Amateur Farm Hour: Meet the Meat Birds!

Yesterday, I bought an extra-large dog kennel at a garage sale in Stillwater. I could tell the owner was ready to ask me a barrage of dog-lover questions, so I decided to head any awkwardness off at the pass. The conversation sounded a little like this:

Hey! Great day for a sale! Say, I’d like to buy your dog kennel.

No, I don’t have a dog. It’s for my meat chickens. 

Yes, I said MEAT chickens. I’m going to use it to transport them to the butcher.

No, they aren’t ever going to lay eggs.

No, I’m not going to butcher them myself. I’m 33 weeks pregnant.

Yes, we’re going to eat them.

Yes we named them.

Nugget.

Have a great day!

We’ve kept backyard egg layers for the last three years, and it’s been great. According to Hobby Farms, the eggs we get from our little flock contain less cholesterol, less saturated fat, increased vitamins A, E and D, more omega-3 fatty acids, and more beta carotene. As a bonus, we can also thank our ladies for entertaining our girls, keeping down the deer and wood tick population, and for, ahem  *fertilizing* our yard.IMG_20160513_185053750 (764x1280)

A few months back, sprawling in our chairs in front of the fire, Jason suggested we infuse the flock. Our egg laying chickens were coming into their later years of production, and wouldn’t it be nice to have the new birds already laying before the old birds quit? Oh, and by the way, what did I think about meat birds?

He went on to extol the virtues of home-grown birds: hormone-free, yard ranged, fed a good diet, killed humanely by a local butcher, and delivered direct to my freezer. And of course we’d get 25 of them. It should be worth our while, right? I tentatively agreed those were all true and good things, though I wasn’t sure where I was going to put the meat from that many birds in my already-full freezer.

Fast forward to this spring, when I got a call from the post office. Your live animal shipment is here and ready for pick up. I had a peek at them. They’re so cute! And noisy!

Small town living at its finest.

So we made a quick list, piled into the van, and picked up our new farm babies. As I leaned over the same counter I normally weigh ebay boxes on and bent back the cardboard, I couldn’t stop my own gigantic smile. They were indeed adorable, all yellow fluff and tiny beaks. I couldn’t wait to show the girls.IMG_20160426_160713635 (724x1280)

Predictably, Ellis loved them, Gabby said she loved them but immediately threw the one I gave her to hold on the floor, and Lucy regarded the chick I placed in her lap with a mixture of fear and glee and refused to touch it.

We made a quick stop at the feed store for another heat lamp, two bulbs, and a sack of feed I thought for sure would last almost a month, given that the chicks weighed less than a golf ball, and were roughly the same size. We were ready.

The next twenty-four hours were a circus. It was April in Minnesota, and temps were still dipping below 40 degrees at night. We opted to keep the chicks on the front porch in Rubbermaid storage totes lined with wood chips. Each tote had a doll-sized gravity waterer and a small dish of chick crumbles which resembled grape nuts.

We positioned the totes under the heat lamps and prayed the whole setup wouldn’t melt or spontaneously start on fire. There was also the issue of the girls.

After they got familiar with the chicks, there was no end to the requests to go in the entryway and see the babies. Rules, admonitions, and threats about not dropping, squeezing, or throwing them in the air were mostly ineffective.

Oh. There was also the time I almost killed every single one of them by putting them in the bathtub and cleaning off their bellies, which had gotten dirty from being in such tight quarters in the totes. Unfortunately, this also brought the chicks’ body temperature dangerously low and resulted in me on the bathroom floor with a towel, a blow dryer, and a lap full of pitifully noisy wet chicks that looked more alien than animal, but we don’t need to talk about that.IMG_20160520_102057918_HDR (896x1280)

Three weeks later, the meat chicks are more like awkward middle schoolers. They are growing so quickly that their feathers can’t keep up, which results in some weirdly patchy looking birds. They’ve also now gone through TWO fifty pound bags of feed. Apparently they are almost half grown at this point, which means my $10 dog kennel is going to come in handy in about a month.

Very soon, we’ll be letting them out into the fenced in chicken yard to scratch, peck, and eat weeds to their hearts content. The egg layers will lose their comfy quarters for a month, but Jason’s been hard at work building them a portable coop with egg boxes and nesting racks, so really, I think they’re getting the better end of the deal.IMG_20160510_195415244 (1280x765)

And us? Well… we’ll see. I’m keeping track of expenses because we want to make sure this venture is cost effective before we get any more ideas about doing it again, and in the meantime, I’m filling our five gallon chick waterer and gravity food bin every day like a BOSS.

Stay tuned. Or better yet, make dinner plans with us in July and ask for chicken to be on the menu.

***

PS! Recently, two very kind teachers at Taylors Falls unexpectedly gifted Jason and I with this sign. Dear Erin and Laura, we love your work and your generous hearts – thank you!

If you’re in the market, Wood Pallet Treasures creates some fantastic, customized stuff. Definitely check them out!

pallet

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Romance vs. Reality – how we *almost* got a dog

Some people test drive cars. This weekend, we test drove having a dog.

I’ve wanted a dog since we got married. I have stubborn, animal-loving streak in me (horse girl alert) and for some reason, our farm-yard seems a little IMG_4155 (800x533)empty without a furry caretaker.

But we have this problem. Well, ten problems to be exact.

The chickens.

Don’t get me wrong. I love our chickens. I love fresh eggs and bright yellow yolks. But apparently dogs and chickens tend to be incompatible unless there’s some significant training going on.

A normal person would get a puppy. But I have to admit that A. I don’t know anything about puppy training, B. I’m not particularly patient enough for puppy training, and C. I don’t have consistent time to commit to puppy training.

I thought the answer was getting a dog in the middle of his puppyhood– one that had been given a head start so that we could just come in, finish the job. Enter, Snoopie.

Snoopie was a beautiful guy – a seven month old goldendoodle newfoundland (breeder’s oops, I’m assuming) with long lines and an easygoing disposition. He was medium-sized, black and white, and loved people.

Sigh. Turns out, he also loved chasing our chickens.  And barking. There were also the mammoth-sized piles of waste, and the constant attempts to get in the house. And then this: the realization that I’m more in love with the idea of having a dog than I am with the actual logistics of keeping one.

You know. The romance of an idea vs. the actuality of it.

Because it seems so easy. The beautiful, well-behaved dog. The woman in high-heeled shoes. The basketball player’s arching jump shot. Never mind the hours of training. The years of callouses. The thousands of shots that bounced off the rim.

Romance is not reality. Reality is hard work. Reality is hard-won. And gracefulness is realizing you’re not in a place to put in the time.

No anger. No bitterness. No need to keep wanting something that’s not possible right now.

I know it’s much more trendy to tell people to chase their dreams, reach for the stars, all that business. But what about the times when that’s just not possible? What about the days, months, years when we have to wait?

What about the desires that have to be patiently brought back to bed, time after time, until they finally fall asleep?

What can we learn from knowing our limitations, instead of cursing them?

Snoopie went back home to his family last night. It was a quiet ride, me second-guessing myself, my ability to commit to things. Afterwards, I stopped on the way home for Chinese food. I listened to someone else bang pots around in the kitchen. I let someone else take my plate.

The night air was full of haze and dew when I left. I was tired, but content. The decision to return the dog was the right one. The reality of my life doesn’t leave me with time for extra right now.

To everything a season.