Today we became the proud parents of 3 Light Sussex and 3 Speckled Sussex chicks, ranging from one day old to 2 weeks old. No matter how novice, we are now 'chicken keepers', and like all newborns, we are giving them attention (not too much stimulation though) and fretting over their well-being. We have them in a brooding box we got & cleaned up from the local tip shop for $10 (it probably had been a guinea pig house), bought an infra-red heat lamp, have a heater on and thermometer, aiming for about 33'C, and set them up in a quiet area of the house. They seem comfortable, are not too hot or too cold, are eating and drinking, and doing a lot of sleeping. We are pretty pleased with our cute additions to the family! But, let me say from the start that we are going to try walking a fine line between these chickens being named and loved family pets, but also practical, egg-laying, scrap-eating, fertiliser-giving, and potentially meat-providing, 'livestock' too.
I am realistic that we will become attached to these chickens, our first foray into backyard livestock (if you don't count the worm farm!) and I am not stopping myself or the kids from loving them and caring about their well-being. R seems very fond and fatherly about them, though he is the one we will look to, if it becomes necessary to euthanise them. I do not doubt that my husband is capable of killing these animals with his bare hands or a sharp axe, if we have a sick or injured bird, or some turn out to be cockerels. Could I do it myself if he was not here? It would be hard, but if the chicken was suffering, I can only hope I could summon my inner strength and find some farmgirl gusto. But my husband, he is adamant he will have no trouble killing a chicken to 'put it down', or for eating, if it comes to that.
Does this sound callous, or even perhaps, ambitious? We go into this keeping of chickens with our eyes wide open, but very aware we are novices, and there could be situations we are not prepared for. Part of this experience, or 'experiment' if you will, is overcoming obstacles and facing challenges... even if that means facing our own ethical dilemmas, and gathering the courage to end the life of an animal we have raised.
I know circumstances, and our intentions, can change. I know we have no experience in slaughtering and butchering a chicken, or eating one of our own, but we believe we can do it. If we had nothing else, would we eat what we needed to survive? It's not like we are learning to eat slugs or weeds, this is something people have done for many eons, and many people do today on a regular basis! This is something my husband has been quite keen to learn and practice, since he watched Collapse, and the first thing he said to me was, "We've got to get some chickens". That was about 2 years ago, but our intentions remain the same... to be able to feed ourselves in hard times. He moved on to being keen to start bowhunting, as the 'provider' role in our family, it makes him feel a little more secure, that with food security, climate change, end of cheap oil and other future issues, he could feed his family. I admire this characteristic in him.
Chickens provide so much more than just feeding us with their eggs or meat. Fertiliser, scrap & weed eating, pest control, education, food awareness, companionship, entertainment, and insight. We don't start this journey intending to eat them, but of course, raising meat chickens may be a useful skill to have in the future. Death and killing are part of the cycle of life and eating, and something I do not distance myself or my family from. But will I be able to help my husband actually kill a cockerel/ rooster, pluck it, process it and eat it? Only time will tell. I feel that as an 'urban homesteader', that is something I should be willing to try. Will I be able to, in the very least, handle the knowledge that he had to 'put down' a chicken and dispose of it, or bury it? Yes, I am quite certain that won't be a problem (though I will no doubt be sad at losing an animal we raised). We would not have gone into the business of keeping backyard chickens if we did not at least think ourselves capable of that.
So, these are some deep and meaningful issues to bring up for Day One of my Chicken Diaries. Some questions need to be asked and pondered before you start, like will we take a sick or injured chicken to the vet? Some things need to be explained to the kids, like how little chicks are delicate and they could find one dead or sick. And sometimes you just need to put the heavy stuff aside and enjoy the experience! They are cute, they are going to provide us with so much, and we only hope to provide them with all the love, care, respect and happiness they need to have a wonderful life. As for names, well, so far we have: Robot Chicken, Princess Leia (layer), Amelia, Spotty, Guinevere and Tweet Tweet.