We have 15 chickens right now in our flock. I have a variety of breeds, most bought at my local feed store. I have 2 Australorpes, a Buff Orpington, 3 Rhode Island Reds, 2 Americanas, 2 Barred Rocks, and 5 Freedom Rangers including my 2 roosters. The Rhodies, Rocks and Rangers were bought because they are considered to be dual purpose birds (meaning they provide eggs or can be butchered and reach a good size for their meat) or meat exclusive birds and all were hand raised by the whole family. My feathered girls took the winter off from laying, which is the first time that happened for me, and are just beginning to give me eggs again.
Since I have fertilized eggs (thanks boys) I have begun to plan for babies (as my children refer to them). I am really big into having the animals do the work here, since I am not a chicken, so I feel I may not be the best choice for meeting chicks’ maternal needs-barring the fact that I raised all of these chickens from chicks. One of my Australorpes went broody (not wanting to give up her eggs) three times last year, though I did not allow her to raise any chicks then. I have every hope that she will do the same this year. I have set up a nesting box for this plan and have tried to explain to my daughters, who do a lot of checking for eggs, what to do if they feel one of my hens starts acting broody.
My six-year old feels this plan is great, as she wants to keep new chickens for herself. I have been re-stating to her and her sisters that our chickens are livestock and so they should not be emotional with them. For the most part they are accepting of this concept, so we’ll see how it works when the first chicks get hatched on our land.
To make the situation more intriguing for the entire family, I have decided to hedge my bet, and make my own incubator. A good friend recently hatched eggs with this method at her place of work (she does in home care) and felt it was so educational and entertaining that she plans to do the same with her children. Taking her positive experience and my own DIY attitude, I decided to give it a try. I have spent all weekend reading plans for incubators and the process of incubating eggs. If it works well I will probably also incubate some duck eggs in the future.
In full disclosure, I only plan for these birds to be raised for meat. One article I read was very concerned about making certain that no eggs incubated were mixed breeds (mutts, which most of mine will be) and that the person taking on this project was prepared to re-home the males that can be expected to hatch. I realized that the expected reason for most authors on the subject of incubation was to eventually get more laying hens. I love this idea, because it means that more people are interested in keeping chickens for their eggs and being closer to their own food source. I would also want to encourage people to consider raising their own meat chickens.
Many of my close friends tell me they could never dispatch or butcher their own chickens, and I wonder why not. I am told they would struggle because the critter would look at them and they would feel guilty. I admit that I was squeamish about the same thing when we first began keeping chickens, but I told myself that my grandmother did it, so I could to. Turns out I was a little wrong-my great-grandmother did, but my grandmother only did so for a few years as a young woman, mostly just helping her mother or older sisters. When she married and joined the military life she happily embraced buying as many foods as she could that were already butchered or processed and she could do less of the work. This left me with a bigger knowledge gap than I had considered…
I can say, as someone who has always had companion animals (including birds) I do not feel my chickens fall into that category. While I like their products and respect their needs, I have no affection for my chickens. I suppose this makes it reasonable to the whole family that we are capable of doing the butchering. I do have to admit that I am not yet good at the butchering or occasional de-boning, but I hope that will come with time…
My husband is a techie, so in his mind everything should have a backup and be covered by duplicate systems. Redundant redundancies are not too much. I have never been as concerned with this process, but I think when keeping my homestead producing for my family this is perhaps the best possible plan. I have every hope that my hens (at least one or two of them) will prove to be mother material. Just in case, I’ll see how Horton felt, and go about hatching some eggs of my own.