Yes, the age old question about which came first springs to mind this time of the year as the stores start to stock the shelves with chicken raising paraphernalia. We had a total of 130 chicks in brooders in the basement and barn this early spring. It was not a warm season so we were met with many new challenges. The Brown Leghorns and Araucanas that have joined our other laying hens are thriving after being brooded in the basement; the 100 Freedom Rangers now totals 95 after spending a week too long in the brooder due to 22 degree nights! They content today in the nut grove but it was a season mounting in stress for all of us. I learn something new each season as the variables of animal and Mother Nature are never the same.
We have turned chicken farmer in less than 5 years from keeping our first chickens. I had wanted chickens so my friend and neighbor Kay Yount gifted me a dozen of her mature Barred Plymouth Rocks in the spring of 2008; the following spring, on my 40th birthday, we were brooding our very first batch raised from day old chicks. How does one go from raising a few chickens for eggs to raising enough to sustain a small broiler and egg business, you ask?
I will attempt to answer that question for myself as we navigate our second year of raising animals for food. My first thought on the matter is that I really like food and I take what happened to this food before it reaches the table very seriously. This includes animal, vegetable, mineral, water, worker, environment- the whole lot of what it takes to turn something into sustenance. Okay, so the second thought (which is only now becoming evident after being engage in animal husbandry) is that the very hard work of carefully raising living creatures is not for cheap and convenient eating but for mindful living.
I have pondered, too, that perhaps our disconnection from the actual processes of procuring, raising and transforming edibles into edibles has left us disconnected with one another. When it took the collective help of neighbors to get the fields planted, cultivated and harvested we were accountable to one another; we valued each other’s successes because it was a reflection of ourselves. To help your neighbor was an investment because the favor was often returned in short order.
So, back to raising food for ourselves today: try it in the garden, with some hens for eggs or a few broilers for the table. If you keep them alive long enough to reap the rewards you will learn to value food in a way barely imaginable by most who eat with no thought as to where their food came from before the cellophane wrap. It is so easy to eat today, just go to the grocery and pop it in the microwave? Drive-thru? Instead, consider playing a little role in what keeps you alive and healthy. In just a few weeks you could be planting potatoes and onions; maybe raising some chicks that will give you eggs in 6 months (yes, it is an investment in many things including time and patience).
We are at the threshold of another growing season. Grow something…animal, vegetable, mineral, mindfulness, horseradish, whatever!