Monday, July 29, 2013

The non-chicken-like Chicken?

We raise chickens. We have some "pet" chickens. Really, they're hens and we have them for egg-laying. They all have names, and they will all live out their entire lives, until they die of whatever ails chickens, here on our farm. And then, we will bury them in our garden, and their bodies will fertilize our soil.

I've seen a lot of articles recently about raising backyard chickens. In particular, I get a little irritated by some of the holier-than-thou attitudes of people who consider themselves "experts" who have not-so-complimentary names for people, like me, who live in the suburbs and wish to be a bit more self-sufficient. Even if I have no intention of dumping my chickens on a local animal shelter when I realize how much work is involved, the mere fact that I live in the exact kind of place where I live automatically leaves me subject to disdain.

It gets exhausting feeling like I always have to defend my family's lifestyle.

And it's really arrogant and unfair of people to assume that, because I only have a quarter of an acre, because I don't have a REAL (whatever in the hell that means) farm, because I didn't grow up on a farm, or because I don't have a bajillion years of experience in farming, I must not know what I'm doing. Which leads to the assumption that I will surely make a mess of things, and probably kill myself and my entire family through some avoidable error, if only I had been smart enough to realize that such things should be left to those who have the expertise to pull it off. Because, really, it's like rocket-science ... or something.

We also raise meat birds, and what I'm going to say is that I don't know anything about chickens, apparently, because if I did, then I certainly wouldn't raise the breed of meat birds that we do - at least that's the attitude I've seen from people who know about chicken farming.

First, I have to say that when we raise birds - or any of the animals that we raise on our nanofarm - they are ALL for our personal use. We are not, and have no desire to be, commercial farmers. What that means is, these chicken experts, who have hundreds of birds to care for, will have very different experiences with those birds than I have with mine. We raise around forty birds per year - eight to twelve in a flock (and the flocks are raised in separate areas - not with each other and not with the hens). Our yield is small - on purpose. We don't have room for more than we have, and so some of the problems that others have with the Cornish X chicken breed are not applicable in our situation.

One of the biggest complaints that people have about the Cornish X is that they aren't like other chickens, and I agree that they are a lot more messy (they poop ... a LOT), and they aren't quite as mobile as the hens, but they are not stupid, and it would be a mistake to think that they don't have any personality. Among the many traits I've seen exhibited among my "not-chicken-like" Cornish X birds is curiosity. In fact, one year, I had a couple of Cornish X roosters who learned to drink water from the hose.

And they are, absolutely, trainable ... at least as much as any chicken is. Ours know what their feeder looks like, and they will follow us around the yard when we're carrying it. Maybe some people will argue that's not training, but it's not a whole lot different from how other animals behave. They learn. That's the point, right?

But here's the most important thing I want to share, and that is that, I don't think I'm an expert, and I know I will never be. I'm happy to share stories of my experiences with people who have chickens, or people who want to have chickens, but I don't want anyone to ever think that, just because I've been keeping chickens for almost a decade, that I know anything at all about them.

Every single day that I live this life, I learn something new ... I am given some beautiful surprise ... I am gifted a magical experience or given some nugget of knowledge about something I didn't know before, and I cherish each lesson, because they are all wonderful.

I'm not an expert, but I am experienced, and in my experience, Cornish X chickens are chickens. They're quirky and funny, and they have personalities. Given the space and opportunity, they will graze and take dust baths and chase bugs and enjoy sleeping in the dappled shade.

I'm not an expert, but I have managed to raise, from brooder to freezer, hundreds of chickens, of a breed that is fragile and prone to genetic anomalies that make them very weak. And I've seen them race (and if you've never seen a big, top heavy chicken running across the yard, you're missing something) around the yard flapping their wings and squawking at the dogs. I've even seen them stand up to the dogs ... who know not to snap at the chickens and don't like it, much, when the chickens peck them on the nose.

I'm not an expert, and when experts hear about the way we do things, they're more likely to tell me how I'm doing it all wrong (yes, this has happened), but I can't help thinking, there must be more than one right way, because if the goal is to have chicken to eat, I've been wildly successful - even as I'm doing it all wrong.

I'm not an expert, but I also don't go into these things with my eyes squeezed shut. We find out as much information as we can from as many sources as we can find, and then, we start very small ... because this lifestyle is an investment, and everything we do has an impact - on our land, on our time, and on the rest of the beings that live here - both domestic and wild. We want to be sure that we know what we're getting into, and yes, like every other breathing human being, we make mistakes, and we figure out what we did wrong and start again.

It just sucks - a lot - when people hear about one thing we've chosen, and based on their personal prejudices, assume that we must be ill-informed or naïve or reckless or whatever assumptions they make based on some very small knowledge of our whole. I don't mind answering questions, and I am thankful for advice and information that can help, but I really get annoyed by people who believe they know better than I what decisions I should make in my life.

Little Fire Faery took the camera out in the yard where our meat birds (we currently have a mixed flock of Cornish X, Freedom Rangers, and a couple of dual purpose breed chicks - it's a long story) are free-ranging and took some pictures. This one, of the Cornish X birds taking a dirt bath, is her favorite.

I love this shot she managed to get of the Freedom Ranger chick spreading its wings.


  1. Amen, Wendy! I have been raising chickens for a long time also and I would never pretend to say I know what I'm doing! I learn something new each year of raising hens. This year was my first year for Chicken Mites and raising white leghorns..... I don't know what people said to you, but I'm sorry for that!

  2. Thanks, Maria - no worries. I have thick skin ... especially on the soles of me feet, and on my palms where I hold the shovel :).

  3. Keep going, just ignore some of those folks. I only live on a standard city lot. We have 3 hens currently, fruit trees, veggies, berry vines, etc. I did a LOT of research before we got our first chicks. Coop size, diseases, predators, etc. No one sees the work behind the scenes!

    I have "seen a big, top heavy chicken running across the yard"- my 2 Hampshire reds almost look like a high speed waddle when they run! Big girls!

  4. Little Homestead - don't you just love their "high speed waddle"?

    Like you, I learned as much as I could about the chickens - breeds, space needs, nutrition needs, etc, BEFORE we got the chickens, and I've also done a lot more since. It's a continuing education, and I imagine that, as long as I have chickens, I'll learn more. We have had all kinds of breeds - and right now, we have seven different breeds of laying hens. Each has her own merits, and they are all completely individual.

    We weren't as smart with the rabbits, because we just had three rabbits foisted on us by a woman who heard we were interested in raising rabbits, and she no longer wanted to take care of the ones she had. We didn't even have a place to house them, when the woman dumped them on our doorstep. Unfortunately, we've made a lot of mistakes with the rabbits, but we've learned a lot, and we do a lot better now - certainly, never perfect, but better ... and smarter.

  5. We raise an assortment of chickens and have raised the Cornish X also. I found them to be completely normal, other than we did have a couple with leg issues. Other than that they were very smart, they dust bathed, chased bugs etc. all the stuff you mentioned too. So I have often been confused when I heard so many bloggers talk disparagingly of them. What were they doing to those chickens? I even had one that I kinda kept as a pet that I'm certain knew her name. I could yell out her name and she would jump up and yell back at me, whether she could see me or not. She knew I was greeting her. In fact, they were so smart and personable my husband kinda had trouble when it came time to "do the deed". We did raise them to eat after all.

  6. @ Edifice Rex - you said "husband", and I thought, "Holy cow! I have been out of touch!" I had a computer malfunction a bit ago and lost all of my favorites.

    I have a lot of catching up to do, but it sounds like you're in a good place. So happy for you!