Rettland Farm

Rettland Farm

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Layin' Hen Blues

The original intent of this blog was for me to talk about what I'm doing and the thought processes that I go through in the course of producing food on the farm. As I looked back over my 2009 posts, I realized that I didn't do much of that at all. Not surprising, if you know me. I'm not really into talking about me.

Add to that the fact that when I did post, I felt obligated to defend the world against vegans and rogue Texas History professors (did that twice), and I didn't really talk about the farm that much at all. So, I'll work on that. Starting today.

We have produced eggs from free range hens for about two years. If you've never had an egg that came from a chicken that ate lots of green grass and insects, then you haven't lived, friend. They are superb. I really like them, my family likes them, and most importantly, my customers like them. I actually had a customer tell me once that she dreamed about my eggs. Yeah, they're that good.

The problem is, this year has not been a good year to be an egg laying chicken on this farm. To put it briefly, we have become a Four Star Dining Mecca for every damn predatory species within a mile (or more) of this place. We had a major chicken slaughter in the early summer, and we have never really gotten our production back since then.

I hatched my own chicks and raised them.

I bought some really beautiful black hens from another small farmer.

And yet, every week, our head counts continue to decline, to the point that I have the fewest number of layers on the farm that I've ever had.

I have taken steps to protect the birds, but it's been difficult, and largely ineffective. I have (until recently) insisted that the hens be allowed free roam outside during daylight hours. This stubborn, but well intentioned position has resulted in big losses during daylight hours in the last few weeks, to the point that I'm now keeping the hens inside. I hate to do it (and rest assured, it is only temporary), but it's less cruel to leave them in a spacious, well bedded henhouse than to allow them to die a horrible death in the jaws of a cunning, greedy predator.

So, we have to change a few things. I need to change my management style with the hens. I am going to have to move from the laissez-faire approach that has given the birds minimal safety but maximum freedom; to a more hands-on, managed system that allows me to provide them with the protection they need, while still allowing them access to green grass, sunshine, fresh air, and bugs.

I have always said, "If I have to raise chickens indoors, then I won't raise chickens", and that maxim is still true. But I have a few ideas that I'm going to try that will still give the birds great lives, and keep most of them off the menu at the Fox Cafe.

I'll keep you posted.

No comments:

Post a Comment