Well folks we finally did it!! We have been dreaming about getting chickens since we bought the house and Saturday was the big day! Jeff built me a fantastic chicken coop / potting shed / strawberry-patch-green-roof building in the back yard that we’ve painted up to be just about the prettiest chicken coop you ever did see.
This was just another one of those times that I’m so happy my fiance is a contractor.
Our Saturday started with an early morning drive out to Langley to the auction. What an experience! It was just like something out of a movie.
Even if you have no intention of ever buying livestock, the auction is worth the drive just for the experience. I didn’t take many pictures because Jeff said my big camera made me look like a tourist. (I kinda felt like one!) It was noisy and smelly and absolutely wonderful. Cage on top of cage on top of cage full to bursting with clucking, scuffling, pooping, squaking, egg-laying goodness. There were chickens, goats, sheep, turkeys, fertile eggs of all description, quail, ducks, bunnies and even a lone cockatiel. The people watching was FANTASTIC and there were a gazillion little kids running around just having the time of their lives; some of them were even bidding! So cute!
The auction is a great choice for city-bound-would-be-chicken-farmers. A quick look through the hatchery catalogues and you quickly realize that the 25 chick minimum doesn’t quite jive with your boutique backyard hen house. And what do you do when some of your balls of fluff start to cock-a-doodle-do? No number of free, fresh organic eggs will warm your neighbours up to that nonsense. Sure you can get laying hens at the garden shop in White Rock, but they’ll set you back 25 bucks a pop.
So off we went in search of heritage laying hens which ended up costing us about 10 bucks a bird. Not a bad investment considering organic, so called “free-range” (which doesn’t mean squat) eggs go for close to 6 dollars a dozen. And they are BEAUTIFUL.
We got a mix of heritage birds – aracunas, rhode island reds, a black jersey giant and barred plymouth rocks. We had a bit of a dust up when we first let them all in the hen house. The rhodies are feisty to say the least and it took them a bit to sort out their pecking order. Some of them though are sweet as can be and don’t mind being held and patted. Jeff’s had chickens before but this is my first go, so it’s been pretty wild. Our chinese neighbour heard the clucking and immediately came over to peer over the fence. She doesn’t speak much english but she knew the word “chickens!” and we got an enthusiastic thumbs up.
The men of the house, who all grew up raising poultry, have been warning me for weeks not to name them when they come. No sooner do we get them out of the crate, do I find all the guys standing around the coop, beers in hand, promptly christening our littlest one “Lyle Lovett” on account of her flamboyant hairdo. Poor thing.
So why on earth should you bother with backyard hens? You’ve heard me rant about industrial pork production and chickens are no different.
Just like the pigs the hens are rammed into cages, unable to move. Crammed in with so many other chickens, fed a questionable diet, you can imagine that just like the pigs, medication is a necessary part of the process. Which once again begs the question what’s happening to the bugs we’re medicating?
Here’s an example of typical broiler production. Modern poultry breeds are selected to produce the most breast meat possible in the shortest amount of time. They grow so fast that their skeletons can’t hold them up anymore, and many of the poor things can no longer bear their own weight and must sit in their own shit, unable to walk. If you’ve ever been around chickens you know their shit smells strongly of ammonia and ammonia burns. Because they’re sitting in it all day, the chickens get chemical burns on their legs, which is why you’ll notice commercial chicken now has that part of the legs cut off – to spare us the reminder of the origin of our food. Odd, isn’t it.
If this is an acceptable way to raise our food, why is the industry always trying to hide it from us?
I grew up in a neighbourhood that had an industrial poultry operation. On hot summer days the air would be heavy with feathers and the stench of too many chickens in too little space. Even then it made me wonder . . .