Friday, January 25, 2013

Chicken changes

Our three-year-old New Hampshire Red hens and two-year-old Ameraucanas went to the poultry processor in mid-December to become stew hens. Although the Ameraucanas were only two years old, they were never great layers. At age two, they were not laying as well as the New Hampshires that were a year older, which was disappointing. They also stopped laying really early in the fall. At the end of November, none of us could remember when was the last time we saw a blue egg.

Buff Orpginton 4-month-old pullet
Jonathan and Mike cleaned out the chicken house and moved in the young chickens. I ordered 25 Buff Orpingtons from a hatchery in September. Why September? If I'm getting pullets from a hatchery, I prefer to get them in the fall because they wind up laying more eggs. It takes about six months for most pullets to start laying, so if you get them in September, they will reach six months of age right around the same time that most hens start laying after their winter hiatus. So, they start laying and they lay incredibly well because of the long days of summer. If you buy spring pullets, they start laying a few eggs around the time that the days are getting shorter and then slow down or even stop from December to February, so when you look at the number of eggs laid in their first year, it isn't great.

I quit buying roosters a long time ago because I realized you always get a couple anyway, possibly because of sexing errors or possibly because they add a rooster for "warmth" because they are always undersold. (Most people want hens for eggs.) I almost didn't get a rooster this time as only one turned out to be a cockerel! Maybe I should start adding one rooster to my orders in the future to be safe. Although you don't need a rooster to make eggs, we want fertile eggs so we can hatch our own replacements.

The New Hampshires were amazing layers. The only thing I didn't like about them is that they didn't go broody at all. Raising animals naturally means that I want them to reproduce on their own. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't want broody hens, so poultry breeders have been breeding towards less broody hens for decades. Orpingtons were one of the first two breeds of chickens we ever owned, and some of them did go broody, so I'm hoping a few of these girls will follow suit.

Silver Sebrights
I also added to my Silver Sebright flock. After a year with my first batch of Sebrights, which included half Goldens, I only had two hens and a rooster that had not been eaten by predators. (Okay, we had also eaten some of the roosters.) I ordered another 15 Silver Sebrights, and my one Silver hen finally hatched a brood by late summer. She hatched ten and lost six of them, but the four remaining were all pullets! Hopefully her mothering skills will improve in 2013. The positive/negative thing about the bantams is that they run all over the farm, which means they eat almost zero purchased feed, but they wind up as dinner for predators more often than the other chickens.

I bought the new Sebrights in late spring because they are only sold straight run, and most of the cockerels were destined to become dinner. At 3-4 months of age, almost all of them dress out at exactly a pound each, and when split down the middle, it makes a beautiful little grilled chicken for two people. One half is the perfect serving for one person with your own little leg, thigh, wing, and breast. I'll have to remember to take a picture of one next summer when we grill them!

And in case you're thinking that you see a few chickens in these pictures that don't look like Orpingtons or Sebrights, you are correct. We hatched a few eggs in the incubator this past spring, so we have four New Hampshire pullets, a Barred Rock pullet, and a cross-breed pullet.

This spring I will also be getting about a dozen straight run Delawares.


mwaddell said...

I'm hoping to finally track down some Chanteclers this year. They're a Canadian variety so they're cold hardy, plus I like the heritage aspect. We've had heritage chickens before, but not Canadian ones.
I have found suppliers in other provinces, but I'm not willing to pay $200 to have chicks flown in.
We're going to slaughter our existing chickens this spring. They're 2.5 years old and barely produced eggs at all last year.

Mary Ann said...

Our Ameracaunas never produced much, either. We have one left, and she took a two month hiatus, laid the day before yesterday, and was laying this morning when I was out watering. Very disappointing. Want to try leghorns this year, but will probably stick with Red Stars.

Anonymous said...

From what I understand Ameracaunas are not winter layers, even with the supplemental lighting. Mine would outlay my speckled sussex (which are winter layers) in the warmer months but completely stop when the weather gets cold. I always have a Ameracauna hens, just because I love the color of their eggs. I have had chickens for years and just recently discovered that some breeds are winter layers and some are not.
Heather in PA

Chris D. said...

This my second year with chickens and first on our 'new' 40 acre farm.

So I have some experience and have talked and talked to people and read and read about chickens. I have found that adding some breeds to your flock for the purpose of hatching your eggs is a good idea. Now those birds might not lay as well as other birds but in the end they pay their way by being good mothers.

To that end we have ten Light Brahmas on the way next month. We decided to go for a dual purpose breed that also tends to be very good mothers. Added to it is their size which for the kind of chicks we'll hatch shouldn't cause problems to the the hatching eggs.

To that end I also understand that both Silkies and Cochins are very good broody hens. Cochins don't tend to lay very well and Silkies are bantams so they hatch a smaller number of large eggs.

I understand from my readings that many of the traditional breeds have been bred for a long period of time more for show than their once dominant production. So if you want to increase or get more production you'll most likely have to set up a breeding program and try to select for higher egg output and winter paying in your stock. That's your best bet other than comb breeders and find the ones that have kept good production stock.


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