Friday, June 29, 2012

Real Happy Meals

A huge part of what we do here on the 'stead is growing our own meat. We're not large enough to raise a cow or have multiple pigs, but we are big enough to grow our own chicken, duck, goose, turkey, guinea hen and rabbit. We've been blessed in that we've always been able to fill our freezers with poultry meat for the whole year, within a season. And every year we experiment with different ways to keep our flock healthy and happy. A happy hen or roo makes for a happy meal. The flocks' regular diet consists of Payback Organic Pellet, Scratch and Peck whole seed and variously gleaned fruits, veggies and otherwise composted foods. Our flock free ranges on about .25 of an acre. Well, I should say their fenced area is about .25 of an acre. Unfortunatly for me, fortunatly for them, I'm horrible at building secure fencing. They roam freely throughout the garden and front orchard. Luckily, our neighbors are spectacular as about a dozen of our ladies like to congregate in their front yard on a daily basis.
In addition to their wild wanderings, we've tried to offer them variety and fun in their Habbitat. After Christmas every year, we collect unwanted christmas trees and leave them in the Habbitat for more natural nesting and resting areas. The grass grows taller around these dead trees and offer wonderful little hiding places for broody hens or cranky roos. They also provide excellent bug hunting grounds. In an attempt to create more diversity, we decided to try something new this year with pallets and left-over seeds, inspired by accident. Earlier this spring I read an amazing article about the taste of eggs in regard to the season. Eggs, of course, taste differently according to what the hen has eaten and is experiencing. In the spring the eggs are deeply yellow and rich, because the insects and wet roots she eats are abundant in the fresh spring weather. Early fall, the eggs are lighter in color and lighter in taste, because she's eaten more grasses and forage and is hiding out from the heat, thereby not eating as much. In an attempt to affect the flavor of the eggs, and encourage more natural behavior in the flock, I mounded a couple long rows of compost into which I planted last years' left over seed. Over the top I placed several pallets, laid side by side. The idea is that as the plants under the cover of the pallets begin to grow, the chickens, geinea hens, ducks and geese will feast on the leaves and veggies without digging up the roots and killing the plant. So far it's worked wonderfully, though I'll save my praise until the end of fall to see how well it worked throught the seasons. I planted squash, beans, sunflowers, wild grasses, lettuce and melons. Stay tuned to see how well it works!
When we first began raising our own meat a few years ago, everyone told us not to love, name or become attached to any of the animals destined for dinner. We tried to be stoic and removed and it honestly didn't work for us. I've discovered that despite what others have said, it's a more complete transition from backyard bird to dinner plate if we allow ourselves to love along the way. To understand the sacrifice it takes to kill a living being in order to live, we must first treat that living being with the respect and love it deserves. With that in mind, we totally love on all our birds, layers and meat alike. If anything, over the years I'd say we feel closer to the animils we claim as food then when we started. This year, all of our ducks and many of our chickens we hatched ourselves. Lovingly cleaning them of their broken shells at birth, caring for them throughout their lives, cherishing them by name and recognition of their personalities and in the end, delicately leading them through the process of their death. I think we'd all swear to the fact that these birds bring a whole different meaning to the term Happy Meal.

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