Learning About Native Chickens 2011-2015

We started raising native chickens by some sort of ‘accident.’ A hen had gone into our garden and found a pile of nipa under the house and decided to lay her eggs there. The hen was one of about a dozen other hens roaming free-range with a big red rooster. This was sometime early 2011.

A hen found this bed of nip a under the house and laid her eggs there.
A hen found this bed of nip a under the house and laid her eggs there.

 

The hen laid ten eggs and nine of them hatched.
The hen laid ten eggs and nine of them hatched.

 

The father was this rooster which free range around the area. In 2013, the rooster died along with many other chickens after a Newcastle Disease infestation.
The father was this rooster which free range around the area. In 2013, the rooster died along with many other chickens after a Newcastle Disease infestation.

 

When the eggs hatched we decided to collect the chicks and raise them ourselves. We placed the chicks, nine of them, in a box with a light bulb to keep them warm. We put in chick booster food and water. We kept this box inside the house.

 

We placed the chicks in a box with food and water and kept this inside the house. This was a mistake because later when the chicks grew up, they all insisted on going inside the house...
We placed the chicks in a box with food and water and kept this inside the house. This was a mistake because later when the chicks grew up, they all insisted on going inside the house…

 

We had this chicken coop built for the nine chicks.
We had this chicken coop built for the nine chicks.

 

We placed the chicks inside the coop with food, water and a light bulb to keep warm.
We placed the chicks inside the coop with food, water and a light bulb to keep warm.

 

Soon enough the chicks grew bigger and we decided to build a coop for them outside. We placed this coop near the back of the house. We put a light in this coop as well.

After several weeks, the chicks were big enough to go out and forage for food. We fed them commercial chicken pellets in the early morning and they went out for the day, coming back for a drink, the going off again. In the late afternoon, they came back for their meal and then went back into the coop for the night.

When the chicks got older we let them out of the coop to forage for food then come back at night.
When the chicks got older we let them out of the coop to forage for food then come back at night.

 

Because the chicks were raised by humans, they became very attached to us. Here's Penny with the chicks.
Because the chicks were raised by humans, they became very attached to us. Here’s Penny with the chicks.

 

Later, the coop became too small for them. By this time, it was possible to identify the sex of the chickens – we had five roosters and four hens. The chickens began bullying one hen and the roosters began fighting each other. The chickens also decided to roost on our balcony. This became a problem because the balcony was getting dirty with chicken shit.

We had to push the chickens away from the balcony every time they tried roosting there at night. They found some trees in the garden which became suitable roosting places. We were relieved.

We spoiled the chicks and let them stay up on the balcony. Later, that became a problem.
We spoiled the chicks and let them stay up on the balcony. Later, that became a problem.

 

Another problem of having raised the chicks indoors was that the hens insisted on coming into the house to lay their eggs. We tolerated this at first, putting nesting boxes on the balcony and on the bookshelf in my studio. Soon, we had plenty of chicks. We also began to become infested with chicken mites. We have also lost four of the five roosters. It is typical here that roosters get stolen once they mature, often to be used as fighting cocks if not cooked in a stew.

Because of the numerous problems of mites, chickens insisting on laying eggs in the house and roosters disappearing, we decided to build a chicken run/house. This was an area in the garden that had a high bamboo fence, a coop inside, and a roofed section for hens to lay their eggs.

 

We tie up the roosters when they reach maturity. This is to keep them from being stolen and stop them from killing each other.
We tie up the roosters when they reach maturity. This is to keep them from being stolen and stop them from killing each other. We bought this rooster as a chick from Lort who breeds fighting cocks. Then later, we gave this rooster away to Penny’s in-laws living in Surigao del Sur. This rooster became the Manok Pacquio of the place, winning cock fighting derbies.

 

We tie up the roosters when they reach maturity. This is to keep them from being stolen and stop them from killing each other.
This rooster also came from Lort, and we still keep this rooster, now five years old, a very good rooster that our hens love.

 

We tie up the roosters when they reach maturity. This is to keep them from being stolen and stop them from killing each other.
This sad looking rooster soon became very fierce and escaped a couple of times and killed and wounded a number of roosters.

 

We asked Bebe to build this chicken house/run in the garden.
In 2011, we asked Bebe to build this chicken house/run in the garden, something that we would stop using in 2014 and demolish in 2015.

 

We asked Bebe to build this chicken house/run in the garden.
The chicken house/run project in progress – Bebe and Alex worked on this construction. We spent some 8,000 pesos on materials and extra on labour.

 

The finished chicken house/run. Chicken house has nipa roof and the chicken run has tall bamboo fences.
The finished chicken house/run. Chicken house has nipa roof and the chicken run has tall bamboo fences. The nipa roof on the leftmost is the landahan (copra-smoking house) and the little roof on the right is the old pig pen.

 

A chicken coop inside the chicken run. This place quickly became a problem.
A chicken coop inside the chicken run. This place quickly became a problem, requiring lots of maintenance. Native chickens refuse to be kept under these conditions, they are fowls that must be allowed to free range.

 

We built these shelves inside the chicken house for the hens' nesting baskets, but they refused to use these. The dark environment was also very unhealthy and created a mites infestation.
We built these shelves inside the chicken house for the hens’ nesting baskets, but they refused to use these. The dark environment was also very unhealthy and created a mites infestation.

 

Our first batch of chickens matured and had chicks of their own. Many chicks died because of poor conditions in the chicken house/run and later, when they were allowed to free-range, because of the Newcastle Disease.
Our first batch of chickens matured and had chicks of their own. Many chicks died because of poor conditions in the chicken house/run and later, when they were allowed to free-range, because of the Newcastle Disease. This photo was taken in 2011.

 

Hen and chicks eating grated coconuts. We tried supplementing chicken feed with food found in the garden. I am currently trying to get back into fermenting food for the chickens, ducks and pig.
Here is a hen and her chicks eating grated coconuts, taken in 2011. We tried supplementing chicken feed with food found in the garden. I am currently trying to get back into fermenting food for the chickens, ducks and pig.

 

Later, we also built another chicken coop for a new clutch of chicks that had been abandoned by their mother. We placed this coop in the garden. What was to result in these attempts to coop up the chickens was a disaster.

Mites infested the chicken house and coops. A deadly disease (Newcastle Disease) infested the young chickens and killed over 80% of the population. The chickens did not get enough sunlight and not enough nutrition from foraging so they became weak and ill. The hens became infertile and didn’t lay any eggs. The chicks became aggressive and pecked and killed each other. Sometimes, a stray cat went into the chicken house and attacked the chicks. The chickens refused to stay in the chicken house/run and never stopped trying to get out. We put a net over the chicken run which made the area even darker. Without sunlight, disease and mites infested the area. What we did was just wrong.

Not having learned our lessons, we built another chicken coop for a clutch of chicks we took away from their mother. we decided to do this because of the high mortality rate.
Not having learned our lessons, we built another chicken coop for a clutch of chicks we took away from their mother. we decided to do this because of the high mortality rate.

 

Although we talked to people here who we thought would know more about native chickens, it seemed that there hadn’t been sufficient experience with the management of free range native chickens. There was the tendency to think in terms of only either total free range in a 5-hectare farm or the battery chicken system in industrial farming. Trevor also originally wanted a chicken house without walls, but just a roof and roosting places. It was therefore largely my fault for not overseeing the design and construction of the project.

What we are learning now is finding the middle-ground between those two extremes. Most crucial here was culling, which we learned through our own mistakes, in ensuring a healthy chicken population. Of course, we also had to identify the optimum chicken population given our small space.

We let the hens lay their eggs inside the house, resulting in mites problem at home and hens insisting to go in the house.
We let the hens lay their eggs inside the house, resulting in mites problem at home and hens insisting to go in the house. Here is one of the hens in a box on top of the bookshelf.

 

We let the hens lay their eggs inside the house, resulting in mites problem at home and hens insisting to go in the house.
We let the hens lay their eggs inside the house, resulting in mites problem at home and hens insisting to go in the house. Here is a hen inside a box under the table on the balcony.

 

There was a time when we had over 50 chickens in that chicken house/run. Now, keeping the chickens free range, we have three roosters (tied up to keep them from getting stolen and from killing each other), three egg-laying hens, four pullets and some fifteen chicks from the three hens. It was a mistake letting three hens have chicks all a the same time. The hens fight and this can result to death of chicks due to crushing. The ideal – given our limited space – is (1) keep two older rooster and one new rooster to replace the older ones later; (2) keep three to four hens; (3) have one clutch of chicks only one at a time; and (4) collect the eggs and cull the chicks before they full mature.

Hen with chicks - we currently have three hens with chicks, another error because hens fight each other and chicks die. Hens should be allowed to brood only one at a time.
Hen with chicks – we currently have three hens with chicks, another error because hens fight each other and chicks die. Hens should be allowed to brood only one at a time. This photo was taken in February 2015.

 

We not cull the chickens more often, native chicken being a most sought-after delicacy, particularly when cooked in coconut cream called "Halang-Halang."
We not cull the chickens more often, native chicken being a most sought-after delicacy, particularly when cooked in coconut cream called “Halang-Halang.

 

This is native chicken cooked in coconut cream and vegetables, with chili. My favourite.
This is native chicken cooked in coconut cream and vegetables, with chili. My favourite.

 

Native chicken in coconut cream served with boiled ubi (purple yam).
Native chicken in coconut cream served with boiled ubi (purple yam). The dark brown piece on top of the chicken stew is blood, also a favourite of mine …

 

Also, important lessons were: (1) let the hens rear the chicks, don’t put up incubators; (2) supplement commercial feeds with food from the garden such as coconuts, bananas, jackfruit, etc. (3) supplement their food with fermented leaves of weeds, tricanthera (Madre de Agua), cassava, sweet potato, etc.

The chickens now interact with ducks which we introduced last year. We also don’t have the problem of chickens going into the house because we no longer rear them inside the house. The mites problem also seem to have disappeared even if some of the chickens stay under the house during the day. I suspected that this might be because of the ducks that also stay under the house. The ducks like water and the (mildly) wet environment discourage the spread of mites.

In some places where we put nesting baskets, particularly under the nipa roof of the old pig pen, there is the problem of mites. We are building a new pig pen with a nipa roof and will no longer put the nestnig baskets there. It seems much better if the hens layed their eggs under the house on sandy soil, protected by pieces of wood along the sides. We’ve had one hen lay eggs this way and she never had the mites. There is a also a type of weed, the holy basil, that can be placed in the nests to repel mites.

The chicken house/run before we had it demolished.
The chicken house/run before we had it demolished.

 

The chicken house/run now demolished. The small duck pond is now visible from the house and the old pig pen will be extended near this area.
The chicken house/run now demolished. The small duck pond is now visible from the house and the old pig pen will be extended near this area. The nipa roof at the leftmost is the landahan (copra smoking house).

 

At the moment our chicks seem to be doing quite well, perhaps the Newcastle Disease has already passed or our chicks have developed immunity. We have asked about vaccination but decided against it for fear of spreading the infection. We suspect that the disease is spread by use of antibiotics and careless disposal of unused vaccines by fighting cock breeders in the area.
At the moment our chicks seem to be doing quite well, perhaps the Newcastle Disease has already passed or our chicks have developed immunity. We have asked about vaccination but decided against it for fear of spreading the infection. We suspect that the disease is spread by use of antibiotics and careless disposal of unused vaccines by fighting cock breeders in the area.

 

I have asked Bebe to demolish the chicken house/run so that there can be some space to extend the pig pen. At the moment the pig stays under the house at night and then goes out into the garden next during the day. The pig’s movement is restrained to keep her from destroying the garden. I am hoping that she can have more freedom of movement in the new pig pen.

Anyway, these are many lessons learned in raising native chickens. And there are always new things to learn each day when I interact with the animals. I’m keeping note of such lessons here, most of them lessons on enabling a hassle-free way of keeping animals for food.

Our First Fiesta Celebration and House-Warming

Our very first fiesta at home was in December 2010 which also marked the completion of the construction of our home in Baclayon. The village electrician Frankie had just finished wiring the whole house so he got treated to pork soup and entrails that Bebe, the butcher, prepared.

Lots of people came to our home on the day of the town fiesta, December 8. Penny worked very hard preparing all the food, something which I would learn to do later on.

 

Fiesta celebration and house-warming with friends and neighbours in our village of San Roque.
Fiesta celebration and house-warming with friends and neighbours in our village of San Roque.

 

Over the past two years, we haven’t been hosting fiesta at home anymore. Instead we get invited to our friends’ homes and there celebrate fiesta with them. There’s the village fiesta of San Roque in August 15-16 and there’s the town fiesta of the Immaculate Conception in December 8. Instead of hosting fiesta, we decided to celebrate Trevor’s birthday every year in May and invite friends and neighbours, a celebration that is just as good as a fiesta.

But that fiesta, December 8, 2010, was truly special because it was also our house-warming party. There was lots of food, and Bebe and his friends came singing and dancing with Trevor. I am not used to hosting such large celebrations, my own family being more frugal and simple. However, I can appreciate the social and spiritual significance of such events here.

 

Bebe and Simeon dancing! These guys built our house!
Bebe and Simeon dancing! These guys built our house! Below is a video of Bebe and Trevor dancing while Bebe’s friend played the guitar. It’s an amazing indigenous dance … never performed or seen before … ;)

 

 

Typical fiesta fares are pork-based dishes. For some time when we hosted fiesta, I’ve been trying to introduce new dishes into the yearly celebrations. It could be quite exciting this year for Trevor’s birthday because we have ducks. It is always a fun challenge. I’ve also decided to use paper plates and plastic spoons and cups, so as to spare Penny and myself the arduous task of washing up after the celebrations.

Admittedly, we’re not ‘professionals’ when it comes to fiesta celebrations. Some folks here would begin celebrating the feast some 2 days before the actual day. There is loud music, lots of people coming to eat and drink all day and up until the evening. For me, that is utterly daunting. I think I’ll stick to something more simple!

 

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A Pig for Town Fiesta December 8, 2010

To celebrate Baclayon Town Fiesta last December 8, 2010, our first fiesta at home, Trevor gave Penny some money to buy a piglet and take care of it until it became big and fat. During that time, it would cost some 1,500 to 2,000 pesos to buy a piglet at the Public Market. There, every Market Day (Wednesday), pigs and goats are brought in from various places in Bohol. The piglets are placed inside sacks, so when one buys a piglet, one doesn’t really get the see the whole piglet. It’s quite a lottery. Thus the English colloquialism, “never buy a pig in a poke.”

So, when one buys a piglet in a sack, one should take the effort to know who is selling the piglet, and then get a ‘warranty’ in case the piglet becomes ill. The pig can be returned and replaced with a new one. This ‘warranty’ is usually good for one week, that is, until the next Market Day.

Dindin weighed about 102 kilograms.
Dindin weighed about 102 kilograms.

 

Penny was quite lucky with this pig which we call “Dindin.” She got Dindin in June, and he grew to reasonable size in about 6 months. The typical scheme here is that someone provides the money to buy the piglet, and the caretaker feeds and looks after until it reaches butcher weight, maybe from 80-100 kilograms. When the pig is sold the person who invested in the purchase of the piglet gets a third share. Normally, that’s about the price of the piglet plus 500 to 1,000 pesos. It’s not a big profit. Penny doesn’t get a big profit either, from 1,000 to 2,000 pesos, although that also depends on how resourceful she is in getting food for the pig. One can buy commercial pig food and supplement that with table scraps, gabi (taro) roots and leaves, chopped up young banana trunks, and various other vegetation.

I also learned that with such pig schemes here, the profit is not that important. What seems more important is getting a large lump sum after the sale of a pig, whether it’s a loss, break even or a small profit. Of course, there is also the enjoyment of looking after a pig which is itself priceless.

So, for fiesta, we bought this pig from Penny, less our third share. At that time, a pig’s live weight cost from 90 to 100 pesos. That hasn’t changed much. One might get more profit if one slaughtered the pig and sold the meat. However, it isn’t easy selling meat around here. Most people buy on credit and it can take a long time before one gets paid, if at all. Perhaps the best situation is to keep two pigs – one for one’s own food and the other to sell.

 

Trevor gives Dindin a cuddle before Dindin becomes dinner.
Trevor gives Dindin a cuddle before Dindin becomes dinner.

 

Bebe, Penny’s husband and the fellow who built our house, is also the village butcher. The day before slaughter, Penny and Bebe brought Dindin to our place and tied him to a coconut tree in the garden. The pig is not fed on the night before the dreaded day.

Bebe charges about 400 pesos as butcher. Depending on the size of the pig, he could slaughter a pig on his own or bring his friends Alex, Simeon and Lort along to help. When Bebe slaughtered our neighbour’s small pig of about 30 kilos, he did it by himself without any help, and for about 300 pesos.

Because Dindin is over 100 kilograms, Bebe brought Simeon and Lort along to help. The process is quite quick if there are no complications, from tying up the pig to bleeding through the jugular – about 5 minutes.

 

Preparing the hot water and the butcher table, a makeshift table from wooden slabs and logs cut down from the garden.
Preparing the hot water and the butcher table, a makeshift table from wooden slabs and logs cut down from the garden. A cut-up banana trunk hold up the big wok over the fire.

 

Bebe, Lort and Simeon begin by preparing a large wok of hot water which will be used to clean the pig. There is also a makeshift butcher table – some wood slabs placed over logs that were scraps from some of the mahogany and coconut trees we had cut and used to build the house. Nearby, Bebe has prepared another table, quickly knocked together with bamboo, where the pig will be cut up.

Subduing a big pig and tying it up is no easy task. Here, three men do it. The same rope used as the pig’s leash is used to tie it up around the front and back legs. Then the pig is carried off to the butcher table.

 

Subduing the pig and tying it up is one of the most difficult and dangerous step in butchering the pig.
Subduing the pig and tying it up is one of the most difficult and dangerous step in butchering the pig – one could get kicked by the pig and that is very painful.

 

Nearby, Bebe also prepared a table - very quickly put together with pieces of bamboo left over from the construction of the house - where the pig will be cut up.
Nearby, Bebe also made a table – very quickly put together with pieces of bamboo left over from the construction of the house. Here, the pig will be cut up and prepared for cooking.

 

The pig is carried to the butcher table - a makeshift strucutre consisting of wood slabs and logs, left over from the construction of the house.
The pig is carried to the butcher table – a makeshift structure consisting of wood slabs and logs, left over from the construction of the house.

 

The method of slaughtering a pig here consists of quickly driving a bamboo stake into the pig’s throat and then pushing a knife into its neck. This happens in a matter of seconds, and the pig is bled and it is dead in a half a minute. I asked why a bamboo stake is used and I was told that it is to prevent the pig from moving its head and to stop the blood from gushing out of its mouth. Without the stake it would be harder to bleed the pig and the blood would make a big mess instead of pouring straight into a container nearby.

I think this method of slaughter is quite humane, although I have read about another method wherein the pig is allowed to walk out of the pen and then quickly hit on the head with a large hammer. The pig, unconscious, is then quickly bled through the neck.

 

Here, the pig now dead and Bebe smokes a cigarette and rests.
Here, the pig now dead and Bebe smokes a cigarette and rests.

 

What follows is then the task of cleaning the pig, using a razor blade to remove all of its hairs and then cutting it all up. Nearly every bit of the pig is eaten up – the blood and entrails, the head and the feet. Only the lungs are not used but even that depends on the people’s sensitivities.

The butcher and his assistants normally get to bring home a bit of meat. During the slaughter, they also cook a pretty good soup with the bones of the pig. They may also cook up the large intestines of the pig in its own fat, a truly delicious delicacy. In Batangas, the butcher and his assistants get to eat the raw liver, supposedly something that endows them with much strength and vigour. Fresh rare cooked liver is really very delicious. Considering that this is a pig that one has raised oneself, and in a semi-free range and natural way – this is very good meat indeed.

 

The pig is meticulously cleaned before it is cut up.
The pig is meticulously cleaned before it is cut up.

 

The head is cut off first. In  Batangas, the pig's head is cut off and then the body of the pig is wiped with the head, letting the blood turn the pig's carcass a tint of pink.
The head is cut off first. In Batangas, the pig’s head is cut off and then the body of the pig is wiped with the head, letting the blood turn the pig’s carcass a tint of pink. It is a practise I have not seen done here.

 

The pig is cut up into large pieces and brought to the table where Bebe will cut it into smaller pieces.
The pig is cut up into large pieces and brought to the table where Bebe will cut it into smaller pieces.

 

Simeon and Lort clean and cut up the pig.
Simeon and Lort clean and cut up the pig.

 

Bebe cutting up the pig into smaller pieces.
Large pieces of pork ready to be cut into smaller pieces. After fiesta, we started the year 2011 with the freezer full of pork, plus several large pots full of humba and pork preserved in oil. We also gave quite a large amount of meat to Penny and Bebe.

 

Bebe cutting up the pig into smaller pieces - it is cut in pieces suitable for cooking into popular fiesta dishes such as humba and menudo.
Bebe cutting up the pig into smaller pieces – it is cut in pieces suitable for cooking into popular fiesta dishes such as humba and menudo.

 

The pig's entrails are collected and cleaned up. These will be cooked into crisp pork large intestines and the small intestines and stomach mixed with the blood to make dinuguan or pork blood stew.
The pig’s entrails are collected and cleaned up. These will be cooked into crisp pork large intestines and the small intestines and stomach mixed with the blood to make dinuguan or pork blood stew.

 

Bebe is all smiles with the guys, Simeon and Lort, both busy cleaning the pig's hoofs.
Bebe is all smiles with the guys, Simeon and Lort, both busy cleaning the pig’s hoofs, great when deep fried into crispy pata.

 

Penny prepares the meat to cook for fiesta.
Penny prepares the meat to cook for fiesta. Typical fiesta dishes are menudo, humba, dinuguan.

 

Penny's daughter-in-law and sister help out preparing lumpia. The pork is chopped up into small pieces then mixed with chopped carrots, onions, leeks, spices and beaten eggs, then wrapped in lumpia wrap, a thin pastry. This is then fried.
Penny’s daughter-in-law, sister and grand-daughter help out preparing lumpia. The pork is chopped up into small pieces then mixed with chopped carrots, onions, leeks, spices and beaten eggs, then wrapped in lumpia wrap, a thin pastry. This is then fried just shortly before serving.

 

With the slaughter done, cooking is underway. It’s a lot of work and a fun and important ritual for fiesta here in our village. I also learned that if one slaughters a pig for fiesta one needs to pay a tax to the Municipal office, a curious practise which seem to go all the way to the Spanish colonial period. The tax is about 30 pesos, not cheap if one is living entirely at subsistence levels, unless one is allowed to pay in taro roots or coconuts.

Until 2014, we would have two more pigs raised and slaughtered for food. I have learned to make bacon, ham and sausages. This year, we decided to have a sow and we’re keeping our fingers crossed. There is always something new to learn each day.