Sustainable Steps

A view from the farm

Chickens, again

Last month I wrote about walking and healing with chickens, and encouraging folks to think about having some backyard birds. Well wouldn’t you know it, the very next day I was reading Acres — a very good farm magazine — and they had an article on the fact that many animal shelters across the country are being inundated with, you guessed it, chickens! With this in mind, I would like to lay out some chicken facts, in case anyone is considering getting some.

You can get chicks and raise them up yourself, but this does involve heat lamps, chick food and a secure place to start. And they will not start laying eggs until they are 6 to 9 months old for production breeds and 9 to 12 months for many of the heritage breeds. You can purchase ready to lay pullets at 6 to 9 months and, presto, eggs. Know who you are buying from so that you don’t end up with a really old hen who isn’t laying at all. I find that about year two, many hens get very sporadic in their laying efforts and from that time on you will still be feeding this bird, but for less return.

Chickens can live 8 to 10 years, and I have heard 15, but they will not be giving eggs all those years. On an economic level that is not practical, especially when you are counting on egg sales to buy feed for the birds. So before deciding to raise chickens, you will need to decide if after two years you could be happy with chicken soup or be prepared to have a pet.

Natural flavors

How many food packages do you see labeled “natural flavors?” A lot! It has always made me feel good about what I was getting, well at least better than food with “artificial” flavoring. The food industry can call anything found in nature natural, which makes sense. A lot of people are aware of one of the most common natural food additives cellulose, which is made from wood pulp, and that it is used in 10 percent of all sodas. There is also lcysteine used in bread dough, which is made from human hair or duck feathers, silicon dioxide and anti-caking agent, which is glass powder or sand. The one that really got me, though, is castoreum, which is used as vanilla and/or raspberry flavoring; it is anal gland juice from beavers! I have to ask, who in the world would think to add that to food? Anyway, I also want to point out that plants grown with GMO seed can also be considered “natural.” All the more reason to buy simple foods, with no additives, grown locally.

Localvore challenge

September is apple time. Find your local orchard, and buy some apples. Make some applesauce. Make some cider. Professor Apple Tom Burford, who spoke at the Harris Center, has a new book out: “Cider, Hard and Sweet.” Learn more about growing apples. Hannah Grimes in Keene is doing an apple wine making workshop on Oct. 6. Enjoy local apples.

Ruth Holmes is one of the principal farmers at Sunnyfield Farm, a nonprofit community farm in Peterborough.

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