The Post Office called Friday to let us know that our chicks had arrived from the hatchery in Iowa. As I mentioned earlier this month, our layers are getting a little old and are not laying enough to be cost effective. They're averaging about one egg a week. That's not much of a surprise though, since almost all of them are three to five years old. Hens are the most productive in their first two years.
In the past, I've been mesmerized by the hatchery catalog pictures of colorful chickens and had a terrible time choosing breeds. When we first moved out here seven years ago, we got 25 hens, half Silver-laced Wyandotte and half Buff Orpington. After that, I let my daughters choose since they were in 4-H. For four years, we'd order 100 straight-run chicks (usually 50/50 boys/girls). Margaret and Katherine each chose two breeds, meaning we had 25 of four different breeds every year. This would provide our chicken meat for the year, since we'd butcher the roosters when they were three to four months old, and we'd have about 40 new layers every year. The girls kept track of what breeds arrived in what year, and once the hens were two to three years old, we'd butcher them for stew meat.
All 50 of these chicks are New Hampshire Red pullets (females), which are supposed to be an excellent dual-purpose bird. The hens are good layers, and the males reach a good weight for butchering. In December, when our current hens stop laying, we'll be taking them to Arthur, where they'll be magically turned into chicken while we're out shopping in Amishland. Then these girls will be moved to the hen house.
Someone asked why I was ordering chicks now, since most people order them in spring. When the girls were showing in 4-H, the chicks had to be ordered in February, so they would be mature by the fair in July. Shipping day-old chicks to Illinois in February means that a lot will arrive dead, because they're being shipped in such cold weather. In fact, one time the shipment had 100% mortality, which was really heart-breaking. And it simply does not mesh with my personal morals. I can't do something that would reasonably bring harm to an animal -- and shipping when it's so cold is just not safe for the chicks. We tried shipping later and later and finally concluded that it's risky to ship them when temperatures are below freezing. It's really not a good idea to ship any earlier than late April or May in Illinois, but if you do that, the hens will reach maturity around the time that their laying would slow down in fall, so they might not lay at all that first year. By getting the pullets in September, they'll mature right around the time that they would normally start laying in spring, so I won't be feeding them for an extra six to nine months with little payback in eggs.
So, who is this little dude with the funky thing on his head? I forgot that McMurray gives you a free rare-breed chick. This little guy is undoubtedly some kind of crested breed, possibly a Sultan or a Houdan. Although he will probably be a beautiful bird, I doubt he will last long here for two reasons -- one, if he's a Sultan, he'll be white, which is a blinking beacon for predators; and two, he's going to be legally blind with his funky feathers hanging over his eyes. I've seen these birds at the fair, and it really doesn't look like they can see anything. Living out here with coyotes, coons, and hawks can be risky if your vision is impaired.