Birdland is soggy today, but I’m glad for the extra rain we’ve had for the past several days.
Peace reigns once more in the coop. Marcel, our bronze Tom Turkey, has gone to grace a table in Chicago. Two Tom turkeys is one too many for our flock, especially with only a single turkey hen.
Our middle son, Dylan, and his sweetheart, Michelle, came down to help with the harvest. Michael stayed inside for the culling. My husband is squeamish when it comes to harvesting our birds. I’ll admit, it’s a little bit difficult. I was a vegetarian in my youth, but the truth is, if we want to have poultry or even eggs on our farms and in our kitchens, we have to accept the culling.
(A friend of mine, a vegan who uses her fine photography to bring attention to the rights of animals, says we should not say “harvest” but “culling” or even “killing” to be honest about what we are doing to the birds. I take her point. I think we lose something by sanitizing the process so that we buy meat in grocery stores laid out on Styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic. But I like the term “harvest,” for how it speaks to agricultural cycles. “As we sow, so shall we reap.”)
Why? Because when we hatch eggs, the natural balance of cockerels to pullets is about 50-50, but that is a terrible ratio for a flock and leads to violence in the coop and in the yard.
Marcel and Claude, our other Tom, had to have it out every few days. Sometimes they would joust for hours, and all we could do was get out of the way. Whenever one gave up, he would stand in the corner at attention, repentant. And both would come away bruised and sometimes bloodied.
Marcel had at least a couple of pounds on Claude and always won these contests, until a few weeks ago, when Claude finally emerged victorious. We hadn’t been able to let the flock out into the yard for over a month, because in their rage, the two Toms would take their quarrel down to the neighbors’.
Chickens are no better and can do real damage with their spurs. Besides, too many roosters bothering the hens leads to breaking feathers on the exhausted hen’s back, sometimes to the point of baldness. And without feathers for protection, the roosters’ spurs can cut into the hens’ backs.
Am I justifying my culling of the flock? Of course I am! I’d much rather eat poultry that runs free in my yard (though it may be a little tough, but that’s why the coq au vin recipe was invented) than those grown in factory farms. At least I know that my birds enjoy a somewhat natural life of wandering the yard, scratching, clucking, crowing, strutting, sunning and dust bathing until they become another strand of the food web for me or a coyote or a hawk or an owl. I honor the natural cycle of life on the farm, from hatching eggs to raising chicks and finally to the harvest.
We are running low on laying hens — only two right now — and egg production always goes down after the equinox. Michael likes his eggs, so sometimes we supplement from the grocery.
This morning, we had but two of our own eggs, and Michael cracked them into a bowl with a third and asked me to guess which yolk was from the store. It was an easy guess between the anemic yellowish ball and rich, golden yolks my chickens make when they eat a varied diet of grass and insects and compost and get plenty of sunshine.
It made me glad to be able to check the coop in the morning and bring back “the golden treasure inside is hid.” Sometimes the golden treasure is a delicious breakfast, and sometimes it’s something else.
In the coop is a smaller nesting box for the Seramas. It is really an old quail house I made years ago, but Michael rearranged it and mounted on the big coop. We could never get the little Serama hens to nest in it. I would put them in and close the lid, and they would hop right back out without setting up housekeeping.
I was out feeding the flock when I noticed that the golf ball I had put inside the tiny nest box had been pushed out onto the floor. I lifted the lid to check, and there was the dark Serama mama, sitting on a clutch of eggs that is really too big for her to cover. I didn’t know that she had begun laying again after hatching her last brood, but she had been secretly busy.
In a couple of weeks, we’ll see what kind of treasure emerges.
Wait in Beauty; Harvest Peace; Blessed Be.