Though I’m getting more and more interested in ducks, I haven’t dismissed raising chickens instead/as well (Though J might have something to say about that “as well”, something along the lines of “Even four ducks is too many!”).
I am a committed – albeit shame-faced – meat eater and the cook in our household, and I firmly believe in taking responsibility for the lives of the animals that we consume. And we eat a LOT of chicken. So there is just something about the thought of raising and harvesting my own chicken dinner that seems so attractive. And while I generally prefer duck to chicken when I can get it, a weekly dose of roast duck might get, as J put it, “greasy”. Besides not being so versatile – I can’t really see buttermilk-fried duck thighs, or shredded duck enchiladas.
What I could do – I think – is order a bunch of straight-run chicks (chicks of both sexes) and harvest the cockerels one by one as they came of age (before they could start crowing at three in the morning and make the neighbor so grumpy that he wouldn’t let me borrow his tractor any more). Not only is this cheaper, but it keeps the male chicks from being slaughtered to no purpose in the hatchery simply because they are male. And if I ordered a breed of dual-purpose bird, I could get more eggs from the hens in the mean time, and maybe keep said neighbor-with-tractor happier.
Logistics: Tell me if this makes sense. Since chickens take about 6 months to begin to lay, but lay best in their first year, I could order a 1-year supply, slowly harvest half of them, and then order another 6-month supply. I could stick these brand-new chicks – or, if I could get them, fertilized eggs – under a few of my remaining broody hens to be raised. I would continue to harvest the old batch as the new chicks grew, and as soon as they were able to start brooding on their own I would order more chicks. (It’s extremely unfortunate that I can’t let the chickens just reproduce on their own – I would love to have it be a self-sustaining cycle – but unless you know of a way to de-voice a rooster, I don’t see another option in a semi-urban setting.)
1) That “year’s worth of chickens” is about 50 chickens. More, if you count ones potentially lost to possums, coons, or disease (which shouldn’t be that much of a problem since they’ll be free-range).
2) Chickens are stinky – I can’t imagine that 50 of them would be any less so.
3) And they need special housing, with perches and nest boxes, in order to lay the maximum amount of eggs.
4) 50 chickens! 50!
Maybe I could order like five or something first, and see if I can actually pull off this “harvesting” thing for real. Or maybe I have the right idea here and just need to scale it down a bit. Chickens mature to fryer size in 8-10 weeks, so what if I just ordered a 10-week supply at one time? That’s only 10 birds, much easier than 50. Except who wants to spend exorbitant shipping fees five times a year? If birds are already $2.50 each, how much am I really saving by not buying the $7 pre-cleaned roaster at the grocery? I know that $7 roaster isn’t free-range or organic or even all that fresh, but still… sometimes I wonder if all this is actually going to save any money.