Friday, October 1, 2010

The Best Hen in the Whole World

Chickens were created, yes created, to have a natural instinct to insure the survival of their species by periodically going "broody". This broodiness manifests itself in rather moody, cantankerous, and generally ill-natured behavior. They will refuse to get up from the nest when they lay an egg. They will peck at you and make some interesting grouchy noises. They will pluck the feathers from their breast area to allow the eggs to come into contact with their skin and to insulate the nest. Their body temperature will rise from normal to around 101 degrees farenheit (they essentially get a fever) which last throughout the 21 days it takes for a chicken egg to incubate and hatch. They will not get up from the nest except for about 5 or 10 minutes a day to eat, drink, and um...crap(?). Once the eggs hatch she will keep her chicks close by and will ferociously attack anyone or anything that comes near.

Sadly, a byproduct of the industrial agriculture age is that chickens have been bred and cross bred for selection to yield consistent sized eggs, an egg every day, to live in confined quarters, and to process industrial chicken feeds which commonly contain the remains of other chickens. This broody trait has been all but bred out of most of the chickens you find today because when a hen goes broody she is essentially out of commission of three weeks during the gestation and up to six weeks while she is raising her new chicks. A broody chicken is undesireable to the mass-producing egg farmer. What then? how does the mass-producing egg farmer replenish his laying hens who have squirted out the same old egg every day for the last 5 years. Well, when the hen stops producing enough eggs, they are sold to a butcher which you may buy at the grocers or it is put into dog food, or into other animal feeds. The mass-producing egg farmer then buys another chicken to lock in a 2ft by 2ft cage with 5 other chickens to be force fed into producing an egg everyday. The chicken never sees sunlight, never eats a blade of grass, never gets to act like a chicken.

But, what if...what if you were to buy your eggs from a local farmer who raises chickens, in what I like to call, "The Right Way"?

Introducing the Mother of All Hens. This heritage breed of chicken (Black Brahma) originated in Asia and because it has been bred to BE a black brahma for people like us who raise heritage breeds it has retained many of its natural instincts. Sadly, it is rare even for heritage breeds to go broody now days.

This hen has now hatched out her third batch of chicks since February and we are hoping for more. This one hen has raised 21 chicks for us-naturally, in the sunlight, eating mostly grass and bugs and worms (these are things chickens like to eat!). The only time she has been in a pen without access to the wide open pasture of our farm is when we have a varmint predator killing chickens on the loose or when she goes broody. We put her in a pen during her "setting" to protect her and her newborn chicks. We let the chicken BE a chicken.

So the next time we run out of eggs, please don't get frustrated. It's natural and to be expected. The next time you stand at the grocery to buy a dozen perfectly shaped, monchromatic, thin-shelled assembly line eggs, just say no! Just Say No To Mass Produced Eggs! If you can't buy from Shamrock and Thistle Farm, buy from a local farmer that is raising chickens the Right Way. Shop your farmer's markets online or downtown. The eggs are healthier, more natural, raised by someone you can get to know and trust, they are fresher, and, well, you will be helping to insure the biodiversity our planet is known for, supporting your local economy, and helping chickens be happy chickens!

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