First Chickens

Well, spring is coming, or so I hear. It’s pretty cold still here in North Yorkshire, and my bulbs have yet to start growing! I’m assured they will, but I’m pretty ready to give up on them. Defeatist, I know, but I don’t know how well these things do with late plantings, harsh frosts, and clay soil.

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However, every time I think we’ve gotten past the snow and the ice, another bitter week comes along and freezes everything again. It’s really making it difficult to plan when to plant what! And let’s face it, I’m pretty nervous about planting anything as I’m still a rookie at it.

The good news is that we have our first chicken!

We went to the Clitheroe Fur N Feather Auction that happens weekly for Valentine’s Day. It was an interesting experience, one I’m not sure how I feel about just yet.

From a financial perspective, it was fantastic.

We managed to get 18 hatching eggs for about £7 (12 silkies, and 6 barred wyandottes), and an all black new member of the family, an all-black ayam cemani hen–for £3.

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I’m torn between the name Joan (like Joan Jett) and Ester, though Guy refuses to acknowledge a name for poultry.

To put this into perspective, a quick Ebay search shows half a dozen hatching silkie eggs at £8-10, plus another £5+ for shipping, and £12 for 6 wyandotte hatching eggs, so £8 for 18 eggs is a bargain. Furthermore, an ayam cemani hen in the UK will sell for about £30-40, and hundreds to thousands in the US and Australia. So again, a pound for our little Joan-Ester is a steal. We just need to find a cockerel to go along with her.

From an ethical perspective it was horrible.

This particular auction boasts at being the largest in North England. I had never been to an auction of any kind before, so whereas I know the basic gist of how things go, I mostly didn’t really know what to expect.

We wanted to get there probably earlier than we did, but because of how cold it was, I was glad we didn’t spend more time there. By the end of it, my feet were numb. That’s just down to me wearing the wrong shoes with little to keep the cold of the pavement from seeping in through the rubber bottoms of my shoes. I’m sure the animals were just fine.

We walked around the parameter of the..warehouse? barn? I’m not really sure what you’d classify it as, but building, nonetheless. The walls were lined with cages, and the inside had rows of pens where people had sets of general household things to auction. In the cages on two of the walls were chickens, a few quail, and ducks, while the third wall had pigeons and a few rabbits. Another part had a (slightly) heated area which had general pets like guinea pigs, budgies, mice, a couple of chinchillas, spiders, snakes, and so on. We had a look around at these guys, but mostly with the idea of finding ferrets for Guy (though if I’d have seen a cat there, I would have made sure it came home with us. Shhh, don’t tell Guy!).

Our focus was mostly on the chickens. The cages were maybe a little more than a foot cubed, all stacked on on top of the other, I think about four tall. Most of the cages just had one or two birds in it, but some had four, and they just essentially sat on top of one another. It was horrible to see. As the auctioner-guy went down the line, another man followed him with a stick, pointing to the birds, and if they didn’t move, he would jab at them with it.

There were a group of people who were just bidding on birds to eat, and bought the majority of the birds. There were chickens there that were just beautiful, and were purebred, and worth a bit of money. As Guy pointed out, they were cared for and raised with time and energy so that they would be the best they could be. And this group of people were just bidding on them because they planned on taking them home and slaughtering them so that they were hallal (PLEASE NOTE: I don’t know if I’m using the term correctly, and I don’t pretend to know any extent of what it means, how it’s done, other than what I’ve been told and what the linked article says. I’m not criticising or condoning, I’m just informing that this is how I know the animals were to be slaughtered), as was often repeated by the individuals in the group.

So we went from section to section, watching these stressed animals (or so they seemed to me, Guy thinks otherwise from his more plentiful experiences) awaiting their fate, not knowing who it was they were going to and what kind of life, if there was any life at all, would be had when they left those cages. This was difficult for me.

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A side note about me: I was a vegetarian for nine years. I was vegetarian for environmental and ethical reasons. When I decided to start eating meat again, it was with the idea that I would eat local, well-and-happy-raised animals that had lived good lives, or animals that Guy had hunted, ones that had lived good lives in the wild. I could bring into my philosophical thoughts on all this, but I’ll leave that to my other blog. I have a really hard time knowing an animal has suffered, and seeing animals who are uncomfortable waiting for their fate to be decided right in front of them (obviously, they don’t understand what’s going on) seems cruel to me.

After the auction, when the bidders were collecting their birds, I watched ducks crammed into a case, so small some were on their backs with others on top of them, smashed down. Guy said that it’s good to keep them packed when moving them because it prevents injury, but even that was too packed. I heard the stressed shrieks of geese and roosters. It was intense. I really struggled with it. I just wanted to get our chicken and our eggs and get out of there.

When we did get our chicken in the box, I just wanted to hug her and tell her she was the lucky one, she was going somewhere she would have free, pasture range, and that we would look after her and provide a nice chicken life for her.

We got home, put Joan-Ester in with the other chickens on the farm (not our chickens, but some company for her in the meantime until we can get more and we can get a proper coop up for her), fed her and got her some water. We made our way back to the caravan, and as Guy followed me in, and I peeled off my jacket, my elbow went straight into the stack of egg cartons Guy was carrying, and the top one flew off and against the wall. I looked on in horror. I just smashed our babies. It was the barred wyandottes as well, the ones we only had six of.

Only three of them properly smashed. Guy says there’s a small possibility the other three might survive (I’m not holding my breath, but I am crossing my fingers).

We now have them all in the incubator. Guy isn’t certain that all our silkie eggs are actually silkie eggs, or if they are, that they aren’t pure breeds. But now we have 21 days to wait and see what eggs hatch, and meet our new chicken family.


We will be going back to that auction another time, to try our luck again, despite how I feel about them. We aren’t in a financial position to be picky about how we get our start-up. We have been really lucky with the farm, and everything the farmer and his family are supplying us with. However, I’ll keep looking for alternatives to auctions, or at least, see if there’s anything that will ease my conscience a bit more about participating. So far, the only thing I can think of is that those who we bring home will have a better chance at a good life, and that might be enough.

Who knows, my opinion might change along the way.

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3 thoughts on “First Chickens

  1. Pingback: Ethics of Animal Auctions | Scribing English All Over The Place

  2. Pingback: 10 Things I’ve Learned About Incubating Chicken Eggs | Hodgepodge & Food Gathering

  3. Pingback: Update: Snow and Writing | Scribing English All Over The Place

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