Saturday, April 18, 2009

You Can't Eat Dale

I will pass through all thy flock to day, removing from thence all the speckled and spotted cattle, and all the brown cattle among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats: and of such shall be my hire.

Genesis 30:32

I know why we have animals that look like this:

Evil-ass tiger at Doc Shepard's place. Does not validate Belyaev's results. This cat scared the crap out of me.

And this:

Mandelbrot goat. No kidding.

A lot has been made of the Belyaev experiments, and how spotting and neotenic features are genetically and biochemically linked to tame behavior. Sure. Fascinating. One of my favorite things that I ever learned about. But there's another route to piebald. Because we monkey-folk, visual foragers in the deepest recesses of our brains, absolutely fixate on one of these things that's doin' it's own thing...

So, my broiler chicks came in the mail Friday morning.

I picked them up at the PO and moved them into the Green Giant potato box in the basement. (Shout out to my homie Ray, who scored me these boxes from his store. Best brooders ever.)

Most chickens raised for meat are industrial hybrid crosses of proprietary inbred parent strains, mutant half-naked obese Frankenchickies that grow to slaughter size in only six weeks, and spontaneously drop dead shortly after that point, if they have managed to stay alive and up on their bloated feet that long.

They look like this:

And mostly what they do, besides grow like mung beans and look for a comfortable place to die, is eat and shit and stink.

After seeing these pathetic creatures at the county fair (4H meat pen class) for years, and reading the descriptions of what it's like to raise them from posters on the Backyard Chickens forum, I really did not want to go there. I'd be embarrassed to have anyone see them on my farm. I'd be ashamed to look at them myself.

But, you know, we don't just like chickens -- we like chicken. Tastes like chicken, it does.

At the recommendation of several posters on Backyard Chickens, we got these.

The colored range broilers, aka "freedom rangers," are also F1 hybrids, and are arguably "industrial," in that the parent strains are not generally available for producers to breed their own. But instead of being selected and "designed" to gain weight at unnatural speeds while protected from the elements and constantly fed, they are selected to grow about half as fast, to forage for themselves on pasture and display normal chicken behavior, all while keeping about the same feed-conversion ratio as the industrial birds.

They are the same varieties used to grow premium label rouge poultry in France.

I expect them to be delicious.

Back to domestication, and spotty critters. These guys come in several color morphs -- most of them will be mostly red or yellow feathered, a few will have other colors and patterns. Like many hybrids, they may not resemble either parent. I don't know. I haven't actually seen pictures of the parent strains.

I settled the McNuggets into their brooder, and several hours later my mother went down to visit them.

Overheard her alternately cooing over the box of chicks and arguing on the phone with my brother:

Oh no, these are egg-laying chickens, not eating chickens.

Uh, Mom, these are our meat birds. What would I do with 100 laying hens?

Oh no! I already started naming them! You can't eat Dale!

Here's Dale sticking out of the crowd:

Most of the chicks are a fairly uniform yellow or orange. A few have some indistinct darker markings. One has a smudgy dark face, thus named Pigpen. Only Dale has very distinct chipmunk markings. He, or she, stands out in the mass of 100. It's easy to convince oneself that Dale has more personality than the other 99 chicks, more expression, more intelligence.

He gets picked up more often than the other chicks, so unless he has a more flighty-than-average temperament, he's more likely to be friendly and tame.

If one of the plain yellow chicks actually had some unique and charming behavior, how would we know? Is it the same chick every time, or just something that the yellow chicks occasionally do?

So originally, it worked the other way 'round. The mutant yellow chick in the brood of chipmunk-striped ones that grew into a distinctive white or red hen. The puppy with some white on his chest amid the wolf-sable littermates. The calf with the star on her forehead. All got favored treatment for the mere fact that they stuck out of the crowd. Got named Spot or Goldie.

And then got to live long enough to have babies. Because you can't eat Dale.

Other predators notice difference, flash, spots too. That's probably why an owl took my "lilac" (silver-grey) guinea cock and left the natural-colored "pearl" cock. The lilac bird fairly glowed in the moonlight.

Humans started preserving the flashy animals when we domesticated them, and weren't just aiming our spears at the funny-looking one. We had to be in a position to protect them from other predators, too, a struggle that continues to be more difficult with flashy domesticants.

A species' natural coloring is natural because it works. A domesticated species' unnatural coloring also works, because the guys providing the food and protection fixate on it.

Nevertheless, we will most likely eat Dale.


  1. And I bet he tastes just like chicken!

  2. But you can't eat Dale! :D

    We are ordering ours soon. I ended up trading the Americaunas to the neighbor for his flock; I want Marans.

  3. I'm starting an online petition to save Dale!

    Question from a non-Chickener: Why can't you just get "regular" non-speed growing chickens for use as food? Is there such a thing as "regular" chickens?

  4. It will be tantamount to cannabalism to consume Dale. Although transmigration of the soul is unacceptable to me - transmigration of the body is a possibility. He might be a reincarnation of a classmate from 7th grade through high school.


  5. broilers is broilers; if the chikins is skinny, it takes more of 'em. just tell us you use proper bedding material, and not hay.


  6. *resists urge to buy*

  7. Okay, here's the deal.

    I'll put a 50# sack of broiler feed in its own bucket.

    For every hour a member of the Save Dale Coalition spends here, cleaning fence line, helping to build the duck house, working on the electrical system in the barn, planting trees, digging up the garden, stringing fence, pulling posts, painting the pole building, and whatever other projects I come up with, I'll scoop out a pound of feed for Dale.

    If the bag is empty by the end of June when the McNuggets pack off to Freezer Camp, Dale will stay behind.


  8. youza!

    the cold-hearted farmer in the dell is holding Dale hostage, folks!

    run! dale mcnugget, run!


  9. On the question of "Why not just eat regular chickens?"

    They are, of course, perfectly edible. The heavy breeds of layers, such as Orpingtons and Delawares, are pretty good-sized eating birds. People who buy straight-run chicks of such breeds raise the excess males for the freezer all the time. Many people prefer these "real chickens" and they are definitely more flavorful when slaughtered at 20 weeks or so.

    What it comes down to is three factors, though:

    Feed conversion ratio
    Time to slaughter size

    The FCR of purpose-bred broilers is nothing less than spectacular. Something like 2.5: 1, meaning that for 2.5 pounds of feed, the bird puts on 1 pound of body weight. Other chickens might be double that. So it's a lot cheaper to feed a purpose-bred broiler from egg to freezer.

    A cornish cross industrial broiler is ready for the butcher in six or eight weeks. My freedom rangers, nine to twelve weeks. A standard breed, more like 20 weeks -- and by that time, many of the birds will have developed obnoxious rooster behavior, leading to problems with noise and fighting.

    Finally, because standard breed chickens are older when slaughtered, they are not as tender, and some can be quite chewy. They won't have as much meat, either. The freedom rangers have more texture and flavor than a six-week-old Cornish hybrid, but won't be tough.

    Though we've eaten a couple of eight-month-old guineas, and they weren't tough done as coq a vin. The bones were really hard and dense, though.

    Eli, I use horse bedding (sawdust) for the chooks -- why do you ask?

  10. If Obama be sending any destroyers to pop a cap in my head -- we are well-armed. And quite far from navigable waters.

    Come on folks, who wouldn't spend a few hours pulling posts to save poor Dale?

  11. I'll trade you one Dale for an Omelet and a Gloria.

    As named by my 11 year old son.

    Recently joined by some odd Rocks

  12. Audie volunteers to help... but only if *he* gets to eat Dale.

  13. Wow! So the chickens for sale at the grocery store were only six weeks old when slaughtered? I did not know that. I love learning new things. Here's my next question: How long do they stay yellow and fuzzy and Easter-ish? I know my answer is prolly wrong cos I was gonna guess about 6 weeks, hehehe.

    Re: Dale. I don't think you understand. We don't have to work on your farm. We've got *an online petition*!

  14. HH - it was something i read somewhere else. never mind.

    i prefer to get my chicken from the store. the chooks were part of my "character building" from the time i could tie my shoes until i was a teenager on my family's small farm. chickens discharge a lot of ammonia. burns the eyes.

    yesBiscuit - from sleepy peepers to squawking, pin-feathered, bug-chasers is just a few days.


  15. Eli, no ammonia buildup in a deep litter system, as long as you don't overpopulate the coop.

    I bedded the chooks' coop (stall in the barn) in July, and the litter has NEVER been changed, just hoed and stirred. It only gets a bit smelly when they are locked in on snowy days. Not anywhere near "burn your eyes" bad.

    You are in numerous company on the childhood chicken trauma front. I think farm kids run away to Wicked New York solely because of roosters and being forced to clean the coop.

  16. Heather-you just can't beat fresh chicken or turkey. Where did you order your chicks? The freedom ranger breeder in WI closed last year due to rising costs/low sales. I would love to find some- will never raise Cornish X again...! Now we just need to get you some spotted Jacob sheep. ;)

  17. Shel --

    JM Hatchery in Pennsylvania -- link in the original post.

    I know that they aren't having any problems with low sales.

    I got a hunnerd of the little beggars because the price drops to a buck a bird at that point.

    I also got my ducks from JM, so a total of 121 birds from them -- all arrived healthy, vigorous, and with no deformities, runts or weaklings.

    I bought four cornish cross at the feed store so I can compare them. If they are too gross, I'll make 'em into "cornish game hens" in a month.

  18. you are correct, a well-maintained coop is fairly innocuous. i ran two thoughts into one sentence. the stinky job is the one with grower/layer operations.

    a salad suit and combat boots were my ticket out of town - ny didn't appeal to me, as i thoroughly enjoyed working the fields.


  19. Thanks- I'll check with them about shipping here. Watch the Cornish X - if they grow too fast, their legs/feet break down. We had some fine one day; crippled the next. Of course- they were big enough to take on the Lab...and hurt him...

  20. My mom is one of those traumatized by having to clean the coop as a child. (I am forbidden to TELL her I have chickens, as apparently the mere THOUGHT of being on the same PROPERTY with a coop is enough to give her the vapors.)

    Also, I would totally come do work, but I don't care if Dale gets ate or not as much as I want an ES fix.

    (Also, your capcha thing has the BEST faux-words. Today's is 'noomanta'.

  21. I ain't gonna work on Heather's farm no more
    No, I ain't gonna work on Heather's farm no more
    Well, I wake up in the morning
    Fold my hands and pray for Dale;
    I've signed all the petitions,
    Gone online to rant and rail
    But she still says she'll make me scrub the floor.
    No, I ain't gonna work on Heather's farm no more.

    jan (with apologies to B. Dylan)

  22. I agree with Eli that "the cold-hearted farmer in the dell is holding Dale hostage", but who cares?

    We know her weak spot, her Achilles heel, ie, her love for English Shepherds. (evil grin)

    I propose that H. post just how much a 50# sack of broiler feed costs. If NESR receives checks marked "Save Dale and the MT Rescue Effort" that equal double the cost of the broiler feed, Dale is not eaten. And gets regular photo ops on the blog.


  23. Hmmm ....

    Sorry Dorene, broiler feed is cheep. Cheap. I'm getting a half ton in a couple weeks, at about $210 for the whole order. So about $10.50 a sack.

    For twenty bux, I get a fourteen-year-old boy for four or five hours, cleaning fenceline. Sure I have to ride him like a rented mule, but can't complain about cheap help.

    Now, if NESR received SAVE DALE checks for the amount of the whole order of feed ...

    Dale could not only stay, but I'll put his/her current picture at the top of my blog.

  24. Oh, I can complain about cheap help -- having just spent 3 hours with 7 adjudicated youth, one of whom showed up in rhinstone dangly earrings, 4 charm braclets, a skirt and flip-flops, then proceeded to step into the stinging nettle patch (nitrogen source for us produce growers who don't have livestock). Fun, fun, fun and the hormones were flying, but in spite of it all, we accomplished what I wanted for the day.

    We're quibling about a creature that costs $10.50 a year to feed? Have you thought about a chicken tractor in your winter squash bed -- it beats amusing yourself by throwing the squash bugs into the garden spider's webs and will probably lower the broiler food costs, plus the PA Dutch always considered pumpkins winter fodder for livestock, rather than people (a rare instance where I break with my people -- I LOVE pumpkin pie).

    However, I have significant "can't foster because my dog doesn't want to share the family" guilt, so I'll bite for my share of the $210 to NESR to save Dale.

    Anyone else?


  25. Thank you for coming over to visit my journal :D I am SO enjoying your journal and laughing in some cases as well. I'm going to keep an eye out and see how you guys like the taste of these. At what age are you going to send them off? We were thinking 10 weeks but hey...its our first time so any opinion is welcome :D
    I am in love with out super light chipmunk chicken and the two dark brown ones ;/ OH NO! I'm already feeling the pain of bringing these sweet chickens in to the processor :o


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