Summer is Over
It is not technically winter yet but it sure feels like it. The skies are gray, it is cold and damp, and the wood stove is feeling really good. The chickens are not laying as well as they were this summer. We are only getting 12-15 eggs per day out of 21 hens. This is better than they were doing while I was away at my mothers’ for 2 weeks though. They missed me so much they dropped to just 7-8 eggs per day.
New Hens to Lay in Spring
Come March, the new batch of hens will start laying and we will be swamped with eggs. There are 25 Golden Comet, about 12 Buff Orpingtons, and 10 Aracaunas growing fast out in the barn under Mama Lightbulbs. I need to sell off about 15 of them soon because 4 dozen eggs a day will be way too many to deal with. They won’t even fit in the fridge.
To help grow the babies good and healthy, I have started sprouting my own organic wheat and barley to feed them greens during these short days. We have an outside run with grass in it but the world is a scary place when you are a little bitty. A friend helped me get set up to grow the sprouts using pairs of nested plastic tubs, with the upper tub having drilled drainage holes.
I pour a cup and a half of grain in the upper tub and pour water over it to cover and let it soak overnight. Each morning, I drain off the old water, pour a little fresh water over the top, letting it drain into the lower tub, allowing some to stay in the bottom portion.
I have a plant shelf set up in the basement by the sliding glass doors (facing east) and they seem to get plenty of light. It is not a warm room but the sprouts are starting to show within 2 days and can be started and fed to the chickens in staggered batches during the following 2 weeks, with progressively more green showing on top each day.
I carry the tubs out to the barn and lift the matted sprouts out and into the chickens feed pans.
At first, the baby chickens were too CHICKEN to go near the scary sprouts but once they saw the older (very scary) hens gobble it up, they got brave enough to eat the sprouts too. Chickens can be so ridiculous when they first encounter something new. Once one gets it though, it is all over. They love their greens now.
Roosters to Eat
The 25 Barred Rock and 12 Buff roosters will be ready to butcher in about 3 weeks. I aim for them to be 12-16 weeks old, taking the biggest first, and doing about 6 at a time. We will be eating and freezing a lot of chicken. I do not pluck feathers but skin them instead. It is easier and faster. I also bone most of the pieces and boil them down into broth for soup.
I like to marinate chicken pieces in a mixture of Balsamic vinegar, Soy sauce, Worstershire sauce, and Jerk Seasoning for a few hours and then slow cook it in the oven at 325 degrees for 1 ½ -2 hours in a covered dish. So far our chicken has been tender and juicy fixed this way. Sometimes I mix the marinade in with the meat in a vacuum freezer bag and freeze it to cook later.
You might think it is hard to grow and then eat your own chicken, but I figure it is only fair. If I am going to eat meat, I should be able to raise it and kill it myself. I know they each have a good life in the meantime.
-Wendy , writing at Edgewisewoods, Gardens and Critters