I have plenty of ag chores this fine morning. There’s blue sky and bright sunshine in Ahualoa. We’ve been getting days of overcast, wet, rainy days. I prefer the drier weather and I think the adult hens do, too.
DA BABY CHORES: remove the paper towel litter & replace with newspaper litter
scrub out both 1-gallon waterers, add 1 TBS organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar (ACV) per gallon
scrub red trough feeder, air-dry
fill galvanized metal feeder, give to chicks under brooder
DA BIG HEN CHORES: fill 2 quarts of dry lay rations for the adult hens
Are you thinking how to make your chickens more human friendly? It’s never too early to start hand taming your chicks. If possible, start from day 1.
I tap the brooder floor or make some noise to get their attention. Then I crush some feed into my palm and offer it to the chicks. I wait patiently and see which brave chick is first to eat. When that one chick is comfortable eating from my palm, other chicks join in a little while afterward. I try to do this every day for about 5 minutes so they’ll associate my hand with food. I continue to do this with my adult flock.
When the chicks get a little older, I plan to bring them small amount of cracked corn or other chick-friendly treats (avocado from Hillery, fresh coconut meat from Vic, grated carrot from our garden or a flat of freshly harvested wheat grass flat from Jim & Ruthie).
Have you tried other methods? I would love to hear your suggestions.
First is a slide show of day 2 chicks. I’m comparing partridge cochins and black australorps from several angles (head closeup, top view and side view).
Next are two videos for you to compare day 2 of the flock of my foster baby chicks (chick starter) and year 3 of my flock of adult hens (organic yellow corn tortilla chips).
I was ready when the post office clerk called me at 7:37am. Hillery Gunther already left her house, driving to pick me up at my house. We both went to pick up our peeping box of new babies; she’s the future chick mom & I’m the foster mom for the next six weeks.
A little after 8am, still on the post office parking lot, we opened the box: a mass of mahogany brown & black wriggling, loudly complaining baby chicks and sadly, one dead chick. It was the Free Rare Exotic chick that McMurray Hatchery include in every order. I think it was a white Polish chicken with a top hat.
We drove back to my homestead in about 15 minutes. The weather was overcast so I didn’t worry about the heat in the greenhouse. We dipped each chick’s beak in the sugar water and boy, some of the little ones were dehydrated. I scooted them under the warm brooder until we finished dipping all the chicks.
Ruthie, my mother-in-law, buried the dead chick in our compost yard. Om namah shivaya.
Hillery noticed that all of the chicks were quite active. I noticed the Black Australorps already found the organic chick starter crumbles. I need to keep my eye on one of the Australorp. She was stumbling around; her left leg didn’t extend the same length as her right leg. The Partridge cochins seemed a little shy.
I tapped the 1-gallon waterer rapidly to attract the chick’s attention. I was showing them were the water source is. They learn quite fast. Some cochins stepped into the watering lip, so I use my fingers to shoo their lil’ bums out of the water. I don’t want them chilled.
We watched them for quite some time. Both Hillery & I took a lot of photos. The chicks let us know how happy they are by their contented soft peeps. My friend, Nancy Wu, in Vancouver, BC, noted that the chick peeps resembled human baby babble. Some moments there were no peeping at all but the scampering of lil’ bitty feet across the litter floor.
I’ll remove the paper towels in a couple of days. Tonight, I’ll switch to plain water for the chicks; the sugar water will attract the ants.
I’m really excited to foster 25+ baby chicks for Hillery Gunther. So excited I can’t sleep. It’s nearly 1:30am.
Last week, I’ve been reviewing two books and one DVD to prepare for the babies:
SUCCESS WITH BABY CHICKS, by Robert Plamondon
A Complete Guide to Hatchery Selection, Mail-Order Chicks, Day-Old Chick Care, Brooding, Brooder Plans, Feeding, and Housing
STOREY’S GUIDE TO RAISING CHICKENS, by Gail Damerow
Everything you need to know to raise one chicken or 100. You’ll learn how to choose the right breed, care for chicks and build feeders and shelters.
REGARDING CHICKENS, by Fred Dunn
Learn all about hatching and raising chickens before you make your purchase, or adopt the neighbor’s abandoned birds. This how-to DVD was more than 7 months in the making, comprising over 2 hours & 50 minutes of valuable guides related to raising chickens today.
The babies are due to arrive early Monday morning on May 18th at the Honokaa Post Office. I will be sitting on pins and needles for a call from them. Their loading dock doors open at 7:30AM. I looked back at my records in 2006 and our current flock (also from McMurray) arrived on February 13th, 2006, a Monday with freak lightning storm.
I’ll be taking on the care of Hillery’s new “peep peeps” for the next six weeks. Hillery placed an order through McMurray Hatchery for a mix of Partridge Cochins and Australorps. She adored one of our Australorp named Barbie (her feathers are super prosh and she’s neatly groomed for a hen). She is so happy that the chicks will get lots of care & attention from me. My goal is to raise human-friendly chickens for Hillery’s coffee farm.
The chick brooder is all set up in the greenhouse. I’ve reclaimed cardboard and taped together an area about 5.5 feet x 5 feet (27.50 sq. ft) for the 25 new darlings. The walls are about 20″ tall, enough to keep the chicks from hightailing it out of the brooder pen. I’ve turned on the 125 watt heat lamp and 75 watt incandescent bulb tonight to warm up the pen.
I was worried that it might get too hot in our greenhouse & overheat the babies, so Jimmy helped me pound 4 bamboo stakes (also about 20″ tall) into the corners of the pen. He then strung some twine around the perimeter of the poles and diagonally through the corners. I can drape a 6 feet x 6 feet green shade cloth over the strings to give the chicks some shade during the hottest part of the day.
Incidentally, Ruthie & Jimmy put in the young tomato & cucumber plant last week. I look forward to my summer sandwich: perfectly toasted sourdough bread from Trader Joe’s, thinly coated with Japanese Kewpie mayo, just frim slices of avocado from our neighbor’s tree complemented with thick, juicy slices of summer tomatoes sprinkled with a little sea salt. Yum!
The dirt floor of the pen is covered from two pieces of black shade cloth, taped together. Then, I opened up the empty bags of the organic chicken feed paper sacks and separated the triple layers. I used the large paper layers to cover the pen and topped it off with paper towels.
Why paper towels?
There’s traction when 3-day old chicks walk on paper towels. Ben asked me to collect all the poopy towels & litter for his long-term compost pile. He’s the compost king around the homestead.
I’ve set up the trough feed with organic chick starter and sprinkled some on the paper towels. In the morning, I’m going to fill the two 1-gallon waterer with 1.5 cups sugar & filtered water for the chicks.
I can’t wait for the new sound of eager, curious chicks peeping & running around the brooding pen!
We get a lot of farm visitors, from individuals to large tour groups. People find us many different ways, from word of mouth, mailing lists, community groups (like Slow Food), or from web presence like this blog or Local Harvest. We’ve had groups of school kids, mainland tourists, neighbors, other farmers, all sorts. Some are interested in tea, some in chickens, many in family food self-sufficiency.
A collection of things i’ve recently found fascinating:
International Biochar Initiative (IBI) projects, with cleaner char-producing stoves and gasifiers for all parts of the world. Dozens of universities and thousands of farmers and researchers are busy with biochar, even though the “larger world” still hasn’t heard. I’m dying to make or buy some char to test on our farm.
Dmitri Orlov’s Social Collapse Best Practices talk given in San Francisco. As he says, when any society collapses (as he observed in the Soviet Union), what matters is food, shelter, transportation, and security. The time to think about how to secure those post-peak is now.
I ordered a small rocket stove and a larger wood gas stove to experiment with. Stoves are way more interesting than i ever knew. It seems millions of us who live outside cities could be cooking this way – clean, no smoke, and carbon neutral. Some stoves will even gasify, there are hundreds out there as research, but i still haven’t found a unit that cleanly produces char that you can just buy. WorldStove looks promising – see video of their LuciaStove in Pyrolytic Gasification Mode.
Preparations started on earlier in the week. Wind storms were in the forecast for the weekend.
Thursday, Ben & I had to figure out a way to transport 17 almost three-year old hens to Jan & John Dean’s chicken processing shed in Kalopa Mauka. The have a wonderful homestead, Maluhia Farm, where they raise wool sheep, cattle & plymouth barred rocks.
We have a portable coop that Jimmy (my stepfather-in-law) built for us Christmas 2006. I normally use it to quarantine a hen (illness or broody). It can hold max 10 hens for Saturday.
Next, Ben found Theresa, our neighbor’s old, rickety, broken chicken tractor. Jimmy kindly fixed the broken wood struts and found new chicken wire to patch the holes, especially the hatch on the top. I used some strips of duct tape to soften the wire edges of the hatch and a piece of wire to secure it so the hens won’t fly out. This smaller coop will hold the remaining 7.
Thursday evening, we transported five hens to Matilda’s house, our friend in Waimea. But that adoption story is for another post.
I created a spreadsheet tracking the hens’ breed, personality, temperament, death (due to illness) about a year ago. What I would like to do next time in 2010 is color band the hens and determine a method who is laying and who is not. I didn’t keep track the last several years who are the productive hens.
I selected 17 hens (out of 37) to process. Did I select them randomly? Not quite, I kept 7 pet hens and the remaining hens I did not develop a strong attachment. Out of 17 hens yielded 16 processed stew hens. One silver-laced wyandotte’s body did not look healthy (liquidy feel when pressing on the belly, knife-thin keel, thin breast meat) so I chose to compost the carcass.
5 silver-laced wyandottes
6 white rocks (they were among the larger hens)
2 barred rocks
2 buff orpingtons
3 black sex-linked hybrids (have dark pin feathers)
Friday, I was gathering my supplies and creating a checklist for processing. Late in the afternoon, the sustained windstorm knocked out the power (for 1 hour) in my neighborhood. Ben & I decided to drive downtown to Honokaa (about 7 minutes away by car) to fill our 5 gallon propane tank at Scoshi’s Propane and buy four 7 lbs. bags of crushed ice and one 15 lb. block of ice at Kaneshiro’s. I wanted to buy more ice, Ben convinced me otherwise.
Late Friday evening Ben helped me move the 17 hens to the two portable coop on back of the Ford F-150. the wind storm that started on Thursday did not make the task any easier. We covered the smaller coop with a tarp. The coop that Jimmy built has a sturdy corrugated roof. I felt very light misty raindrops on my face; at least the hens in the truck are covered with a tarp.
I couldn’t go to sleep. Too much to do. I printed out Herrick Kimball’s blogpost on how to skillfully butcher a chicken in ten easy steps. His post is complete with photos and step-by-step instructions. It became our chicken processing bible Saturday morning. I also recommend “Basic butchering of livestock & game” by John J. Mettler, Jr. The book covers beef, hog, veal, lamb, venison, rabbits, small game including squirrels! You can place a hold for the book from the Hawaii State Public Library.
Overnight, the rain became heavier. I’m glad we decide to bungee a tarp over Theresa’s coop before we went to bed.
Saturday morning was gray, windy and damp. I had a feeling that rain was going to return.
When Ben & I arrived at the chicken processing shed at Kalopa Mauka, it started to rain again. The wind made the air feel chilly. Overnight, the hens pooped quit a lot in their portable coop. It was stanky! Phew.
While John Dean helped Ben with the setup, I was hosing down the truck bed because of the wet poop. John has catchment for water supply and solar hot water for the scalding pot. He hooked us up with a wonderful flexible hose that has a fireman’s nozzle. The setup took about 30 minutes.
Four people helped us process chickens: Miliana & Jeff Johnson, Ryan Zink and Kim Ino. Ben & I met Miliana & Jeff from a previous farm visit, Kim Ino from Hawaii Tea Society. Three of them are our neighbors (iwthin a 4-mile radius) in Ahualoa. Ryan’s wife Angela purchased a small amount of organic chicken feed from us last year. Ryan came to visit our homestead in Ahualoa and Ben doesn’t remember. Ben is a friendly guy, but doesn’t remember names at all so well.
At a quarter to nine, Miliana started the morning with a pule (prayer) to give thanks to the chickens and to ask for a smooth morning processing the hens. Miliana’s pule started the morning on a thankful, humble note.
In my opinion, it can be an overwhelming experience to slash a chicken’s throat and gut the carcass if you’ve never had been exposed to chicken slaughter at a young age. As a young child, I remember I watched my mom drain the chicken’s blood in our restaurant’s large commercial sink. I enjoy eating the poached chicken liver from the freshly processed chicken.
I summarized the steps:
CUT carotid artery
BLEEDING 75 seconds
PICK 25-30 seconds
SCALD 143 degrees F at 75 seconds (longer, not hotter for larger hens)
Ben selected three silver-laced wayndottes from the truck and put them in a woven breathable feed sack. He sometimes forgets to tie the bag. Didn’t want to spend energy chasing a hungry, thirsty chicken.
Ben demonstrated how to stick the brain and cut the artery. After the hot scald, everyone help plucked the feathers off the bird. I showed how to eviscerate (gut) the chicken. It’s pretty hard to verbalize what I’m doing when the last time I processed chickens was more than one year ago. I referred to the butchering bible in the beginning.
Below is a slideshow of the processing day. Click it to view in a Picasa Web Album to see larger photos.
Everyone slowly started with processing with what they felt most comfortable. Sticking and cutting the artery? Ugh, not for me. Scalding? Easy. Just make sure you swish the bird up and down, round and around to get the hot water through the feathers. Plucking? Fun. Gutting? Kinda hard if you’re unfamiliar with the chicken anatomy. I really don’t mind pulling out the innards; Ben is not so good with gutting.
I sent Ben to the gas station to get more ice. I failed to plan for pre-chilling and post-chilling. I needed more than 120 pounds of ice to properly chill the birds. It was slightly disturbing to reach in a warmish chicken carcass to pull out the guts. A chilled carcass felt…right.
Ben returned with 40 lbs of ice, two chicken curry manapua and a chocolate brownie.
About two hours in, I was beginning to get seriously cranky because I realized I didn’t eat breakfast. I didn’t forget (I did bring jasmine tea and potato salad) but I failed to prioritize my needs. Kim told me to eat the curry chicken manapua and the rest of the crew will do the dirty work. I was very grateful for that.
A little before Noon, we’ve processed ten birds. Jeff & Miliana had to leave because of a pet emergency. Kim & Ryan stayed until 1:00 pm to process the remaining seven birds with Ben and myself. They left with one bird each as a payment for their help. Kim took the gizzards & the hearts. I kept the livers and chicken feet for myself.
There was a daschund who wanted to lick the blood chicken off of the concrete floor. Every time I shoo her away, she keeps sneaking back searching for any tidbits dropped on the floor.
After the last bird was chilling, Ben & I started to clean up the black grate that served as the eviscerating table. I was running on adrenaline for the last five hours.
I calculated it took the six of us 4 hours to process 17 birds. Yes, it did take a long time, but these were our first birds! I give credit & props to Miliana, Jeff, Kim and Ryan to be actively partipating in the whole process.
We bleached down the grate and paper toweled the surface to rest the chilled birds upright to drain. I was thankful for the cool weather to allow the stewing hens to keep cool. Then, I covered the birds with another layer of paper towels to dry the skin as much as possible.
While the carcasses are draining, I took all the tools and put them in a solution of bleach water. Ben took the two bags of guts, feathers and heads for his long-term compost pile. He dumped out the pre-chill water on the bare dirt. I scrubbed down the scalding pot, lid, smaller coolers and now-empty trash cans. I felt like I was walking through molasses as we packed everything back in the truck.
At the end of processing day Saturday, I discovered the most difficult thing for me was the cleaning up (which took 90 minutes) the shed afterward. I wanted to leave the place cleaner than we found it.
We now have 15 birds living in our chicken coop. This morning, they laid five beautiful brown eggs. I hope to have kept the laying hens. Seven lively hens are available for adoption for those who have a secure chicken coop for the birds.
As I finish my post on a chilly Sunday evening, I’m still mentally recovering from Saturday’s events…
Jan. 17, 8 am to noon, at Jan’s house in Kalopa (near Honokaa) you are invited to join us as we will demonstrate how to humanely process 17 of our chickens. Attendees will participate and learn about backyard chicken processing. In addition, even if you do not attend, you can buy a processed bird to eat. 11 of them will be available for sale at $4/pound. They are nearly 3 years old – so wet cook only, stewed or stock. If you’ve been following this blog, you know these hens have been locally raised free-range on grass, organic feed, comfort and human affection their whole lives.
This is a Slow Food Hawaii event, so SFH members get priority, but there are still spaces open, so non-members are welcome too! To sign up (to attend, and/or buy a chicken to eat), email our SFH president Shelby.
Egg production is up slightly. It dipped really, really low at the end of November (some days with zero eggs, out of 38 hens!) but finally it is back up to 6-7 eggs/day. I always knew that eggs decreased with day length, but it actually dips most before the winter solstice, as explained by Plamondon in Why We Don’t Eat Eggs at Thanksgiving
The established tea in the field is growing well. The new irrigation system plus some nice winter rains have boosted growth. I’m going to have to/get to prune again soon.
Of the 424 tea cuttings, only 10% are still going… details to follow.
We got our building permit to build our house!! The approval came on December 31, after 2 years of struggling with design, 8 months in the permit process with the County, thousands of dollars in various costs, and much grief. Now, one consideration is that the new house site is immediately adjacent to the chicken run – pretty much inside it. Good thing we like the sound of chickens!