Monday, May 11, 2009

Chickens are in the House: Part 2

The chicken house has peonies emerging on the south side and day lilies on the front. I was pleased that its construction didn't entirely destroy the old perennial bed. We open the door for added ventilation on warm days.

This morning our Cornish X chicks arrived from Murray McMurray. Everyone was alive and we had a bonus chick in the box and a free "exotic" (who will eventually join the hens on their side of the duplex) for a total of 27. As soon as we got home, the boys and my husband introduced them to water by dipping in their beaks. Within minutes they were all drinking and eating to make up for the past three days of transport. Talk about cooped up! Their shipping box was just big enough to keep them clustered together for warmth. Their brooding box was all set, complete with feed and two small chick waterers and a light for warmth (it is still cool during the day at times, like today, and at night, and chicks need to be around 100 degrees until they grow larger feathers).

Eli held our newest arrivals all the way home from the post office.

Cornish X chicks in their temporary brooding box. I know--they are cute and fluffy and soon they will be in the freezer. The hens on the other side don't know how lucky they have it.

Now these chickens, apart from the as yet undetermined "exotic variety," will probably be in the freezer by the end of July so we can't get too attached. In the meantime they will have a happy coop and a nice yard to run in when they are big enough not to fit through the fencing (we made that mistake with the hens a few weeks ago...retrieved all but one and may she rest in peace somewhere...she was last heard clucking under the hen house). As the Cornish X are fast growers (4-6 pounds in as many weeks) I don't think that will be long.

My friend Jen emailed a few weeks ago that if we name them they should be food names. I see Fricassee, Gumbo, Marsala, Fried, Baked, Dumpling, Soup, Kiev and Cordon Bleu. And there's Giblets, Paté, Divan, Tetrazzini (well, I'm sure you can make the chicken variety), Pot Pie, Curry, Salad, Roast, Gravy, Sandwich, Al Fredo, Nuggets, Sausage and Stock.

This morning my friend Edie, one of the Cupcakes who also raises organic garlic and makes the best chicken stock, suggested a name from that retro 50s dish, "A La King" (how could I forget that one?). Not to disrespect our food in anyway or the chickens themselves but I suppose this kind of naming helps us to accept their freezer fate. [And how could I forget, Sweet & Sour or General Tsao!? If you can think of others, by all means, please let me know in a blog comment.]

And speaking of retro and weird food, this is a great opportunity to plug a hilarious take on food and diet culture: writer Wendy McClure sent me a copy of her book The Amazing Mackerel Pudding Plan: Classic Diet Recipe Cards from the 1970s. I received it in today's mail and over lunch was reading her wry captions aloud to my husband--and I haven't laughed like that in a while. It includes classics from the Weight Watcher diet cards, in those boxed sets, now in many yard sales or basements, as they were found in Wendy's mother's. All have delightfully wicked commentary on the food and its presentation. For more about meeting Wendy, read my blog entry at Cupcake Chronicles. Wendy is currently writing about the Laura Ingalls Wilder phenomena and fan base. Come to think of it, in the chicken realm, Laura deserves her own blog entry on that topic one day soon.

Among the captions in Wendy McClure's book (for more see her website):
Chicken Liver Bake: Enjoy it with the ashes of a loved one.
Or maybe what's left of the chickens are in that urn. Maybe the chickens were your loved ones. But chickens never love back enough. And that's why you have to KILL them. And eat their livers ritualistically. And then they're a part of you forever. Forever.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the duplex, the girls are thriving. They are now just over 7 weeks old and starting to look like hens. They have developed so quickly and lost their "chick look" at only a few weeks (I'm glad that nature allowed me a few decades reprieve before that happened in my life). They won't lay until September or October but have their adult feathers and features and it is such fun to watch their behaviors. We've had them using hanging feeders for a few weeks (and the growers feed mix) which is less mess and waste and they like their raised waterer, too. Some have even started roosting at night on the special platform designed for that. This week I'll try letting them out in the hen yard again as I think they are too big to slip through the wire at this point. Eventually, I'll let them free range. [Photo above taken of chicks at a few weeks old--they grow fast! Almost as fast as children...]

I threw a weed into the coop today and, at first, they didn't know what to do with it. Soon they will be outside in the pen eating all of the emerging greenery. So far they've enjoyed bits of bread and strawberry hulls/leaves for treats.

A waterer on raised blocks keeps the manure and shavings out of it.

The puppies have exhibited great interest in the chickens and even helped us retrieve some from under the hen house a few weeks ago. I bring the pups in with me and they watch from the door when I feed the chickens. It is my hope that they will get used to each other. So far so good. While they bring everything else out of the woods I'm hoping that the chickens will be respected--otherwise, they can't free range. Our pups are part Jack Russell terriers and they are natural hunters or at least expert dead-animal finders and excavators (you just wouldn't believe what they've hauled out of our woods!).

Well, do we know yet what comes first: the chicken or the egg? I do know that I should have looked into this before now: poultry processors in south-central Kentucky! I did discover one, SS Enterprises in Bowling Green, a certified organic facility, but that is a two-hour drive for us. The last thing I want to do is to butcher chickens in July. The University of Kentucky rents a mobile facility, too, but I would rather pay the $2.50 or so a bird for the processing. It might seem hypocritical but I'd rather not be a direct part of that process. I helped my uncle and family "put up" chickens after my grandfather died in the summer of 1974. Once was enough but at least I know how if I have to do so.

In internet browsing I have discovered a "must see" place up in Danville, about 45 minutes north of here. While they don't process chickens (except their own, as well as turkeys), they raise organic eggs, meat and cultivate rare breeds: Cackling Knobs Farm, also the home of Kentucky Seasons, Inc. (a commercial cake baking, candy making and catering facility) and the ingenious "Chick Wick" candle. Love the name, love the products. And if we can't cackle now and then, what's the point?


Bee's Wing Farm said...

Oh, they are lovely! And the picture of Eli is just wonderful -- the boys are obviously having the time of their life in farm land. And your laying chickens have gotten so big -- any names for those yet?
Great blog as usual!
Love, Edie

Bláithín said...

Looking at your little chickies I was thinking, "man, these guys look familiar", then I read in an earlier blog entry that you've got Ameraucanas and Speckled Sussex too. I've got those two kinds, plus Golden sexlink and Welsummers. I chose the Ameraucanas and Sussex because I wanted variety in my egg colors. The sexlink will lay a nice medium brown egg while the Welsummers will lay a dark, dark chocolate brown/terra cotta egg, and of course the Sussex will lay light brown and Ameraucanas will be blue/green. All I need now is a white layer. I also wanted chickens that looked different...can't have boring chickens!