of my top tips from our Short, Sweet, and Self-Sufficient
Guide to the Working Chicken is “Don’t name your
are so personable and individualized that I find it hard to follow my
own advice, but the truth is that a working chicken flock needs
constant management. And “management” is often a euphemism for
slaughtering and eating birds that are no longer pulling their weight
— hard to do if those birds have pet names.
How do you know when
it’s time for a chicken to go in the stew
pot? In my opinion, aggressiveness is the first and most
important factor. If your rooster scares your three year old out
of the coop, that rooster has to go. But on our farm, chickens
also have to pull their own weight, so we try not to let even kind hens
linger too far past their sell by date.
We keep our layers in
three different tractors, each with a specific
age and breed of bird, so it’s pretty easy to tell who’s falling down
on the job when production plummets. Currently, we have three
Golden Comets who are probably pushing
their fourth birthdays, a pair
of two-year-old Golden Comets, and a trio of two-year-old Barred
Rocks. I would
expect the farm’s eggs to be flowing primarily
from the young Golden Comets and Plymouth Rocks, but in fact we get
most of our eggs from our oldest biddies. What’s up?
The Plymouth Rocks are
supposed to be a good multi-purpose chicken,
feeding us both eggs and meat, but my record-book shows that our Rocks
have been averaging about an egg per bird per week for months. If I were
more on top of our flock, I probably would have
eaten the Plymouth Rocks this spring. As it is, we butchered the
three along with some of our Dark Cornish last week, and will be
grinding the meat up for potstickers shortly.
The young Golden Comets
didn’t get the ax this week, but we’re not
thrilled with their production — half an egg each per day.
(In contrast, our three old girls are averaging three quarters of an
egg each per day.) I suspect that one of our young Golden Comets
laying thin-shelled eggs that get crushed in the nest, despite the
supplemental calcium I tossed in along with their laying feed this
month. Now that we have a spare tractor, we’re going to split up
the disappointing duo and figure out who’s laying and who’s not.
We attribute a large
part of our four year old Golden Comets’
productivity to our homemade chicken
waterer, along with
their great ability to forage. I toss cupsful of Japanese Beetles
and June Bugs into their tractor each week because I don’t trust our
other chickens to catch the beetles before they fly away. Maybe
the insect protein keeps them young. Or maybe our old biddies
just lay so well because of the subtle hint Mark pasted on the inside
of their nesting compartment?