The Local Food Report: from egg to bird

Their names are Sheldon and Egglantine. They're Susan Knieriem's baby chicks—Miss Scarlett's—and they came Saturday to the market in Orleans. They were only a few days old—Silver Sussex or Wyandottes—Susan wasn't sure. They got their names from Heather's girls—Heather who sells the healthy baked goods, the muffins and scones. Those two toted the chicks around all morning, opening up their basket of sawdust and feed and water for people to peek. 

I am kicking myself for not bringing my camera with me. 

If you can picture it though, they were palm size, pale gray and fluffy. Tiny beaks. Here's Susan, to give you something.

She and I got to talking, and I learned a lot about raising chicks like Sheldon and Egglantine. 

Susan does it using an old-fashioned incubator—can you hear her?—a fabulous old antique. The trays come in and out and it looks like an old wooden icebox, she says, and it holds about 100 eggs. She collects the fertile ones—which is most of them since she's got roosters—and dates them and lays them on the trays. There's a bit of water for moisture—temperature is important, and so is humidity—and the incubator keeps things around 100 degrees. After 21 days the eggs hatch. Susan's in the barn, doing something else, and suddenly she hears it. peep. Peep. PEEP. PEEP! Babies.

She raises different varieties for eggs and meat. There are dual purpose birds—birds that are good layers and good for eating—but Susan prefers to choose most of her varieties very specifically. For layers she likes Araucana and Rhode Island Red and White Leghorn and Polish and Cuckoo Marans—these give her blues and whites and chocolate browns, so she gets a good color variety—and Label Rouge (which is a method) for meat. 

I'd like to get hens here eventually. I like the idea of dual purpose birds—breeds that we could raise as layers and for meat. And I like the idea of going for an old breed—one that hasn't had the mothering instincts bred out of it, one whose hens would sit on the eggs, who are broody.

Harvey Ussery—have you ever read him?—recommends keeping a few broody hens in with more productive layers. The old-fashioned, broody breeds will take care of anybody's eggs (he recommends Old English Game, Kraienkoppes, and Malay, to name a few) so you can easily incubate and hatch all sorts of different varieties of chicken. You don't have to do the work of incubating and mothering, but you can still keep a good number of more productive layers (a hen who is broody won't lay while she's incubating, or even while she thinks she's incubating) around for consistent egg production.

I'm just getting into this. I'm guessing many of you know more about keeping chickens than I do—my sister-in-law, for starters—but I'm curious. Do you keep hens? What breeds do you like? Do you have a rooster? Do you get your chicks in the mail, or do you raise your own flock from eggs? Do you feed them cereal? Keep them in a chicken tractor? I'd love to hear.

1 comment :

Bethany said...

Just a quick note about using an incubator or broody hen, rather than ordering chicks through the mail - you can expect a number of males (I don't know if it's 50/50 or what, we've had all kinds of different results.) While you'll want the hens for future egg production, the roos, not so much. So you can eat them, rather than waiting 3-5 years to eat your layers (it does tend to be hard to justify eating a hen who lays regularly.)


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