The chicks have made their way into the big secure run this past week. At the moment they are outside during the day and back indoors for the night. We’ll continue this arrangement for at least another ten days as they fully feather-up and harden up to the weather outdoors.
Spreading Their Wings
As soon as they got outside they had a big flap-a-bout and then a good scratch of the ground. They were in desperate need of the extra day space, it is amazing how fast poultry grow. Almost all of them now are fully feathered, just a few patches under wing and on head left to come through. The little Brahma is the slowest, but also the smallest and youngest of the group.
Boys or Girls?
We’ve also now got a good idea on who are boys and girls within the group. Sadly it isn’t a good ratio! We know two of the Welsummers are female already. Joining the Welsummers I think we have the little Brahma and the Buff Orpington – also possibly one of the Spangled Orpingtons. I am positive all three Light Sussex are male, two of the Spangled Orpingtons, and the Welsummer who we already knew about. It means we have 4-5 girls and 6-7 boys.
It is lovely having chickens that are able to be feather sexed from a day old. It means as they grow you can see the slight changes develop whilst already knowing whether a cockerel or hen. It also means being able to bond more with the girls from a day-old knowing they are not destined for the pot. I think next hatch we will try Cream Legbars for this very reason, knowing from the start what-is-what sex wise. In the picture above you can see the female Welsummer at the front who now as well as her eyeliner identification has a brown chest, the boy at the back lacks the eyeliner identification and now also has the identifying black chest feathering too.
The girls are being split between here and the smallholding. The boys will be raised here until 14-18 weeks old and then culled for the table. We will need to hatch or buy in a few more girls too, ideally so we have 4-5 hens here as well as the 2 extras going to join the smallholding flock who we are now lucky to get an egg a day from!
The boys are already having fun sizing each other up. The Light Sussex boys in particular can often be found, hackles raised, chest bumping one another. The Welsummer boy will sometimes join in too, but the two Spangled Orpingtons run for cover more often than not. It is clear which boys will be prepped for the table soonest unfortunately as I bet they are also the first ones to crow! I’ll likely split the boys off from the girls at 14 weeks old and feed them up to table weight fairly quickly at that point. I don’t expect at 16 weeks with a dual purpose bird to get more than 1.2-1.5kg dressed weight. If we had more space I’d be tempted to let them grow on to around 22weeks, but that isn’t an option at the moment for us. At least I know that they are going to enjoy a happy life whilst with us – plus one that is nearly three times longer than a factory farmed peer.
I really like being able to control just this small element of our food chain, along with vegetable growing. When it comes to egg and meat bird production I really feel we have pushed things too far. Hybrids that are “over-clocked” to produce more eggs and meat birds that become so large they can’t hold their own weight, all in a matter of weeks – a mere 42 days is the norm now for a 2kg dressed weight factory reared bird.
Our food system really does need to be looked at and overhauled, but with a nuanced and science-led debate taking into account a myriad of factors. For humans everyone going vegan/plant based or making similar “ethical” calls isn’t actually going to solve the problem long term. We need to look at how we raise animals and crops for food, and how we feed an ever-growing population, without factory farming and without mono-cropping, both of which are environmentally devastating. I’m currently reading Sacred Cow by Diana Rogers and Robb Wolf along with A Small Farm Future by Chris Smaje – both are excellent reads in this complex subject.