I love this picture of our chicken coop. It looks like someone has just cracked open a window in the back storage room at the chicken museum, once Grand Central Station but now dusty and still and used to house unused furniture. It looks like a room just waiting to get emptied out and cleaned, so it can welcome back the clucking, laying crowds.
We knew from Day 1 that we would get chickens, and we briefly contemplated getting them last spring, but we were still unpacking, still commuting over the Malahat, and still trying to keep the muck from reaching the top of our boots. So we reminded ourselves about wisdom being the greater part of valour and decided to wait until this year to venture into the business of keeping chickens.
Chickens for eggs were always in the plan. What needed sorting out was whether we would raise meat chickens, too. We eat chicken on average once a week, and the cost of organic chicken is pretty darn high. If we could slaughter our own chickens, raising them ourselves would be an economical way to ensure a supply of high quality meat for us to eat. But there are two problems with that: the slaughtering part, and the eating part.
This is where I start feeling like an imposter. Who do we think we are, pretending to be farmers and then having a fainting spell at the thought of (a) killing the chickens we plan to eat, and then (b) actually putting a mouthful of meat from a bird we raised from a chick in our mouths? But imposters or not, hypocrites or not, we have to find our own way to navigate this path, so here's what we've decided to do.
We have ordered 18 chickens: 10 Buff Orpingtons, 4 Red Rock Cross and 4 Red Sussex Cross. The Orpingtons are a heritage dual-purpose breed, which means they're pretty good egg layers and pretty good meat chickens. They come unsexed, so we won't know until they start to mature how many males and how many females we have. The Red Rock Cross and Red Sussex Cross are also dual-purpose birds, and since the chicks have different colours depending on their gender, it's possible to order just female chicks, which we have done. [This is not without ethical implications. The author of one of my favourite blogs, Throwback at Trapper Creek, writes about newborn male chicks being slaughered en masse at hatcheries because customers only want female birds for eggs or can't have roosters because of local by-laws. Can you read that and not think of girl babies in China?] The plan is that when the birds are big enough to eat, we'll take the male Orpingtons to the slaughterhouse in Cowichan Bay to have them killed and dressed. This isn't a financially sound plan for the long run, but it will give us a chance to see how we feel about eating our own birds. If we're okay with it then we'll look at learning how to slaughter them ourselves.
That means we'll be left with roughly a dozen hens that should start to lay in the late fall. Once they get into full swing, that will mean about 8 eggs a day, more or less, which means extra eggs to sell - 2 0r 3 dozen a week. We're not quite sure to whom, but Kim is confident we'll find a buyer.
The chicks won't arrive until the end of March, but it's hard not to get excited. There's a lot of work to do in the meantime. The coop has to be emptied and scrubbed out, the fencing around the chicken yard needs to be inspected and repaired, we have to lay in a supply of feed and bedding, we need to find some way to protect the birds from eagles overhead, and we have to think about the best way of introducing Frankie to the chicks (he's going to bark at them, even on the other side of a fence - oh, how he's going to bark!) The chicken museum is about to come to life.
[For those of you who knew me in my previous life as a Math teacher, isn't this a perfect example of a binomial probability distribution? Q: What's the probability that at least 5 of the Buff Orpingtons turn out to be female? A: 62%!]