Heritage breed chicken

Broody hens: Hatching eggs au naturel

By fortuitous circumstances one of our Plymouth Barred Rock hens set on 10 eggs in our egg mobile this summer.  She somehow evaded daily morning egg collection.  Instead of laying in the nesting boxes, which we access from outside the egg mobile, she hid in the corner away from sight.  She’d gone broody.

I'm gone broody

I’m gone broody

Natural hatching has always intrigued me.  Before purchasing our heritage breeds, I had read about the varying levels of broodiness in the different breeds of hens.  Plymouth Barred Rock hens have a tendency to go broody and make good mothers.

Into the Light

Into the Light

Allowing a hen to go broody and hatch eggs involved special care and attention.  Hens can sit on 8 – 12 eggs respective to their breed.  Our broody hen naturally incubated 6 out of 10 eggs.  All eggs were candled (shine a light on them in the dark) to show full development inside the shell so I am uncertain as to why the last 4 eggs did not pip or hatch.  I didn’t keep the nest as clean as I could have so it is possible that there could have been some bacterial contamination.  It is important to keep the bedding dry and clean.

Broody hens are easy to identify.  Stick your hand inside their nesting box and feel the power of the beak pinch and the alarming shreak of terror.  These are unmistakeable characteristics of a broody hen.  Broody hens have a tendency to leave the nest at the same time of day to relieve themselves, eat, run around, and dust bath. Their fecal deposits are ginormous, for lack of a better word, and you will observe them dance around their nesting area.  I liked the fact that we used our egg wagon as a shelter for our hen (having moved our layers to another housing) as it allowed Hen-rietta to get outside, do her business in the sunlight, and then get back to incubating. The incubation process takes approximately three weeks (18 – 22 days) and the hens will fulfill their mothering duties for up to 5 weeks when they begin to lay again.  The last three days of the hatch usually find the hen locked into the nest until the hatch completes.

Let's eat!

Let’s eat!

Broody hens should be left alone as much as possible so they can go about their business.  I kept a small margarine dish of chick starter and a chick waterer near to the nest (in a dark corner of the egg wagon) to make sure that the hen stayed hydrated and nourished. Broody hens consume far less feed than laying hens so high protein chick starter or pullet grower in place of laying mash or pellets works well.  Some may even need prompting to feed and drink as they become entranced and entrenched into never leaving the eggs.

Normally, a hen would be encouraged to go broody in mid-Spring, however, our broody hen decided to go broody in August.  Given the late discovery of her developed egg cache in a dark corner of the egg wagon and my refusal to discard the eggs, Hen-rietta was able to bring 5 beautiful chicks onto the farm.  As they say, a chick hatched via a broody hen has a much higher likelihood of becoming broody as a laying hen so here’s hoping that more natural hatches can happen in the Spring with our Plymouth Barred Rocks, Black Australorps, and New Hampshire Red crosses.  I’ll probably invest in a couple of Silkie hens by then as they are top notch broodies.

This was my first experience facilitating a broody hen hatch.  Next time around, Spring 2016, we’ll have a hatching pen set up inside one of the chicken barns so that multiple broodies can hatch at the same time.  A temporary nesting box in the form of a pet carrier, bucket, milk crate, or box in isolated pens will serve as a maternity pen set-up.

The most important lesson I learned in this whole process was through the maternal behavior exhibited by Henrietta.  Mothers are teachers and she was quick to educate her chicks on drinking, eating, and the safety of a mother’s wing.  It is a beautiful thing to watch the chicks imprint onto their mother.  I won’t retire the hovabator incubator, but I will certainly enable our hens to go broody and hatch chicks as often as possible this coming Spring and Summer.

Everybody scatter!

Everybody scatter!

Categories: farming, Heritage breed chicken, livestock, pasture based farming, small family farming | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Inspire Coop Permaculture presentation: Integrating chickens into permaculture design

Today, I had the pleasure of sharing my passion for livestock, namely chickens in this instance, at a permaculture orientation session in my hometown of Dalhousie, NB.  As always, I had some butterflies but overcame them to deliver my powerpoint presentation on chickens and their integration into permaculture set-ups.  In my 2+ years of farming with chickens, I’ve learned a great deal from books, websites, discussion forums, and other farmers and poultry enthusiasts.  I hope I was able to accelerate this process for those in attendance as they seek to determine the right fit for their backyard or barnyard flocks.

A big thank you to Bob Ewing and Marie-Christine Allard for the organization of this much needed event in our region.  I am confident that efforts such as this will help us to bring about big changes in the mentality towards food security, food sustainability, food availability, permaculture, and agriculture as a whole.

Should you have questions concerning anything from the presentation or anything contained within the power point, please do no hesitate to contact me via the contacts provided in the power point.  Sometimes time constraints keep one from fully answering questions or concerns that might arise from the presentation.  For example, in determining the quality of a laying hen, despite signs of aging, one can look at the condition of the vent.  A moist horizontal slit would indicate that a bird is laying, while a dry puckered vent would indicate that the hen is either off cycle or has slowed down to the point of very little egg production.

Finally, it was very encouraging to be in the company of people who are eager to learn and share what they have learned about farming.  It is through communication of different approaches that someone can learn to break a mold and step into an area of discomfort to better their farming experience or, in the very least, try something new.

Click on the link below to access the power point presentation.  Livestock & Permaculture Design

Categories: Food Awareness, Heritage breed chicken, livestock, MacCurdy Farm, mobile chicken coop, permaculture | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Three days of meals with Heritage Breed Chicken

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The past two years, when our meatkings go to table, we send our heritage breed roosters along with them.  Sadly, they don’t make the selection for breeding due to either temperament or less suitable breed traits.  The first time I cooked a heritage breed rooster, I made the mistake of cooking it like a meatking, which is a type of bird that amasses muscle very quickly due to selective breeding and is super tender when roasted.  Unexpectedly, I bit into a drumstick the consistency of rubber, and less along the lines of the meat that falls off the bones with meat kings.  With a potential customer base for heritage breed chicken, I set out to cook atleast three meals in three days from two roasted heritage breed roosters to provide customers with some recipes and quality feedback on the taste and texture of heritage breed chickens, the type of chickens that my grandparents grew up raising and eating in their barnyard/backyard flocks.

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Each and everyone of us has a different level of expertise in the kitchen.  Hopefully, you can take these words of advice and add cooking heritage breed chicken to the list of culinary favorites.  As I continue to pursue a larger disconnect from the “supermarket” mentality that once governed my decisions on food, I find myself spending more time in the kitchen and making more efficient use of food items that have come from our small diversified farm.  Each time I cook a heritage breed chicken my imagination takes over and I picture myself operating a homestead and cooking around an old L’Islet cooking stove like the one we have inside our farm house.  Before the age of the supermarket, people cooked in the name of efficiency.  They made multiple meals from a roast beef or roast chicken.  The one and done approach didn’t cross their minds.  They ate to survive and cooking was an experience, not a quick stop in your day.  I try to keep this in mind when I look at the left over meat on the chicken carcass.  The chickens gave their lives to feed my family so I’m not going to throw the meat that didn’t get eaten into a garbage can (Like many of us often do) but rather I’m going to make multiple meals.

Before I cooked the two heritage breed roosters, I did a little research on cooking heritage breed birds.  I found a gem on Mother Earth News, which I had incidentally read about in Joel Salatin’s book on pastured poultry.   Just click on the following link for an informative read: http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/cooking-heritage-breed-chickens.aspx.  This article, as well as other leading authorities on chickens like Gail Demerow, Joel Salatin, and the many contributors to the backyardchickens forum, talk about the four different types of birds available for cooking.

On our farm, our pastured meatkings qualify as broilers as they are processed up to 12 weeks.  By this point they have amassed a substantial amount of meat but are not impeded by the weight gain to the point that they are immobile (unethical and poor management at that point).  However, meatkings do not qualify as heritage breed birds so you’ll rarely see a heritage breed rooster processed that young because they are a much slower growing bird.

We have not produced fryers yet, but this year when we have our turkeys processed in the fall we will also be doing our heritage breed roosters that have not made the cut for breeding or have not sold to other farmers.  Our Plymouth Barred Rock Cockerels/Roosters are supposed to make excellent fryers.  When it comes to livestock I also offer them a chance for life on another farm first before having them processed.  We have sold more than a few roosters over the last couple years in exactly this effort.   When we keep our roosters through the winter we process our roosters at an age that qualifies them for roasting and slow-cooking techniques.

The recipes/meals in this blog are written for roasters, which are birds on our farm that are still the first year of their life, but past physical maturity.

Finally, we seldom process stewers, or our laying hens that are near the end of their egg production days.  We do not butcher on farm so these birds often end up finishing out their days on another farm as pets or, strangely enough, stewing hens.

Cooking:

Take a roaster, Close the vents.  Add a 1/2 cup to a cup of water and some olive oil to the roasting pan.  Place the birds breast side down in the roaster and cook in the oven for 3.5 hours at 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  It is important to note that a pastured rooster will have very yellowish fat.  There is nothing wrong with the bird, it simply means that they had the luxury of enjoying the great outdoors and the healing power of the sun during their life cycle.  The carotenoids found in the grasses that the chickens forage on deepens the yellowing color of their fat, filling it with nutrients that make their way into your soups and gravies.

Day 1: Chicken Wraps

Our family is big on wraps and sandwiches so we use up the tenderest white meat in our own concocted wraps, which usually includes sautéed onions, peppers, and mushrooms.  You can choose to use any part of the chicken for your meal but I suggest delving into the tenderest meat, especially if you have young ones.

Day 2: Baked Chicken and Rice with assorted peppers

At this point, day 2, we start to pick away at the meat on the legs and wings as well as anything left over from the breasts to cut into cubes for our baked chicken and rice, which is a family favorite.  You can make changes to the recipe as you see fit.

Day 3: Homemade Chicken and Rice Soup

Finally, my favorite day, soup day.  I have grown increasingly fond of hearty soups and stews this winter (Our Northern New Brunswick winter has been especially hard on people of all ages).  I have added two soup recipes (Heritage Breed chicken and rice soup and Grass fed beef and barley soup) to our farm website menu.

Heritage Breed Chicken and Rice Soup

Stock

Place your left over chicken scraps (back, legs, wings, etc.) in 4 quarts (16 cups) of water.  Including a small amount of vinegar will help to break down the ligaments and sinew on the bones.  Bring to a boil and then put on low heat for at least 3 hours.  Skim the water as it cooks.  Add a 1/2 cup each of celery, carrot, and onions.   When the broth is done strain the liquid to remove the chicken bones and pieces of vegetables.  These can be composted.  Place the pieces of meat from off the bones in the chicken stock.

From chicken bones to chicken soup

From chicken bones to chicken soup

Soup

Again, add a half cup of celery, carrot, onion and rice to the stock with chicken.  Then add a whole can of diced or whole tomato for color and flavor.  Add a tea spoon of sea salt and a 1/4 teaspoon of pepper for taste.  You can change these amounts at your discretion.  Add a small amount of garlic, a 1/4 teaspoon of celery salt, and a bay leaf.  You’ll remove the bay leaf after the soup has finished cooking on a low heat for an hour.  This makes a hearty soup.  I prefer to leave the vegetables sliced in larger size pieces for a chunky appearance.

Soup is Served!

Soup is Served!

Enjoy this soup as a natural treatment for a cold or on a cold winter day with friends and family.

Categories: farming, Heritage breed chicken, Locavore, MacCurdy Farm | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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