On a recent March day, we braved the icy rain and treacherous fog characteristic of days in Michigan that seem to bridge two seasons entirely, to bring home 35 Isa Brown started pullets that joined our 45 chicks we bought at only a few days old. Combined, these ladies comprise our 80 hen laying flock that will soon live in their moveable chicken coop (really, more like a palace) once spring decides to make its debut.
As I mentioned, the Isa Browns are “started pullets” meaning that they are all hens and we did not buy them as chicks – someone else raised them until 8 weeks of age, when all their adult feathers are in. The advantage of buying started pullets is that the weaker ones have likely already died off, in addition to a shorter waiting period until they begin laying. Isa Browns are early layers so we are expecting some eggs around 16 weeks, roughly the end of April/early May. The disadvantage of buying started pullets is that you generally pay a higher price for less breed selection, which is why we chose to mix our flock between started pullets and baby chicks.
We purchased an array of breeds as day-old chicks, including Silver-Laced Wyandottes, Buff Orpingtons, Barred Rocks, and Amber Links. We chose these in addition to the Isa Browns for their excellent foraging capabilities, hardiness, cold resistance and, of course, their beautiful feather patterns. What’s the point in having a flock that’s not diverse and beautiful? After all, the great philosophical farmer Joel Salatin says that “good food production should be aesthetically, aromatically, and sensually romantic.” And, trust me, we are aspiring to that goal!
One of the unforeseen problems we encountered in our hunt for great laying hens is that many hatcheries will automatically (and systematically) trim or entirely de-beak chicks. This is primarily because large chicken factories buy the bulk of baby chicks; in confinement situations, chickens’ natural foraging techniques and tools (i.e. their beaks) are no longer a blessing but a weapon to use against other when living in too close of proximity. They will peck each other to establish dominance (because they’re always getting into each others’ space) and since they are unable express their natural foraging instinct, the beaks become superfluous.
The alternative is to “trim” the beaks, which basically means they are filed down and may (or may not!) grow back, like a fingernail. However, if the beaks grow back they will grow unevenly and rounded, instead of a sharp tip – either way, chickens whose beaks have been trimmed are also unable to forage for any of their diet. Twice, we had lined up started pullets and chicks to buy and found out last-minute that all the beaks had been trimmed or cut off. Not only are we against this ethically, a chicken that cannot forage is of no value to us since we intend to raise them to express their natural “chicken-ness.”
This was disappointing and put us behind a few weeks on our egg production schedule, but we are happy to provide the small flock we do have a healthy and natural life on our farm. So much of our philosophy revolves around giving proper respect to the natural design and instincts of the animal and the chicken is the prime example of this. We couldn’t be more excited to partner with these ladies to bring you the freshest, happiest, and healthiest free-range farm eggs possible!
Good Food & Good Thoughts,
*Just a reminder that there is ONE WEEK left to order your spring pastured broiler chickens! We cannot guarantee you any after Tuesday March 26 when we order them. Click here for more information.*