We love our laying hens. They are entertaining, smart (really!) and tough little creatures who have each laid a delicious giant brown egg every morning for over a year now. So this spring, when Agway's chick order form came out, we decided that not only would we get another six pullets for eggs, we'd also try our hand at raising some birds for meat.
Our first surprise was that the hatchery was overwhelmed with orders this year, or so we were told, and we didn't get the chicks until the end of May. The meat birds were your typical Easter peeps, little yellow fluffballs. They were super cute for about a week. Then we noticed that they had totally outgrown the cozy little brooder we had set up for them in our woodshed. We got another brooder, but they seemed to have gone from ping-pong balls to footballs by the end of the second week. By the beginning of June they were definitely overcrowded, but it was still too cold at night to put them out on pasture, so in the woodshed they stayed. Besides their distinctive aroma, the overcrowding was making them kind of mean. Their beady little eyes took on sinister expressions, and they tried to take bites out of my hands each time I refilled their food or water. Inspired by their impressive digestive systems, I was bustling around the house one morning singing, Jimmy craps corn, and I don't care at the top of my lungs. My catchy little tune led me to do something we had sworn we wouldn't: I accidentally named the meat birds.
Jimmy's Awkward Phase
Jimmy finally made it out to pasture in late June, when the weather warmed up. The birds seemed delighted to be able to waddle around their pen on the hillside eating grass and bugs. We were pretty pleased too, that they were no longer pecking the hell out of each other in their smelly sardine-can right outside our kitchen. I gave the laying hens (who were growing at a less maniacal rate and were still not ready for their new home on the lawn) nice new bedding, and they were happy too. After the big move, there was just one unhappy individual: one of the chickens was laying down right in the middle of the pen, and he (she? it was too soon for a novice like me to tell) wasn't looking so hot. I scooped him up and carried him down the hill. He waited patiently on the ground, making pathetic little peeping sounds, while I set up a hospital room for him in one of the recycling bins. We figured he'd either die that night or recover and join the others on the hill.
No dice. The next day, he seemed about the same. He'd taken quite a bit of the sugar water we'd given him, though, and we felt hopeful. For several days, he remained in the same condition: half-feathered, immobile, and emitting frequent diarrhea and little chirps. We adjusted his heat lamp, fed him honeyed herbal tea that I had made for the bees, and shouted, "Live, Jimmy, live!" every time we passed his little pen. And live he did, for over a week. The irony of trying to help a creature destined for death and an afterlife as part of a pot pie to survive nagged at us a little, and eventually it caught up to little Jimmy Jazz as well. We buried him unceremoniously. His brethren up on the hill, however, were thriving.
By mid-July, it was easy to tell who was a rooster and who was a hen. The boys' first weak attempts at crowing transformed into marvelous alarm clocks by the end of the month. By August, the birds were starting to look really tasty. We're not really equipped for that level of chicken slaughter, so we started making some calls, and finally got a call back from a nearby farm that had USDA approval. We set a date, Farmer Fin and Olivier built some transport crates, and last Monday morning we loaded Jimmy into the truck, drove to Sap Bush Hollow Farm, and said our farewells.
Enjoy it while it lasts, Jimmy!
Jimmy's Last Ride
The Stage is Set
Six hours later, we picked them up, organs and gizzards in a separate bag; hands, feet, and feathers nowhere to be seen. Even without all that stuff, they were huge! None weighed less than five pounds.
By nightfall, the creatures FORMERLY known as Jimmy were safely in the freezer, except for one that was slathered with spices and roasted on the grill with a beer can up its ass. We made potato salad to go with it. Yum!