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Never Too Late to Start...An Experiment in Self-sufficiency

For some time now I have wanted to write about some of the things I do here on my farm. I'm a nurse at a local dialysis center 3 days a week. On the other days, I live on an 80-acre, mostly-dairy farm in Cincinnati, Arkansas. This farm has been in my family for a hundred years. My dad milked cows on this farm and raised us all in this house. Three years ago I began to build a garden, and it has all grown and changed in ways I never expected. Every year I say that this is it! more expanding!....famous last words...

Two years ago, after much reading and studying, I acquired a ragtag group of miss-matched hens and a couple of roosters. Everybody gets along for the most part; they make wonderful eggs, and my hens have hatched out three broods of babies in 3 years time. I've lost many, but they kind of replace themselves. It's been a lot of fun, and I can't see ever not having chickens. They are so easy and cheap to keep. Again I thought and read and studied for a whole year about how to grow chickens for meat. I butchered three roosters in February that were 6 months old and beginning to cause some trouble within the flock. They seemed big enough to me, but after I plucked them there wasn't as much to them as I thought. Lots of drumsticks and thighs and itty bitty white meat, but all in all, tasty bird.

So I've decided I really need to grow a meatier variety, and since it's going to be a first time for me, this will be an experiment of sorts. I'm going to go with the Cornish cross which will grow out to five to seven pounds within 8 weeks. The plan is to keep them in a wire pen for 2 weeks until they have all their feathers. No brooder. They will be able to cluster together and stay warm, and since it's July, I doubt that'll be a problem. I plan to post pictures of that when it happens.

When they have all their feathers, I'm going let them run amok inside the larger pen my other birds simply did not use. The sides are predator proof, and they cannot get out, plus the top is covered with netting similar to that seen on soccer goals. It is fairly occlusive so they should be safe in there. In the beginning, young meat chickens appear to be just like any other chicken with the ability to fly and climb and roost. But it doesn't take long before they get too heavy to walk, let alone roost. If you've ever looked inside a commercial chicken house, there are no roosts. The chickens live, eat, sleep and poop on the floor until they are harvested. Sounds lovely, doesn't it? So I'm using sheets of plywood on top of cement blocks, giving them a place to retreat from the sun or anything that may scare them, as well as sleep. Remember, they won't be here for more than 2 months so this is plenty for their needs. They will eat grass and bugs along with their grower feed, making them all the more healthy and tasty.

So that's where we're going to start! But it's not just growing and harvesting meat.  I also start most of my garden plants and flowers from seed during the winter, and I want to share that whole process as well. So buckle up and hang on tight because there's a lot more coming in the future. Enjoy!

Jill Barlow


Future articles will include information about gardening, meat birds, egg birds, photos and lots of project ideas.

For further information, to ask a questions or to suggest a program topic, contact Jill Barlow at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..