We moved to the farm in November 2008. As city kids we were absolutely thrilled to have some land for gardening and even a little livestock... Naturally, we went nuts! I had a huge garden the following year, and this place is blessed with loads of prolific if elderly fruit trees, so I canned and canned and canned. The year after, 2010, I attempted very little in terms of gardening because we just had too much going on.
But the one thing we've stuck to all along even when I couldn't manage any gardening is... chickens!
We got our first chicks in early spring 2009. Plodding steadily on, we tried many things, all aiming at a simple goal of a sustainable supply of chicken meat and eggs. A laying flock is easy, but meat is a little more challenging as I don't want to buy chicks from hatcheries or feed stores. On the other hand growing my own grains is far too ambitious a project for me. So in my ideal world, we will be breeding all our own chicks and we will be able to sell enough eggs (and maybe chickens) to pay for the cost of feeding the flocks. These are pastured flocks, by the way, that are doing quite a bit of foraging too.
At last we're getting close! I have a freezer full of chicken and we haven't bought eggs in at least a year.
I have a laying flock of black Australorps.
I think they're beautiful as well as great dual-purpose birds... strong layers and great meat in a reasonable time. I've worked out a deal with a farming friend who started her own hatchery last year but has no Australorp stock. So now I collect hatching eggs now and then, she hatches them along with all her others, and then we split the 'Lorp chicks 50/50. So of the chicks I get, when they grow up, the girls join the laying flock and the boys go into the freezer. Another farming friend nearby comes here with a plucker on the back of her truck and does all the butchering.
Of course most people raising meat birds go with cornish cross, which mature much faster so are cheaper to raise, but those things are the opposite of sustainable. They can't reproduce naturally, and they can't forage. The poor things are engineered to be little eating machines that will drop dead of heart attacks if you don't butcher them on time. Not for me. On the other hand I can't afford to be raising gourmet birds. Hence the sustainability goal where cash from selling eggs offsets extra feed costs.
Meantime, my daughter Chaidie is doing a great job taking care of her own laying flock, which is a miscellany of colored egg layers (Americaunas), some "leftover" barred rocks from a batch of birds we raised a year or so ago, some decorative birds (white and golden Polish that we raised; the sole Houdan survivor after a bobcat started visiting my sister's free-range buffet; and a beautiful English game bantam rooster I accidentally acquired by foolishly checking the "Please send me a free exotic chick" box while ordering a batch of birds online from a hatchery once), plus various foster chickens who were driven out of their homes by a neighboring city's prejudice against backyard poultry.
When we give kitchen scraps to the birds, the barn cats sometimes get jealous...
This fall/winter have brought a lot of hyperactive wildlife to our neighborhood. Here's a track in our driveway: