Making Hay
Week of September 21st, 2003 | The weather was getting colder.

"Taste the Harvest" Demo

Hello to all! The temperature has been dropping this past week. Autumn will soon be here. I have to wear a coat to go to school (pretty chilly in the mornings) and when I am outside helping Dad work on the farm.

Dad was busy hauling food grade barley to the processing mill in St. Ansgar much of the week. He delivered this grain three days this past week, and also did a load of by-products and a load of corn. He still managed to find time to participate in a "Taste The Harvest" annual food demo Thursday evening at a health food store in Decorah, about 40 miles from our farm. Mom and I joined him to help prepare and serve the pork we raise that is sold at the store.

Many people came to taste the great samples and visit with others. Some of the food demos included: local grown vegetables, cheeses, apples and cider, pork, beef, and chicken. These products were made into other dishes for sample tasting. It was fun visiting with the people and sharing about our farm. I also enjoyed going to the other food tables and tasting all the good foods. I visited with a local farmer who raises chickens on pasture. This led me to researching this past week about chickens and their purpose.

The chicken was domesticated from wild birds found in the jungle. They are raised for meat and eggs. Did you know that the early morning crowing of roosters has served the farmer as an alarm clock for thousands of years?

Chickens are the only birds that have combs. A comb is a piece of red flesh on the top of a chicken's head. There are seven kinds of combs: Cushion, a rounded, smooth comb; Strawberry, round little beads; Single, one long piece of flesh; Pea, shaped like a pod; Rose, shaped like a long ear of corn; V-shaped, like eye brows; and Buttercup, two long pieces of flesh. Most chickens have single-type combs.

chicken diagram

Did you know that there are more than 50 standard breeds of chickens? The five leading breeds of American Class chickens are; Plymouth Rock, New Hampshire, Wyandotte, Rhode Island Red, and Rhode Island White. Other breeds of American Class chickens are Buckeye, Chanticleer, Delaware, Dominique, Holland, Java, Jersey Giant, and Lamona. There are many different colored chickens. Some are black, brown, speckled, greenish black, gray, red, golden yellow, and white. The most common colored chicken is white.

Some of the common chicken terms are:

  • Brood: a group of baby chickens.
  • Chick: a baby chicken.
  • Cockerel: a male chicken less then a year old.
  • Flock: a group of chickens.
  • Hen: an adult female chicken.
  • Pullet: a female chicken less than a year old.
  • Rooster, or cock: an adult male chicken.

Only fertilized eggs can hatch into chicks. Pullets begin laying eggs when they are five months old. Hens usually lay more than 240 eggs a year, but after about 14 months of laying eggs, the egg production of most hens declines. Then, the hens are sold for meat. They are called stewing hens.

There are also meat chickens that farmers raise. Most meat chickens are raised as broilers and fryers. These are young male and female chickens that are usually 9 to 12 weeks old. Chickens kept until they are 4 to 6 months old are sold as roasters. Capons are male chickens that have been neutered that are also very popular.

Some families enjoy having a flock of 6-10 chickens in their backyard for eggs and meat. That size of flock can produce enough eggs for a family of five for a year. Backyard flocks need a light, dry shed, or a chicken coop to sleep and nest in. The coop should provide enough space so each chicken will have 4 square feet of floor space. A concrete floor is best to keep rodents out. A good building is needed to protect them from preditators. Farmers usually place chicken feed in a trough. Chickens also need clean water each day.

Many years ago farmers raised poultry outdoors with a chicken coop for them to roost and nest in. During the last 3 decades almost all of the poultry was concentrated in flocks in large industrial facilities. There are many of these large facilities around. I don't agree on this being the best way to raise chickens. Another alternative to raising chickens that works very well is pasture- raised poultry. The chicken likes to scratch in the dirt, grazes the grass, and gets plenty of fresh air everyday.

Farm Fact: We have had a few laying hens on the farm for a number of years, providing fresh eggs every morning for the family. It's a nice little extra diversity on the farm. We buy broilers already dressed for our freezer from a local farmer that raises his in a straw-bedded chicken coop.

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