Archive for the ‘chickens’ Category

Homesteader’s Breakfast

Scrambled eggs fresh from the coop and toast made with home-baked bread. Yum.

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First Egg

This morning when I went out to let the chickens out of the coop into their run, like I do every morning around 10:30 or 11 am, I found our first egg sitting in the sawdust on the floor of the coop! It was all I could do not to race back to the house waving it in the air and shouting “Egg! Egg!” at the top of my lungs. As it was I did call t! quite loudly to show him our prize:

It’s small, which is normal. Young chickens start by laying smaller eggs, and “ramp up” to larger eggs. Here’s a comparison shot with an egg we bought from Hans at the market last week:

I’m hoping that the hens will start to lay in the nest boxes I made for them out of a couple of wicker baskets (I didn’t have enough spoons to build boxes out of spare plywood).

I need to try to find a couple of wood hen eggs to “seed” the nests with in hopes that they will figure out where they are supposed to be laying. Last time I went looking, I hit four different craft shops and the closest I could find were a couple of round wooden doll’s heads – since I know some people use golf balls as substitute eggs, the shape might not matter overly much.

Doesn’t that look like a cozy spot to settle down and lay an egg? The chickens didn’t seem to think so. They scattered the shredded paper all over the coop and knocked the wooden ball under the feed bin. Every morning I search for it and put it back into the nest box in hopes that they will eventually get the right idea.

So our little flock is doing well. Their diet of organic layer mash is supplemented by all our vegetable peelings and any other food scraps that they will eat and are safe to give them (pretty much everything except tea bags and leftover chicken):

And Chief, the head rooster, has been spotted doing his thing with the hens, which bodes well for some of the hens eventually raising their own chicks.

For now, I’m just thrilled that it looks like we’ll have our own fresh eggs all winter, and probably enough to pass on to family, friends and neighbors as well.

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by t!

When you raise chickens for meat, the logical endpoint of the raising is, of course, the slaughtering and butchering. And you have two choices about how this will be done: (A) by you, or (B) by someone else. We have decided to kill our chickens ourselves, and the several books we own which describe raising chickens all assume that this is what the reader will be doing. So far, so good.

However, the authors of these books have been raising chickens for quite some time. They enjoy it, they are good at it, and their books are designed to make chicken raising seem both fun and easy enough for anyone to do. The same goes for the slaughtering. It is easy enough, but there are a handful of tiny things that came up which I think deserve a mention, and these books did not quite warn us about.

– We use the broomstick method. What this is, is you lay the head of the chicken on a flat rock, place a broom handle across the back of its skull, place your feet on the handle, one on each side of the head, and yank up on the chicken’s legs. This breaks the chicken’s neck instantly, killing it. If you do it right. If you don’t, you will just damage the chicken horribly, probably paralysing it, but it will still be alive and frightened. Then you will have to pick up the injured terrified animal and kill it a second time. The key word here is to be *decisive.* Kill the chicken, with certainty, on the first try. This isn’t cruel; in fact *failing* is cruel.

– Also, some indication of how hard you should pull on the legs would be nice. If you pull too hard, the head stays behind.

– If you can keep the chicken’s head on when you kill it, afterward while you’re butchering you don’t have to worry about the gizzard spilling its contents out the top of the neck.

– You’ve heard that chickens flap around after they’re dead; everybody hears this. But it needs to be stressed: Chickens really *really* flap around. A lot. Enough such that we were glad the legs were tied so the corpse couldn’t run off down the road.

– The books play down how difficult it is for a caring human being to kill a chicken. One expects that the authors have become used to it, or that they don’t want the readers to think they can’t do it, which is all fair enough. But there should be some warning about the eyes. Once the chicken is dead, do *not* dwell on its eyes.

– Also the books do not warn you about the *feel* of that first chicken. You catch him, pick him up, and hold him steady, ready for the end. Since you rarely get this close to a chicken, you look him over. You’ve done well as a homesteader; he’s a good-looking animal. His chest is warm. You can feel it moving in and out as he breathes. He feels just like a kitty. You want to stroke his belly. Hang on – this is *not* the proper mood for poultricide! You’ll need a few sharp moments to rearrange your perspective and remember that this creature is food. It’s not too difficult to do, but I would have preferred it if I’d been prepared for that moment.

– If you read about killing chickens, you will be told that holding a chicken upside-down by its legs will cause the blood to rush to the chicken’s head, knocking it unconscious and making things easier on you and the chicken. Everybody agrees this will happen. Nobody will tell you how much time it takes for this marvelous passing out to occur. We’ve suspended the chicken and waited patiently; out of 11 chickens not one has ever passed out. But each of us has had a chicken try to escape by bending itself upward and pecking our hands.

– When you are cutting the legs off a chicken, the blade presses into its tendons. This causes the toes to curl. Therefore, when you cut into a chicken’s leg, the dead claws will grab your finger. This is rather startling the first time it happens. The second time, it’s still pretty creepy. I don’t know about the third time. I’ve changed the way I hold the leg.

– You hang chickens upside-down with their carotids cut (or heads missing, depending on how you killed them), to allow the blood to drain out of their bodies. This is better for the meat, and means less mess during innards removal and other butchering. The books all recommend you hang the chicken upside-down for a half hour, but they don’t tell you how much blood should drain out. We had one chicken that looked like it had clotted after two minutes, there was so little blood. But it did not bleed during the butchering. Our last chicken dumped a lot of blood into the pail for its half hour, and then bled some more in our garage, and then bled all over the counter during the butchering. Maybe the books don’t tell you how much blood is normal because it always varies? Perhaps this last chicken bled so much because it was one-third heavier than most of our others. Or maybe it had been taking Aspirin.

– With practice, one gets better at catching chickens. However, it does not get easier. The first ones you catch are the small and slow ones – the losers. The later ones are faster and more clever, plus there are fewer bodies remaining to get in their way when you chase after them. We were down to our last three roosters: The alpha, the second biggest, and the smallest. We decided, naturally, that the smallest should be killed, so that should anything happen to the alpha his replacement would still be a large bird. Well, it turned out the smallest one was also the fastest ever. After five minutes – a very long time when you’re trying to catch one specific chicken and all around you the other dozen are running flapping and shrieking – we gave up on him, and nabbed the second largest. He was *much* slower. Darwin has spoken; the one best able to avoid predators (or farmers) has prevailed.

We call him Speedy.

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Wake up, drink tea. Check email.

Take the dog for a 4.5k jog. My neighbors wave at us as they slow down to drive by on the gravel roads. It’s -0.5°C when we leave the house and +0.7°C when we get back.

Change into work clothes.

Put on a load of laundry.

Disinfect kitchen worksurfaces, sinks, and chicken-butchering tools.

Kill, hang, bleed, skin, eviscerate, wash, and chill two chickens.

(Get t! to hang the laundry out on the line while I am elbow deep in chicken guts).

Disinfect kitchen worksurfaces, sinks, and chicken-butchering tools.

Put on a batch of bread dough for tonight’s supper of home-made pizza and a loaf of bread.

Knit a couple of inches of the sock I’m working on.

Bring the laundry in. It’s sleeting out.

Close up the chicken coop for the night.

Mop/disinfect the kitchen floor (post chicken-butchering) while t! takes the dog out for his evening walk.

Make and eat pizza for supper. Yum. Put bread in for second rise.

Watch an episode of something on DVD (we don’t have TV reception or cable) while the bread bakes.

Post to blog.

Fall exhausted into bed.

Tomorrow: Farmer’s market for groceries, possibly flea market for tools & other things. Chores. Cleaning out and re-organizing the garage in preparation for stacking our winter firewood in it.

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We slaughtered, plucked, dressed and wrapped our first chicken today. It took 4.5 hours start-to-finish. There will be a photo essay once we have… ahem… refined the process somewhat. Important notes: 1. Starve the chickens for 24 hours prior to slaughter. 2. Cut the entire head off to make sure it bleeds out properly. 3. Get better at plucking and dressing.

After the chicken was wrapped for the freezer and I had thoroughly cleaned all the tools & work-surfaces, I desperately wanted to order pizza for dinner. Am having a hand-made-by-a-local-and-bought-at-the-farmer’s-market Jamaican patty instead, and will follow it up with the lentil-beef soup I made for the crafting weekend. And a whiskey.

The crafting weekend was fabulous. There will be a full post about it tomorrow.

Also, I need to change my banner photo to an Autumn-theemed one.

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Chicken run, again

The chickens have finally gotten used to the idea that OUTSIDE is a fun place to be, seeing as how it has grass and bugs to eat and room to chase each other around and fly and stuff. After a couple of weeks of being very unsure about the whole business of having this little door to the Big Blue Room that opened every morning around 11:00am and closed again at nightfall, they’ve taken to the outdoor life with gusto.

Now in the mornings when I open the “pop-hole” door, they (almost) all file out, and start pecking at the grass and shaking the sawdust out of their feathers. Watching them wander around and display for each other and peck at an unfortunate cricket and chase each other around and fly the length of the run is a great way to spend a few minutes of every day.


Despite the chicken wire you see in these photos, they are true “free range” chickens, because the fence is more to keep Carter out than to keep them in, and indeed, they fly over it regularly. They also fly back, most of the time. Sometimes I have to catch one and toss it over the fence. Other times I’ll open the regular (person-sized) door to the coop and the “escapee” will hop back in quite happily.

The middle chicken on the ramp (facing right) is the one I think of as the “chief rooster”. He’s the one who crows, he’s the biggest and the most stately, and he has all his (beautiful, iridescent green) tail-feathers, unlike some of the more scraggly, lower-ranked males.


No eggs yet, in fact no sign of anything I recognise as mating behaviour, so I guess they aren’t quite mature yet. It’s time to  plan when we’re going to start butchering, though. The extra roosters are getting very expensive to feed.

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This morning, for the first time, I woke up to one of my roosters crowing! It was yet another check mark on my list of “Now I feel like a real homesteader” moments.

Also, last night’s headcount was 25 chickens. So either I’m counting wrong, or our escapee has found her way back home.

The chickens still refuse to spend any time outdoors. I’m going to try to build them a better ramp this weekend, in hopes that that will encourage them out into the run.


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Chicken run

Last weekend, at long last, we finished building the chicken’s run, fencing it in, and engineering the chicken-sized door that allows the chickens access to the run.

We opened the Door to Freedom for our flock, and… they stayed huddled indoors. They will stand and peer out the door, like this:


But only a couple of the females have actually ventured outside. Yesterday, for the first time, two were out at once! Adventuresome, bold, daring, curious, these are words that Do Not describe our chickens at all. 

Except for one.


No only did she fly the coop, and head outdoors, she flew over the fence of the run, and took up residence under the pine trees for the day. I purposely located the run next to the trees so that it would be shaded. I didn’t take into account the futility of trying to chase and catch an escapee chicken through a cedar bush.

I hoped that at nightfall, Escapee Chicken would find her way back into the coop. Unfortunately this didn’t happen – head count at bedtime was 24. 

So this morning I headed out to see if she had survived the night, and I found her roosting in a pine tree behind the coop. 


Hopefully when I go out to open up the coop for the day and water & feed the chickens, she will remember where breakfast is served.

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They’re about half grown. They’re eating a lot and pooping a lot. They’re roosting on their roosts. I can pretty much tell the girls from the boys, though they don’t stand still long enough for me to count how many I have of each. I’m pretty sure I have 10 to 12 males, though, which is perfect. Some of the males are developing really gorgeous iridescent dark green tail feathers. I’ll try to get some good pictures of that next time. 

For now, here’s a picture of three pullets perching on the perches:


(Pullets are females that haven’t started laying yet. When they start to lay, they become hens.)

And this is Thanksgiving Dinner:



You can’t tell very well from the photo, and I couldn’t get a better one, but he is developing the “wrong” kind of comb. Chanteclers have “pea” combs: very small combs that are just a little red bump on their foreheads, unlike the big, showy “fingered” combs that some breeds have. This is because the big showy combs are prone to getting frostbitten in cold weather. So one of the adaptations that Brother Wilfrid of Oka (who originally bread the Chantecler chickens) developed was the small comb that sits tight on their heads and therefore doesn’t freeze and fall off. 

This fellow is developing a fingered comb rather than a pea comb, and so in order to keep my flock “true” to the Chantecler breed, I don’t want a rooster with the genes for the wrong kind of comb fertilising any of the hens. So he’s one of the roosters destined for the cookpot, and I’ve started calling him Thanksgiving Dinner.

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Things have been nuts around here lately – hence the lack of posts. I’d love to be able to promise to remedy that this week, but I’m behind on everything, including my current freelance writing gig, so though I do have a couple of posts in the pipeline, I can’t make any promises about when I’m going to get them up.

On the weekend-before-last Arin, Ron, and Liam came out on Sunday to help build our chicken coop. We were fairly lucky with the weather, it only threatened to rain on us a little bit. Ron did the bulk of the construction with me as assistant, and t! helped with the heavy lifting as needed.


It all went together really well – Ron knows his stuff and the plan was pretty simple: a 6-foot by 8-foot coop with a single sloping roof, 7 feet high at the front and 5 feet high at the back (which hopefully means I won’t need to get up on the roof in the middle of winter to shovel the snow off it).


We put in a full day Sunday and got the posts, floor frame, floor, walls, and roof up, and window in. On Monday I added insulation (to keep the chickens warm in -30°C) and panelling (to stop the chickens pecking the insulation to bits) to the inside. 


Tuesday I fitted and hung the door, and finished off the interior (perches, ventilation holes, feeder and waterer) and t! and I moved the chicks into their luxurious new home.


Despite what this photo shows, they are not using the roosts yet, which could be newness of the environment, or could be that I put the roosts too high, or used poles that aren’t wide enough. If they haven’t started roosting soon I will start making changes to the current roosts.


t! is going to spend tomorrow morning painting the coop bright red. The “Barn and Fence” paint I bought at the farm supply store came in black, white, brown, and red – at least that’s what they had left on the shelf, so a red coop it shall be! I’ll post a picture or two tomorrow. In the meantime, I should probably share this one that t! snapped while I was moving the chicks in:


No, it doesn’t have a name. No, it isn’t going to have one. Except possibly “Drumstick” if it’s a boy chicken. All except two of the boy chickens will be “Drumstick” or “Curry” or “Noodle Soup” or “BBQ”. You get the idea.

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