62 Mail Order Chicks Later…

So, we’re raising 62 meat chickens.

After finishing up evening chores yesterday, I walked into our make-shift greenhouse (the room below our kitchen area where I’ve been nursing various seedlings) to find a whole new set of tender challenges. In a metal incubator set on the seeding table were 62 tiny chicks peeping and scuttling like 1st graders let out for recess after a week of rain. The owner purchased them online and they arrived during the day with only one chick DOA (a good turnout).

The chicks are Cornish crosses, so they’ll quickly lose that adorable yellow-fluff and transform into dirty white little monsters. Their legs will forever be too bulky for their bodies; their breasts will grow heavy and tip the pullets toward the ground. Cornish crosses are the meat industry standard: their modus operandi during their short lives is to eat – constantly and furiously – as they mature to processing weight within six to eight weeks. Past that? They die off by ten weeks.

Totally crazy, right? After working with both Heritage meat birds and some gorgeous layers, I’m a little apprehensive to work with these franken-chicks. Plus, this will be the first time I’m raising something solely for slaughter. I’ve been on most sides of the animal industry equation (distribution, retail, slaughterhouse, dairy), so I guess it’s about time that I take on the system as a whole.

{Beautiful and healthy layers, a far cry from a mature Cornish cross}

My newest venture notwithstanding, I’m definitely not eating meat anytime soon; I’m viewing these next eight weeks as an experiment in sustainable meat production. To begin, I picked up a copy of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens. Until next time…

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The Year of the Goat(s): Unemployed and Homeless in Washington

It’s been about one year since I donned my purple graduation cap and gown. At the time, I had no job prospects; my immediate post-grad plans were to travel to Europe for three weeks and deal with the realities of adulthood after a binge in the French and English countryside.

One year later, I’m living in an a-frame  studio apartment above a shed in Washington state; from our porch door I can see the summit of Mt. Rainier peeking above the tree line of the field across the street. I’m surrounded on all sides by goats, alpacas, hens, and cawing roosters.

Our set-up is not too bad. Of course this is only after a minor life crisis: a week and a half ago Noah and I were literally homeless and unemployed in a state unfamiliar to both of us. We drove all the way across the country with our belongings in tow to begin the second installment of our farm apprenticeship, only to experience something like anaphylactic shock at seeing the disarray that ruled our newest farm-stay. We lasted six days, the whole time cringing at the mal-treatment of the animals, the disgusting condition of the cheese room, and the complete battiness of the farmer. That’s what we get for taking an apprenticeship on blind trust. Early on a Saturday morning, we broke our six-month contract just in time (we were still within our week-long trial period), re-packed our car and headed to the nearest cafe to begin our research. Adrenaline pumping, we remained in a state of hazy disbelief until the following day. We camped that night in the Wenatchee National Forest (gorgeous), drinking beers by the fire and having minor existential frets. Both of us college educated, largely cordial and cooperative, and passionate. What the hell were we doing living out of our car in the middle of Washington state with no income and nowhere to call home?

What followed was a Jack Kerouac-esque adventure, with us sleeping every night in a new place, camping or motel stays. We spent our days surfing the ATTRA Internships and Apprenticeships and WWOOFUSA at cafes in random Washington towns, making phone calls, and visiting farms. Our friends and family all offered us the names and phone numbers of anyone they knew on this side of the country. We were determined, though, to make farming work. If all else failed, we were headed to Portland (I’m totally not kidding). In five days, we toured four farms and crossed the Cascades three times.

We ended our adventure here, at Left Foot Farm on the Western side of the state, only about an hour outside of Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle. We’re charged with evening milking, chores, and feeding kids. We’re also gardening a quarter acre lot on the farm – we’re both super pumped to finally be getting our hands in some real dirt, but there’s a serious learning curve as the largest garden we’ve worked was our tiny porch in Brooklyn last summer. Nonetheless, we’re ready for the challenge. Pictures to come soon.

I’ve started reading Margaret Hathaway’s The Year of the Goat (given to me by the wonderful farmers at Willow Spring Ranch in Montana). It’s the story of a former Magnolia Barkery manager and her photo-editing boyfriend who leave their comfortable life in Brooklyn to travel the country for one year visting various goat farms and dairies. It’s refreshing to know that we’re not the only ones totally insane enough to leave behind our former selves, all in search of the perfect goat farm.