Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Roosters, roosters and more roosters

18 months old.  It is definitely that time of year.  While roosters are the more beautiful in the species they are a pain in the butt.  We had too many roosters for the pen and for the number of hens.  We made a portable pen and put the biggest ones in there.  But they fought terrible and I couldn't stand that the ones getting picked on were trapped.
They did alright the first night, all a little confused about why they were in there.  Chloe sang to them that evening, bedtime songs.  We moved the box the next day, away from the regular pen so they couldn't see the other chickens.
To me they were looking pretty good and healthy.

They seemed pretty happy in there for the most part.

It was too many roosters for this size cage and the cage is very heavy so I couldn't move it daily to give them new grass to work on.  They became aggressive with each other.
That weekend we processed roosters number 2 and 3.  And then Mark got to work on making a pasture area for them.  We put the cage in the fenced off area so that they could sleep in it at night.  But they don't.  They sleep on top of it.  We put the rest of the White Plymouth Rock roosters in the back pen.  For the next couple of weeks we were rounding up roosters and putting them back in the pen since they would fly over the fence.  On the 14th while rounding up a rooster, he got hurt and we did an emergency processing.    He was 20 weeks old and dressed up at 3 lbs 9 oz.  So by this time 4 roosters were in the freezer.  Actually 2 were cooked and enjoyed.  By Aug 20th, most of them were staying in the pen, but I was still having trouble with one in particular, so on a friday with the help of the two kids I took care of him by myself.  He was 20 1/2 weeks old and dressed up at 4 lbs 3 oz.  There were 8 left in the pen now. 
After we moved the White Plymouth Rock roosters to the back pen we began having trouble with our large Buckeye rooster.  He was hanging out in the coop and the hens had started to lay.  He had actually been very laid back and unassertive.  He had a wonderful personality, calm, mild and generally minded his own business.  But with the other roosters gone he suddenly assumed the leadership role, not just of the two smaller Buckeyes but of the hens as well.  I spent a lot of time peeking into the coop to find him chasing hens around and broken eggs on the floor and in the nest boxes.  I even found eggs laid outside because she didn't want to deal with him.  I really didn't want to put him in the pen with the other roosters but it seemed like my only recourse.  One evening I put him back there with the others.  They immediately converged on him.   I watched for awhile until they settled down for the night.  In the morning I checked on him before I did anything else, he was a sorry sight but still alive and no blood.  Most of that day he spent running from the others.  I was pretty upset because I couldn't think what to do.  That evening he jumped both fences and proceeded to boss the hens around in the coop.  I knew he couldn't stay in there so I put him in the cage we had made, which was still in the rooster area and closed the door.  I gave him water, food and grit and let him be.  He was pretty upset for a couple of days and refused to eat, but I saw him drinking.  I relaxed a bit about him because he was safe.

Meanwhile, the pullets began laying.  We got our first egg on August 6th.  I was so excited.  I took pictures of it.

This is what it's all about.
It was so small.  Here it is next to a size large store bought egg.
She was 19 weeks old when she began laying and laid one each of the next 2 days before her sisters followed suit.  After she began laying she wouldn't stay in the pen with the other hens but jumps out every morning and wanders around the yard until bedtime when she wants back in the coop.  She laid her eggs in different places.  I try to let her in the coop when she starts cooing and she will go in but jumps over the fence and lays her egg in the yard.
All told we got 157 eggs in August.  That's a lot of fried eggs, cakes, cookies, pasta etc.  We shared also with our family and neighbors who are all very impressed with my project.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Cooler Temperatures Welcome

High temperatures and humidity have not made for a very good first year with chickens.  The groups, chats and blogs have been super helpful.  I'm glad I have only a few chickens, comparatively, but it still seems like too many on some days.  The chicken's are ok now that temperatures have dropped, but humidity is on some days unbearably high.  One day this week everytime I went out the back door my glasses completely fogged up.  Probably because I keep the house too cool.  I do that because I lose a lot of energy and begin to feel nauseous when I'm in humid air for too long.  The airconditioner keeps the house a lot drier.  As a result the garden has suffered from neglect.  I'm not giving up on it for the future but for now it is still difficult to spend mornings out there with toddlers in the house.  They will get older and it will get easier I'm sure.
This spring I bought a straight run of chicks, because of this I have way too many roosters.  Even though they are not fully mature they can be quite a handful.  We watched them a lot trying to determine which ones were the worst.  One evening, July 28th we decided to try our hand at processing one, get a system started and see how it goes.
So here we are.  Nervous? yes.  Could we back out of this? no.  Once you have a livestock, you cannot turn your back on it.  It doesn't matter what kind it is.  So better pull on those boots, get the gloves and get on with it.  We actually caught and processed the wrong one.  Catching it was so hard.  But that's ok really because I'm not trying to breed chickens.  All the roosters are eventually going to the same happy place.  It has been many years since I last processed a chicken, 34 years exactly.  So yes I'm nervous, I also wanted to try something different to what we did at home when I was a kid. 
I want to use a cone instead of a chopping block.
Here is a picture of our little rudimentary set up.  The homemade cone attached to the end of an old homemade sawhorse.  A piece of plywood straddled across two smaller sawhorses and the old kitchen trash can.  The hose is conveniently nearby.  Two very sharp knives and a bucket you can barely see, under the cone and one not visible for the hot water.  We used hot water from the house and boiled a smaller pan of water.  We used a thermometer to check the waters temperature.  At this age I've read that it should be between 140 - 150 degrees F.  We had a rope hangin in the barn door.
Here's me holding the lucky guy.  This was our first.  He dressed out at 3lbs 5oz.  Not too big for this kind of chicken, but not too bad either.

Little bit skinny. But not too bad.  Tasted good too though not as tender as I had hoped.  But that's what you get for having flying running chickens, and giving them lots of room to do so.  The flavor was great.  I think we'll have to experiment with the actual cooking of the birds to find the best way.