Chookin

Last summer, the dog ate two of our chickens (and then the dog found a new home).  We didn’t replace them because we weren’t sure if we were coming or going.  So now we’re farm sitting in Inverhuron, and we moved our birds into the lovely chicken coop here (everything is lovely, I love every building on this property).  The resident hens are long past the point of laying, one buff orphington is in her teens.  We needed more eggs, therefore, it was time to get more chickens.

I had placed an ad online, heard back from a farmer with hens who were to be a year old in June, asking a good price, within reasonable driving distance.  Off we went.  Turns out his birds are “cage birds” (his words).

We enter his barn (dark and smelly, two things barns don’t need to be, the contents of which I will not elaborate on, or I’ll be typing forty pages instead of four) and he’s got hens there for me, crammed into cages, hanging above a cattle pen.

Their toes are hanging through the wire, they can hardly move in their cages, and despite having had the ends of their beaks trimmed off, they have had nothing to do but peck each other.  And have been doing so.

I didn’t set out thinking I was on a rescue mission, I set out thinking “EGGS!  YUMMY!”  I would never have bought hens in such bad condition at an auction, but I couldn’t leave without them.  He assured me they were not even a year yet, that they were laying well, and tells me that they would have been getting put in the stew pot soon because they were starving, eating each other, suicidal it was time for the next cycle of birds.

So I paid and thanked the farmer (a man hardly older than myself), and took the hennies home.

There is no reason for this.

Just because chickens can survive horrific conditions and still produce an egg, doesn’t mean they should.  Just because that was the way it was done before, does not mean it’s the way it needs to be done TODAY.  That latter part is what I wrote to the farmer, in a very polite, but very clear email.

Because it’s just the herd, following nose to tail, not paying attention to what is really going on, that creates this situation.  Because stepping back even an inch, from the sphincter ahead of you, would reveal that the situation is not reasonable.  Heck, it’s not even CHEAPER.  I laid out the case for giving the hens more floor space, feeding them kitchen scraps and allowing them to be live in composters, because guess what?  They’ll lay eggs productively for more than one measly year, because they won’t be starving and eating each other.  Better for the chicken, better for the consumer, better for the pocketbook.

It’s not rocket science.

The chickens, once let out of the crate, immediately began scratching, pecking, and wobbling around the coop.  It was like they had sea legs.  Took them two days to figure out how to navigate the hatch and ramp to go outside (where the waterer is) and most of them understand that the nest box is the best place to lay an egg.  Their shells are still quite thin, I would imagine this is because they were nutritionally deficient (starving).  They have free access to food, and heaps of scraps, as I am egg sharing these hens with another family, who arrive laden with nibbles for them on a regular basis.

Their eggs taste like thanksgiving.

It’s a great thing to receive.

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