Hard Lessons in Hatching

We now have 5 new chicks out of a clutch of 18. This morning I put down two more with deformed feet due to being in the egg too long after trying to hatch. This is so hard, but a lesson that will not be forgotten. Livestock is in your hands, always, no matter the pain or struggle, you as the steward have to make the tough decisions about when to end a life and when to support one. I think if more people had these experiences, they would learn so much about the realities of life and death struggles going on all around us all the time. Maybe then there would be more humane treatment of people, as well as the environment.

It is never easy to take life. Killing is not fun, or even a little satisfying, it’s pain, and guilt about what you could have done differently to save a little creature you chose to activate into this world. I am so thankful I don’t have to do this on an industrial scale. The amount of chicks killed in the industry is mind boggling. Let’s start with the fact that male chicks are never utilized, they are half a clutch, statistically, and they are killed days after hatching for pet food. Just let that sit with you for a moment the next time you buy a bag of kibble with chicken in it.

I’m not trying to scare us all away from pet food, or chicken in the store, but please know the cost of industrial farming to keep the store shelves stocked with all that good choice of consumer product. It’s taking a toll on our humanity, not to mention the environment. How can we help? Well, how about buying from small local farms? How about not consuming from big box stores when it comes to animal products, or byproducts. If you start digging into the facts, you’ll be shocked at how much there is on those shelves. Ask restaurants where they source their meat- and know all fast food is industrialized.

At Leafhopper Farm, we will continue to brood and hatch our own chicks, to keep things small and manageable. This Spring we’ll be culling a lot of our flock to prevent future health issues like weak birds unable to hatch out. I’m not sure if that was the main culprit, but I can look at my flock and see birds that should be culled by size and stature, among other things. I wish I could say size does not matter, but in the layer hen world, small frame= low production= weaker birds.

The chicks that were put down were not gaining weight, struggling to move, and unable to care for themselves at all. That’s not a life for a chicken on a farm. For the five healthy chicks left, we’ll keep our fingers crossed that they continue to develop well, and give the best care possible to ensure safe, healthy birds for our flock.

We do cull most of our male birds, but only after they have grown up eating fresh pasture, organic grain, and matured in a free range environment. When the dominate rooster beguines singling them out and attacking, we know it’s time to cull. Our roosters go in the stock pot and are enjoyed as stew birds. We boil down the bones for rich broth, and are thankful for all the thriving life that is nurtured by every animal on this farm. It’s not easy, but it does teach diligence, grace, and respect for the challenge of survival.

Next year, with a well developed small flock, and good fertility management, we’ll have a new brood of chicks with better genetics. Hopefully the lessons learned this year will prevent another hard hatch like the one we’re experiencing now. I would loose heart if I had to kill baby chicks each year like this. It would become unbearable. I’ll take comfort in the five little peeping balls of fluff that have survived and hope they make it through to maturity here at Leafhopper Farm.

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