Sometime this week, Aaron will probably harvest our two turkeys. I hesitated to get turkeys because I was worried about killing time. Now it’s almost here, and I’m feeling uncomfortable. Processing turkeys is a multi-step process that includes bleeding them out, plucking their feathers, and removing their innards. As you can see from the video below, it’s pretty terrible. I hate the idea of the waste being around my home. I’ve decided not to be present when it’s time. Also, I look at the turkeys we’ve raised since the beginning of summer, and it just seems weird that I’ll be eating them for Thanksgiving. I know they’ll be delicious, but still.
This article by Reporting Texas details the growth of the chicken industry in Texas, and the pitfalls and consequences of the industry.
Texas has opened its arms to Big Chicken, and Big Chicken has been good to Texas. In 2009, the industry contributed $2.1 billion to the state economy and had created 7,700 direct and indirect jobs, according to Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Program. The state is home to three of the four largest growers in the United States: Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson and Sanderson Farms. While the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association lists Texas as the sixth-most productive state, slaughtering 684 million chickens in 2010, the United States is second to none.
The communities that seem to owe so much to chickens are also divided by their presence. It has driven once-friendly neighbors to silence and brought an influx of out-of-county (and country) entrepreneurs. Growers live behind guarded gates. Many have unlisted phone numbers. While some families opened their doors for this story, many more hung up the phone, asked to be left alone or suggested that journalists had no place looking into the poultry industry.
How do you feel about all this landing on your dinner plate?
Aaron is going to love this article from HobbyFarms.com about how to harvest your worn-out laying hens for their meat. He’s talked about taking out our old girls for food for a while now. The article explains when and how one couple with a farm in New Hampshire does this: “culling is usually done in the fall of the hens’ second year of laying, when the total number of eggs produced begins to noticeably decline.”
According to Jay Rossier, author of Living with Chickens (The Lyons Press, 2004), young pullets begin to lay around 18 to 20 weeks of age and will lay continuously for approximately one year before the first molt, when chickens “shed” their old feathers, so new ones can grow. Hens typically stop laying during the molting period, which may last from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the bird. Once they resume laying, hens usually produce as many eggs during the second year as they did during the first year, but then are most often culled.
This rooster lives near the Town Lake Animal Center in Austin, where I volunteer helping the homeless dogs. The pretty rooster and some chickens are wild, and they hang out at the shelter for some reason. Maybe they’re eating loose pieces of dog food. The birds have learned the dogs cannot reach them, and they seem cocky about it. They’ll strut along within feet of the dogs’ kennels. It’s funny to see it!
Martha Washington, one of our Red Sexlink Hens, peers out the hen house door as Aaron snaps a photo.
“Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.” – by Aesop.
Aaron and I bought nine baby chickens a couple of weeks ago, and two turkey chicks. Our six adult chickens in February 2012 will reach their one-year anniversaries of laying eggs, which means their egg production could begin to decline. We bought the chicks now to begin growing them so they will be ready to lay by the time our adult chickens are decreasing their production. We bought the turkeys to eat at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Because it’s so hot in Texas in the summertime, it’s a good time to raise chicks. Otherwise you must keep them under a heat lamp so they don’t get too cold. The chicks are growing so quickly! Here are some delightful photos.
Today Aaron and I decided to go buy two more chickens. We’ve been so happy caring for the five we have because having fresh eggs in your backyard is so satisfying. And the chickens themselves always make us laugh.
When we brought our new chickens home, a couple of hens from our flock started chasing one of them around pecking at her. This is a natural thing–Like many animals, chicken groups create hierarchies based on dominance and submissiveness. The chicken who was getting picked on was the smallest and was noticeably freaked out.
We hope it won’t take too long for the new chickens to blend into their place on the pecking order. It’s hard seeing one of them getting bullied, but as long as she’s not seriously injured, it’s best not to intervene.
I’m nearly 30 years old and all my life I’ve never seen an egg like this. That’s a testament to our industrial food culture, because apparently, chickens lay mutant eggs all the time. But commercial egg farmers remove the odd eggs before taking their product to market.
Aaron and I got backyard chickens in November 2010. We waited until January to get our first egg. And what an egg it was! The thing was HUGE…About double the size of a regular egg. The next morning Aaron cracked it into the pan and we were completely shocked to see it had two yolks. Twins.