Issues of animal cruelty are appalling to most anyone. Yes, there's always an argument about agricultural animals and the fact that they are a food source for millions of people. However, simply because an animal is raised for food, or its eggs are used for human consumption, does not mean that the life of that animal must be spent in dreadful conditions.
In response to the outrageous and deplorable stories about chicken and egg farms, and the treatment of the birds, my husband, Art, and I took steps and began raising our own chickens. When a friend of ours told us about "chicken auctions" and the variety of hens available to purchase for egg production, we decided to ready some space for new chickens and head to the auction.
We were thrilled to find gorgeous roosters, a large variety of baby chicks, and full-grown, egg-producing hens. Since I'm a sucker for rescuing older animals, (and for the fact that I had never raised baby chicks before), I raised my auction paddle and purchased six lovely and healthy hens, and one rooster which I later named, "Foghorn."
At home, the chickens were delighted with their new accommodations. We had purchased a perfect number of hens to provide eggs for our little family. Our flock consisted of a Black Giant, a Rhode Island Red, two very pretty Brahmas, a small Buff Orpington, and a scrawny little white Leghorn. I named them Winnie, Ruby, Thelma & Louise, and Wilma & Betty, respectively. Our rooster, Foghorn, had the most perfect "Cock-a-doodle-doo!" that anyone has ever heard.
As the year passed, Art and I perused the chicken and egg-hatching catalogs of Murray McMurray, My Pet Chicken, and Randall Burkey. After all, when you become a chicken aficionado, you can't help but develop an interest in all of the delightful (and some endangered) breeds of poultry. Also, we had become aware of the increasing interest from folks who are attempting to follow the locavore movement of "buying fresh and buying local." I checked out a few web sites, including LocalHarvest.org, and found a small number of local egg producers in our county. Like us, they all appeared to be low-volume producers of all-natural or organic eggs. Our enthusiasm grew!
Later that fall, I called an egg hatchery company and ordered a combination of 25 baby chicks that would be sent to me as soon as they were born in December. We readied our home (with a special room, brooder, and heat lamps), and on December 12th, they arrived! As the chicks grew, Art built a special shelter inside our hen house just for them. We used three heat lamps, a 5x2' frame, and lots of chicken wire to protect the babies from the other birds.
In the spring, when the chicks were close to being the size of the other birds, we opened up their shelter and let them roam free. It was awesome! The other birds established the pecking order and readily accepted the babies into the flock. Unfortunately, two of the babies turned out to be roosters (even though we had ordered all poulets). We’ve since learned that sometimes that happens when mail-ordering baby chicks. We kept the brilliant New Hampshire Red rooster and gave away the smaller, very sweet, Black Austrolope to a friend.
Fast forward to the following summer. Valley Green Naturals is listed on LocalHarvest.org, our happy chickens produce an average of 20 eggs per day, and folks come from near and far to buy them! Customers love the fresh eggs, but they also love supporting local and small-volume producers. One lady even came out to "inspect" the happiness of our chickens before she decided to buy their eggs. We love that!
We may not be able to completely stop what is happening to birds in commercial egg production, but we're working to do our small part to be local producers. We eat and sell totally natural, antibiotic-free eggs, while enjoying the wonderful hobby of chicken-keeping in the process.
Keeping a small flock of chickens is amazingly fun and easy! Here are some helpful and interesting links if you've thought about raising your own chickens.
mypetchicken.com (live chicks, eggs and supplies)
mcmurrayhatchery.com (live chicks, eggs and supplies)
eggcartons.com (discounted egg cartons)
iamcountryside.com (Backyard Poultry Magazine, books on raising chickens)
critter-cages.com (reasonably priced chicken coops, brooders and supplies)
‘til next time, be well and stay healthy.