A comment on the last blog post got me thinking even harder about something that has been on my mind since late December ... ' I wonder how you feel about eggs since I know you love your chickens and are raising them on site? '.
Now those of you who have followed my 'country' journey know that for the last eight years I have had the joy of keeping, breeding and raising chickens. We started with a small flock of ten rescue ex-free rangers, expanded due to breeding and buying until our flock reached the dizzying (for us) heights of over fifty birds. We coped with fox attacks, witnessed the bravery of our cockerels defending their ladies and generally learnt so much about our lovely feathered friends.
Learnt for example how they make close friendships and stay with each other right to the end, learnt their daily rituals and funny quirky individual ways. But most of all learnt that each and every one of them is unique and like us has a right to a good life, and that is what I have always tried to give them. For example none of our birds have been culled because of age, and all live out a long and happy retirement after they have ceased to lay.
In return for our guardianship they give us eggs. The bought in girls, the 'layers', each give us up to five eggs a week in summer, fewer in winter with its shorter, colder days as I have never pushed them to lay with artificial lighting or all the other tricks used by larger scale egg producers. The Pekin Bantams, my special little girls and boys bred here on the smallholding, each give us around four eggs a week from late spring until early summer and whenever possible I let them raise a family each year to keep the generations going.
So they are not forced to lay, they live very good, almost completely natural lives compared to so many other egg laying birds .... do I or should I eat them or their eggs?
Well I haven't eaten chicken or any other meat since December 2010 so my birds are completely safe there, even though as laying birds they are not meant for the pot anyway as they have such lightweight little bodies, and I haven't eaten any eggs or egg products since December of last year.
I've thought long and hard about whether I would eat the occasional egg and I honestly think the answer is no. I might, and I do stress might in the future eat the occasional homemade product (ie cake or mayonnaise type thing), but that's something I am not doing at the moment.
So the girls lay their eggs which Alan eats either as they are or in home baked things, and which we also sell to family, friends and neighbours and will be selling at the 'farm gate' when they are all back to more regular laying. This covers the cost of their food, bedding and treats etc and makes them self sustaining and fit in with our self sufficient life style.
We have also decided that in future we will have dual purpose birds as and when we replenish flock numbers so that Alan can eat chicken raised here on our land. It's not something I'm happy about but it is something I think I can cope with.
I would rather have a bird that we raised ourselves that hasn't been bred to be a skinny minny and pump out egg after egg, nor one that has been designed to put on excess unhealthy weight struggling to carry it's bulk and living a short and painful life. And ... one of the main things is that if some of our birds are boys they will not be minced at one day old as useless to the egg industry commodities, but left to grow, enjoy life and be part of the flock for as long as possible.
I think this is our best way forward for the moment.
Chicken World as it is now, under Defra instructions to try as far as possible to segregate domestic birds from wild birds. The quarantine period will hopefully be ended on 28th February. Then we will move the girls (and Jack) to their other home on the hillside while we clear up this area thoroughly.