How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Respect the Chicken
Recently by Thomas Luongo: A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Apocalypse
My wife and I have an excellent division of labor, as I'm sure most successful couples do. I'm obsessed with money and politics, she in improving our diet and health. She's the problem-solver while I think up the problems to be solved. If I'm forward-looking then she's goal-oriented.
So, when I turned to her during the fall of 2007 and said that I thought things were beginning to unravel and it may be time to start stockpiling food she took care of it; reorganizing the house for storage, stepping up her plans for our garden and dusting off her canning equipment.
And, when a few months later I asked her to come up with ways of trimming our budget she responded by saying, "We could put in chickens. Eggs are a big portion of our food budget." After I picked my phone back up I stammered out a, "We can?" I'd only ever heard my wife talk about chickens in two contexts previously. The first was, "Mmmm, tasty!" and the second was, "I hate friggin' chickens!" She grew up on a farm and was flogged by hens as a kid. I wasn't.
Today on any given day we have between 75 and 100 chickens, depending on hatch rates.
Since that conversation, I've come to realize how important the chicken is to our civilization. It may be the most important animal that we have "domesticated." To those that know chickens I'm sure this will seem obvious, but, to me it was a revelation. I'd always taken the chicken for granted. Now I believe that anyone serious about "surviving" the crash had better have at a minimum a small flock of chickens to ease the transition.
Unlike us carnivores, they are naturally omnivorous, greedily chasing bugs as well as picking at grass and, if you let them, your garden. They are little garbage disposals with legs that you can feed nearly every food scrap you generate and recycle back into high-quality food for you and your family. The only things my chickens won't eat are celery and onion skins, because even a chicken knows that eating celery is like Keynesian stimulus, a waste of time and energy, costing more to consume than the act will generate.
While their digestive tracks are grossly inefficient and chicken feed is expensive, they will produce eggs of similar quality at a far-lower price. With even just a small amount of free ranging, you will produce eggs far superior in quality to anything at the supermarket, regardless of price. Fully free-ranged eggs are like a gift from on high. Moreover, they produce a high-nitrogen fertilizer as a by-product that is essential for a successful vegetable garden.
The egg is one of the world's most perfect foods, combining easily digested proteins with a mix of saturated fats, beta-carotene and cholesterol that are all essential for proper energy production at the cellular level. Your mitochondria will thank you for every free-range egg you consume. Like global warming, the lipid hypothesis is one of the most idiotic things ever promulgated by one human towards another. If you want to survive the crash, begin divesting yourself of its consequences immediately.
Keeping chickens is relatively easy; just ask the people at Backyardchickens.com if you aren't sure. Build them a small enclosure with a bar to roost on and a box to lay in and they will take care of the rest. I do suggest an enclosed yard or ‘chicken run' for most places as well as designing a coop that is easy to clean out twice a year. For suburban or urban operations, check your local ordinances to find out how many hens you can keep. You may be surprised. Your grass clippings are excellent chicken food if you can't free-range them.
Some breeds are better foragers than others, while some are more consistent layers and some are both. There is a chicken breed to meet your needs, believe me. For all-around good laying hens that you won't mistake for pets I cannot recommend the so-called "sex-linked" crosses, the Black Star and the Red Star, highly enough.
On top of our laying hens, my wife has a small breeding program as well. She produces Delawares, a rare breed but an excellent dual-purpose bird producing both meat and eggs. They are easy to handle, tame and almost friendly, while the roosters are relatively calm, well, for roosters.
As I mentioned, their digestive tracts are inefficient so while feeding them your scraps is a good start to recycling your waste food, there exists an even better system that nature provides if you are open to it. For those living in growing zone 7 or higher the black soldier fly's life-cycle should become part of yours. They will lay their eggs above a mass of rotting material for the larva to fall into and eat. When they mature, they will seek to climb out of the muck they've produced to pupate. With a properly designed composter they will self-harvest into a catch-bin, leaving behind a liquid fertilizer that is simply amazing for your garden. The captured grubs are excellent chicken food, better than the table scraps were in the first place. They can be dried and held as winter stores for your chickens.
Traditional composting methods are slow and inefficient, producing variable quality humic acid. In addition, one can only compost vegetable material so as to not attract flies. The black-soldier fly larva produces a natural anti-biotic, which repels flies, and they will eat nearly anything that isn't wood. That means you can compost your rotten dairy and meats along with your fruits and vegetables. Moreover, they will do this overnight. The hardest part is keeping them fed. You can even compost your chicken manure.
The effect of having chickens extends beyond the practicality of what they can produce. A full-blown chicken operation like the one we now have is also an opportunity for education. We have become adamant about our daughter understanding where her food comes from and what her relation to it is. She knows that the young roosters will be slaughtered at some point and become her dinner. She once asked me why the chickens had to die and I told her that like all of our animals we are responsible for them. We brought them into this world for a purpose so they are our responsibility. If we do not have the stomach to kill them then why did we raise them in the first place? Little chicks may be cute and fun to play with but they grow up to be roosters who are neither.
So, I keep my hatchet sharp.
I've learned a lot about what I'm capable of. And, I know now that I'm capable of killing something that has done me no harm. Slaughtering day is not happy fun time at my home. However, the task is done quickly and respectfully.
Our chickens have formed the backbone of our preparation strategy, helping to make more efficient our entire lifestyle, not to be "green" but out of simple economic necessity, which in effect is "green." They provide a means to lower our cash flow for food as well as hedging against a disruption of the food supply chain. If things go that badly we will have food to trade, doing our part to ensure that the local economy does not completely seize up. This is the model for everything we're doing. Everything must serve a present need as well as potentially serve many possible futures.
Recently, we have finished building a paddock and pasture for a small herd of goats. My land is perfect for them, a mixture of pasture and north Florida hardwood forest. We bought myotonics, the fainting goats, because they are a perfect fit for us (docile, smallish meat goats) and the breeder we found was local and well-respected. I've always wanted goats and finally have them. They will clear my land, provide me with food and lower my property taxes.
To me, the history of humanity can be summed up thusly. There once was a group of people living peacefully until some jackass decided that because he controlled a resource he had leverage over them and thought it a good idea to enslave them to his control. That attempt to control can be rendered moot by vacating that place, which some members of the group did. However, they can only do so if they have the means to sustain themselves. Well, to me, the chicken and the goat represent the two animals that give you the best chance at survival on your own. Both can turn low-quality land into high-quality food and other resources. Both can work with a nomadic group. Cows can't do that, neither can sheep. Horses provide work and transport once you have become established in a place. They all need high-quality land to survive, no less thrive. But, the chicken and the goat, well, to me, they just scream liberty in a way that few others can1. The Free State Project missed the boat on their choice of mascot. My choice to raise these animals is on the one hand accidental (the chicken) and on the other planned (the goat) but both represent the life I want as well as the world I want to live in. They form the foundation while the others provide the super-structure.
But you may say, now there are no new places to "run away" to. The jackasses seem to have everything under their control. Standing and fighting is the State's method to affect change and that results in you becoming them in the end. So, that option is out. Therefore, it is only by withdrawing your support first intellectually, then removing yourself from their control physically, bit by bit, that you can create the reality you want. In that sense, the chicken and the goat still perform the same function, only the context is different. Each decision along that path is another brick removed from their wall.
Like refusing to vote, buying a gun or home-schooling your children, if you want a world of peace and prosperity then practicing peaceful methods is the example to set. For me it only makes sense that it starts with your food.
- namely the pig. I prefer goats to pigs.
September 9, 2010
Thomas Luongo [send him email] is a professional chemist, amateur economist and obstreperous recovering Yankee residing in North Florida.
Copyright © 2010 Thomas Luongo