Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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Raising Chickens

A rooster hit me the other morning.  For some that would sound like the start of a joke.  However, for me that was just the start of my morning.  It was a morning that included an exercise replete with spring fever, the drive for procreation, layers and of course roosters.  I will explain later.

When we began raising free-range organic eggs, we started slowly.  The first flock was seventeen weeks old when we got them (which knocked them out of the organic category) and there were six of them, all layers.  One of the first things we learned was that you did not need a rooster in order to get eggs from a hen.  After reading and then hearing stories about insane, violent behaviors of attacking roosters, having hens was just fine by us.  We had gotten comfortable with cover cropping, field rotation and mixing grasses and legumes for the chickens to forage.  Family and friends truly liked the taste of the eggs so we felt we were ready to expand.  

In order to sell eggs as “Certified Organic” you need to get hens when they are less then two days old.  Because we did not know any better we expected that we would get layers when we ordered fifteen one-day-old peeps.  I had seen how they sex chicks (i.e., determine male or female) and some chicks are known to be hens based on their color (they are called sexlinks).  We have Rhode Island Reds, because they are a Heritage Breed and a recovering species, and apparently, they are not as easy to sex as one thinks.

When you get day old layers, it is inevitable that you will get a male.  It has happened every time we have gotten day olds.  The number of chicks does not matter, we have gotten 15, got a rooster, got 100, ended up with four roosters that time.  We purchased 50 this last time two are roosters.  The very last purchase was for 100 and we ordered a “straight run”.  There are three categories of peeps, cockerels, straight run and layers.  Cockerels are all males and least expensive, straight run is a mix with no sexing (if you order 50 you may get 10 layers and 40 roosters), that is the chance you take with a straight run.  Then there are layers, which are the most expensive but at least 90+ percentages of all of them are layers.

I am a shining example of why city people are made fun of in rural areas.  After our first purchase of day olds, I called the farm store and asked about our recent chicken order.  "Did we get a rooster with the hens"?  I asked.  "No, probably not" was the answer then followed by "but we can't guarantee all hens at sale but probably not".  So I described the chicken that was more developed then the rest and said that it sounds like it is trying to crow.  "Yep," she said, “you got a rooster.”  Without even thinking when I heard the word rooster I blurted out a question that, as the words were forming in my mind and my lips were audiblizing the errant thought, I knew it was the dumbest question a supposed farmer could ask. 

You can do two things with a rooster on a farm.  One is to eat him.  The other is to let him fertilize the eggs.  That is it; they also protect the hens but those are the only things roosters can do on a farm.  Anybody having heard the birds and bees speech knows this.

Of course, I knew this, once the words were ringing in my ears, but as I was forming the question, and the sales clerk on the other end was hearing it, I couldn't stop myself.  When she told me it was a rooster I was dumb founded "What am I going to do with a rooster," I blurted out mindlessly.  There was dead silence on the other end of the phone line or maybe muffled laughter I do not remember.  What I do remember is questioning why I had just asked such a simple question.  She composed herself enough to say that indeed we could eat it or we could you use it for its reproductive capability.  Neither of which were planned nor wanted, so I ended the conversation quickly.  So the damage was done, at least I hadn't given her my name 

We never wanted a rooster, we were not at the processing stage and we did not want to hatch chicks or deal with crazy violent birds.  With our luck if we hatched chicks we would get more males then females.  Roosters were not a thought until we started seeing and hearing the signs.  By that time it is too late, it is yours.  We tried to sell it, then offered to give it away but had no takers.  Over time, we have found a fourth function a rooster can serve on a farm and that is ambience.  We love to hear them crow as do our customers.  Our customers see a beautiful Rhode Island Red in all his plumage and in full throat.  We still keep roosters around to have a run of the yard, hens to keep them company, and protect. 

I have learned when it is spring and you open the chicken house door the last thing you want to do is be between an amorous rooster and a flock of hens.  The rooster leaped from his high perch and flew out the door way.  My head was down as I was looking at the hens and my body was in the door way.  The rest they say is history, the rooster is okay, I got scracthed a little bit.  So far their have been no signs of insanity, violent behavior, or unprovoked attacks.  Oh, and the roosters have been fine too.

Buy Local - From a farmer not from a chain hard selling the words

 

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