I think I casually mentioned that we had gotten another batch of chicks. It wasn’t necessarily in the plans, as there are no formal blueprints for this here operation, but we did give it some careful thought. I think the train of thought went a little like this, first within myself and then later to include the Mister… Giant egg recall. (snide comments about egg industry and much self-righteousness) Our egg customer base grows. Early morning reading of You Can Farm by Joel Salatin while drinking that first perfect cup of coffee. Caffeine buzz + farm reading = Grand Adventure (or DANGER) Egg recall + growing customer base = Terrific business opportunity. Better find more laying chickens. Craigslist, of course. Hmm. A bit spendy, not much to choose from. Buy chicks and raise my own? No way – that’s crazy. It’s almost fall. Hmm. I shall buy these six 1-1/2year-old layers from kind folks on Craigslist. Egg recall gets worse! Are these new layers enough? No! Should we get some chicks? No, too crazy. Hmm. (enter Andrew) How about we get some chicks and keep them in the Chick Growing House / Greenhouse? No. Too crazy. It is time to get serious about selling our eggs. Where are all the extra eggs we’ve been expecting from the new Ladies? We really do need more chickens. Wouldn’t it be great to have a mating pair and produce our own replacement layers? Maybe we should get some chicks… maybe…sure! Well, should we get some broiler chicks too? We didn’t keep nearly enough for ourselves out of the last batch of broilers, and there were plenty of other people who would like a shot at some. Yeah, we might as well. How many? 20? 30? No – 50! Really? YES! It takes the same amount of time to feed and water 50 as it does 10, so we might as well go all in. But we’d be butchering them in November! No, December, actually. Hmm. But we wouldn’t be sweltering hot like we were in July! Yeah, that’s true. Okay – let’s do it!
And here they are, not even looking like chicks anymore. They’re mini chickens already, with mini combs and long legs and a chicken-y gait about them. The plan was to keep them in the Chick House until they feathered out, move them onto pasture to the pen where the last batch was raised, them move them back to the chick house once the pasture was no longer edible. When push came to shove, however, I couldn’t justify the stress and hassle of moving them out for…how long, exactly, before the grass dies? And I had a hunch that if I opened up the chick-size door and let them roam around outside, they’d range close to home and then head back to the chick house to roost in the evening. That’s the lovely thing about chickens – they really are ‘chicken,’ or very, very wary. They know they’re Chicken Dinner – they don’t like to venture too far from their home base and they know instinctively to seek cover. So that’s just what we did – opened up their door to the all-you-can-eat salad and bug bar, to the shriveled squash vines (which they devoured pre-frost!) and deeded the entire spent garden to them. We’ve been watching them closely, observing their awareness of the hawks, who’ve taken to circling periodically, watch how they skillfully use the abundant cover of the brush. Each night we make sure they’re all safely huddled together inside and secure their door closed. It’s impossible to count them right now with perfect accuracy, but my rough estimates show that they are all pretty much accounted for. I don’t believe we’ve lost many to the plethora of predators, which is a relief. It’s a risky bet, to be sure, leaving them out all day, but I’m willing to give up a few birds in exchange for the vast benefits of free range chicken. That seems fair.