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Archive for February, 2009

Is it OK to eat meat?

We had a great dinner party last night, and a topic came up at dinner that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately — Is it OK to eat meat?

I think there are a lot of ways to frame this question. Some start their arguments with is cruel (or unethical) to kill an animal solely for your benefit? Many thinking of serving up Bambi, and quickly say yes, that is cruel, and off on a spurt of vegetarianism they go (that may last a lifetime, or just until they can forget about where the chicken wings came from.)

I however, am not so persuaded by this. I believe it’s perfectly natural for humans (as intelligent, skilled mammals at the top of the food chain) to kill other animals for food. We certainly do not need meat to survive, and many people prefer not to eat meat — but there is nothing inherently unnatural about animals killing other animals for food … something other many other creatures do in the animal kingdom.

However, the concerns about animal cruelty, worker mistreatment, antibiotics and other additives in my food does bother me. The thought of overindulging on animal products also bothers me, as you don’t really need meat more than once a day a few times a week. I really think the way around this is, really thinking through raising a meat animal for your consumption.

A woman at our dinner party, A., lives in the country in a converted shipping container that she did herself. She apparently raises her own rabbits, among other things, for food. Her partner summed up what I’ve been thinking exactly …. saying that if you can’t bring yourself to kill an animal yourself, at least once … then you have no business in eating meat that someone has killed for you.

The question remains … could I do that?

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Week 2: Chickens

The babies are two weeks old now, and my they’ve grown.

Little Rose (a Delware) is a bit shy.

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But she has suddenly grown a tail.

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And her crown just popped up out of nowhere on Sunday.

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Her sister Tuesday still has no comb, but much more personality.

Tuesday, with spunk!

Then there is Zeus (Americana) who I believe looks a bit more like a baby pigeon than a majestic blue egg laying chicken. But I like pigeons, so it’s OK.

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I think she looks like an old lady bird sometimes, with the goofy nose!

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Anyway, here are the ladies… at 15 days old.

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Light and Baby Chicks

When I got my bag of baby chick food, it said to feed the stuff for 6 weeks, and don’t forget about the light program. Light program? None of my hippy “how to raise baby chicks in your garage” web sites mentioned a light program.

But in trying to figure out why Zeus may be eating paper towel (another story), I came across some University Extension web sites … and uhh ohh …. light was right up there with food and water.

Apparently, light is measured in something called “foot candles” … which means nothing to me. But apparently if I can read a newspaper, then there’s enough light. If it’s too bright, they will start eating each other. Lovely.

Oregon Extension made the most sense, so I’ll just quote them:

Ideally, chicks that will be kept for laying should be raised under 24 hours of light for about the first week. Then, light should be dropped to about 16 hours a day until about 10 weeks of age.

Between 10 and 20 weeks, chicks should be placed either on short days (less than 12 hours of light a day) or a decreasing day length. In the latter case, reduce day length by 15 minutes each week.

There are some very good looking plans here and here, but too complicated for me to understand. Let me know if you can help explain!

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Squeaky Toys

The dogs *love* the chickens, though we don’t really know in what way.

Self-Restraint

Piper, the German Shepard mutt, loves the chicks in the way she loves her squeaky toys. She’s taken a few bites out of the cardboard box, so she really isn’t allowed in the room very often.

Little helpers looking into the brooder

Penny just seems to want to sit and stare all day long at her chicks. She starts shaking and squealing if we try to get her out of the room. So she stays… for now.

Penny loves her squeaky toys

The cat will never be allowed in, though.

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In my hunt for a very small number of chickens (i.e. under 25), I found very few places to buy as a Canadian.

If I lived in the states, I would have absolutely without question purchased baby chicks through McMurray Hatchery. You can buy just one chick from them at a time, mix and match breeds, anything you want. Unfortunately, I would have had to taken a $75 ferry to the states to pick them up and ordered a $50 health certificate for customs. This would have added quite the overhead to an order of 3 chickens (worth about $6), so I passed.

However, no such thing exists in Canada that I could find — please let me know in the comments if you know of any!

So then what are your options?

1) Buy a minimum order (normally 25) from a mail-order hatchery, and try to split it with others in town. Think through what you’ll do if some of them turn out to be roosters — as most cities and suburbs do not allow roosters.

2) Scope out sites like craigslist and your local usedeverywhere.com site, for people selling extra chicks. Used Victoria has a great farming section, which is where I got my birds! I paid $12 a piece, for chickens my seller got for $2 a piece from McMurray … which made her $30 extra dollars and saved me an expensive all-day ferry ride. It was a win-win situation.

3) Look for chickens at point-of-lay. I found that there wasn’t a great price difference, and they were much easier to find. You also don’t have to worry about being stuck with roosters. Just be wary of their real age, as you don’t want chickens near retirement. Take a knowledgeable friend along if you can.

4) I’ve read that chicks sold as one-offs in feed stores tend to be roosters — so buyer be ware.

Any other good tips for buying small numbers of chickens?

More in my blog about baby chick care:
Build a Brooder
Light and Baby Chicks
Chicken Feed Confusion

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A hen should lay about an egg a day, so just a pair is a dozen eggs a week! That’s plenty for my family. In Victoria, it is illegal to sell your eggs, so if that’s in your plans, see what your city’s regulations are about that before you buy.

Also, consider how much space do you have. Most resources say you should have 2 square feet per bird inside, and 4 square feet outside. Over at Back Yard Chickens, they recommend 10 square feet outside.

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I think before you get chickens, you have to decide … will I eat you, or are these pets? This is not something you have to decide with a dog or a cat … thus I wavered. I really wanted to focus on the “farmer” part of “urban farmer” and I went around saying my chickens would be no more than a head of lettuce to me.

Let’s face it, I sometimes get upset eating my vegetables. It was love at first site. So here are the girls:

This is Zeus. She’s an Amerucana, and she’s looking on the blue side of things. She’s very much the smartest of the three.
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This one is Tuesday. She’s a Delaware.
Tuesday

This is the second Delware, the most shy one so far.
Rose

Let’s just hope one’s not a rooster.

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