Friday, December 20, 2013

A Lesson Learned

WARNING:  this could be a highly depressing post.  This is the story of the real deal, nitty gritty side of farming.  Especially nitty gritty when it deals with living things.  I will try to lighten the mood a bit with a picture here and there.  However, those extremely sensitive to untimely deaths of sweet cuddly creatures may wish to end their reading here, and come back tomorrow when I post a recipe from some Christmas baking.

There.  You've been warned.  The rest is up to you. :)
Salmon Faverolle roo

Some of you have probably been wondering what the deal is here at the farm.  Where's the eggs?  A refrain similar to a beloved Wendy's commercial of my youth.  Well, it's a long story, so long it feels as if it could qualify as an epic story.  As with all respectable epics, this one has its moral of the story as well.

Exasperating doesn't even begin to describe the recent family of chickens we purchased back in July.  If we weren't so committed to well grown food, addicted to "fresh from the nest" eggs, or so blamed stubborn, we might just be giving up the ol' farming dream and moving somewhere where we could walk to decent organic market or bike to a few local farms.

In July, we adopted the largest flock of chicks we've ever had. 50 chicks, give or take, purchased from a small, local breeder.  We were dreaming of chocolate colored egg shells of the Black and White Marans, such a cute breed with their sweet little feathered feet.  We were mesmerized by the beautifully mottled patterns on our Salmon Faverolle roos and hoping they would be friendly enough to keep around to father plenty of babies.  We dreamed of all the fattened roos that would eventually become table decorations.  In actuality, what we've found is that our commitment to keeping our dollars local might not have been the best idea for a main flock of chickens that was intended to keep us in eggs all winter and add a little pizazz to our cartons come spring and summer.

After a couple months, our chickens started succumbing frequently to something that looks like Marek's disease.  It is like a Herpes virus in humans, yet presents like a lymphoma, is very prevalent, and is believed to be incurable.  Our flock seems to be affected by the neural form of the disease, which eventually leaves them paralysed.  Mortality rates in infected birds are usually 100%.
White Sussex and Salmon Faverolle hen

It's been hard living with the possibly of total defeat.  It was harder looking out the window to check for the latest victims.

Farmer Mike has been dealt a heavier hand, as I am proving too much of a "girl" to actually assist the bird into it's afterlife.  Sadly, if the birds aren't assisted, they starve to death because they are unable to walk to food or drink.  We don't think that that would be very respectful of the animal.
So, to date, we have 27 chickens left between 20-24 weeks old, including a handful of roos.  Farmer Mike estimates that we have about 17 laying hens so far.

White Maran with her sweet little feathered legs

After all this loss, we've felt like maybe we shouldn't put ourselves out there and try to be part of the food movement by helping produce food.  We may just be too green for that kind of responsibility. Maybe we should just focus on growing food for ourselves and thereby only be accountable to our own hunger pangs.

Then, something happens like yesterday, when a gentleman called up looking for eggs.  Although we don't even have enough eggs for us right now, I was still able to talk with him and help him find alternative farms, owned by friends and neighbours, producing the wholesome eggs he was looking for.  Which reminds of how supportive our farming friends have been and how kind and eager they have been with insights and advice.

White Sussex roo

We know how much better we feel when we eat real food from small farms, and we enjoy helping others discover better health too.

So, what this does this mean for the future? 

From this day forward, any chick that arrives at our door will be vaccinated for Marek's!  Unfortunately, it seems the only way to responsibly and humanely raise chicks on our land, knowing that it could be a death sentence for them if they don't have a little poke. 

Our plans for entering a farmers market may need to be put on hold, depending if we can get a new batch of chickens this January.

Salmon Faverolle hen
And in the short term (for the next month), eggs will definitely be out of stock on our farm.  The elders had been laying one egg a day over the course of weeks, so they have been dispatched to freezer camp.  These past few months without homegrown eggs has been completely maddening! 

Small eggs are just starting to trickle in from the new gals, at a rate of about 1 to 2 per day, so here's hoping the news only gets brighter from here, along with the days getting brighter after the Solstice. 

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