Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ok, I know this blog is about food and a rooster can be food, but not in my vegetarian world, as many of you know. I’m an ovo-lacto-pesca-vegetarian. What that means is I eat eggs, dairy, honey and fish.

I stay away from the meat counter for the most part, unless I come to dinner and you’ve cooked meatballs in tomato gravy (yeah, I call it gravy – but that’s another posting) and as I don’t wish for you to go crazy trying to make me something else, I’m polite and will eat the pasta and gravy, sans the meatballs.

Joanne’s mother used to make an absolutely phenomenal Italian Wedding Soup (so delicious, the woman could have made a fortune from it) every holiday and I would pick out the chicken and those teensy weensy meatballs every time and just have the soup with the escarole and parmesan cheese. Oh, so yummy…but alas, I digress.

I grew up on a farm and our animals would see the light of day, have veterinary care and were overseen with compassion and respect. Today’s animals raised for food do not get that. They are raised in factory conditions as if they are inanimate objects without senses of pain or fear. As I found this out in my mid-twenties, I gave up eating meat. It’s my thing. I don’t preach or get on a soapbox, but most people wish to know why I’m vegetarian, just giving a bit of background. You eat what you want and I’ll eat what I want.

So, in my little ways of feeling like I’m getting the most from my patch of land, I started raising chickens. Well, I had a girlfriend give me three little bantams about 10 years ago. From there, it’s just gone crazy, this chicken thing of mine.

Three little hens pecked and scratched around my property for a while. Then someone told us they had some chicks, so we took them to add to our flock. From that group came some silkie hens and our wonderful rooster, Hector.

Hector is about two pounds of gorgeous colored feathers and one proud, handsome rooster. He clucks for ‘his girls’ to come get some little speck of something he’s foraged and sounds like he’s saying, “Look-look-look-loook-loooook!” trying to get their attention.

Silkies are great little chickens with feathers that don’t look like feathers, but more like fluffy hair. They are birds to be reckoned with, as their small size does little to deter them from taking on the most ferocious beast should the beast make the error of thinking they can take advantage of them.

In another round of special chicken-getting, I had the opportunity to get a couple other silkies and one was a ‘blue’ which is lingo for grey and white feathering that looks blue in the light. This little fella grew up to be Buddy. We call him our ‘Girly Rooster’ since he tends to know his place.

If you’ve ever heard the term pecking order, you need to know in the world of chickens, it is as true as it sounds. These birds make an order of dominance and in our little henhouse, Buddy is at the bottom. One look from Hector sends him flying in the opposite direction and screaming as he goes which gives way to the identity of ‘girly rooster.’ However, he’s just a rung or two higher than the new birds that have entered the flock.

This year, we ordered ten pullets from a local feed store. As we could order however many of any breed we wanted, we chose them based on some research we did. Pullets are ‘girls’ before they lay eggs. These babies were only about a week old when they joined us and had to spend the better part of three months in a small crate inside our hen house to be acclimated and big enough for the original chickens to not hurt them.

We purchased light and dark Brahmas for their huggability according to one website, Australorps for their beautiful black feathers, Buff Orpingtons for their dependable egg laying ability and docile character and Ameraucanas for their egg colors of blue and green (so far no eggs from them.)

A local farmer gave us two Plymouth Barred Rocks who were only older by about 3 months and then we have our silkies and one little bantam hen. We have named them all in our quest to keep them as pets, rather than just birds who produce eggs for us.

For Joanne and I, that’s the way it works. We’re all family here.

As they grew, they became beautiful. Sexing chickens is nearly a lost art from what I’ve heard and is never, ever 100%, but we thought we had a better chance this way, than to let any of our hens sit. There are always more boys than girls that hatch.

About August, it came to light that one of the light Brahma girls we named Betty, was mis-sexed and Betty was turning out to be a boy. Uh-oh…well, we just kept calling him Betty thinking that perhaps the idea of being named a girl would influence the stars.

Nope. That deep, throaty cock-a-doodle-do he came out with one morning as I was leaving for work was all I needed to be assured we had rooster number three. There was no mistaking it. Compared to the crows of Hector and Buddy-the-girly-rooster, he sounds like a foghorn to their squeaky-toy sounds.

Now, roosters can be mean SOB’s and growing up on our farm, I had plenty of opportunity to run in the other direction when our big Rhode Island Red boy came after me! He was half my size and flew at me with his talons outstretched in a clear sign he meant business.

In an effort to put that sort of thing to rest, we have handled Mr. Betty and have found him to be just as huggable as the website told us this breed would be. At about 10 pounds, he’s an armful, but is very nice and calm once you get hold of him. He’s shown he can be kind to his girls by foraging for them and does the typical rooster circle dance with wing tips on the ground to court them.

About four weeks ago, Mr. Betty decided that he didn’t like his pecking order and thought he’d try moving up the rungs and took on Buddy one night while we were doing our dinner feeding. Well, that was all we had to see. Out of the henhouse he went and he’s now living with Helen the Pig until we can find him a new home.

We almost lost Hector in just such an incident about five or six years ago and it is something that we won’t allow to happen again. Thinking first that Hector was dead, we realized he had survived, but suspected the loss of an eye, we felt fortunate that he lived and very lucky he didn’t lose that eye. After much clean up and attention to wounds over a period of a few weeks, Hector was back to normal.

So, that’s where this is going…Mr. Betty the Rooster needs a home. Two roosters and 16 hens is a great ratio and with Buddy being as scared as he is of Hector, it works.

I want him to have a nice home with a few girls and know Mr. Betty would make a wonderful addition to any farm. I placed an ad in an online marketplace at work and have had some fun phone calls from my fellow employees. It’s been a great way to get to know people and let them know more about chickens.

Did you know that there is no nutritional difference between white and brown eggs? Are you aware that in some municipalities in urban areas you are permitted to keep hens? Not roosters, but a few hens can be nice and offer you fresh eggs that supplement your diet and hold down a bit of your food bill.

Joanne and I are being inundated with eggs right now. We have been getting up to nine in one day and at this point have averaged 6.8 eggs per day. Ok…so rounded up its seven eggs per day, but that’s almost three dozen a week.

Not only are we trying to find a home for a lonesome rooster, but trying to find takers for our eggs. If you are nearby…fresh quality eggs for a mere $2/dozen and if you have room for Mr. Betty…he’s $15 to a good home.

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