Thursday, April 3, 2008

Spring Chickens

Yesterday heralded another rite of Spring on our farm; the arrival of this year’s first batch of baby chicks. Thirty-five Rhode Island Red chicks completed their journey from Privett Hatchery in New Mexico to our home in Floyd County, Virginia. We ordered 35, but counted 38 that were shipped to us. Hatcheries will often send an extra couple of chicks to account for mortality amounts common with baby chicks which is usually a couple per shipment. This batch of chicks is supposed to be all females; they are destined to increase the size of our egg laying flock. Although the hatcheries are experts at sexing baby chicks, it is not uncommon for one or two of the opposite gender to find their way into a batch. That is the other reason that a couple extra chicks are provided with the shipment. As these chicks mature, we will be able to determine any males who will be destined for the freezer once they reach butchering size.

Our present egg laying flock consists of eleven Rhode Island Red hens that are just over one year old now. They are raised on the pasture and produce a large brown egg with a golden yolk that is much richer, and more flavorful, than any white egg purchased from the supermarket. Once folks, including ourselves, taste the fresh eggs produced by free ranged local hens, it is undesirable to go back to the supermarket variety produced in egg factories in which the hens live their lives in a cage, never seeing the light of day or a blade of grass.

We have found that there is more demand for the eggs produced by our current flock than the hens can possibly supply. And that is only through word of mouth without even trying to market them. So we thought this year we would expand the egg laying flock size by three times the amount of birds to see how well that will respond to egg demand. Here are some pictures of the recent acquisitions. They are pretty cute at this stage and really quite entertaining to watch as they skitter around the brooder pen.

Once these birds outgrow the brooder and start their lives on pasture, we will look at acquiring one or more batches of meat birds which are raised exclusively for butchering. I would hope to write more about raising meat birds in future posts. For now we will concentrate on raising these egg layers and keeping you updated on their progress.

One final note: unfortunately we lost one chick late last night. She never really seemed to gain use of her legs and was unable to walk to the feeder or waterer. She would just kind of drag herself around. Finally last night I went to check on the chicks and she had given up the fight.

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