The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Broiler experiment conclusion

Empty chicken tractorWe killed the rest of our broilers this week, and while we were at it we deleted our three Plymouth Rocks for failing to meet their egg quota.  The farm feels very quiet without them.

We've learned a lot from this year's broiler experiment, mostly things we want to change for next time.  Our chickens were tastiest and cheapest per pound (and least wiley) when we slaughtered them at 12 weeks, so we'll be killing broilers young in the future.

Sunflower and chicken coopWe also plan to raise two or three smaller batches next time rather than one large one.  After spending two mornings this week covered in blood, my gutting skills have improved, but I feel like I also became a bit numb to the process.  We strongly believe that if we take a life, we should respect the animal and be entirely in the present, which means killing no more than eight chickens a day and killing them no more often than once a month.

Of course, that means we have to start hatching out our own chicks.  We're saving this year's Rhode Island Red chick and will breed him with our doughtiest Golden Comets next spring.  A hybrid of a hybrid is a strange direction to go for chicken breeding, I know, but our three oldest Golden Comets have proven to me that their genetics are exceptionally sound.  At four years old, they still lay nearly an egg a day apiece, and they're the only ones I trust to peck up a cupful of Japanese Beetles before the insects disperse back into the garden.  If raised by a mama hen rather than spending their early childhood stuck in a brooder, I have high hopes that these chicks could be prime foragers.

Our homemade chicken waterer made watering 25 broilers a piece of cake.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Have you given any thought for ducks as your meat birds? We had a pond dug last fall and decided a few ducks would be fun. (AvianAquaMiser worked great for baby ducks). They seem to be extremely fast growers, out growing the chicks I purchased at the same time, easily 2-1. Purchased end of February, they are now as large as my one pearl white leghorn hen. With your flood plain, protected valley and wet creek it seems like an option.

What are your thoughts or research? I'm asking for my selfish reasons, as this may be something I might try.

Comment by Erich Mon Apr 4 11:41:36 2011

I've pondered ducks and might try them at some point. Here are the reasons I've been leery so far:

  • When I read people's blogs about slaughtering ducks, it sounds like they're very difficult to pluck. Plucking is already my least favorite part of the process (since I make Mark do the actual slaughtering :-) ), so anything that adds to the plucking time is bad news.

  • People say that ducks lay all over the place, so you have to go hunting their eggs.

That said, a lot of homesteaders seem to swear by them, especially if they have snail problems. (We've never had trouble with snails, which is a bit odd given our wet climate and use of mulch.) I've also read that ducks are better about laying in the winter than chickens are. You'll have to keep us posted with your own experiences!

Comment by anna Mon Apr 4 11:55:53 2011

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