Desensitizing. It sounds a bit militaristic. I have seen this word used over and over again in reference to killers, terrorists, and those of us who consume meat in a balanced diet. The theory is that those who are constantly around perceived objectionable practices tend to lose their disdain for them. In other words, if you grew up hunting for food, you do not feel as ashamed as others wish you did. You are desensitized to the violence known as feeding yourself. I have some bad news for the self-sufficient. This is not a theory, but a fact. We can trace this effect through past generations, and see a startling reality about food perceptions.
We, who live on this planet as a combined group of beings who consume food to live, are gradually painting ourselves into a proverbial corner. I can be condemned for eating an apple. "Sorry, no, it was not organic". What a self-aggrandizing world do we live in. A generation ago folks pealed an apple, cut out any worm holes, bruises or defects, and ate what was left. Today, those of us who eat apples grown by conventional methods are prompted to feel beneath those who only eat a couple of untouched, pristine apples from the top of each tree. As far as they are concerned, the rest are good for compost piles.
When you buy chicken at the store, is it in the form of fillets or boneless skinless breasts? Have your kids ever eaten bone-in meat? Many haven't. They would be appalled to realize that chicken comes from a...um... chicken. My young niece recently declared her affinity for chicken nuggets. "What part of the chicken is that", I asked. After a short sidebar with her older sister, she exclaimed, "His nuggets!" Funny? Yes. I decided to drop the explanation until she is substantially older.
A woman recently filed a lawsuit because there was a skinned chicken foot in her store bought boneless-skinless chicken breast package. She claimed mental anguish and an inability to ever eat chicken again. The case should be thrown out. She couldn't eat chicken to start with! My grandmothers, aunts and uncles gnawed a chicken until there was nothing left but the cackle. We need to shed this belief that good food is only available after it has been industrialized.
There is a solution. Summer is here. Instead of feeding your kids flavored yogurt and mystery meat with a brown-crust-flavored substance, toss some pork steaks or chicken thighs on the old BBQ grill. (these are still some of the cheapest proteins out there) It doesn't have to be everyday, but think of the stir you will cause in the neighborhood when that seared chicken and hickory smoke smell wafts through the sub-division. Folks will step outside and warily aim their jealous noses into the wind. More importantly, you will be passing on an appreciation for real food to the next generation.
When I was younger, my Great Aunt kept enough chickens to supply the school with eggs, and all of the extended family with fresh chicken. I, of course, got the task of cleaning the long and extremely low roofed chicken house a couple of times a year. Finally, my Aunt grudgingly gave up her hens. I was glad to be rid of them, my Mom was glad she didn't have to butcher them, and my Dad was glad he didn't have to provide feed for them.
My wife had never been around chickens and was a little taken aback by them. With home grown food becoming all the rage again, I decided it was time my wife had some chickens! Like some of the less experienced folks, I decided it couldn't be that hard to keep a few hens around. This last Spring, I built this nice chicken coop, and within a few months, we had 5 hens laying eggs behind the house. Sounds romantically simple doesn't it? That's because, like those who tout the ease of raising backyard poultry, I skipped a few lines in the story.
I didn't tell you that young fowl can develop a sort of illness that makes chicken poop cling to their little fuzzy bottoms. I guess I left out the part about soaking and rubbing the dried poop off so they can poop some more. I am pretty sure I didn't talk about covering the pen to block out the sun, only to have the whole thing blow away befuddling our birds. Did you know roosters crow before daylight? They also crow until the sun goes down! (then they move to a quiet place out in the country where they can happily live out there lives)
I am only telling you these things because winter is upon us. Those fair weather friends can become quite a burden on those freezing wintry days. It is time to winterize that chicken coop. Here are a few things to remember about poultry in the winter.
- Chickens don't like drafts. Plug up any low lying holes, but remember ventilation is needed to keep gasses down. Let some air through at the top.
- Clean out the litter and replace with some clean shavings or straw. The chickens will spend more time inside in the winter.
- Outside feeders will need to be moved inside, or at least covered in a way to keep snow from blowing in and spoiling feed.
- A light is suggested to help keep up egg production.
- Waterers will either need to be heated, or moved where it is warm. If you have just the right coop, you may be able to keep the water thawed, provide light, and heat for the birds from a heat lamp. If you have metal waterers, a heated base can be purchased at farm stores.
You can expect egg production to fall when the days grow shorter. Using the tips above, you will still get some eggs through the winter, and the hens will be healthy enough to get back into full swing when warmer weather comes.
My quaint little chicken hutch got an industrial makeover this week. The baby chicks are now growing pullets and need a little room to roam. An impromptu decision was made to use Scout the Wonderdog's outdoor kennel as a makeshift chicken yard. Scout wouldn't go in there for fear of being locked up! I cut and pieced woven wire for the top and viola, chicken containment system. It detracts from the rustic look of the coop, but serves its purpose. Honey Bunches thinks it looks like a military compound where Bin Laden would hide. I told her not to worry, he had been taken care of... I think.
It was exciting to open the door and let the chickens out for the first time. At least I thought it would be exciting. What actually happened was, the door was opened ceremoniously and the pullets spent the rest of the day looking out thinking "What The Heck!" Before I wanted them out, I had to push them back from the door when feeding. Now, there they stand. The 2 bravest ones stand in the door like first time parachute jumpers waiting for someone to give them a push. But, the push doesn't come. Just a bunch of cackling and taunting from inside the coop.
This theme seems to be repeating itself around the farm. Now that the dog kennel has been re-dedicated, Scout is pretty sure he wants to go back in. The birds, which are invading my eaves, will not stay out. My cows who I couldn't keep out of the corral will not come in. Now, even the chickens are against me. I sneaked up on the coop from behind and tossed some corn over the top. It landed inside the pen and sent the brave duo squawking back in to safety. I don't speak chicken, but I think one said, "Did you see that? The sky is falling!"
"How was your day?" I asked Honey Bunches (that's Professor Honey Bunches to you!). "Fine", she said, "Except lunch". Knowing cafeteria food is normally exceptionally tasty, I asked what they served. Turns out the fare wasn't bad, it was the conversation. The current media blitz of unbalanced correctness had invaded my poor wife's lunch break. The topic of the day? "Free range" chicken. That's right, members of the staff brought up the fact that "free range" chicken tastes so much better than regular chicken. Regular chicken?
We always had chickens around the farm. They stayed in the chicken yard surrounded by a picket fence. While that may be too confining for some liberal thinking, it should also be noted that the dog's rights were being stepped on too. He should have been able to eat all the chickens he wanted! We had a term for these chickens that pecked in the chicken yard by day and were locked up in the coop at night. We called them um... chickens. I am not sure what image is conjured up in these people's minds when they say "free range". I suppose they see chickens roaming a local organic prairie, being grass fed and enjoying a green life until some cowboy shows up to herd them into town in some kind of chicken roundup.
I never hear these people discuss the breed of chicken. Why hasn't the poultry industry used a page from the cattle play book? "We only serve Rhode Island Red Rotisserie Roosters" has a good ring to it. What about the size of the bird? That is never discussed, but it most certainly has the biggest effect on taste and cooking consistency. Haven't these folks ever cooked a chicken? Probably not, but they have learned a buzzword that is accepted as truth. They can appear to know what they are talking about by just agreeing with the misled majority. There is no need to learn any more about poultry, they have the fact!
Someday, I must go to work with Honey Bunches and get in on these hilarious discussions. For now, I better get those hens back into the coop. Now... Where did I put my chicken lasso?