The following transcript is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY
Nelson, B.C. Canada
August 28, 2008
Title: Backyard Chickens III
Producer/Host: Jon Steinman
Transcript: Laurie Chan
Jon Steinman (JS): And welcome to Deconstructing Dinner - a syndicated weekly one hour radio show and Podcast produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY in Nelson, British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman.
On today's broadcast, we take you into part III of the Backyard Chickens series that have been airing here on the show since March of this year - 2008. The series has aired as a sub-series of the Farming in the City episodes that explore the world of urban agriculture.
It's a timely subject to cover here on the show in light of both our recently launched Livestock Lost series as well as the recent nation-wide listeriosis tragedy that has, as of August 29th 2008, taken the lives of nine confirmed cases with six more deaths being also possibly attributed to the tainted meat produced by Maple Leaf Foods.
Of course raising one's own food in one's own backyard is a far less risky way of sourcing food, and the prospects of backyard chickening is understandably growing in popularity.
Joining the show once again will be Boise Idaho's Bucky Buckaw and his Backyard Chicken Broadcast. And we'll also revisit with Christoph Martens, a Nelson backyard chickener who guided two rookie backyard chickeners through their first backyard chicken slaughter. We'll listen in on a recording of that on today's show.
increase music and fade out
JS: We've been receiving quite the steady stream of emails and comments from listeners who were, just as we were, shocked at how timely our recent Livestock Series was here on the show.
For those who did not catch part I of the series in particular, it was then on our July 3rd broadcast when we heard from Toronto's Susan Bourette, author of the book Carnivore Chic. Susan had gone undercover at Maple Leaf Foods' Brandon, Manitoba slaughterhouse. She did this as research for an article, and it was there that she learned of the deplorable and risky conditions in which the meat of Canadians is produced. That interview helped launch our series into an analysis of how one region in particular is working towards creating a more localized, safer and responsible supply of meat.
Weaving its way through the series has been many recordings and information on the never-ending stream of meat recalls that have occurred throughout North America over the past ten years. It was suggested that such recalls will only continue as the North American meat sector becomes as industrialized as it has become today.
And of course, as most North Americans are now aware, it was on August 17th, only two weeks after part III of the Livestock Lost series aired, that Maple Leaf Foods announced a major recall of their products from Canadian grocery store shelves. The issue was listeriosis contamination and since then, there have been 9 confirmed deaths, 6 more that may be attributed to the contamination, and a possible 64 illnesses.
It's been suggested here on the show before that one of the most dangerous positions we here in North America could fall into is the normalizing of this incident. Indeed there has been much that has been normalized in our society, from obesity to diabetes, to depression and heart disease, it almost seems as though such crises have become the accepted cost of convenience. Well sure enough, Canada's Minister of Health came out with his own brand of normalizing by stressing throughout most of his media interviews, that this incident is an opportunity to applaud Canada's Food Inspection Agency for having recalled the meat before anyone else became ill and/or died.
One may even go so far as to predict that if 300 people had lost their lives, Minister of Health Tony Clement would be there in front of the cameras applauding the CFIA for preventing the number from perhaps reaching 1,000.
Contrary to his assurances, new products continue to be recalled almost two weeks after the initial outbreak.
JS: So it seems rather clear, that our political leaders are not the ones to be looking to for solutions and alternatives to the risks facing our food supply.
Christoph Martens is, on the other hand, one of those people to look to. Christoph lent his voice to part I of our Backyard Chickens series back in March of this year. Living in the City of Nelson, Christoph has been for quite some time defying a municipal bylaw that prohibits the harbouring of poultry within city limits. Christoph has since inspired a number of Nelson residents to become backyard chickeners themselves and as this Backyard series evolves, we'll hear more from others both here in Nelson and abroad who have too begun to raise urban chickens.
And I did have the opportunity to revisit with Christoph as he guided two rookie urban chickeners, Steve and Hazel, through the process of slaughtering their own birds for dinner. As part of the process, Steve learned that raising and slaughtering ones own birds is a simple process that is void of almost any trauma to the birds themselves. In the industrial barns raising North America's chickens, many of the birds never encounter a human being until that final moment of slaughter. Of course this creates for a very traumatic experience for the bird. In the case of backyard chickens, they're around and handled by humans from birth, and as a result, holding the bird prior to slaughter is a far more calming experience for the bird itself.
With the exception of a few moments of dead air, this next segment is an unedited recording of Steve and Hazel's first backyard chicken slaughter guided by the experienced Christoph Martens.
I will warn listeners that if the sound of chickens losing their heads is offensive to you, you may wish to not listen for the next 15 minutes.
Set up just outside Christoph's coop was a stump with two nails. The nails help keep the chicken's head in place, and sitting beside the stump was a hatchet.
Steve (S): I think that's our new one.
Christoph (C): That's your new one?
S: That one there I just brought.
C: The nice thing about doing this at home is that you can calm them down, which is really nice. And even certified organic it's a factory, an assembly line and they're freaking out. So it's really nice just to get them calmed down.
S: Can you tell just by holding him whether he's calm?
C: Ya, he is and they tend to when they feel secure they tend to just calm right down. And he's used to being around people too which is nice.
So you want to take their wings, spread them out and then spread their feet out and then you spread the other wing out. This one's easier cause it s got a flight feather. But it's not essential. But its basically, you're straightening their... and then you just...
S: With one hand.
C: ... one hand, and it's just...
S: You've got both legs, both wings in your hand?
S: Ah it's so calm.
C: So you just got it stretched out, and that's it.
S: Squirting, wow look at that, it's so weird to see.
Hazel (H): That was much less messy than I expected. That was so elegant.
S: It was so calm even when you put its head down and everything.
C: So at this point you just want to hold them until they stop struggling, and at a certain point you just put them on their back.
H: You don't have a special bucket for them or anything?
C: If you're doing a lot, it's nice to have cones. And then you just put them in the cone and then they can drip and they won't struggle. But you don't want to let them go until they've stopped struggling because they will start flapping around. So that's that.
S: That didn't take that long.
H: That didn't take long at all.
C: Do you want to do one?
S: Ya. So do you want to get everything out of there so the next one doesn't see anything? Do they freak out if they see... ?
C: No. They're not that bright.
H: That's amazing.
S: Okay, so who's going to lose their head next?
S: So you say you want to wait with the Cornish.
C: Ya, let's let the Cornish get a bit bigger.
C: There's a gray one. Ya, the hawk.
C: This one here.
S: That one there?
H: That little gray one?
S: He's not very big
C: No, he's not very big.
S: We could choose...
H: There's a really big one in here, a big Americana.
S: As big as the hawk one?
C: That's what I was thinking.
H: Gray and orange.
S: How do we get him? That's a big one. We're going to need a few more, right?
H: This one might be a hen, because it doesn't have a cockscomb. We should leave the hens.
C: Ya I think we should leave that one. This one would be nice. See this one is really starting to get the rooster tail.
H: Is that your biggest Americana?
C: If you do that one and then your leghorn, I think that will be good for today.
S: So you think the leghorn should go?
C: Well he's the one that we know, for sure.
S: You might have to explain this to me again, but I start by grabbing the wing out, pulling it back, capturing it with the foot, like that, and then...
C: stretch that guy, stretch there, hold that.
S: Okay, got it.
C: And then use your other hand to pull the other one back.
S: And now I should be able to take all of that together? Ah I lost it.
C: Why don't you hold your hand there. It's just pretty important-you want it to be a really nice position that he can't get out of. You want him to feel really secure.
S: I got you, I got you.
C: You can stretch it out just a little.
S: Sorry guy.
C: Ya it's good to hit the nail and then just pull him out and to make sure that he's separate; otherwise you never know.
S: It's finicky getting a hold of all that stuff. I think it was because I was being too delicate with him. I wasn't picturing to lift his wings back and hold him.
C: Ya they're not that delicate. It's good to be firm but gentle.
H: That was really good for your first one.
C: Uh hmm.
S: I wish I hadn't hit the nail though. That sucks.
C: You want to do the last one?
S: Sure. Should I jack that nail?
C: I'll fix that. You might want to close that top gate because they'll fly out.
H: This one or up there?
C: The top door, ya.
S: That one's harder because it's clipped. That feels good, I think I got him.
C: You want to grab the wing because he's going to start flapping. It's important to keep holding; otherwise they get... So I'm going to get the water out...
S: How come so much of the neck ends up exposed like that?
C: I think because you stretched them out and then the skin recedes.
S: Oh right.
C: Actually we should maybe do them here. I'll bring the water.
H: You did a really good job.
S: Ya that one was nice and clean. Felt better.
H: It's interesting because we've been with that chicken for a long time. Do you feel like... did you notice that last guy, Leghorn?
S: I have a very specific view of death so I just see that...
C: What's that?
S: What's what?
C: What do you see?
S: Just like I have a very particular view of what death means, so that's what I experience.
C: Okay start plucking.
S: So I just start yanking feathers off?
S: Ow, it's hot.
C: Do it into this bucket here.
S: So the water is to just loosen them a bit?
C: Ya, I guess it separates...
S: Wow it really works.
S: They come right off. It has to be boiling?
C: Ya, it has to be pretty hot.
H: We were playing with this chicken yesterday.
S: I didn't mean to clip his wings.
H: They're so soft, their feathers.
S: Having cried and done the Buddhist practice for so long, I have this real sense of how, the silence that is death, the nothing that is death, is the nothing that underlies all our experience all the time. It's always there. We don't usually listen to it. And so you can just have this sense of silence. The bird-it went somewhere. Where did it go? It went to silence, nothing.
H: I love these little guys, they're just as cute without fur on their wings.
C: There's the different colorations on their skin?
H: I have the Leghorn, what do you have? You have an Americana?
C: Ya, an Americana.
S: So they're pretty small, why is it you wouldn't let them get larger? Do they not get much larger than this, these breeds?
C: Well they only get more than double probably, it's just that -it's sort of the intention--you get more birds than you can handle and then you do some of them earlier and some later. Like what they call Cornish hen in the supermarket is actually just a young brooder. It's a brooder that's this age.
The thing about these chickens is they're miniature chickens and they're also heritage chickens so they bear very little relation to the commercial chicken that we eat. The Americana is an American-bred chicken about a hundred years old and it lays green and blue eggs. It's descended actually from Central American chickens I think.
Ya, they won't get much bigger. They're not really meat birds, but until the advent of hybridized commercial chickens, birds were not meaty as we know them. That's just a genetic thing that they do, where they have two very specific lines of Plymouth Rock and Cornish and they've bred them very specifically and then when they crossed them they created a super chicken.
S: But they're still bigger than Bantams, right?
H: They're a standard sized chicken.
C: Those are standard sized chickens.
H: But they say that bantams are closer to the original size that a chicken would have been.
C: Probably, ya.
H: These are such cool animals. I love these guys. It's like because birds are so precious. You never get to hold a bird. This is the closest... even when I hold my chickens, I don't get to look at their feet up close like this. What, you don't feel that way Christoff?
C: Ya, I guess I'm a little bit more desensitized.
S: I'm amazed at how not traumatic that seemed for them; they really did not seem to care.
C: Well, if you do it properly it's fine.
H: Ya, because people would tell me how bloody it was, how much blood would come out...
C: This one has a lot of pin feathers.
H: How did you get yours so clean? Do you just rub them?
C: They're all different I think, in terms of how...
S: You said that's the one that we brought?
H: Ya, this is our Leghorn.
C: Ya, he's not bad. It's interesting how different the coloration is. I wonder if that's from what they've been eating.
S: What about their heads?
H: Should I stick the head in?
C: Just put it in the bucket, I'll put it in the compost. Just keep doing that one in the house and we'll start the other ones.
H: Ya, all three. Did he say do this in the house? Did you say do this in the house?
C: Ya, we'll finish that one in the house.
H: Where will I put his pin feathers? Where will I put his feathers when I pull them out?
C: Just In the sink.
H: In the sink? Okay.
JS: And this is Deconstructing Dinner and part III of our Backyard Chickens series.
You've been listening to a mostly unedited recording of an urban backyard chicken slaughter that took place in Nelson, B.C. Participating in the slaughter for their first time were rookie urban backyard chickeners Steve and Hazel who were both guided by the experienced Christoph Martens whom we heard from on part one of the series.
Ending off the recording there you heard the process of plucking the chickens of their feathers which was assisted by the dunking of the chickens in boiling hot water. At this point of the evening, the three chickens were then brought indoors and into the kitchen, where a lesson on gutting took place and this was of course proceeded by some cooking and some much awaited eating.
S: Ya, it felt totally fine. I just think it felt so not traumatic for them, that it was not at all traumatic for me. I knew what was going to happen to them.
Pots and pans clanging
C: Oh that's just the side dish that I'm making ... .various ways with pesto.
S: A lot of pesto.
C: Is that too much pesto do you think?
S: So when you kill a full-size chicken can you still do that thing when you pull their wings down their... are they small enough...
C: When you do what?
S: A full-sized chicken Can you still do that hold?
C: Oh ya, for sure. And that's a good way to just hold chickens in general if you want to make sure they feel safe.
S: Okay, you're going to let me do one right?
H: Oh, are you cutting them now?
C: So you just do a slit on either side, and then you crack it open. You use the legs as leverage. The first thing you want to do is cut the feet off.
S: What do they...
C: What's that?
S: What do they become?
C: Some people peel this layer off. You can boil them.
H: Supposed to be really high in silica and other...
C: Did you want to try it?
C: It's just that these feet are so tiny, they don't have much but I can't see why not.
S: Going to eat chicken feet?
C: You have to pull off the toenails.
C: And so it's perfectly...
H: Ya, looks great.
S: The thing is coming apart so easily because it got dipped in the boiling water?
C: Ya I guess I did a pretty good job of dipping them.
S: Ya I guess.
H: they only seemed like they were in the water for a second.
C: You don't want them in there very long.
H: That's amazing.
C: Because their skin can start coming off.
H: You have such hands of confidence.
C: So this knife is not nearly sharp enough.
S: Where were you looking for, how do you know the point to go in there?
C: Just under this bone here, you want to do a little slit. And put your finger in there... and crack it open.
S: And this is the same with the big chicken?
C: Oh ya, it's easier with a big chicken because it's bigger. And then you want to pull this whole... ..
H: Wow, amazing.
C: So you just peal it all out and then, ideally, you have a good knife and then you just cut around the anus.
S: That whole thing comes loose.
C: So that whole thing comes out and so basically the entire intestine comes out as a unit.
S: So there's nothing more about bleeding it, it was enough to just hold it there for a second while it was... that was it, eh?
C: And then parts that are edible inside that people don't really know about. Obviously, the liver. It's nice when you raise your own animals to eat the inside things. This is the gizzard, so this is where the chick grit comes in. And you fill this with grit and the food comes through it and gets ground up and it comes out the other end all ground up.
I'm never very good at this part, but there is a way of opening this up.
S: And that's the liver there? Complicated inside, where's the heart...
C: I think they must be less complicated than mammals. They don't have much for lungs either. So you do a little slit and you cut it open.
H: Whatever someone's making smells delicious.
S: I think it's these herbs in this pan here.
C: Ya there's a few things going on here ... basil, rosemary. So then you peel this layer off and hopefully it comes right off.
S: And why do you want the gizzard? Because it's good meat?
C: Because I like it.
H: That's like giblets, isn't it?
S: You don't even know what those are and you're going to eat them?
H: It's the kidneys.
S: I don't think so.
C: And then usually we cut this little...
S: And that's it?
C: You can do that as one piece... And what else can we do that. Maybe ...
S: They're so tiny. It's so hard to see what you're doing.
S: This is about the size of a pigeon.
H: We used to bring up pigeons.
S: We use to eat pigeons.
C: You want to do the next one? Maybe rinse that board before you do though.
S: So, first I'm going to cut to the side of the legs, like that. And then you go to this bone here, and you cut underneath it, the legs and here, now what do I do? I pop, I pull that back, put my finger here.
C: Put your finger there and crack it open.
H: But make sure that you don't burst anything.
C: Ya you don't want to burst anything.
S: So like that... ooh, poo came out, disgusting.
S: So now this garbage, guts, all comes out. How come it's not just popping out the way it did when he did it? Were you just a little more...
C: Ya, more aggressive than you. Just take the whole bunch and...
S: Take the whole bunch. Feels so well attached. Feels like it'll get all blown up if I pull... ah, there we go.
H: what happened?
S: Something broke, this broke, this thing came off.
C: Just pull it.
S: It broke on...
H: Did you get wine in there Christoff? Oh, you're going to do it later.
S: Now this stuff should still come out, like what makes it... when he did it, it was just like, POP. Okay, here we go. So now I can cut around the anus...
H: Let's see.
S: I can't believe you're making your first chicken
C: Okay now do this side.
S: Okay, now this was supposed to come out, right? Because this came out when you did it.
C: ... it's not a big deal.
S: No, what is it?
C: It's just the windpipe.
H: I'm so proud of us... this has gone so well.
C: So let's see what happens. We just got to go... With mine, the craw came out with it. With yours you're going to dig it from this side, and that's all that we're going to eat today, and that's it. So now you can cut it up into pieces.
S: So what about all this stuff. There's still a lot of organs right.
C: You can leave the heart.
S: Looking at the heart. Aw.
C: I usually leave the heart in. Oh, and then you've got to cut the feet off too.
S: And this here, this is something...
JS: And this is Deconstructing Dinner a syndicated weekly one-hour radio show and Podcast produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY in Nelson, British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman.
You've been listening to part III of our backyard chickens mini-series which marks part five of the Farming In the City series. More information and archived broadcasts can be found on our website at deconstructingdinner.ca.
That last segment was the second and final recording from the urban backyard chicken slaughter recorded in July of 2008 in Nelson, British Columbia. Both Steve and Hazel are new backyard chickeners who represent a growing population of people defying municipal bylaws that prohibit the raising of poultry in urban backyards. But there are, nevertheless, more North American cities than not that do allow poultry to be raised in backyards. All it takes is a simple phone call to your municipality to find out if they are indeed allowed.
We'll check in with Steve and Hazel on a future broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner to see how their new backyard chickens are doing.
But now lets move on to a familiar voice as part of our Backyard Chicken Series, and that's Bucky Buckaw - a unique character, backyard chickener and radio show host from Boise Idaho. Bucky hosts Bucky Buckaw's Backyard Chicken Broadcast from Radio Boise and his segments are heard on a handful of community radio stations throughout the United States and now through Deconstructing Dinner.
While some backyard chickeners raise their chickens for meat production, some for fertilizer production, perhaps insect control or maybe all of the above, eggs are of course a significant and plentiful food source that backyard chickens can provide. So in this next segment - Bucky compares the eggs that most North Americans consume with those that can be found in relatively steady supply in one's own backyard.
Bucky Buckaw: Bucky Buckaw here with the Backyard Chicken Broadcast. As you probably already know, if you've heard my previous shows, I have an agenda. The redistribution of chickens-from densely populated factory farms, which are inhumane and dangerous to public health, to a few in every yard, including suburban and urban homes.
There's many reasons to keep chickens in your backyard: bug control, garden fertilization, and companionship because chickens are as friendly and entertaining as any animal a person might consider a pet. But the first thing that comes to most people's minds is having fresh eggs for breakfast and other meals. And with good reason. Nearly every backyard chickener is passionate about the radically fresh, nutritious, and delicious true free-range eggs. I know I am.
Eggs are an excellent source of protein, and of vitamins A, E, D, B12, carotenoids (the stuff that pigments vegetable like carrots and prevents eye disease), folates, which help prevent birth defects and heart disease, and omega 3 fatty acids which are known to be good for the heart. Omega 3 is the main reason mainstream nutritionists are always telling you to eat fish, despite the sad fact that every fish in the world is now laced with mercury. Because of the fat in egg yolks, these nutrients are absorbed easily. And while that fat content is high, about 5 grams in a large egg, 70% of it is unsaturated, which nowadays, is the good, or okay fat.
However, don't throw caution to the wind. Roughly a quarter of the population is genetically inclined to high cholesterol risk, and have to watch their intake. Eggs, being notoriously high in cholesterol. As far as the nutrition of eggs is concerned, I'm in total agreement with the corporate controlled egg commissions and industry councils. Except the eggs they're selling are barely worthy of the name egg. I buck the industry spin when I tell you that free-range chickens are more nutritious for you and contain half the cholesterol of supermarket eggs. That's been the folk wisdom of backyard chickeners all along.
But a few years ago, the editors of Mother Earth News, who are avid chicken people, sent their flocks' eggs to a laboratory, and found they contained only about half as much cholesterol, were up to twice as rich in Vitamin E, and were two to six times richer in beta-carotene. The free-range eggs averaged four times more than factory eggs. Mother Earth News also unearthed studies by universities and egg industry types finding the same thing: more vitamins, less cholesterol, and more cholesterol fighting omega 3s. Studies that not so mysteriously didn't get a lot of attention. You can check the article out yourself on the internet by following the link on the Bucky page on sagebrushvariety.org.
That's not the only flaw in factory eggs. As I've mentioned on previous shows, all factory farms feed their chickens antibiotics, and the vast majority use growth hormones. Supposedly drug transfer, drugs getting into the eggs, can be avoided by timed application, but chickens are not machine units, even though factory farms treat them like machines. And chicken metabolisms vary from individual to individual. Furthermore, in a factory where profits are maximized by having as few employees as possible managing massive numbers of chickens, it's unrealistic to meet precise injection schedules.
Those are at least two reasons why study after study shows that drugs fed to hens are absorbed into the eggs they lay, and wind up in the consumer's bloodstream. The growth hormones will wreak havoc on your own body chemistry and antibiotics, for whatever benefits they might have when used properly, are ineffective when the average person is already constantly exposed through their food. Finally, when you know chickens like I do, and know how charming and intelligent they can be, you won't be willing to support an industry that raises chickens in tiny spaces, burns off their beaks, feeds them garbage, and is always coming up with new ways to raise their profit margin with the side effect of evermore atrocious, cruelty.
The good news is that you can have bona fide nutritious, delicious, cruelty-free eggs. It's both easier and more difficult than you think. The reason it's more difficult is that you just can't go to the supermarket or even the health food store and pick up some free-range eggs. Yes, you can buy something, shipped in a truck from California, in a carton labelled free-range, but odds are you're not getting what you think you're buying. The truth is any egg-producer, including corporate factory farms, can label their eggs free-range, even if they keep chickens on a crowded concrete floor with a small barely visible door leading to an outdoor enclosure too small for all but a few chickens at a time. Unless you see the operation with your own eyes, you simply don't know what's going on.
And the most likely scenario is the one I've just likely described. In 2005, animal rights groups from sixteen states pressured the Better Business Bureau and Federal Trade Commission to consider false advertising charges against United Egg Producers for their misleading Animal Care-Certified label. The animal rights groups' complaint was that the label meant that there were some kind of humane treatment standards applied to the hens laying those eggs.
Some people even convinced themselves they were free-range and hand-slaughtered. Some believe they were put out to pasture when no longer laying eggs, when in truth they lived out their entire lives in the industry standard mail slots, slaughtered as soon as laying slowed, and slaughtered in assembly line machines that shackled and hung conscious birds upside down, cut them with mechanical blades that often mauled instead of killed them, before drowning the suffering birds in tanks of scalding water.
The lawsuits were dropped when the industry agreed to change the labels to United Egg Producer-certified, and agreed to pay $100,000 to states for attorneys' fees and consumer education. The consumer education money was used to make the people more aware of what really goes on in factory farms, but the misleading free-range label and misplaced faith in its accuracy, still persist.
I'm not saying it's impossible to buy cruelty-free organic eggs, if you know where to find true free-range eggs, I encourage you to support that person. I was a vegan for several years, and only started eating eggs after I started chickening. I adopted chicks from a backyard chickener who had more than she could handle, because I wanted a way to eliminate earwigs from my organic garden. The eggs were originally just a side-benefit, but I quickly became addicted, and I have to admit that once or twice, when my chickens weren't laying, I bought some eggs from a small farm I trusted. But I wouldn't even tell my closest friends who that was, because eggs like that are hard to find and sell out fast.
The good news is that if you do as I say and have chickens in your backyard, you'll be able to just look out your window and see your hens and know exactly how they're doing and you'll know what you're feeding them. I'm Bucky Buckaw.
And I had a good time.
Bucky Buckaw's Backyard Chicken broadcast was produced by the Sagebrush Variety Show with support from Boise Community Radio and the Green Institution.
JS: And that was Bucky Buckaw and his segment titled, Not All Eggs Created equal. You're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner, and in this next Bucky Buckaw segment, he explores in greater depth the egg benefits of backyard chickens. In particular, Bucky lays out the importance of calcium in the diet of any egg layer and examines the egg laying cycle, of which most North Americans having become so disconnected from our food source, would likely be unaware of.
Bucky Buckaw: Bucky Buckaw here with the Backyard Chicken Broadcast. On a previous episode I discussed the merits of eggs laid by backyard chickens as compared to eggs laid in factory farms. To sum up, grocery store eggs are noxious and backyard eggs are glorious. Of course, eggs are only one reason, not even the most compelling reason, to sign on to the Bucky Buckaw agenda of a chicken or three in every backyard, rural, urban, or suburban, worldwide.
The truth is, having backyard chickens empowers us chickeners and frees us from the oppressive yoke of corporate food production, because chickens supercharge your garden by providing pesticide-free bug control, excellent tilling, compost management, and fertilizer production, in addition to providing companionship and entertainment. There really is no sensible argument against living with chickens, but because the human connection to agriculture has been all but severed by corporate takeover, most people I meet tell me, Bucky, I'd love to have chickens in my outdoor space, but I'm a city person and I don't know the first thing about egg production.
The truth is you don't have to know much because the chicken knows egg production, and all you have to do is provide the basics: food and shelter. I've covered those topics in previous episodes, and will again, but for weblinks on nutrition, coop-building, legal questions, and other nitty-gritties, visit the Bucky page at sagebrushvariety.org.
First thing I need to clear up is that a hen doesn't need a rooster to lay eggs. Roosters are needed to fertilize eggs in order for them to hatch into chicks, but a chicken goes through its reproductive cycle including producing eggs, regardless of reproductive activity, just like other animals including humans. Some of you are saying duh, but I promise you, that some, even many of your fellow listeners, are saying no kidding.
Not only is it a surprisingly common contemporary confusion, but the ancient Greeks were also a little bit hazy on the question. I've come across some conflicting information, but all my sources agree that the ancient Greeks believed the wind could fertilize an egg. The Greeks believed a chicken egg that wasn't sired by a rooster, must have been fathered by the wind, known as zephyr eggs. Aristotle, the top thinker of the time, believed that all eggs of any species were the products of the male seed growing in the womb.
The only way to explain the immaculately conceived egg of a virgin or a spinster, was that hens who sniff at the wind in spring had absorbed the wind's seed. Others believed the wind blew its seed from the other end. The notion that the sole contribution of the species of any female to birth was the womb was a misconception that persisted in male-dominated scientific circles for thousands of years. I have to wonder if regular folks who raise chickens, including no doubt, many women, shared this notion.
Other sources refer to zephyr eggs as eggs laying with no shell. That's a fairly recent development. A shell-less or thin-shelled egg is actually the result of calcium deficiency in the hen, which is just one reason your flock needs to get fed right, especially because an ongoing calcium deficiency will not only affect the eggs of a laying hen, but will eventually result in bone degeneration, and a dramatic decline in health.
As far as calcium is concerned, hens can get calcium from the bugs they eat in a healthy backyard as well as from a number of vegetable sources: beet greens, cilantro, chard, kale and lettuce are examples of inexpensive calcium sources the Buckaw flock enjoys. However, most laying flocks will require supplemental calcium. The shell of their own eggs is one source. Just make sure you grind or chop them up before putting them out with feed. Otherwise they may associate the sight of an egg with food and begin to eat their own eggs before you get a chance. Another common supplement for small-flock birders is ground-up oyster shells. I've done a detailed show on nutrition and you can check the weblinks on the Bucky page of sagebrushvariety.org for more information.
Back to what you can expect from a laying hen. The textbook laying pattern is an egg every 25 hours starting in the morning on the first day and getting progressively later until it gets into the evening hours. A hen won't lay an egg in the evening, so they won't start again until the next morning when the cycle begins anew. At some point, the hen or the hens, in their biological voice, will decide it's time to hatch some chicks. That's known as a brooding hen. Other birds get broody when conditions are ideal to successfully hatch and raise as many chicks as possible. Normally that has to do with season, or by the number of eggs, or clutch, that are on the nest.
Chicken broodiness is less clearly tied to survival imperatives and more tied to breeding. Certain breeds, such as Silkies, are very broody. An individual Silky may lay an egg and immediately go into hatch mode. They are known to take a liking to an elegant rock or other objects vaguely resembling an egg, and try to hatch that. Even male Silkies get broody. Polish hens, on the other hand, may live out their entire lives without ever attempting to hatch a chick.
A brooding hen will stop laying eggs. They're less likely to get broody if you regularly remove the eggs from their nest. Egg-laying ceases during the two to three months of winter when the daylight hours are shortest unless you do like some commercial hatcheries and keep chickens in a lighted barn. If you ask me, constant artificial light is a mild form of torture. How would you like it? Indeed, I believe it's one of the techniques used at Guantanamo Bay.
It would be nice to have eggs year-round, but I also want my chickens to be happy. I figured recently that my three young chickens produce a yearly average of 1.5 eggs a day. That's a pretty steady diet of eggs and I'm satisfied. Another thing that will affect egg-laying is moulting, the chicken version of shedding. This usually happens in summer or fall, but varies by climate, from breed to breed, and even from bird to bird. Some chickens moult gradually and you may not even notice. But often it's a dramatic and temporarily ugly process. Moulting hens energies are usually diverted into feather replacement and maintaining the right body temperature. So don't be surprised if egg production slows or halts temporarily.
And once again, make sure you provide nutritious, balanced, and interesting diet to support your hens through their draining reproductive cycles. Chickens will lay eggs for many years, some say for most of their 10 to 15 year natural lifespan. In diminishing numbers of course, but they still lay. A commercial hatchery will slaughter a hen who is past her prime because it starts to cut into their profit margin. But you have the option for keeping them around for bug control, fertilizer production, companionship, or to discipline and new chickens that may get added to you flock, in addition to a few eggs now and then. This is Bucky Buckaw signing off. I had a good time.
JS: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner. Again, if you miss any of today's broadcast, it will be archived at deconstructingdinner.ca. There you will find previous Bucky Buckaw segments as part of this Backyard Chickens series here on the show.
Now I do have one more segment from Bucky here on this topic of backyard egg production. You can also stay tuned for an interesting segment of audio that will round off today's show - an educational recording from 1960 that outlines some of the sounds that chickens make when communicating with their young. But first, here once again, is Bucky Buckaw speaking on the topic of nests and nest eggs.
Bucky Buckaw: But before I move on to other backyard chicken subjects, I'm going to discuss the topic that was most important to me when I started out as a chicken enthusiast: how to be sure you're being kind to your egg-laying hens. A nice gesture is to provide your hens with a next box. Any chicken-sized box with a little bedding in it placed in a secure spot in the chicken coop or somewhere that's not too much trouble to get to, but where they also feel safe from predators when they're trying to lay. Realize, still, that a lot of chickens will choose their own spot.
My chickens have approved of my nests from time to time, but they also have made nests in a half-empty plastic bag of shredded pine chips I left near the kitchen door, a cat carrier with its door broken off which stray cats were using as a night hotel, and atop an old washing machine I didn't take to the dump right away. And whether they choose your suggested nest or a more creative option, some or all of them will pick the same nest and there's going to be some argumentative clucking going on. Let them work that out.
The soft-hearted beginner, like me when I adopted my first chicks, may worry if it will upset the chickens when we take their eggs. My experience and what I have heard from others, is that most chickens don't seem to miss their eggs, with some variation according to breed and individual personality. A typical hen will leave her nest soon after she finishes laying an egg. Some make a victory call that sounds almost like a rooster crowing, and then go about her other hen business without seeming to think about it again and never noticing when it disappears. However, some chickens will poke around looking for their egg making a fuss, and some will keep on starting new nests in an apparent effort to fool you.
A common way of sparing a hen like that, anxiety, and keeping them from re-nesting, is to use a nest-egg. Nowadays, we think of a nest-egg as a little bit of money tucked away, kind of like a retirement fund, but the term originated with the practice of putting a round egg-sized stone or a piece of carved wood or other material, in the nest to fool an egg-protective hen, kind of like the way these new deferred tax thingamajiggies are supposed to make you feel okay about the government taking away your social security.
The first time a chicken laid an egg in my backyard earlier than I expected her to, I hopped on my bicycle and raced to the nearest knick-knack store to find a believable substitute. The only thing I could find was an alabaster egg that was at least three times the size of a so-called jumbo egg. I feared she wouldn't accept it, but she adored that alabaster egg. Absolutely could care less about her own eggs, but if for any reason her alabaster egg went missing she searched the yard complaining bitterly.
Eventually we got more chickens and it turned out that every one of them loves the big alabaster egg. One of our flock is a Sebright, one of the three smallest breeds of all time, and can barely fit over it. Yet they all compete over the nest with the alabaster egg. I've attempted to find other substitutes so they won't fight over that one, but every plastic, wood, or rock I've tried has been met with utter disdain.
Every so often, a hen's hormones will kick in to a degree that compels her to try and hatch as many eggs as she is sitting on at the time. That's what's called a brooding hen. Brooding hens are more likely to get upset if you remove the egg or eggs they're trying to hatch. Some breeds or individuals never get broody and some are broodier than others. But from what I've seen and heard, the nest-egg continues to be an acceptable substitute, at least psychologically. All three of my hens have attempted to hatch the emu-sized alabaster egg.
Obviously, a chicken doesn't know that not only an egg fertilized by a rooster will ever hatch. When a chicken is trying to hatch an egg, they stay on that egg almost constantly. Every day at some point, they'll get up to stretch, eat a whole bunch of grain, drink a lot of water, and make a really large poop. Then they settle back in on their nest. Eventually they'll give up on their egg, go back to their normal routine and start laying again, after about a week.
One of the hens in the Buckaw flock makes me worry that she's going to starve herself. After awhile I remove her fake egg and after a day or two she goes back to her normal routine. This does seem to cause her a day or two of distress, but it saves her from starving herself. And in the end I can tell she is relieved to have the whole chemical imbalance of broodiness over and done with.
One of my favourite topics is the many ways that chickens know how to communicate with each other, with other critters, and with humans. You don't need to be a hen whisperer to tell the difference between a stressed-out chicken and a happy chicken. I'm certain the flock in my yard has less stress in their lives than the vast majority of domesticated and or wild animals I've ever met, humans included. I do my part to help them live stress-free life, but it helps that their needs are so straightforward. In return, they've helped feed me and improved my outlook.
I'll discuss this in detail in a future show. For the Backyard Chicken Broadcast, I'm Bucky Buckaw. I had a good time.
Bucky Buckaw's Backyard Chicken Broadcast was produced by the Sagebrush Variety Show with support from Boise Community Radio and the Green Institute.
JS: You can expect more from Bucky Buckaw and his Backyard Chicken Broadcast on future episodes of Deconstructing Dinner.
And to close out today's part III of our backyard chickens series, I've unearthed here an interesting recording from 1960 titled Animal Sounds and Communication. The recording was sponsored by the Office of Naval Research in the United States under the auspices of the American Institute of Biological Science.
The recording introduces just some of the sounds that any backyard chickener would likely get accustomed to when raising chickens and perhaps baby chicks.
Audio Recording: The following sounds of chickens were recorded by Nicholas Callias.
Everyone has heard the crowing of the rooster, telling the world that he is cock of the rock. But many people do not know that chickens have many other vocalizations that have special meanings. We would like to play some of these sounds, and as we play each one, describe the meaning of each sign or signal we believe has for other chickens.
When a baby chick is lost, cold, or hungry, it gives distress calls.
When the baby chick is returned to its companions or to the warm incubator from the cold, or is given food, it gives pleasure or contentment notes. These notes, unlike the distress calls, sound quite pleasant to the human ear.
Another group of sounds signals is made by mother hens to attract her chicks. As a brooding hen walks along, she keeps clucking, and to the chicks, this clucking means follow me.
When a mother hen discovers some grain or other food she scratches and pecks at the food and calls her chicks with excited food calls, and the chicks come running from all directions.
At nightfall the mother hen finds and settles down in a good place where she wishes to spend the night, and calls her chicks to come and be brooded, using the special roosting call that to our ear sounds like the purring of a contented cat.
The chickens have various notes to express different degrees and kinds of danger. One of these warnings signifies a ground predator such as an approaching dog or a man.
When a hawk flies into the chicken yard, the adult chickens each give a loud scream, and this hawk warning causes the chicks to go run and hide at once, under or next to any nearby object.
Some danger is not nearby or is moderate, such as man moving some distance away, the birds may merely give less disturbed calls; thus these alerting notes by a brooding hen merely cause her chicks to freeze into an attitude of tense alertness.
When the chicken is caught by the predator, for example, as when a hen is held in the hand by a man, the bird gives loud, fierce squawks.
Two birds facing each other keep up a low growling or grumbling, as each tries to find an opening. These threat notes signify a readiness to attack another bird.
In conclusion, these various recorded sounds suggest that just as man has his own special language, so chickens have their own special means of vocal communication, which helps them to solve their own living problems.
JS: That was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded at Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant John Ryan.
The theme music for Deconstructing Dinner is courtesy of Nelson-area resident Adham Shaikh.
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