Cockadoodle. . .

roosters
from the FB page, Blessed Little Homestead

Roosters. Nine to ten of them.  Adults. Too adult.

Here’s the deal on roosters.

They are totally useless for anything except: 1) serving as some protection for the hens (although when the raccoon massacred ours, the rooster couldn’t stop him- they can’t see at night), 2) serving as sperm donors, and 3) crowing, which is either annoying as hell or music depending on your viewpoint (I vote for music).

I am pro-rooster.  We have one. We had two, but dispatched the older one about two months ago.

A flock of hens needs one rooster for about every 10 hens.

What you see pictured there are enough roosters for about 100 hens.

Any fewer hens than that and the roosters will start to fight because somebody is going to get left out when it comes to mating.  Any more hens, and the roosters will exhaust themselves (literally).

We once kept too many young roosters for too long. It was ignorance on our part. We knew the potential dangers, but didn’t understand how young they can be when the fighting starts.  And our chickens are one of the most docile dual-purpose breeds around. I never want to watch a young rooster being ripped apart by the older rooster ever again.

We separated them all immediately and put the excess roos in the freezer/canner the next day.

In addition to that, roosters have some sort of nasty habits.  They can be very calm and sweet when they are young. The older they get, the crankier they get, and the “cockier” they behave. They see human beings as a challenge to their authority and they guard their hens with vigor.

And they are equipped by nature with the means to inflict injury. They grow spurs on their legs.

spur

Like that.  The pointy thing.  It is needle sharp.  And a rooster knows how to use those.  They fly at you and fling their legs up, and stab you.

If you’re an adult or older child, you get spurred in the leg.  It’s a deep puncture wound and becomes infected very easily. The rooster has been walking around in the dirt and that’s what is all over the spur.

If you’re a young child, it’s much more dangerous. You can get spurred in the face or as a worst case scenario, in the eye.

Roosters and young children are not a good mix.  Having too many roosters just exacerbates the situation.

[I have recently been informed about a really cool method of removing spurs safely.  If you’d like to know about it, contact me.]

And thinking you’re going to eat the excess roosters is, well, a sort of pipe dream.

When you buy chicken at the store, you’re getting very young chicken, maybe 7 or 8 weeks, max. When we incubate chicks here, we end up with about half cockerels and have to butcher them. They do not gain weight like the hybrid chickens that are raised by the industry, so it takes longer to get them to any size.  We typically keep them about three months, maybe a bit longer.

It’s a trade-off. The older they get, the more they weigh and the more meat we get. However, they also get tougher. So we’ve found by trial and error that 12-15 weeks works out fine for us.

Grown roosters (and old hens) are tough as shoe leather. You have to either slow cook them or pressure cook them. I use them as dog food.

At any rate, this is not an example of “homesteading.”  This is an example of newbie “homesteaders” who need to spend less time on Facebook and more time reading about raising poultry.

Chickenshit

wonderpet

Cute, isn’t it?  Sweet little baby chick.

Poor little baby chick. It had the very bad luck to be purchased by the Naugler family sometime in the spring of 2014.

killed

This may be the only sensible thing I have ever seen Nicole write about animals.  They need to get rid of the dogs.  Yep. They do. Those dogs broke into a pen and killed chicks.  That is grounds for being gone.  Nobody with livestock can have dogs around that kill livestock.

But no.  The chicks die.

Chickens, for anyone who doesn’t know about them, are probably the easiest sort of livestock for beginners to deal with. They’re easy enough to care for that lots of people have them in urban settings if their local ordinances permit.

All they need is some basic housing, a bit of chicken feed and water, a nice cozy place to lay eggs, and security so they don’t become dinner for some predator.

And there are lots of predators who very much like chicken on the menu.

It’s simple to find all sorts of advice about chickens online. There is really no excuse whatever for allowing dogs to kill not one, but two different clutches of baby chicks.

Honestly, if you can’t manage chickens, you really need to give up.

But they tried again.

bought adult hens

I am going to make some guesses here. One of the children bought the hens.  In our area, a young pullet just old enough to begin laying goes for between $10 and $15.  We could sell them all day for $10 each.

I really doubt that one of the kids spent between $80 and $100 for chickens.

I bet they were either free or at a very reduced price.

There is only one reason people sell adult hens for a reduced price.

They are old, spent hens.

Hell, we have five here right now that the Nauglers can have for free. They are approximately four years old and have quit laying altogether. They are only still alive because we’ve been too busy to take the time to butcher them.

A young pullet begins to lay eggs at around 7 months old, give or take a bit depending on the breed. She, just like most female egg-producing creatures, is born with all the eggs in her ovaries that she will ever produce. (That includes people.  When women run out of eggs, they go into menopause.)

If you butcher a hen who is currently laying, it’s an interesting thing to see.  [Warning: slightly graphic photo] The eggs are formed on a sort of string.  Little bitty things like yellow pearls (yolks) on a strand run down their backs to the cloaca (that’s where the egg comes out), getting bigger and bigger as they go along with the egg white forming around them, and then at the very last, the shell is formed, at first soft and then hardening.

And when these young pullets start to lay, they do so sort of sporadically at first, and then more regularly, but they never lay an egg every 24 hours.  Some breeds lay more eggs per year than other breeds, but the typical backyard chicken lays about four eggs a week.  And that’s when she’s young.

So at their best, the Nauglers’ eight hens might have laid 32 eggs a week, assuming that they were young enough to do that ( very doubtful) and that anyone could actually find these eggs on their massive 28 acres of land (very, very doubtful). There are two of us, and we have seven young hens laying and that is barely enough. We’ve gotten along with five, but had to do without deviled eggs for the most part and I occasionally had to buy a dozen at the store.

As hens age, they produce fewer and fewer eggs. So a two-year-old hen will lay fewer eggs than she did the year before and more than she’s going to next year.

Not only that, but the eggs get larger and larger. Little pullet eggs are tiny, and eggs from old hens are often very large.

eggs
From Blessed Little Homestead Facebook page

This is the other reason I suspect the Nauglers have old hens. A young hen doesn’t lay eggs that large.  Sometimes old hens will lay little tiny eggs (especially after molting) but mostly they are huge and get larger and fewer as she ages.

chickens adult hens

So, here are the replacements for the poor massacred chicks. Some mixed laying hens, various breeds.  Definitely not pullets.  Well-developed combs.  They’ve got some age on them.

They’re in some sort of pen, but it looks like that is in a vehicle.

Naturally, when they got them home, they allowed the chickens to “free-range,” because everyone thinks that is just so natural and wonderful and it’s simply how it’s done, isn’t it?

Well, maybe.

As I’ve mentioned, there are a lot of critters (dogs, coyotes, raccoons, possums, weasels) who very much enjoy a chicken dinner. We don’t like finding our good laying hens dead, so we house ours securely in a chicken tractor, and move them frequently, and let them “free-range” behind electric netting for their own safety.

We have a sort of unwritten contract with our livestock. They provide us with eggs, or milk, or meat or whatever it is, and in return, we make sure they get to live without fear, in a safe environment, with access to plentiful food and clean water.  We take it very seriously. Their well-being is our responsibility.

Modern chickens, like modern dairy animals, have been highly bred over the centuries and bear little resemblance to the wild jungle fowl they are descended from.  Just turning them out to run about in the woods and take care of themselves is okay until it’s not okay.

stopped eggs

They stopped collecting eggs while the children were in state custody because they were no longer on the land at all.  Nobody was there. The chickens, along with all the other animals, just fended for themselves.

They’d had these eight chickens for nine months at this point, and one of the hens managed to put together a clutch of eggs and hatch them out.  Good for her.  She did so under the worst of circumstances.

The fact that the family was “so excited” tells me this hadn’t happened before, but as I’ve said, these are old hens.

And it’s odd, but you don’t see many photos of chickens, or mention of them or photos of eggs or mention of them on the Blessed Little Homestead page. I really had to hunt to find them.  There were two photos of the newly hatched chicks with their mother, but none as they supposedly grew up.   I wonder who ate them.  I bet it’s just as hard to find their eggs as it was for me to find their photos.

This is not the optimal way, by anyone’s standards, to keep chickens for eggs.  If you just want some chickens to run around  your property and make it look all homesteady,  and hear a rooster crow from time to time, and take some farmy sustainable-looking photos for your blog so people will say, “Oh, gee, I wish I could live like you do,” well, yeah, this will work okay until something kills them all.

But if you’re trying to be “sustainable” (a basically impossible task, as we’ll talk about later), you need to do a wee bit more, and it involves some work and money.  I’m not sure that it’s possible to save any money raising chickens (for eggs).  I doubt we do. However, the luxury of farm-fresh eggs is worth it. There is a definite difference in the way the eggs look and the way that an egg, over easy, for breakfast tastes.

It’s also amazing and wonderful to incubate eggs and watch the chicks hatch and then brood them. It’s a biology lesson in styrofoam.  It would make a super experience for children, but it won’t happen at the Blessed Little Homestead for lots of reasons.

Yes, they have chickens running around their property. And yes, they probably gather a few eggs here and there.  No, they are not keeping chickens in a way that will provide that huge family with a reasonable supply of eggs.

The chickens are more of the mythology.

Here Comes Santa

chickenSwings

One of the things that Nicole and to a lesser extent, Joe try to do is project an image of being “homesteaders.”  They want to promote this idea that they are living close to the land, getting what they need from the land, and that they are wildly successful in achieving this goal.

This is from one of her Facebook pages.

The irony here is two-fold.

First, that is of course not a photo of her chickens. (I know she’s just sharing a link and doesn’t claim that it is.)  Not only do her chickens not have a swing, the Naugler chickens don’t even have a house.  They are what Nicole calls “free-range,” but actually are feral.

I’m not certain that they even feed their chickens anything at all.

Second, Nicole and Joe do not celebrate Christmas. The children don’t have a tree, don’t get any presents and certainly do not have any Santa Claus.

If the children have a swing, it’s because they constructed it out of any scraps they could find and hung it themselves.

Here’s another example:

gingerbreadCookies

XmasDate

I’m not quite sure what she’s trying to say in the last one.  They do not celebrate Christmas. No tree, no presents, nothing.  But they will absolutely insist that they are Christians (Mormons, to be exact), except when Nicole is feeling agnostic, which happens from time to time.

Maybe December 12 was just one of those days. . .

At any rate, the message for the Naugler chickens (and children) is this:  Don’t get your hopes up, girls and boys.