A sure sign of the season - that early morning phone call from the post office declaring, "Your chicks are here!" Or more accurately, "Please, oh please, come get these chicks out of our office before all this chirping drives us all batty!" Something like that is I think what they usually say, and we get right to it.
Sixty-five broiler birds joined us in that way a few days ago. Though we're still figuring out the numbers that work best for us, and that keeps growing as these kids of ours keep growing, this is about the number we had last year and it's worked out perfectly. I generally cook two chickens at a time when I do so, and we eat a lot less meat in the summer, so all of that works out to about a once a week cooking (with enough leftovers for a second meal). We've gone with Freedom Rangers again - this is our third year raising this breed and we're very happy with them. They're always healthy, great foragers, and reach their peak weight - about 5 to 6 pounds - in eleven weeks or so. We'll move these out to pasture in the portable pen in a week or two so they can get to all that ranging and foraging...but for now they still need a bit of warmth in the brooder of the barn. It's there that they're visited many times a day, by children eager to feed, water, hold, and watch these little fluff balls. They get taken on 'field trips' to the garden, to the fairy houses in the woods and to the swings. Adelaide is always there to make sure the trips are short ones, gentle on the birds, and that they're returned 'home' to the brooder promptly.
A lot of you have asked and are wondering about what it's like, particularly for the children, to raise and connect with the animals that eventually are on the dinner table. I've wanted to address that here, but for one, it isn't fully my story to tell. It is theirs, and one that won't be ready for telling, I would imagine, until they're much older, having had more life experience when they're able to reflect back. Sometimes we talk a lot about the whole picture, and sometimes we don't. More often, lately, it feels very normal for us all, even more so for those who don't remember a life before we raised our own meat. It all feels natural, even. I'm not saying that's good or bad - it just is. I do know that for the choice that we've made as a family, to eat meat (and yes, everyone is aware that's a choice, and is free to make their own), that what we do - from beginning to end - feels honest. So there's that. The kids are as involved - or not - as they want to be with the daily care, and ultimately the harvesting. Some are more interested than others, and that changes from year to year. But for all of us ... I can say that we enjoy so much sharing our days with these little critters, we are grateful to them for the work they do on our land while they are with us, and most definitely appreciative and pleased with the nourishment we receive from them as we gather around the table.
But for now...we are all focused on the adorableness of baby chicks. They're hard to resist.