The warm weather has the pear, peach and apple trees bursting with blooms. The robins singing tell me spring is here, and it’s time to think chickens. So my trusty Lab, Beau, and The Kid head to the feed store. The local feed stores usually have the variety and quantity I’m looking for, but sometimes they don’t. If not, they will special order them in lots of 25.
I can count on this system to fill the freezer with healthy chickens loaded with flavorful meat. It’s called “The Kid's Sure Fire System” (KSFS). It starts with raising the right breed in the right way. I begin with 25 chicks in March, and another 25 in May. Two batches of 25 chicks are easier to handle, especially at butcher time. Fifty chickens equate to about one chicken dinner a week, that’s a good place to start. Today the feed store had 30 Cornish Rock (meat) chicks on hand – perfect.
Now let's bust some myths.
Myth 1: Cornish Rock and Cornish Cross chickens are not good homestead chickens because they are the industry standard broiler. They are the standard for a reason – Cornish Rock produces the best meat, quality and quantity wise.
How it is raised determines a healthy chicken or the industrial creation of Franken-chicken. Homesteaders can raise this breed successfully if the chickens receive plenty of sunshine, fresh air and exercise. Free range is good, but a pen will protect them from coyotes, raccoons and hawks looking for a quick, easy meal. For that reason, in the KSFS system, chickens free range several hours a day, and only when I can keep and eye on them. This is enough time to add bugs and grasses to their diet. This natural diet will require a little coaxing. Cornish Rock tend to belly up to the feeder rather than forage, but in time they will run the yard and even (try to) fly.
In about 8 to 12 weeks, they should reach a hale and hearty eating size. If they get too large, they might start to drop dead from the heat and heavy weight.
Myth 2: Some breeds are good for both egg and meat production. The Kid has tried most of these breeds, and in my experience they either didn’t lay enough eggs or the meat was off flavor and not much of it. I repeat, Cornish Rock is a great meat chicken. As for laying hens, breeds like Black Australorp, Barred Rock, Rhode Island Red, Red Sex Link and Golden Comets have done well. They lay close to an egg a day, are good foragers, and help keep the tick and flea population down.
Myth 3: A rooster keeps hens happy. A rooster is not needed to produce eggs. Roosters tend to be rather hard on the hens, so unless one wishes to try a hand at breeding, roosters are unnecessary. Your hens will thank you.
Myth 4: Chickens are good for the garden. This is a fairy story. More than once it's been written that chickens are good for the garden … not. They disrupt carefully mulched beds, and destroy seedlings with their scratching. Oh yes, they like to dine on young cabbage, broccoli and other greens. This is very, very annoying.
One truth about chickens is they make great compost for the garden. Add yard waste such as leaves and grass clippings into their pen. The chickens will add their droppings, mix it all together, and scratch it down into black gold.
Chickens can provide an abundance of healthy, tasty eggs and meat. They are good for tick and flea control. Chickens can also create nutrient rich fertilizer from elements found on the homestead. All that adds up to greater self-reliance, the foundation of freedom, and that’s what it’s all about for The Kid.
Stay tuned for the continuing adventures of the Cow-Pie Kid.