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Monday, July 06, 2009

The Education of the Chicken

I was out feeding and watering the chickens, who are all 4 days old as of yesterday, and I noticed they had figured out that insects are good to eat. This is a good sign that this batch of chickens will do well on pasture. That they will eat more than the grain they are given 2 to 3 times a day. That they will eat various bugs and lots of greens such as red and white clover (clover is amazingly high in protein, around 18%). That they will move their bodies around.

Most chickens raised on pasture are in a brooder house for the first 4 to 5 weeks of their lives. they are not outside on pasture and thus miss out on that important window of opportunity to learn to eat things other than chicken feed. From watching hens raise chicks I have figured out that the first 5 or 6 days are an important learning time and again at around 2 to 3 weeks they have another big learning spurt. Chicks brooded indoors miss both of those opportunities and when they are put on pasture for the last 3 to 4 weeks of their lives they do little more than sit around in the shade until grain is brought to to them. Than they slowly waddle over to the chicken feed and gorge themselves.

Ours, because they are out on pasture from day one (we rig up a heat lamp in one of the tractors to keep them warm enough) they are physically active throughout their short lives. They eat a lot of natural food (up to 25% of their diet is bugs and pasture-because they are a hybrid they really do need the rest of their diet to be the 25% protein feed ration they get or they will start to die).

It is fascinating to watch them learn how to be chickens. It is amazing how much seems to be innate behavior. The pullets, even though they are only a few days old, know to scratch in the dirt to find bugs. The boys are not as quick to catch on to this behavior but they will in another few days. I have also seen them start learning to fly (an idea that will be aborted in a few weeks when they get too big for their wings). They seem to be at their happiest when trying to fly (though eating is a close second). for the next 2 weeks they will have fully fledged wings that will allow then to get a few inches off the ground for up to 2 feet. That reality will come crashing down and their bodies will get too big for flight (but they will still extend and flap their wings and run around like children pretending to fly).

I had forgotten how much fun having chickens is. Of course, with the threat of NAIS Looming I doubt we will get laying hens again and we may have to resort to killing our own birds in the future so we can fly under the NAIS radar. Since we do not intend to raise poultry for public sale that may work for us. Slaughtering chickens is not the nicest job in the world, especially when you do not have all the equipment such as plucker and the proper knives. I would really like to avoid having to do my own killing and cleaning but the fact is that all processors will be requiring NAIS ID numbers in order to start a job and if we do not get our premises registered and the chickens ID numbers that we cannot get them processed at any state or USDA inspected plant. So it will likely be home processing in the future.

Perhaps NAIS will become such a white elephant the gummint will dump the whole idea and we will not have to be so hassled. But I am not holding my breath.

1 comment:

Jason said...

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