The winter has been mild and already my hens are having visions of babies. Last week, two of my hens went broody and it seems the rest of the girls are lingering longer and longer in the nest boxes. The two broodies went into the “cooler” and I decreased the time the lights are on in the coop by a full hour. Yet, clearly, breeding season is upon me.
My problem, well one of my many problems, is selecting the breeding stock. I had 22 roosters, two from Mt. Healthy, eleven from McMurray, and nine from Sandhill. I really only needed two for breeders and two back-ups kept in a different location, just in case I’m hit by predators or disease or incompetence. The Sandhill birds had never been through a cull since they didn’t arrive on the farm until the end of July and I’ve been waiting to see how they would grow out. At six months, they didn’t look very promising. Their color, both the Sussex and the Dorkings, was really wacked. Add to this, advice I’d received from an experienced breeder and the Sandhill birds got crossed off the list without a whole lot of thinking. The McMurray birds were a little more challenging. At nine months, the Sussex were a respectable size, but their confirmation was not as good as it could be. The McMurray Dorkings were looking good but definitely underweight.
But I sorted through them and the best ones spent a horrible day off food and water while I processed their less fortunate coop-mates. Processing day got off to a complicated start. One of the cull Dorkings got out of his pen the day before and refused to be herded back in for the night. All day he marched back and forth by the coop run, trying to figure out how to get over the fence and get some nookie. Then, after the hens had all gone to bed, he flew 20 feet up and slept in the maple tree. The maple tree that grows inside the run. Because he was up there and was definitely going to come down inside the run, I had to keep the hens inside the coop until I caught him. I’ve had all the roosters on lock down for the last three weeks so I could be sure when I started breeding, the fathers of my chicks were the roosters I had intended, not some escaped cull.
That dopey Dorking did come down and I caught him without much fanfare. But the whole episode illustrates clearly why chickens don’t rule the earth and quite probably why dinosaurs went extinct. I mean he could fly up twenty feet at twilight to roost in a tree and protect himself from predation, but in broad daylight, he couldn’t fly over the 6 foot fence to mate.
Anyway, I ended up putting 16 birds in the freezer. It should have been 18, but my hands got tired as the light began to wane and I started making mistakes, so I’ve got 2 more roos than I need. Although I got some help from Michael, most of the day I worked alone. Processing 16 birds by myself took a long time. A really long time. I started at 9:30 in the morning, and finished the plucking and gutting by around 4:30. I took a break for dinner and a quick trip to the store, and then from 6:30 to 3am, I was breaking down, packing and weighing those chickens. I’ve got a lot of whole chickens in my freezers that I can’t seem to sell. My hope was that a package of breasts or drumsticks would sell better. It’s not looking that way, but I gave it go.
So essentially, an 18 hour day for 16 birds. The next day, I was completely spent. Crazy! Why do I have chickens? For the amount of work they require, the return simply isn’t worth it. The only explanation I can offer is, “I like chickens. I like chickens a lot.” Just not on processing day or the day after. And by the way, fresh Dorking is mighty tasty breaded and pan fried.