Tuesday 22 October 2013

Day 84. A Good Day to Die?

Hubbard chickens at Day 83
For our Hubbard variety chickens, tomorrow is Day 84 from hatching. In the cut and thrust, hard nosed world of commercial free-range and/or organic meat production, this would be the target slaughter date; game over. Hubbards are the variety now widely used in Ireland for this type of system produced in commercial hatcheries (in this case one up by the Northern Ireland border) in their hundreds of thousands and sold to growers as day old chicks. They are then kept in conditions which pass (maybe only just) the minimum standards of welfare and feed to earn a 'Free Range' or 'Organic' certification to produce a big breasted, broad chested, heavy looking but still tender, oven-ready carcass. Even a small amount of research will tell you that 'Free Range' here does not quite mean happy chickens scratching in the sunny farmyard; these are still fairly intensive, crowded systems in which feeding is closely controlled and, although chickens must have 'access' to the run outside, they do not necessarily get out much.

Our 'Mini-Buffs'. 2 hens or one of each?
We got our birds on August 1st (as day olds), you will recall, mainly in order to give Broody Betty something to 'mother' when we took away 'her' ducklings. We took 8 of a batch collected by Anne and Simon from the hatchery, Anne kept a further 8 and the remaining birds went to a friend of Anne's. We had, therefore, the potential for a small scale simple comparison between the groups under our three different systems. We do complete free range (they can go where they like around the 2 and a half acres and beyond) and mixed with the other birds but have, as a result, limited control over diet. Anne does organic starting off indoors but then in a large pen, separate from her other birds so they have a lot less freedom to move but she can give them generous amounts of cooked rice and potato etc. At any given date they seemed to be a quarter to a third bigger and heavier than ours and feathered up much more slowly. The third batch are even more confined and we believe would be legally 'Free Range' but not organic and, says Anne, have put on a deal of weight even more than her birds and possibly been slaughtered by now.

Pure bred Buff Orpington cockerel and hen.
You can see from our first picture that ours look decidedly 'adolescent' and lanky rather than fat and wide-chested. Their legs look massive and out of proportion to their slim shape as if they have a lot of growing left to do. Just for the record we weighed some of them and got a weight range (live, obviously) of between 6 lb 3.25 oz (2.81 kg) and 7 lb and a quarter ounce (3.18 kg). We have decided not to slaughter any time soon. We will keep these as a living larder while they put on some more weight. Anne has warned me that because they are 'designed' (yoiks!) only to go the 84 days they may over run their 'tender' spec and become sinewy and tough, only fit for casseroles and coq-au-vin but that is not an issue for us - we LOVE a coq au vin! I know Anne is off weighing hers today or tomorrow, so it will be interesting to see how the little 'trial' went.

My 2nd and 3rd picture here are of the 8-Ball birds, now approaching 25 weeks and well into lay if they are of that persuasion. Our 'mini buffs' (some kind of bantam-y cross) turned out, we are sure, to be both hens. That is to say that we are both sure we have seen both of them being 'trodden' by roosters and I am fairly sure they are both laying eggs and neither has crowed. My uncertainty today is just seeing them both in this picture the bird on the right seems to have pink legs rather than yellow, maybe a bigger comb and wattles and a more upright tail? Doubts are creeping in!

The 2CV saga moves on one step. I managed to get my official form signed and stamped by a nice lady Guard in Castlerea Garda Station. Now I just need that mixture tweaked one last time by the boys in the garage for our real last, final, ultimate, tail-end, conclusive shot at the NCT emissions test. I have promised myself that this will be it. If it fails this time then I will take it off the road officially (on Statutory Off Road Notice (SORN)  and it can become an interesting garden feature till a better offer comes along. I may sell it. I may keep it till it is 30 years old and doesn't need an NCT. I will have run into the buffers, defeated by the system and fed up with having spent more on tests and re-tests than I have on the car.

The ex-Hastings fig cutting
A quick catch up on the gardening. This pic shows the current state of play on the ex-Hastings fig tree cutting. Grown in Faversham for a year or two in a half barrel, we decided to bring it over with us when we moved, so it was coppiced hard and root-washed. The remains lived with me at Pud Lady's in a fertilizer sack in her front garden till we moved. We planted it in the gravelly soil at the top of the front drive here but then it got driven over by a JCB laying drains. We thought we had lost it but Liz did some detective work using early photos and found it. It languished for a while, then just about managed to produce a few leaves where upon last years sheep browsed them all off and it went into winter as a bare, inch thick 'stick'. Again we were sure it was a goner. Spring came and no leaves emerged till way into June but then it suddenly put on a spurt of 3-4 small branches reaching the 18" or so you can see here. We will give it special protection through this winter. We dream of a bright future for this tree. May it do as well as it's parent which now fills most of the gap behind Pud Lady's garage and over-tops the roof gutters (OK it's a bungalow). I want to see it shading our terrace corner on the SE corner of the house, clearly visible as you come up the drive.

And finally, I know it has been a weird late season and I know these raspberries are Autumn Bliss, but I never expected to be starting to pick a decent crop on October the 22nd. They are not the sweetest raspberries, so maybe lacked sun, and they are very juicy (plenty of rain!) but I am hoping they will stay sound on the canes for just the next couple of days till Liz returns and can enjoy them with me.


Anne Wilson said...

Day 84 is the minimum time that a free range or Organic bird can be slaughtered not the time that they are slaughtered, the reason that the Hubbard bird is used in these systems is that they are slow growing, a battery chicken is slaughtered at 38 days, when that day comes that is the slaughter date regardless of weight. The size of runs and housing space is very carefully regulated with both free range and Organic birds with emphasis on the welfare of the bird who must be allowed to express it's natural behaviour. In a completely natural environment a hen will not go much further than 80 yards from their home site, be that a hen house or a roost. When you see a free range bird or an organic bird for sale if it has been ranging as it should it will be long breasted unlike commercial battery birds that will be rounded breast and heavy legs. The reason we do a regular weigh in is to check that the birds are getting enough feed there is no other way to monitor their progress, when they reach our desired weight that will be the time for slaughter providing it's after the 84 days.

Matt Care said...

Thank you for that clarification. What (live) weight do you tend to take them up to? Is there a minimum or do you go by what weight of bird you need for the table on that occasion?

Anne Wilson said...

We will probably give them another couple of weeks, we are looking for a live weight of around 7lb. What we have learnt is they do require a lot of feeding, the combined feed weight with growers meal and the potatoes/rice mash is around 13 oz per bird per day, but the weight gain is only 8 oz per week, clearly they are a hard bird to finish. Next time we will stick to the regulated ranging area as giving twice the area we feel has had a detrimental effect on them and on our purse strings. Feed costs money and I can buy an 3000gm finished Organic bird for 16 euros, I'm sure ours have cost us more than this so far.

Matt Care said...

OK. We only have a live weight of 7 lbs on one of ours so far, so we too are leaving it. As to economics, we'd be hard pushed to say how much we have spent on them. I have bought €97.10 worth of chicken feed since these guys have been with us but that has gone to feed all the (23) birds (say €4 per bird maybe?). Only the layers has been organic. Be interesting to know, wouldn't it!