Culinary Pen
cooking, curing, salting,
smoking... and eating!

Spring Chickens

Written By Culinary Pen on Saturday, March 24, 2012 | 5:57:00 AM

With the unusually warm (75+F) weather here, I have a lot of reserved excitement brewing inside me to start prepping for spring. I say "reserved" because I know there's a good chance this weather will crash back down into the frosty netherworld and kill any plants or seedlings I've prematurely started. But nature's forging ahead, providing us with lots of young dandelion greens, red sorrel, and wild spearmint in our yard.

Plus, I know what I really want isn't seedlings, but animals. Some chickens, two pigs, and Carla wants a pair of alpacas. But as renters, our landlord might look down upon me setting up a coop on our small side of the duplex lawn, to say nothing of rooting hogs. That's my guess.

So now I'm just planning. The more I learn now, the quicker I'll be able to set up shop when the opportunity does arise for chicks and sows. For my chickens, I think I've got my first three breeds figured out:

Jumbo Cornish X Rocks: This is a standard meat bird, and the breed I would buy live from a neighbor in our last house. It produces meat quickly and is ready for the oven in 6-8 weeks. For me, this is the control bird. It's been bred to be easy to grow, convert feed into meat quickly, and is a passive animal.

Barred Rocks: This is another heavy breed, but will also produce a small amount of eggs. Along with the Jumbo Cornish, I wanted to get a more traditional farm chicken. This is a more "natural bird," meaning that it'll take weight on slowly, but produce a tastier bird. It's also cold-weather resistant, so I can give the birds the time they need to grow and not worry about inclement PA weather. Jaret, who raises grass-fed beef and a mix of chickens and goats in my hometown, advised me on looking for chickens with a small cockscomb and waddle, as they can become frost-bitten easily if I keep them through fall.

Red Cap: And so this is the extreme end of my chickens, the variable breed. The Red Cap is a heritage breed chicken, and would take on weight the slowest. It would also produce a small amount of eggs, like the Barred Rock. They can get a little feisty, but they're still a normally good-tempered bird. It's interesting, the closer you get to the original wild animal, the more aggressive the birds can become. Old English Game Birds, which are actually a chicken, are almost like wild chickens that live off the land. These Red Caps are more domesticated, but I wanted to try something a bit more peculiar. Plus they have this big, wobbly cockscomb, which might look ugly to some, but I just keep thinking about it cooked up as a crispy fritter. I know this goes against what I said about frost-bitten birds in the last paragraph, so I know I'd probably have to get these birds early in the year, perhaps May, so they can grow through the spring and summer.Why a mix of three breeds? We'll for one, I think starting with 30 birds (ten of each) is a good number, as it gives me flexibility for the inevitable reality of losing birds to poor constitution, predators, or accidents. And I'd like to see what type of bird works best for my farm set up. The Jumbo Cornish will be ready for the pot quicker, but they're a hybrid and can't really breed easily on their own. On the other hand, the Red Cap is a more vigorous, independent breed that can withstand hot weather, disease, likes to forage for bugs and grubs, and just seems like a more "natural" animal to me. And the Barred Rock is my middle ground choice, combining aspects of both.

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Leslie said...

I have found my barred rocks to be excellent egg layers, 4-6 per week for the first 3 years, all seasons (with extra light) Now, in their 4th year, I believe they are done.

Culinary Pen said...

I forgot you had your own chickens - that's a good amount of eggs!