Meadow Haven Farm Visit – Chickens

I missed writing this up Saturday & Sunday. I didn’t realize how busy the days would be. But I’m thrilled to be writing now. Well, for some value of “writing”, as today’s post is going to mostly be photographs. I think.

I think most folks know this, but it bears repeating that the seeds for this hog purchase were initially planted in February 2011, when I asked Jeremy of Meadow Haven what it would take to get a pound or two of bacon that wasn’t previously frozen. I knew it was illegal for him to sell it to me at the market, but I also knew that Bill & I eat as much bacon as we make, and we tended to make as much as we thawed. In other words, every time we thawed a pound of bacon, we ate a pound of bacon. That’s a lot of bacon for a family of two.

Jeremy told me he’d be happy to sell it to me anywhere where it wasn’t illegal, which basically meant a farm visit. It also meant I needed to go around the time he was processing hogs. At the time, he estimated July. So, we agreed we’d talk again in May.

Between February & May, I did a lot of thinking.

I considered that driving 2.5 hours, one way, was probably folly for just a pound or two of bacon. I read Ellen Malloy’s posts about butchering a whole hog for herself (start here, I think) and thought she was impressive, but maybe insane. I attended the panel she moderated at Family Farmed Expo. I considered whether “But I live in an apartment!” was a cop-out. I polled my friends for interest.

I discussed with Jeremy his meat CSA and found that we had both kind of translated my interest in a fresh pound or so of bacon into a half or whole hog. Doing such a thing would, of course, reduce my need/desire for a meat CSA.

So, we decided we’d do it. Bill & I would go whole hog, literally, with as many friends as we could. And, starting in May, we started inviting folks to split the hog with us. By the end, we had split the hog seven ways. None of us knew what we were getting into, but all of us were more than ready to jump in the deep end & figure it out.

This is the start of that jump for all of us, I guess. Heading to the farm to pick up what is effectively many weeks of dinner (or breakfast). Of the nine people (including Bill and I) who purchased the hog, only two of us were able to go visit the farm and pick it up. My hope is that if we do this again (and so far almost everyone is gung-ho about that idea), everyone will be able to go. Especially as it makes a great jumping off point.

So, for them & for my readers, here’s the virtual farm tour. All photos were taken by me, shot on a Cannon Rebel XTi & are straight out of the camera. Avians first, mammals for the next post.

These chickens were the first critters we saw on the farm. The little guys are about 4 weeks old & the bigger guys are about 6 weeks old. It’s kind of amazing how fast they grow.

These little cuties are meat chickens as well. Jeremy told us how old they are, but I don’t recall. Maybe Dylan does & hopefully he’ll post in the comments to share. I just love the little one who is eyeballing me in the first picture!

The last of the meat chickens we saw. They’re pretty big birds already, at six weeks. Jeremy says they’re typically slaughtered around 8 – 10 weeks old. Those suckers are probably really big, and it makes me wonder how big they’d get if they lived until old age killed them.

Jeremy said they’d started construction on this house back in January. It’s almost done, it looks like, and it’s done enough for these hens to safely live there. They have little laying boxes, not that they always use them, and a-frame roosts for hanging out on.

We found in there that if an egg breaks, they’ll eat it. Which is unfortunate if it breaks over another egg, because they’ll peck at the broken egg & end up breaking yet more eggs. Sounds like a pretty vicious cycle to me. Also sounds like it makes those laying boxes a solid investment, if the hens can be enticed to use them.

This chicken played Houdini and wandered out of the part of the house that’s done and into the other little bit of the house. She also left us an egg, which Jeremy told us we could keep. It’s Dylan’s now, and I’m terrified he’s actually planning to turn it into a 1,000 year old egg.

The hens in that house also have complete freedom to wander around in a yard, doing the things chickens do. I suspect it involves eating a lot of bugs. It seemed to me that the hens somewhat preferred to be inside, but plenty were out & about, enjoying the sun. I wonder how often they lay their eggs out there, and how much trouble that can cause. A question I didn’t think to ask.

These chickens are really small compared to the meat birds! They even feel different. I think. I wasn’t sure if it was okay to follow Jeremy into the meat bird yard, though now I’m sure he’d’ve been okay with it.

They certainly feel different than the chicken you get from the store or from your farmer. For one thing, they’re lighter. They weigh about 3.5 lbs, full grown. Much more interesting, I think, is the shape of the breastbone. It’s much more like the bow of a ship, rather than like a paper fan. It certainly feels more aerodynamic, though I don’t know how much laying hens want to fly.

Dylan was pretty thrilled to be holding the chicken. I think he was less thrilled by my insistence on photographing it for all eternity to view.

Finally?

CHICKEN!

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