Steve and I were now in a pickle.  We wanted all the meat we eat to be prepared like this.  But how likely can it be for us to grow, kill and prep all our meat?  We live in a suburb.  We’re very busy.  We’re on a shoestring budget.  We’re not farmers.  Growing chickens is by no means the same cost as simply buying one on special at the local grocery store.  And what about beef?  Are we going to grow a cow in the back garden?  How is that going to fit in the fridge?

It’s with a guilty conscience that we continue to buy our meat on special at the grocery store.  We try and read the labels, choose free-range RSPCA qualified products, but you can’t trust those.  They use all the attractive words but they’re all deceptive juuuust up to the point where it can then be considered illegal.

To make amends for our blatant hypocrisy, we’ve teamed up with Nikki to form a mini baby co-op of layer hens.  We stopped off at a local mom ‘n pop farm selling fresh eggs.  We were looking for little poults (baby layers) but all they had available were 18-week old hens they were willing to get rid of because they were beginning to moult (a process where they lose their feathers and stop laying for a bit.  And when they start laying again they only produce at about 60% of their previous 90% productivity).  Normally, these girls would be turned into dog food.  We were delighted to take them.  We were even happier with the price of $6 per hen.

But then we went to collect the hens and we got a glimpse of this sweet mom ‘n pop operation.  Just like corporate productions, these hens were in a dark room crowded in battery cages.  Nikki was shocked at how floppy and pale their combs were.  I was crestfallen now knowing that you can’t trust where your food comes from unless you do it yourself.

We brought the girls home and named them Princesses Layer, Von Possum, Sophia, and Buttercup (guess which one I named?).  We put them in their coop, palatial compared to their previous accommodations.  They wouldn’t move.  At first, we assumed they were shocked with the change in environment.  But when one got up to move, we saw that she was wobbly.  Of course she was.  She had not yet developed the muscles for walking freely as her battery cage left no room for anything more than turning around.

Nikki excitedly texted me the next day to say the ladies were poking their heads out of the coop and becoming inquisitive about their new surroundings.  She even found an egg of appreciation!  She left for school and came home to a few more eggs and the girls were out of the coop moving around and exploring.

The Princesses

Then Hef, Nikki’s most gorgeous and arrogant rooster, came to visit the coop.  He tried to seduce them with his rooster robot dance and made the mistake of trying to mate with one of the girls.  The princesses promptly kicked his ass and sent him running to the neighbor’s chicken coop for sanctuary.

And then the coolest thing happened.  Oh how I wish I was there to get video of it happening.  The two resident silly turkeys dug little depressions in the dirt and began giving themselves dust baths.  The ladies watched from afar, curious but unsure.  As the turkeys decided they were done bathing and now up for their regularly scheduled wreaking havoc in the veggie patch, the ladies came to explore the dust bowls the turkeys had left.  At first, one of the girls got in the bowl and started to hesitantly scratch…..and then wiggle…..and then started kicking up dirt.  Another girl got in the adjacent bowl and started doing the same thing.  After a bit, the girls were deeply engrossed in their first ever decadent, carefree dust bath.

Causing mischief in the veggie patch

They are now part of Nikki’s mini chicken ranch complete with layers, growing broilers, turkeys and a trouble maker rooster.  A cat, dog, and pet rat round out the menagerie of animals that help Nikki keep her calm when the turkeys decide that perching on her drying laundry (and pooping on them) will be the entertainment for the day.

Steve, meet Leonard. Leonard, meet Steve.

I see broiler butt

They're behind me, aren't they?

Sash watches the turkeys in tired disapproval

I chip in for the chicken feed and in exchange I get all the fresh eggs I can eat.  Although it is far more expensive and nowhere near as convenient as buying them at the store, I prefer it.  It’s a small step, but at least we took it.

And guess what?  Another student has now built her own chicken coop and purchased four battery layer hens.  And a duck.