We bought our chicks for the year last week. Ten Red Crosses from the ‘senior’ group at the farm store. I look for the oldest chicks I can find at the store for a number of reasons.
In the first day or two at least one chick will die no matter how carefully you prepare and care for them. I can easily eliminate any death loss by buying older chicks.
They’re well on their way to being feathered out and won’t need as careful temperature supervision or a heat lamp for long, and if someone manages to scale the wall of cardboard encircling them meant to keep drafts off they won’t die of exposure.
They’re that much grown on feed we didn’t have to pay for! This year’s chicks are about 2 weeks old so that’s 2 weeks less feed, electricity and loss of life.
And maybe best of all, the store discounts them.
Buying what breed of chicks have managed to stick around the store this long makes me try breeds I might not have considered. I’d never heard of Red Crosses, I’m guessing they’re a hybrid of Cornish Crosses and a heritage breed with red feathers.
We don’t raise Cornish Crosses, they’re bred to eat and grow. That’s it, they’re mostly unable to walk because their bodies rapidly outgrow their ability to carry themselves around so they sit around the feeder in a circle and eat until they give themselves heart attacks. Feathers can’t grow fast enough to cover their carcass so they’re half naked their brief lives. These are the chickens you buy at the grocery store.
A heritage cooking group I belong to on Facebook had someone question the black spots on a chicken they’d purchased at the Farmer’s Market, they wondered what was wrong with the bird and was it safe to eat? Cornish Crosses have white feathers so any pin feathers left under the skin are invisible, dark spots mean the bird had dark feathers and that little bit of feather left can be seen. The bird cooks, tastes and is fine. The dark bits are a sign that the chicken you purchased is a slower growing heritage breed of bird and the texture when cooked will be amazing. Any store bought chicken you eat after this will be unbearably mushy, tasteless and unpalatable.
This is why we restock the chicken coop every year, 10 birds will last us until chicks are available next spring. I would have bought more but they only had the 10 left. And as soon as they’re old enough to leave the coop and attached fenced yard they’ll go to work for us. They’ll eat fly larvae, we have no more flies than someone living in the city in spite of being surrounded by farm animals and their manure. They’ll eat weed seeds and scratch up weeds. This last isn’t a benefit unless we fence them out of the garden. They’ll eat parasites that would plague the animals if they could. And they just look pretty going about their business in our yard.
Once the garden starts producing excess I’ll feed them tomatoes with bad spots or the zucchini that gets away from me, after a squash or two they all come running when they see me, which can be a bit unnerving until you get used to it. At first I felt a bit like Tippi Hedren and looked about for Alfred Hitchcock but it was all good.
Next spring we’ll offer a class on caring for chickens, if you’ve always thought about getting yourself some chickens this might be a good place to start. And I can let you know how the Red Crosses turned out. Candy