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The egg production of the Golden Laced Wyandottes went down drastically after they molted. We knew we had to get a new generation of birds and, to avoid the over-abundance of accidental roosters that we experienced last time, we opted for a new breed of chicken: the Red Star.

Red Star Chickens

Photo by Adrian

There are professional chicken sexers who examine the crotches of baby chicks to determine whether they’re male or female, but their accuracy rate was off the mark, based on our last order of chicks. Friends and I ordered around 30 female chicks and wound up with at least four roosters. Not a problem with Red Stars! They can be sexed by color (hence the name “sex-link”). The males and females are different colors when they hatch, so no crotch-inspection is necessary.

We have found them to be early and enthusiastic layers. The first ones began laying at four months, as opposed to the usual five to five-and-a-half months of age. The eggs are lovely, and a rich, shiny brown.

Meanwhile, the seven remaining Wyandottes found a wonderful new home via Craig’s List and Buttercup remains our only retiree.

Our chickens are egg layers, and we can’t imagine butchering them. But, curious to determine whether we had the stomach to raise animals for meat, we offered to help when our friend Molly told us that she had to butcher some of her chickens.

Warning: If you are a vegetarian, you may not want to continue past this point.

Catching the chickens in question was a responsibility that fell to Adrian and Molly’s son Gabe. Once caught, the chickens were handed over to Molly’s father, Hal, who quickly and unceremoniously dispatched them. I think this was the hardest part for Adrian–not the killing, but the lack of some kind of ritual of gratitude.

Next came the plucking. For the feathers to come out easily, the carcasses needed to be scalded. Hal and I donned oven mitts and carried a canning kettle full of near-boiling water from his place next door over to Molly’s. Then we began dipping the carcasses.

Scalding the chickens

After that, plucking the chickens was easy.

Plucking

The denuded chickens were plopped into buckets of water to cool.

Cooling

Once all the chickens were plucked, we carried them over to Hal’s, because his kitchen was more conducive to the next phase of the project: gutting.

Molly with carcasses

Hal demonstrated the gutting process, and Molly and I took turns eviscerating the chickens. Here I am reaching waaaaaay up into the chicken’s body cavity trying to remove the lungs:

Petra gutting a chicken

Overall, I found that I didn’t have any problem plucking and gutting, but I just couldn’t bring myself to cut off their heads and feet. 

Chicken feet

It took about five months for our chicks to grow into adults and begin laying eggs. By that time, I’d spent so much on fences, nest boxes, feed, and shelter, that I figured I’d have to charge about $50 per dozen to begin recouping my investment.

Around December 10, our chickens laid their first egg. (Don’t they look proud?)

Because they matured during the darkest time of the year, I decided to play “god” and artificially lengthen their days to make them produce more. I put a timer on the light in the chicken shed and gradually worked them up to 14 hours of “daylight,” which increased their egg production. Their free ride was over. It was time to earn their keep.

Having said that, I wonder if gathering eggs will ever get old. It still seems like Christmas every time I check the nest boxes and find little treasures in them.