Surfing for chicks

Lately I have been skulking around the Internet going onto sites where I have no business being.

Lately I have been skulking around the Internet going onto sites where I have no business being.

I know better but I just can’t seem to help it. I tell myself to stop, that no good can come of it, but before I know it I am punching those dangerous little words back into the search engine. It’s almost as if my hands have made a complete disconnect to my brain.

“Stop it,” I tell myself. “Get out while you still can.”

“I’m just looking,” I reply, ignoring the rule that says you’re only crazy when you start answering yourself. “It doesn’t mean anything. I can stop anytime I want to.”

“Prove it. Stop right now.”

“I don’t want to,” I say, typing “poultry hatchery” into the search engine.

Getting chickens might not seem like such a bad thing, especially if you eat lots of eggs.

The thing is we’re lucky to go through a dozen eggs a month and I know all too well how chickens keep you tied down. You can’t take off for a weekend with chickens to feed and eggs to gather. And chicks can say cheep, cheep, all they want but they’re not. They’re really quite expensive, especially once you figure in the coop, feed and electricity.

I have kept chickens on and off ever since I was 10 years old. My first flock included a pair of bantams that were crazy in love.

They snuggled together every night on the roost except for three weeks every spring when the hen would leave the safety of the coop and hide herself off somewhere in the yard to hatch out a nest of eggs. Every morning after I let the chickens out, the rooster would scurry away clucking out love calls and the hen would suddenly appear from wherever she was nesting and the two would enjoy a romantic breakfast of wheat kernels and the occasional fat juicy worm.

After the eggs hatched they became one big happy family, with the rooster fussing over the chicks as much as the hen. One winter day I went out to feed the chickens and to my everlasting horror, almost stepped on the decapitated body of the hen. A weasel had chewed a hole in the floor right in front of the door and then had tried unsuccessfully to pull her through.

The rooster never recovered from the loss. He crouched on the roost night and day, refusing to eat or drink. I would pluck him off the roost and set him in front of the trough but it was no use. Just two weeks later he died of a broken heart. And starvation.

One horrible summer I had a whole flock of chickens dying in a reverse fashion. They were unable to get up on the roost and instead hung out at the feeders eating themselves to death. That was the year I decided to raise meat chickens. People who knew me were shocked. I’m one of those people who catch and release house flies and had given up trying to eat meat long ago.

My family, however, were committed carnivores and I figured if I was going to serve them meat I at least wanted to know how that meat had been raised.

Fortunately, I found a place that would process the birds saving me from that grisly task. Wanting to get the whole thing over with as fast as possible, I ordered broilers that promised to be the fastest growing most efficient meat birds available, ready for the freezer in only six to eight weeks.

Because people want breast meat, not only are these birds bred to gain weight in as short a time as possible, but they are bred to put most of that weight on their breasts.

The result is birds that are so breast heavy they can’t even get up on a roost. Worse, they put on so much weight in so short a time that they are prone to heart attacks. What you end up with are these messed up birds lurching around on the floor with big beer bellies, frequently falling over dead. It was awful.

The ideal way is how they used to raise chickens in the good old days; healthy, happy, dual purpose chickens designed for eggs, meat and hatching more chicks. I guess that’s tri-purpose. Anyway, extra roosters were roasted and old hens hit the stew pot. In the meantime the chickens spent their days in the sun scratching for worms and doing what comes naturally. Well, except for the part involving a sharp axe and an abrupt loss of heads. I guess that part wasn’t so natural. Now if I can just keep myself from losing my own head and ordering chicks all will be well.

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from the Peace River country. Visit her online at www.shannonmckinnon.com