and September 2012 molted in fall 2013 – with very little egg production from the flock – except from the ones that got hatched in 2013. Laying also goes way down in winters, and to some degree, during heat spells.
So, if you reliably aim for say 5 eggs a day – you will need about 8-10 hens…but in the spring, there will be days and even weeks you will get 8-10 eggs a day.
Do you want a rooster?
If you are agriculturally zoned, having a rooster is fun – they protect their flock, are beautiful, mine are all non-aggressive – and – they will want to mate, and you might have baby chicks one day. Mating however can be hard on the hens if there are only 3 or 4 around because – since they lay eggs almost all year long and hence mating goes on any time they are laying, their backs can loose all the feathers from being mounted. Better to have a 1:10 ratio – and don’t get a huge rooster and small hens = hard on the girls. Do it the opposite: smallish rooster with larger hens.
I LOVE my roosters – I had 32 the first year :)but we won’t even go into that. Rooster to rooster aggression in the breeds I have was largely a space issue, but mostly non-existent. I have 4 roosters now and – I can’t really keep any more….only because it is hard on the hens and – they eat more because they are bigger – it adds up. The only reason to keep more than 1 or 2 roosters is if you want to actually breed purebred chickens.
What do I do with the chicks that hatch each year that turn out to be roosters? They will go to the feed-store at some point. (I have spend hundreds of dollars re-homing some of my first flock (32 roos in all) – and that just is not an option, not that all did find a home. It helps if you have specialty purebred breeds if you want them to find a home…rather than a home with being dinner at some point.
Ideally, you will have 4 sq feet per bird in the coop and 10 sq feet in the run, if that is all they have. My coop was made for 25 bird, now I have 33 in it – and it really would be too small if they had to stay in there all day…but they range all day unless I keep them in the run for some special reason. Part of the run has a simple roof on it (DIY with 1x2s and plastic for the rainy season).
For someone who only wants 2 or 3 birds, they have these cute little coops you can get. I needed a coop for 25 layers to start with, but ultimately about 40….so those cute coops really never were an option …
If you have racoons, weasels, rodents, foxes, dogs – and you still want to sleep well at night after getting chickens MAKE YOUR COOP PREDATOR PROOF – using 1/4 inch hardware cloth and yes, if there are spaces you can put your thumb through …a rodent can get in. A bird net covered run is also very good for peace of mind as well as the life of chickens. My birds free range during the day … and I never lost one yet – only the ones that were roosting outside at night – NOT inside the coop – several were gotten – always in the early morning, Blacky was one of them …I still miss him ….
COOP FLOOR: I LOVE deep litter flooring, would use 2 rows of cement cinder blocks in ground under the walls and put the wood on that. Mine didn’t have that and I had to install a digger guard all around the coop and a foot deep – 18 inches deep would be better.
Good VENTILATION is a must if you want to not have frostbite on the combs in the winter….and also helps in the summer.
If I had to do it over, I would have a bigger coop with inside walls (framed chicken wire works) and removable doors which would allow me to subdivide into 3 parts easily, each with a pop door to the outside.
Could be you want to keep an extra rooster, breed specific hens, or give mamas and chicks a safe place.
You will need some sort of box for a hospital. A dog crate will do.
Weather considerations: For warm/hot climates I recommend to choose heat tolerant chickens. They love to hang out in deep shade during the hot part of the day, when it is best to leave them alone. The really benefit from several sources of cool water near their favorite hang out places.
Cold: unless the coop is not well ventilated, they should be ok in warmer climates like California. Ventilation is so important because if the air gets too humid (breath) and it is freezing in the coop and the humidity settles on the combs…they will freeze …dry air is ok.
For the run outside, chicken wire works well to create subdivisions or to create protected garden areas. In a panic, they will fly over it, but otherwise, they respect the fencing.
The deep litter (all the leaves and chicken poop) gets used in the garden.
Again, a little clarity and intention put in ahead of time will really pay off later.
I am planning to get more chickens next year from the hatchery, Sandhill preservation. …but then, maybe I’ll just let them hatch some more ….
Considering: Islandic chickens (very very hardy, good foragers and breed in need of conservation – I already have the coop for them) and Egyptian Fayoumis: good foragers, great mothers IF they go broody, naturally immune to Marek’s, good layers and the roosters are very very good watchers.
Why would I probably not get more buttercups for now, while I still have the bigger Buff catakanas: Because they are so so sweet …and smallish – and ALL the roosters seem to like them best …it is too hard on them unless you only have other similarly sized breeds and only 1 or 2 roosters…Like having only buttercups and Fayoumis would have worked.
I love the blue Andalusians – they are fun – especially if the markings are good and you will let them have babies. They are a rare breed, but I like the Fayoumis better – very alert and agile but more laid back in a way. And I find I am ok with smaller chickens …:) There are only 2 Fayoumis in the flock now …and I would like to breed immunity to Marek’s into my flock, and they are immune. Ultimately I would like to create a local breed, heat tolerant egg-layers who forage well, are immune to Marek’s, generally healthy with a friendly, laid back temperament while good watchers for predators.
So anyway, that is the plan for next year …I will need to finish another coop addition before then however 🙂
The joy and relaxation chickens provide – is – priceless 🙂
A little experience and some more tips and insights on multiple rooster management in the flock.
Some of you may remember Cutie-Pie and Lucky, 2 of many hen-hatched “roolings” in 2013. Of all the little roos from that summer, I still have 4, 3 of whom are destined to go to the feed-store like their brothers, as soon as the weather gets better. After some observation, a coincidence and some sentimental input, I decided a while back to keep Lucky, one of the mixed breed roos (Andalusian dad and Buff Catalana mom), and he has been with the main flock at night, and spends most of his days in a special hangout.
All 4 remaining cockerels had been doing fine with the hens, pullets and my 3 remaining roos from 2012 in a flock of 39 total. However, the youngens became very very interested in the girls, and so I separated out the ones I was not going to keep.
If you have multiple roosters – it is highly advisable to have the option of separating them if needed. That need can arise suddenly.
Moving a group of roosters out to separate quarters – prompts them to establish a new pecking order and territorial claims – or so it has been my observation.
It is good to keep in mind that “fighting” means – establishing pecking order. In healthy roos, once one of them starts running and is able to keep a distance, the fighting stops. Any rooster that turns out to have the habit to pursue and pursue even after the other roo has given up – is built in such a way that his genes will not be allowed to continue in my domestic flock.
Once you separate out roosters from the flock – they WILL re-establish pecking order if you put them back together.
Last evening, Cutie-pie, a beautiful spunky Blue Andalusian, so far content in his enclosure, really wanted to join the flock in the main coop, and I decided to give him a try with the rest of the flock today – and if all went well, I would let him join the main coop in the evening. One time he had gotten out by accident and was fine, with Lucky being daytime separated for hen protection.
So this morning I let Cutie-Pie join the flock and found out: He and Lucky are very evenly matched young roos who had some things to work out.I wish I had a camera when they first started “fighting” because it was an amazing dance performance – without getting tough or too serious, – they got under each other, over and sometimes went front to front. Cutie-Pie, the Andalusian, eventually did (sort of) start running, and Lucky even gracefully stopped chasing, but when they came close to each other again, they’d start over. Cutie Pie hadn’t really conceded. So here is another point to remember:
When 2 cocks, or, as we politely say in the United States – roos 🙂 are evenly matched, they tend to – keep on fighting….
Lucky is bigger, and at this point is second only to the main ruler of the flock, but Cutie-Pie is high in spirit. I was not gonna wait till the end – when and whatever it might have been – because I already knew that I was keeping Lucky in the long run.
So Lucky went into his daytime pen, Cutie-Pie was given a chance to roam and be out another day with the flock, but, as you can see in the image, they were still holding each others attention. So in his generous pen with run Cutie-Pie went too. I threw them all some grains and they were all happy picking and scratching. Eventually they would get used to each other and would work it out …but….not without some comb and wattle damage.
I do know from past experience that roos go through phases and, at least with my roos (and I had 32 last year) – this too would pass, but again, I know they will go soon anyway.
Just a quick word on the natural chicken keeping and roosters: In true nature, the males don’t get killed at birth and they also are not locked up separatly from a main flock. however, they do have a pecking order, they DO have a way to get out of the way (space) and, maybe most importantly – for MOST of the time during a year, the hens are not laying eggs, so there is not much reason to fight. Have you ever seen a rooster chase a molting or non fertile hen? At least mine don’t. So apart from aggressive breeds and individual roosters, we have the inherently UN-natural situation of females who lay eggs most of the year – something to fight about ….
None of my roosters are aggressive to people – and I find what I wrote last year on the topic on how to deal with roosters, is still true.
Do roos calm down – oh ya, my 3 main roos are nothing like last year. They surely seem to go through adolescent hormone spikes and have a lot of energy then :).