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SHEWSBURY POND (COMMENT ON THE WAY THE WORLD TURNS)

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DEC 18TH


MY CHICKENS

I am just back from terminating the last of the chickens (with extreme prejudice).  I no longer own a single chicken, though I probably have 14 in the freezer.  The biggest one got to 4 lbs 12 oz.  There's a surprising range of final weights.  Some are still coming in at 3 lbs after 14 weeks.  I think it's pecking-order stuff. 

Let me give you the sociology of mid-sized chicken flocks.  When they're all chicks, they're cute and harmless, and seem to like crowding together for warmth.  They feed out of two trays with 24 separate head holes in them.  Two weeks later, they can anticipate what I am going to do, and jockey for position -- except they are the most impatient creatures ... I have to be careful not to step on the little sweeties ... they jump on the tray before I can securely lay it down.  At first you think ... Oh, isn't that cute!   but two weeks later, it's a pain in the ass.  These birds are gaining weight so fast, and they fill so much more space every week, that now one bird fills the feeding space for three birds.  There is no stable pattern you can use to make a routine of it. 

When ten of them jump on the tray, the sudden weight can make you spill some mash, and make it harder to lay the tray down insecurely, and they tip it over.   They began to ambush me, crowding around my feet so I felt inhibited in moving.  (I learned.)  If they spilled it on the bedding, it is wasteful but a few of the birds could gobble up more faster .. while others nibbled around the edges, ducked in for a bite, and then allowed themselves to be squeezed out.

I tried to deceive the birds into thinking I was changing their water, and then, while they'd be squabbling over water-access, and I could lay their food down ... but soon, the faction that was squeezed out of the water was ambushing me with the trays.  Only half as many birds, but twice as heavy.  The flock had developed scapegoats, submissive chickens (I think) that let themselves get crowded out at the food trays ... they still ate, but last, and probably less. 

There was an intensifying competition for food ... and if there's lots of food, the competition is about each chicken's place in line.  If a rival chicken shows up too weak, the tougher chickens will make it worse, and the other chickens, in their turn, will join in.   


This Darwinian contest continued until finally, we culled the flock down to 15.  But it never went away, and it picked up tempo.  A cripple developed.  (I had to put a footstool in the pen for her to hide under, so she wouldn't be pecked to death.)  She ate, because I put food right in front of her when the other birds were feeding, but not as much I guess.  She was only 2 lbs 12 oz or so.  (I'm playing with having a way to take some of these out of the flock when that happens again.  I wonder if it would make any difference if she were in a pen by herself.)  It was getting rough when the second cull took place, and that left only 4 birds, so they were OK.  They didn't seem to see each other as rivals so much anymore.

The laying hens were also sold.  Those, I like better.  Apparently they were New Hampshires.  They layed big, jumbo eggs.  There's nowhere were the difference between mass food and what you grow for yourself shows so much.  Everything about the egg I get is as good or better than the system's eggs, and besides that, it's way fresher.  I've eaten eggs that are still warm from being laid.  But most of the things I've grown seem about the same level, and a lot of the time, and the freshness isn't as evident.  My onions, for instance.  Nice, hard, lots of juice -- but, in cooking, it's pretty much like any other onion.  The big difference?  The commercial system has better looking stuff.  

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January 2000

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