Some Cayman residents are turning the local chickens that many consider a nuisance into a way of making a living.
Free-range local chicken was once part of the staple diet in Cayman, with many families keeping a coop in their backyards. As Cayman became modernised and electric lights replaced kerosene lamps, people stopped keeping chickens for consumption and poultry was left to roam the land.
While many complain that the chickens mess up their gardens, crow at all hours of the day and night and are traffic hazards, others see them as part and parcel of the tradition and culture of the island.
“Chickens have been a part of Cayman as long as I can remember,” said farmer Owen Forbes. “In those days, it was natural to have a chicken run in the backyard, just like the one I have today. I grew up eating local chicken and love the taste.”
Prospect resident Marilyn Nasirun stopped eating store-bought eggs several years ago because they made her sick, but then she tried wild chicken eggs.
“I found a nest of chicken eggs in the bush and decided to try one. It tasted good and fresh, the yolk was nice and yellow and not at all watery like white eggs from the supermarket,” she said.
Ms Nasirun also grew up with a chicken coop in the backyard. Every morning, her mother collected fresh eggs and on Sundays a plate of stew chicken and rice was always on the table.
“After my mother got rid of the coop and started buying eggs from the supermarket, they did not taste the same. Today, I supply my family with fresh eggs and chicken. I caught some local chickens, built a chicken run on my farm and let them roam freely, just like my parents did it a long time ago,” she said.
Midland Acres resident Carl Brown said he raised local chickens at one time. “I think raising chickens is a good thing to do if you can prevent them from going at the plants, which is a problem. It is smart because you reduce your grocery bill and, if you are sensitive to certain processed foods, it is a very smart way of eating healthy,” he said.
Good for eating
Mr. Forbes finds local chicken and eggs better for eating and also the basis of a good business. He has been supplying his family and surrounding neighbours with fresh eggs and meat for years.
“I cannot remember the day that anyone in my family had to go to the supermarket to purchase foreign eggs. There is always a fresh supply in my coops,” he said.
Mr. Forbes spends most of his time caring for his chickens, which are allowed to roam freely throughout the backyard to eat and drink at will, returning to roost when night falls.
Each day, he collects a five-gallon bucket of freshly laid brown and white eggs from his chicken coops. As his business thrived, he added different breeds of chickens to boost his production line.
When harvested, brown eggs are separated from white, washed and packed in eggs crates, and sold or distributed freely among his family and friends in the neighbourhood.
Mr. Forbes also uses the chicken’s manure to fertilise the hot and sweet pepper trees, scallions, sour sop trees and other local plants he grows as a hobby.
Patrick Panton, owner of East End Garden Gift Ltd., thought it a good idea to expand from his fresh fruit line into raising chickens, a move that has been well received by restaurants and locals.
His chickens are not wild Cayman poultry, but Rhode Island Red Hybrids and Red Stars, which he receives at two days old from the Department of Agriculture and raises until they are ready to be sold locally.
“Our layers are ‘free range’. They have space to scratch, peck, pick, feed and drink. At dusk, they freely move to the nesting house. They are fed with 100 per cent natural grains,” Mr Panton said.
The chickens receive plenty of fresh water and greens, including callaloo, bok choy and purslane – anything fresh and green. Currently, he has 300 active layers, 250 ‘beginners’, and another 200 that will lay their first eggs in three to four weeks. They typically begin laying at 22 weeks and can produce an egg per day for 12-18 months, depending on their care and levels of stress.
His broilers are also fed entirely on natural grains and get lots of fresh water and sunlight. They are raised in mobile pens that get moved to a fresh patch of grass every day. The first slaughter is done at five weeks, then at weeks six and seven and, finally at week eight when the average weight is five pounds.