Sunday, July 22, 2012

Predators, Schmedators.

When we first started this venture, Tina and I were concerned about the possibility of a marauding predator conducting a late night raid on our field pen. The pen we built isn't particularly sturdy - it's made up of 2x2s, chicken wire and corrugated plastic. Fort Knox, it ain't. Although the predators we have around here - coyotes, raccoons, mink, opossum - aren't generally a threat to people, they're more than capable of decimating our little flock. And chicken wire definitely isn't going to keep a hungry coyote out. I've even heard stories of raccoons reaching through the wire, grabbing a wing or a leg, pulling it through and gnawing away while the chicken is still alive on the other side of the fence.

Fortunately, we haven't lost a single bird to predators. We haven't even seen evidence that any critters have tried to get at them. I think there are probably three reasons for this.

First, we've kept the pens as far away from the forest as possible. The chickens are camped out in the the middle of the open field. There is no cover anywhere and I suspect that acts as a deterrent to anyone looking for an easy meal. They'd have to put themselves at risk by crossing a couple of open acres close to the house.

And that brings me to my second point - those open acres are inhabited by two horses, a llama and an alpaca. Now, my horse has a live and let live kind of attitude. She'd let a coyote cross the field no problem as long as it left her alone. Tina's horse is another story. He hates dogs with a fiery, burning passion and would be more than happy to chase a coyote down and stomp it into the ground. Dalai the llama is a big wimp and not a threat to anyone but Paco the alpaca LOVES dogs. He plays with my and Tina's dogs all the time. I wouldn't be surprised if he charged up to a coyote and tried to start a game. He'd come in peace but the coyote definitely wouldn't know that.

Finally, there are four dogs that spend a significant portion of every day out in that field. They pee, poop and roll all over the place. That whole field has to reek of dog. I'm not convinced that any of the dogs would actually defend the chickens but perhaps the coyotes, raccoons, etc just don't want to risk it? My dog, Cairo, actually did run down a coyote once. When he caught up to it he tried to play with it. Such a great guard dog. Maybe we'll just keep that a secret from the local coyote population so they stay away!

Cairo says, "Don't mess with my chickens!"

I know it looks like Cairo is tormenting Paco but Paco actually starts it most of the time. He follows the dogs around and jumps at them to get them to play.

Friday, July 13, 2012

New Digs

I've been so bad about posting lately that I don't even know where to start. I guess first things first: all 39 chicks survived the move from brooder to field pen and are doing very well. Initially we had all 39 in the 6X8 pen that we raised our original but it's gotten way too squishy so last night we finished building a new pen and transferred 24 of them over. The new pen is 8x8, so they'll have more room than the previous batch did.

Just moved outside. The chicks say "Holy cow, what's going on here???"

Building the new bigger and better pen.

We're using a different food for these chicks. Last time we bought our feed from our friend Dave but I can't remember where he got it from. This time we're buying the organic 17% broiler grower/finisher from the Otter Co-op. The chickens are growing well but they definitely don't like it as much as the feed we bought from Dave. They waste more and I've noticed there are more grain husks in this mix. I should probably give Dave a call and arrange to pick up a few bags from him but I just haven't gotten around to it. We've got a pretty significant range in size right now, so it will be interesting to see what the average weight is when they're dressed out.

On the plus side, these birds seem to be more active foragers than the last group. I'm not sure why - maybe because we've actually got some decent grass finally? We move the pen morning and evening and they go to town the second the pen slides onto a patch of fresh grass. It's pretty great to see!

The good weather means that the grass is finally growing. Unfortunately, so are the stinging nettles!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Long Overdue Update!

Wow, I didn't realize it's been almost three weeks since I posted anything! But I have an excuse - I was on vacation from June 9 to 23 and didn't have access to anything beyond my iPhone.

I've been home for three days now and what a busy three days it's been. Apparently, Tina and I aren't exceptionally bright and we managed to organize things so that our birds hit the 8-week mark right in the middle of our holiday. We decided that instead of slaughtering them at 7 weeks, we'd wait until we got back and do them at 9 1/2 weeks. I was a little apprehensive that it would get too hot and they'd be dropping like flies but what a silly fear that was. It poured rain the whole time we were gone! In the end we did lose one bird, leaving us with 19 chickens to slaughter.

Back in the early days, Tina and I couldn't decide if we wanted to kill them ourselves or if we'd hire someone. With all the hustle and bustle surrounding our return home, there was no way we were going to have time to do it ourselves, so we ended up taking them to Trevor, the fellow who did my mom's birds back in the day.

It cost $2 per chicken and let me tell you, it was worth every penny! We caught and loaded the birds this morning and were on the road by 7:30. Trevor was just finishing all the preparations and began processing birds at 7:45. We were the first customers to arrive and our birds were killed, cleaned and ready to go by 8:10. It would have taken us hours to do on our own but Trevor has a great set up and was incredibly efficient.

I have to admit, I felt a bit bad as we bundled them into the crates for the short drive but this is the first batch of chickens I've raised and I imagine it will get easier. I wasn't sure if I would be able to watch him actually kill them but while I was debating whether or not I should turn my back, he lopped off the first birds head!

The worst part was watching the severed head blink its eyes and open and close its beak. Pretty gross. After the head came off, the body was stuck upside down in a cone to bleed out. It didn't take long and before I knew it, the first 8 birds were bled out and in the scalder. From the scalder, they go into a spinning drum that defeathers them and then they're cleaned out. I kept all the livers, hearts and lungs for my dog. He's going to be a happy guy! The whole process was very fast and in retrospect, I'm really glad I watched him kill them and saw that they didn't suffer at all.

Unfortunately, I didn't think to take any pictures of the birds at their final size but I'll make sure I take some photos of the next batch. We have 39 chicks in the brooder (1 died the day I got back from my trip) and they'll be ready to go out into the field pen soon.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

New Chicks and More Wet Weather

My chicken flock has tripled in size in the last week! Last Thursday, Tina picked up 40 new chicks and got them settled in the brooder. For the first couple of days we mixed apple cider vinegar and honey in with their water, just to help them get off to a good start. I can't guarantee that it does anything but it certainly can't hurt. All 40 are doing well and growing like crazy. I have found that I'm much less paranoid about this batch. With the previous 20 I was out checking on them a million times throughout the day but with the new batch, I feed and water them in the morning and Tina does them in the evening and that's about it!

Things are still incredibly soggy around here and the long term forecast promises even more rain. Our 20 big birds out in the field appear to be healthy and happy but they're looking a bit grubby these days. The wet ground and the concentration of poop means that they always have some delightful brown smears on their feathers. It was so wet for a couple of days that we decided to make them a straw pad so they could escape the dampness. The first time we did it the dummies were afraid of the straw and avoided the little bed we'd made, so the second time around we spread it under the whole covered area and then put the food on top of it. Since they're willing to brave anything for a meal, the got over it pretty quick!

Although the straw mat was a good idea in theory, in practice it didn't really keep them much cleaner or drier. Because of the mat, we ended up only moving them once a day. That would be fine if they'd poop in the outside part but they just ended up pooping on the straw and then laying in it. *sigh* Unless the weather gets really nasty and the rain puddles on the ground, I think we're just going to let them live on the damp grass. They certainly don't seem any worse for wear. I hope the weather is better by the time the next batch is ready to head outside!

Shah "helping" Tina spread the straw for the chickens. He was determined to get at their grain, the little brat.

And now I'm off to give my dog a bath. He and Tina's dogs love all the poop scattered around the field but for whatever reason, Cairo and Briggs, Tina's chocolate Lab, have a special fondness for the chicken manure. Cairo especially loves to roll in it and today managed to grind a bunch into his coat before I could stop him. As a result, he's a wee bit pungent at the moment. Ah, farm life...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Poop Circles

Forget crop circles, chicken poop circles are the mystery of the day. In this case, the mystery isn't how or what creates them but instead, how to prevent them. We have a round feeder under the covered half of the pasture pen and the chickens rarely stray far from it, although they will venture out into the uncovered area a few at a time to forage. As a result, a firmly packed down poop ring develops around the feeder within an hour or two of moving the chickens.

I know I seem obsessed with poop but I can't BELIEVE the amount of waste these birds produce. Originally we were only moving the pen once a day but we've taken to moving it morning and evening because otherwise they just lounge around on the poop ring. I have no idea how other folks who raise pastured poultry get away with moving the pen only once a day, especially since many of them house three to four times more birds in a space less than twice the size the one we're using. I kind of felt bad about keeping 20 chickens in a 6 ft x 8 ft pen but now I'm confident that we could house 40 in our current pen without a problem, since running and frolicking isn't really their thing. Gorging and resting is definitely the name of the game here.

I think the easiest way to prevent the ring from developing is to just get a second feeder. The birds will split up and that will help distribute the poop more evenly. And if we keep moving the pen twice a day then there won't be time for the poop to build up.

And why do I care about the poop rings, you ask?

Two reasons. First, the chickens don't care what they're lying on as long as they're near the food. Instead of moving to the cleaner areas when they're done eating, a lot of them will just relax right on top of all the crap. It cakes on their feet and feathers and is just generally nasty.

The second is because these critters are helping fertilize the field where my horse grazes. These poop rings are taking a while to break down and since chicken poop is so high in nitrogen, having it so concentrated in such small areas can burn the grass instead of nourishing it. I doubt that they're on each section of pasture long enough to do any damage but I would like it if things were spread out a bit more. Nonetheless, I'm very excited to see what the pasture looks like after a season with birds on it.

This is the area under the pasture pen right after we moved it. The chickens haven't yet visited the grass beyond the poop ring.

Same patch of grass from the other side. You can see the remains of a poop ring from about a week earlier up by the dog's legs.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Rainy Days

Holy cow, is it ever soggy today. The fields are spongy and the water is already puddling on the hard packed patches. Fortunately, we've put the pasture pen on a high shelf of land and the water is draining nicely. However, I think if we get much more rain we'll probably have to make the chickens a pad of hay or straw so they can get off the wet ground. For now they don't seem to mind the rain and appear perfectly comfortable. Yesterday was their first rain and it didn't phase them in the slightest. They stayed out in the open part of the pen and foraged while the rain was light but I'm glad they had the sense to move into the covered half when the skies opened. They're feathered out enough to handle the heat and the cold fine but getting soaked to the skin definitely won't do them any favours.

This morning when I went out to move the pen I discovered that the chicks had broken their heat lamp. This is the second bulb they've smashed but unfortunately the design of the pen prevents us from raising it high enough so that they can't bump it. It's still too cold for them to be out without any heat and I really don't want to move them back inside, so I picked up a new lamp and am hoping it will survive for a few days - I think they'll be fine without the extra heat by this time next week.

On the health front, on remaining 20 birds are doing great. The chick that we isolated last week perked up a little bit for a couple of days and then went downhill in a hurry. She stopped eating completely, shrank down to about half the size of our other chicks and by Saturday she reached the end of the line. When it became apparent that she wasn't going to recover, Tina shot her. The original plan was to break her neck but Tina couldn't quite bring herself to do it, so the .22 came out and did the job. We've lost two birds now and I really hope the rest of them make it.

Some of the chicks brave the rain and stay out foraging.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Pasture Party!

Our chicks are out in their pasture pen and they LOVE it! I've been watching the weather forecast and when we finally got a decent stretch of nice weather, we decided to move them outside. Tina and her brother, Mike, finished building the pen on Sunday morning and by 8 AM they were safely ensconced in their new home. 

The first day they were pretty confused and spent the majority of their time camped out under the covered half of the pen. The food and water is located in that half, so it's probably no coincidence that they've chosen it as their favoured hang out spot. But by day two they were moving around and exploring much more - they even started scratching and pecking away at grass and bugs! They somehow seem more chicken-like now that they're out on pasture and it's nice to see them so happy.

Although the days are toasty warm, the nights are still a bit chilly, so we've strung an extension cord across the driveway and have rigged up a heat lamp in their pasture pen. Joel Salatin says his birds are usually ready for their pasture pens by three weeks but ours haven't finished feathering out and still have downy feathers on their heads. When you're raising hundreds or thousands of birds at a time hooking up a heat lamp for each shelter isn't really feasible. But when you've only got 21, it's not such a big deal and our little flock does seem much happier under their lamp when the sun goes down.

Yesterday my friend Dave from Thomas Reid Organic Farms came by to see how our birds are progressing. Aside from one chick who appeared to be feeling under the weather (we've moved her back into the brooder and she's still holding on), Dave said they all looked great. Tina and I don't have any frame of reference for this sort of thing, so it's nice to hear that we're doing a good job from someone who actually knows what they're talking about. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Best Laid Plans...

Today was supposed to be the day. Our birds are three weeks old and, according to most folks who raise pastured poultry, they should be about ready to move into their pasture pen.

But, alas, it was not meant to be. A couple of things have conspired against us and we’ve had to delay our plans by a few days.

The first problem is the weather. This spring has been unseasonably cold. The Pacific Northwest is soggy at the best of times and this year the rain has come down in buckets. And even now, when the sun is shining, it’s COLD! The wind still has a cutting edge to it and when the sun goes down it sucks the last bit of warmth right out of the air. Once the chicks are feathered out they are able to stand a bit of cold but I don’t think our birds are there yet.

Perhaps if they were hearty and healthy we might chance the weather but they’ve had the sniffles, so we’re not willing to take the risk. Last week, Tina and I heard a couple of chicks sneeze while we were weighing them. The next morning one of them was dead in the brooder and several had discharge from their nostrils. Since we’re not interested in using antibiotics, we whipped up a concoction that homesteader Harvey Ussery uses to get his day old chicks off to a good start. I came across the recipe in his book The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and Other Fowl for Home and Market Growers and figured it might help our birds fight off whatever bug they’ve picked up. It’s a simple recipe – honey, apple cider vinegar and garlic mixed in with their water – and the chicks love it. We also lowered the heat lamps to provide some extra warmth while they recuperate. I don’t know it’s the drink, the added heat or both but we haven’t lost another bird and the chicks appear to be well on the road to recovery. 

The new plan is to move them outside either Saturday or Sunday. Since we only have 21 chicks, if it gets too cold at night it won’t be too much work to move them back inside. We’re going to put the sides on our pasture pen tomorrow and we’ll be ready to roll!

Tina and Mike building the pasture pen.

Just a few more days until the chicks will be out in the field with the rest of the critters!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Evolution of Breasts

Chicken breasts, that is.

We take for granted the plump, broad-breasted birds that line our grocery store shelves but these bad boys (and girls) have only been a dietary mainstay since the 1960s. The modern broiler is typically a Cornish cross, a bird that was developed by breeding naturally double-breasted Cornish chickens with Plymouth Rocks. The Cornish cross is not actually a breed – it is a hybrid that has been developed by hatcheries. This means that you cannot breed your own chickens and expect the chicks to conform to specific breed standards. The hatcheries breed along carefully tracked bloodlines to produce consistent birds.  

The Cornish cross is a meat bird, pure and simple. They’ve been developed for extremely fast growth and are ready to slaughter at about 8 weeks, dressing out at around 5 pounds. Thanks to consumer demand for white meat, they have gigantic breasts and, since they’re slaughtered so young, the meat is genreally very tender. They were designed specifically for commercial meat bird operations but in recent years smaller farms have been raising them on pasture with considerable success.

When you compare this to your typical dual-purpose chicken, it becomes very apparent why commercial growers favour the Cornish cross. Dual-purpose chickens are used for both meat and egg production. Depending on the breed, it takes any where from 12 weeks to 6 months for them to reach slaughter weight and no matter how large they are, they won’t match the white meat production of a Cornish cross. However, these chickens do exactly what they’re supposed to do: strike a nice, middle of the road balance for the small farmer or homesteader who is looking for a more versatile bird.

Although the super speedy growth cycle of the Cornish cross is very appealing from a practical (read: financial) standpoint, it’s left me in a bit of a moral quandary. These chickens turn all that grain into succulent white meat with such lightening efficiency that the rest of their bodies can’t keep up. Their legs and joints just can’t cope with such rapid growth and, sadly, crippled birds are not uncommon. They’re also more likely than other breeds to die from heart attacks and other internal issues.

So, where does this leave me? I’ve been thinking about the ethical implications of raising these animals and have decided that as long as I give them the best life possible for the short time that they’re with me, then I’m not going to suffer any guilt. That being said, I do think I might experiment with some dual-purpose breeds in the future. Freedom Rangers look pretty interesting…

 15 day old cornish cross chick, 13.9 ounces. Not including the poop he just deposited on my horse's hay.

Cairo picking out which one he wants to eat first. :) They aren't avoiding him, Tina was just in there grabbing a couple to weigh them.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

To Forage or Not to Forage?

I’m no stranger to chickens. Twenty-one years ago my family moved from a residential area of Richmond to 8.5 acres in South Langley. In short order, we had a dozen adorable chicks. Those first chicks were Barred Rocks but my mother didn’t stop there. She just kept adding to the flock. Barred Rocks rubbed shoulders with Rhode Island Reds, Leghorns, Buff Orpingtons and Araucanas.

Even though these breeds vary greatly in appearance and temperament, they all had one thing in common: character. They’d scratch and peck, chase bugs around the yard and generally act like life was one great party. These birds were efficient foragers and loved rustling up their own grub. I loved watching them and, during my childhood, spent many happy hours observing all the barnyard drama.

Alas, my chickens are boring. Watching them for more than a few minutes is kind of like watching paint dry or grass grow. Like I said before, they eat, they sleep, they poop. Once in a while, one will stretch, which is kind of cute. Every day, I pick them some fresh greens to help them develop their foraging skills.  The other day there was a live worm on the root of the dandelion I picked. I thought “Oh, great! Some extra protein!” and tossed it in. The chickens looked at the worm. They cocked their little heads, scrutinized it intensely and then wandered over to eat out of their feeder. That worm will live to tunnel another day (I put it back outside when it became apparent that the chickens weren’t interested) because my birds are more interested in an easy meal.

To be fair, these birds aren’t designed to be foragers. They’re programmed to laze around and pack on the pounds. Pasture-raised dual-purpose birds (used for both meat and eggs) and laying hens can get up to 70% of their daily calorie intake from foraging. Our birds are Cobb700s, a variety of Cornish-cross, which, according to the website, promises the highest meat yield, best breast meat yield and unbeatable efficiency and cost (more on Cornish-cross vs dual-purpose birds in another post). In short, they’re eating machines, turning all that grain into edible flesh in only eight weeks. My books tell me to expect only about 20% of their calorie intake to come from foraging. If there’s an easier meal, these guys will take it.

My mom currently has some chicks in her kitchen (don’t ask) that are about the same age and if I toss something into their pen they’re on it like sharks, tearing greens apart with their sharp little claws and devouring whatever they can fit down their gullets. The contrast is startling and seeing it makes me realize that I’m going to have to get a few laying hens if I want to enjoy the birds funny, quirky personalities. Layers are probably a good plan, since getting attached to the animals you intend to eat is never a good idea! 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

One Week Down!

We’ve made it through the first week and the chicks are thriving in their snazzy new brooder! They’re currently living in a 4ft x 4ft x 2ft wooden box, a step up from their original, rather puny home. They’re growing like crazy, although two are a bit smaller than the rest. I didn’t realize it was possible for such tiny creatures to eat so much. Food is truly the centre of their universe.  They’re still cute and fluffy but their wings are starting to feather out and I can’t wait until they’re ugly. For some reason I’ll feel better about planning to eat them if they aren’t so cute…

I’ve noticed that over the last few days the chicks have become much more nervous. They’re quick to startle and much slower to recover. The first couple of days my dog, Cairo, could stick his head in the box and all the chicks would come running over to check the invader out. If I put my hand in the brooder, they’d all crowd around and try to figure out if it’s edible.

But around day four or five, they turned into, well, chickens. Today, Cairo poked his head over the top of the brooder and the chicks totally lost it and had the avian version of a panic attack. When I reach in to refill their food dishes they scatter.

I know that dogs go through fear periods when they’re young so they can learn what’s safe and what isn’t.  That’s why lots of positive, early experiences are so important for dogs (keyword being POSITIVE). Perhaps chickens go through the same thing? Maybe I need to spend more time getting my chicks accustomed to the things they’ll see when they move out into their pasture pen, so that they aren’t thrown for a loop by their new environment. I want my birds fat, healthy and happy and all the books warn that stressing the birds out can lead to slower weight gain and even death.

That being said, lots of people raise pastured poultry in large groups and there’s no way they spend hours fussing over the birds and introducing them slowly to new things. I imagine the chicks just adjust to a new normal when they head out to the pasture pens. I guess time will tell – only two weeks until they move outside!

Tina's dog, Brandi, says hi to the two-day-old babies.

Monday, April 23, 2012

But I thought you were an animal lover?

I hear some variation of that question pretty much every time I tell people about my plans for the chickens currently camped out in Tina’s family’s shed.

The answer is always the same: I do love animals. In fact, I prefer them to people most of the time.

Although it seems counterintuitive, my love for animals is the driving force behind my desire to raise and kill my own meat birds. As I mentioned in my first post, I stopped eating meat for a number of years once I learned how the cows, pigs and chickens I was eating were raised. The abuses that factory farmed animals suffer are too numerous and horrific to detail here and in any case, the information is readily available for those who care to look. If you’re interested, check out the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.

I have no moral objections to eating animals but it just doesn’t seem right to me that we can spend so much time and money saving dogs and cats and horses and other “cute” animals and then turn a blind eye when it comes to the suffering of the creatures we choose to eat. Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose. “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals” by Hal Herzog is a great book that looks at this very issue: the ethics surrounding the relationship between humans and animals.

The actual process of killing the birds is one that Tina and I have discussed at length. I don't know if I'm capable of slaughtering them myself, at least not at this stage. Maybe after we raise a few batches it will be easier but right now I'm really struggling with the thought of being the one to do the deed. We have a few weeks before we have to make the decision once and for all, so more on this topic later.

In the meantime, here's one of the chicks camped out near the food:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Special Delivery...

They’re here! We have 22 little balls of yellow fluff thanks to the wonderful Dave Reid of Thomas Reid Farms, an organic chicken farm here in Langley, BC (Click here for a list of stores that carry their chicken). Dave ordered our chicks and their food for us and has provided us with tons of advice - he's even going to stop by and check out our set up to make sure we're not doing anything horrifically wrong. What a guy!

Since our chicks are newly hatched, they need a brooder to keep them nice and cozy just like their mother would. The materials you make your brooder out of are limited only by your creativity – people use everything from large cardboard boxes to plastic kiddie pools to fancy, custom made brooders. My partner in crime, Tina, and I wanted to go the kiddie pool route (easy to clean, no assembly, etc) but it turns out we’re about a month too early and kiddie pools are nowhere to be found. Instead, we’re using a 2 foot by 4 foot wooden planter box covered over with wire to keep the rats out. The chicks will be living in the well-insulated shed where we store our horses’ hay, so we’re not worried about any larger predators at the moment. All my reading highlights the importance of providing adequate ventilation while simultaneously protecting the chicks from drafts, so hopefully the shed and planter box do the trick. It’s a pretty ramshackle contraption but if it keeps them warm until they’re feathered out and ready to move into their pasture pen then I’m happy!
According to Dave and all the chicken books I've been poring over, we need to keep the temperature stable at about 90 degrees for the first week or so. To heat the brooder, we’re using a very high tech system: two heat lamps with 250 watt bulbs suspended above the box on a chain. Fancy, right? Each lamp is set at a different height, so the chicks can regulate their temperature. If they all cluster together, it means they're too cold and if they avoid the lamps, then they're too hot. So far, our chicks seem pretty content. You can purchase special thermostatically controlled heaters but we decided to go the simple route for our first tiny batch of chickens.
To make sure they have a constant source of food and water, we have a 1 gallon waterer, which barely fits under the wire covering the top of the brooder, and a long feeder with more than enough feeding space for each bird. They’re eating organic food and we’re going to provide them with plenty of greens so they can get used to foraging right away.

They seem to be settling in well - lots of eating, drinking, sleeping and pooping!

So happy our chicks have arrived!

Monday, April 16, 2012

"Hatching" the Plan

I know, I know, it’s a really cheesy title but I just couldn’t resist.

Back in 2005 a friend’s mother brought home a DVD about how animals are raised for human consumption and pestered me until I agreed to watch it. I thought I had a pretty solid understanding of what goes on in your typical feedlot or laying hen operation but boy, was I ever wrong.

I didn’t eat meat again for five years.

Fast forward to 2012 and here I am planning to raise chickens for meat. Sounds kind of crazy but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Although I started eating meat again in the summer of 2010 (I only eat poultry, not red meat.), the lack of transparency surrounding the meat industry continued to bother me. In general, North Americans are very disconnected from their food sources and most of us have no idea what the life of a typical food animal is like. But I do know and, like Maya Angelou said, when you know better you do better. And what better way to guarantee that the bird on my table had a happy life and a merciful death than to do it myself?

So one night, after drinking a couple of beer while sitting around a campfire, a friend and I had a light bulb moment – let’s raise our own chickens! Like many other alcohol-fueled plans, there were a few holes in our brilliant idea but we decided to push on. We did a bunch of research and decided on a small-scale trial to see how things go. Our twenty newly hatched chicks will arrive on April 19 and through this blog I hope to share our experiences - from the practical side of raising your own birds to what if feels like to care for your future dinner to some of the sticky moral questions that surround our food choices. I hope you'll join us on our journey!