Celebrate the culture of agriculture & share skills (Growing! Cooking! Eating!)

Today we became the proud parents of 3 Light Sussex and 3 Speckled Sussex chicks, ranging from one day old to 2 weeks old. No matter how novice, we are now 'chicken keepers', and like all newborns, we are giving them attention (not too much stimulation though) and fretting over their well-being. We have them in a brooding box we got & cleaned up from the local tip shop for $10 (it probably had been a guinea pig house), bought an infra-red heat lamp, have a heater on and thermometer, aiming for about 33'C, and set them up in a quiet area of the house. They seem comfortable, are not too hot or too cold, are eating and drinking, and doing a lot of sleeping. We are pretty pleased with our cute additions to the family! But, let me say from the start that we are going to try walking a fine line between these chickens being named and loved family pets, but also practical, egg-laying, scrap-eating, fertiliser-giving, and potentially meat-providing, 'livestock' too.

I am realistic that we will become attached to these chickens, our first foray into backyard livestock (if you don't count the worm farm!) and I am not stopping myself or the kids from loving them and caring about their well-being. R seems very fond and fatherly about them, though he is the one we will look to, if it becomes necessary to euthanise them. I do not doubt that my husband is capable of killing these animals with his bare hands or a sharp axe, if we have a sick or injured bird, or some turn out to be cockerels. Could I do it myself if he was not here? It would be hard, but if the chicken was suffering, I  can only hope I could summon my inner strength and find some farmgirl gusto. But my husband, he is adamant he will have no trouble killing a chicken to 'put it down', or for eating, if it comes to that.

Does this sound callous, or even perhaps, ambitious? We go into this keeping of chickens with our eyes wide open, but very aware we are novices, and there could be situations we are not prepared for. Part of this experience, or 'experiment' if you will, is overcoming obstacles and facing challenges... even if that means facing our own ethical dilemmas, and gathering the courage to end the life of an animal we have raised.

I know circumstances, and our intentions, can change. I know we have no experience in slaughtering and butchering a chicken, or eating one of our own, but we believe we can do it. If we had nothing else, would we eat what we needed to survive? It's not like we are learning to eat slugs or weeds, this is something people have done for many eons, and many people do today on a regular basis! This is something my husband has been quite keen to learn and practice, since he watched Collapse, and the first thing he said to me was, "We've got to get some chickens". That was about 2 years ago, but our intentions remain the same... to be able to feed ourselves in hard times. He moved on to being keen to start bowhunting, as the 'provider' role in our family, it makes him feel a little more secure, that with food security, climate change, end of cheap oil and other future issues, he could feed his family. I admire this characteristic in him.

Chickens provide so much more than just feeding us with their eggs or meat. Fertiliser, scrap & weed eating, pest control, education, food awareness, companionship, entertainment, and insight. We don't start this journey intending to eat them, but of course, raising meat chickens may be a useful skill to have in the future. Death and killing are part of the cycle of life and eating, and something I do not distance myself or my family from. But will I be able to help my husband actually kill a cockerel/ rooster, pluck it, process it and eat it? Only time will tell. I feel that as an 'urban homesteader', that is something I should be willing to try. Will I be able to, in the very least, handle the knowledge that he had to 'put down' a chicken and dispose of it, or bury it? Yes, I am quite certain that won't be a problem (though I will no doubt be sad at losing an animal we raised). We would not have gone into the business of keeping backyard chickens if we did not at least think ourselves capable of that.

So, these are some deep and meaningful issues to bring up for Day One of my Chicken Diaries. Some questions need to be asked and pondered before you start, like will we take a sick or injured chicken to the vet? Some things need to be explained to the kids, like how little chicks are delicate and they could find one dead or sick. And sometimes you just need to put the heavy stuff aside and enjoy the experience! They are cute, they are going to provide us with so much, and we only hope to provide them with all the love, care, respect and happiness they need to have a wonderful life. As for names, well, so far we have: Robot Chicken, Princess Leia (layer), Amelia, Spotty, Guinevere and Tweet Tweet.

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Comment by Caroline Malcolm on September 27, 2011 at 10:15am

Thanks for sharing this insightful blog post. Enjoy raising these little guys - it is great fun to keep backyard chickens! 


I think that it is possible to keep chickens as pets, while keeping in mind that they are a natural food source.  It's harder to kill or eat an animal that you've named and "bonded with", but it's important to remember that these birds serve many purposes, as you stated.  It's hard to draw the line between pet and food, but here is an informative discussion on that very subject!


That being said, I enjoy eating the eggs my chickens provide, but I haven't faced the reality of raising animals for meat production. Let us know how your experience goes! Good luck and have fun; they grow up too fast!

Comment by Penny on September 27, 2011 at 11:13am

 We went thru the same questions when we bought our first chickens. It helped that my husband and I had both been raised in the country. When we begin homesteading we let our kids know that most of the animals will end up being food for the table. We lost our first chicken to our lab killing it, that's how we found out she wasn't going to be a good farm dog. We ended up finding her a good home with no chickens! My daughter(12) said she would help with anything we needed done on the farm as long as she didn't have to help kill anything, I thought that was fair. We are getting a batch of 3 week old chicks from a friend to replace the ones the lab ate, my girls are looking forward to naming them. One of ours is named Alarm Clock! Good luck with your new adventure!



Comment by Karen Heard on September 27, 2011 at 4:09pm

We just got 2 ex laying hens a few weeks ago, the kids have named them sparkle and delilah.  Ours are just as pets and for laying, scrap eating etc, not for meat.  They have great personalities shining through already, sparkle is an escape artist in the making and delilah just never stops eating.

The kids are great with them, so confident, which I'm really pleased about as they're quite big girls!

Good luck with your chicks, we're looking forward to reading more ;o)

Comment by dixiebelle on September 28, 2011 at 12:39am
Thanks everyone for the comments!


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