I posted a few videos on chickens recently and discussed how nature LOVES to eat chicken and why free-ranging chickens does not work for us.
In response to one of them, commenter Florida Bullfrog wrote:
“No no no David. I’m going to issue you a challenge. I assert my chicken videos prove you wrong. If you’ve lost all or most of your chickens free ranging in a high predator environment, you’re raising defective chickens. There are plenty of predator resistant chicken breeds. Its just that the internet permi/homesteading culture is ignorant of them. You’re a victim of a limited knowledge base because many of the Youtube chicken people aren’t coming from a deep south, poor, backwoods culture that raised free range chickens for generations and lived off of them when it mattered. Don’t look to a hipster to teach you chickens. Look to some old man who comes from a backwoods farm. You already have this mentality with your gardening. Why not your livestock?”
Well now. When you get a comment like that, what are you supposed to do?
I took it as an interesting challenge, and asked him to share resources with me. He replied:
“If you want something to read, you’ll have to gleam snippets from old books that reference wild game chickens on southern farms, as I am not aware of any modern chicken books not related to cockfighting that reference the free range keeping of game or certain heritage breeds (as I said the knowledge is lost on the current generation of chicken celebrities). For example, the Florida author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings referenced her flock of wild Florida game chickens very briefly. She shot them for the table just as one might shoot a wild turkey, just as my grandmother hunted our wild game chickens around the farm to feed her family. I won’t post a link lest the link be flagged, but google Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ chickens and the reference will come up. What I know about how chickens were kept this way doesn’t come from anything I read, but from what I saw, having been raised by my grandparents and also being around others who all took for granted that it was normal to raise game chickens free range in the woods with no major human intervention. When I moved to my current woods farm in north Florida I knew I would need game chickens like I grew up with to survive here. It was only then that as I started looking for a flock that I realized the knowledge that bankavoid game chickens live feral on their own hasn’t translated to the current generation of chicken gurus. That, or there’s fear of the stigma associated with raising game breeds and cockfighting. It took me a year and a half of searching to find a flock that was mostly like what I grew up with. 100 years ago most rural Southern farms kept game chickens as their primary producing chickens. There is a free book on Google Books from the late 1800s that offers a history and care of the Old English gamefowl, the progenitor the American gamefowl, and throughout it takes for granted the ease by which they survive free range.”
Here is one of Florida Bullfrog’s intriguing videos:
He emailed me a lot more information as well:
Extreme Free-Range Chicken Resources
Florida Bullfrog continues with more resources on extreme free-ranging:
The Old English Game Fowl: Its History, Description, Management, Breeding, and Feeding
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Cross Creek Cookery
Other Feral Chicken Links
Meanwhile, I am still raising meat and egg chickens the hard way:
Free-Range Chickens in Alabama Story #1: Greg’s Fighting Chickens
That said, I have a couple of interesting stories of free-range or even feral populations of birds here in Lower Alabama. My friend Greg has a small flock of chickens that he started from a feral population nearby. He told me they were “fighting chickens,” and that there was a man raising cocks for cockfighting who got in trouble and his wife let all his birds go. Now they wander the woods and take care of themselves. When Greg decided to put a little flock of birds in his backyard, his brother helped him by capturing some of these fighting chickens, both hens and a rooster. Once they laid enough eggs in his backyard pen, Greg incubated a bunch of the eggs and hatched out a mess of them. He says they lay “two eggs a day,” and aren’t mean.
Free-Range Chickens in Alabama Story #2:
On Halloween a man and his wife with a couple of young children came trick-or-treating at my front door. Since we are quite rural and didn’t get any visitors last Halloween, we were unprepared for trick-or-treaters.
“I don’t have any candy,” I said, “but I do have a mulberry tree I can give you.”
With that, I sent my daughter out back to get a mulberry. The children seemed a bit confused about it, but the parents just laughed and said they’d be happy to grow a mulberry. I asked if they wanted some farm eggs, too.
I knew I was running a risk here, since I (a), did not give these poor people any candy, and (b), was now offering to give them ammo.
The dad said, “Aww no, we got plenty of farm eggs.”
“What birds are you raising?” I asked.
“My dad has a mixed flock.”
“Do you keep them in a barn?” I asked.
“Naw, they just wander,” he said.
Having just been talking with Florida Bullfrog, I was now intrigued. We’ve lost LOTS of chickens to predators over the years, yet here was a guy with chickens that were living in the wild and apparently producing eggs as well.
“Can I come see them?” I asked, sharing further that I’d been in a conversation with a man who was talking about JUST what his dad was doing.
“Sure,” he said, and gave me his number.
This Saturday, I had some time, so I called him, then headed our to see the chickens. They lived maybe 15 minutes away from us at the end of a rural road. A red dirt driveway rolled up beside a country house with fences and outbuildings and little children playing. A fence beside the driveway held back an assortment of mixed beef cattle who were grazing contentedly on thick green pasture.
I was waved down by the man I’d met on Halloween. He stood with two other men in front of an open garage. All three had cans of beer in their hands.
“Park anywhere,” he said, so I did, pulling up onto the grass. I was met by a pit bull puppy and a grizzled bulldog along with a baby girl with golden curls. The man I’d met on Halloween shook my hand and introduced me to his dad…
…and I’ll share the rest of the story in part two!