It's a sweet day here on the homestead. Slightly sunny, warm, calm.
That is, of course, unless you count the 1,602,192 projects that I have going on my TO-DO list as of now.
I enjoy being an ambitious and driven individual. I love looking for ways to ever grow and adapt and learn. The downside of being ambitious is that it's hard to sit still and one can easily become overwhelmed with the amount of projects that continually are piled onto the ‘ol plate.
Yesterday's chores, on top of the regular cooking and cleaning routine, involved weeding the garden, learning how to ferment our chicken feed, loading and unloading manure for our new garden bed, planting new seeds, harvesting elderberries, simmering chicken stock, formulating a broiler ratio, ordering grains, netting the chicken tractors, watering the cow, cleaning the chicken coop, and harvesting greens from the garden.
Oh, and working on my newest knitting project, naturally.
I love these chores. Truly, I do. My only problem is that I don't like to do things half-heartily. If I'm in it, I'm in it all the way, man.
As is the case with our newest adventure (besides getting the cow bred, that is): raising meat chickens. The Lord has presented us with a wonderful opportunity to raise some broiler chickens later this month, due for harvest sometime around the beginning of November.
Have I ever raised meat chickens before?
Do I know what I'm doing?
Not a clue.
But I'm trying to quickly learn, adapt, and ingest as much information as humanly possible on the matter before the chicks arrive later on this month.
The first decision we had to make regarding this year's broilers was what breed of chicken we wanted to raise. As most are aware, the Cornish Cross chicken is the most popular chicken to raise for meat. With enourmously large breasts and an incredibly low feed:gain ratio, it's easy to see why many choose this breed. They fatten incredibly quick and are cost effective. I've heard many mixed reviews from the homesteader about this breed – some seem to love them and have minimal problems while others despise them. I say it's a personal preference.
When we had the option to purchase Rainbow Rangers from our local feed store instead of the Cornish birds, I had to make the decision to go with the…
….wait for it….wait for it…
Rainbow Rangers, of course!
You know me. I never choose the easiest or most cost-effective option.
Probably because I have some sort of brain malfunction that requires me to make things harder on myself than necessary.
Yet still, I sit here in anticipation of August 30th…the day my newest little feathered friends will arrive.
The Rainbow Rangers are a breed, developed by the French, that are known for their foraging and free-ranging abilities. Although we will house the chickens in two super-inexpensive portable pens that we built, we'd still like for them to be good grazers and scratchers. The Cornish birds are more likely to simply eat the feed instead of wasting any energy scratching up the dirt for bugs. We will be moving them daily across a hillside that we're hoping to fertilize and prepare for wine grape planting next spring and the more scratching and digging, the better.
The second biggest reason that I chose the Rainbow Rangers was that I've heard the meat is *far* superior to the Cornish meat. This is important to me for two reasons:
1. If I'm going to go to the effort to do something myself, I'd really like for it to be for a good reason. Sometimes that reason is because it's cost-effective. Other times, it's because I can create a superior product.
2. I want the eat the best chicken I can!
While raising Rainbow Rangers may not be as cost effective as raising Cornish birds, it will produce a bird that is (most likely) superior in taste. That, in my humble opinion, is worth it.
And thus, we ordered 50. Fifty, fifty, fifty… that's a lot of chickens.
That's 100 drumsticks.
And 100 wings.
And 100 breasts.
And 100 thighs.
Sorry. I forgot it's not time to eat them yet.
The biggest hitch in our poultry production thus far as been determining what sort of feed to raise the chickens on. We have an EXCELLENT organic, non-GMO feed available to us…but it comes with a hefty price tag of $27 for a 45 pound bag. Eek.
Because we have access to Azure Standard and the wonderful organic grains that they offer, I'd love to work on mixing up a feed of our own, though I'm having a heck of a time finding a non-soy-based formula for such. A higher protein content of our homemade layer feed will work, but I'm new to this, and am not quite sure how to switch the numbers around to accommodate for a higher protein content. We will be mixing two different recipes: a starter recipe for when they first arrive (through about week 3) and then a grower recipe (which they will eat until it's time for harvest).
Luckily, I still have a few weeks to figure it all out.
We're hoping that these 50 birds will be enough to see us through most of the year (this would allow for roughly 1 chicken per week). I think it's a good start.
Life on the farm involves all sorts of incredibly steep learning curves. But I love that no one is required to be an expert before beginning. Naturally, we're going to make mistakes. But from each of these experiences we'll be able to learn and do it better the next time.
So maybe in a year from now, I'll be sitting here reading this post and laughing at how ridiculous of a decision I made in getting 50 Rainbow Rangers.
Maybe I'll regret attempting to mix my own chicken feed.
Maybe I'll see how horrible of a design our chicken tractors ended up being.
Maybe I'll see just how expensive it really is to raise pastured poultry.
Or maybe I'll have a semi-pleasant experience that will aid in having an even better experience in raising our own poultry next year.
Now instead of talking about it further, I suppose I should seize the opportunity while both my children are napping to get my grains ordered for this feed already! Oh wait, I still don't have a recipe…
…maybe I'll start there.
Three cheers for seizing opportunities, my friends. Even when you don't know what you're doing.