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Ok, let's get two things clear right from the start:
- I do not consider myself to be an environmentalist. To me, an environmentalist is someone who puts their idea of the needs of the earth, above the needs of man - without regard to the consequence or suffering that their ideas may cause to people (I am sure that people WILL disagree with me, but this has been my experience). I am more of a realist than that, and I believe that the earth is NOT overpopulated, simply badly managed.
- I eat animals that I raise. My husband butchers chickens, ducks, rabbits, and other home-raised animals. We eat the eggs our chickens produce. My husband hunts, and we are the frequent GRATEFUL recipients of wild game from others around us who also hunt. I believe these are all sound and GOOD practices, well within keeping with loving Christian doctrines, and with good stewardship.
Just so we know that before we get into the rest of this - I'm trying to share a series of philosophies that have made this whole farming journey more rewarding and which give it greater potential for good in the world.
I believe that we should practice the most natural care of farm animals and land use that we can. But I also realize that circumstances often dictate a less than ideal situation, and I think that is ok too. We do the best with what we have. True stewardship means we have an ideal, which we strive for, but we realistically accept compromise when it is necessary, in order to achieve survival goals.
Currently, we raise chickens, in cages, in our garage.
Do I want to raise chickens in cages? No. I think that it is basically an insult to the natural order of things to cage animals that were designed to be raised outdoors in fields. But...
I require eggs to survive. I require a specific type of eggs. In order to perpetuate the production of those eggs, I have to raise chickens. I need to be able to breed those chickens, and control the breeding of them, so that we keep good egg layers, and so we don't have a bunch of cross breed chickens. I also need to be able to keep those chickens from flying off into the neighbor's yards where we cannot ever catch and bring them back. Our town ordinances do NOT allow us to raise chickens in our back yard, we MUST raise them in our garage (we require roosters, because we require fertilized eggs).
So circumstantially, the only option I have is to cage the chickens. If we had more space, I'd give them flight pens, with forage runs, as the best compromise between breeding control and natural conditions. We don't have that space, so we must compromise and work toward that goal as we are able.
We give them roomy cages, and we feed them the most natural diet we can. We let the hens brood chicks (by rotating brooding cages). We encourage our animals to be productive, but do not overuse them. We want our chickens to behave like chickens, not like assembly line robots.
Since we could not bring the chickens to the outdoors, we bring the outdoors to them. We started by giving them sandy dirt to get grit from, and by picking weeds for them to snack on. We are experimenting with feeding them from growing trays of alfalfa, clover, and wheatgrass sprouts, with scratch grain and sand sprinkled in. We are also experimenting with using dandelion, and other high-calcium dried greens instead of oyster shell - after all, when, in the wild, do birds require oyster shell? Our goal is to provide a tray in each cage, which has all of the feed that the chickens need, in a combination of greens, grains, and soil, and in a way that lets them do what chickens naturally do - peck and scratch. Natural foods, provided in the most natural form. Less expensive for us, better for them, and lets them indulge their natural behavioral tendencies in constructive ways.
Our long term goal is to experiment with ways to bring natural diets into less than ideal situations - to help people who are farming in compromised situations to be able to enhance the quality of life for their animals, and thereby enhance the quality of the yield of the animals.
Because at the heart of it, we get more when we give better.
There is, at the center, a religious concept. That of letting the animals "fulfill the measure of their creation". That means raising turkeys that have not been so overbred that they can no longer breed naturally. That means raising animals that can perpetuate themselves, as well as provide useful eggs, meat, or other products. Utility of the animal is inextricably entwined with the concept of "fulfilling the measure of their creation". When they produce fur or fiber, meat, eggs, or service (guarding or herding, weeding, etc), then they provide value that enhances the survival of other creatures. Their life has value in a very real and measurable way (beyond the value of life for life's sake).
Our farm animals are utility animals. There is not enough room for us to keep 100 pets. We keep farm animals to provide eggs, meat, fiber, or service (breeding, guarding, weed or bug control, etc). Animals that do not produce, are butchered - so that if they do not "fulfill the measure of their creation" in one way, they are put to use in a way that achieves that purpose anyway. This is not cruel, nor is it ungrateful. It is the natural way of things, and the only sustainable way to operate a farm.
I want my animals to produce. But I also want them to have a rich life while they do so. I think it makes us MORE when we do that, and it GIVES us more as well.