Thursday, March 04, 2010

Selecting a Chicken Breed


When we decided to get chickens, we knew we wanted a dual purpose breed, which means it's a breed that's good for both meat and eggs. Meat birds take about 10 weeks to get to butchering size but they never get old enough to lay eggs. Dual purpose birds take about 3-5 months to get to butchering size so that's a lot more feed expense if all you want is meat. Egg layers lay an egg a day and most will lay right on through the winter time although production may be reduced. However, they make a scrawny carcass that's not worth the trouble of butchering. Dual purpose birds lay an egg two out of three days and their laying almost stops in the short winter days unless you provide supplemental light. So if you're not going to be butchering that's a lot of feed expense for just a few eggs.

So one of the main things you should consider when choosing a breed of chickens is why you want to raise them. Do you want meat? Eggs? A little of both? Are there ordinances against butchering where you live? Would you be happier with a dual purpose breed or would you prefer to have a permanent flock of egg layers and then raise meat birds a couple of months each spring? Or do you just want the companionship and entertainment that chickens provide? In that case perhaps an ornamental breed would be better for you.

We also wanted a bird that was good at foraging. We have a lot of land and we figured the more they could feed themselves, the better it would be on our pocketbook. As you can see in the video, our chickens love to get outside even if the foraging conditions are, well, sub-optimal. They have a strong foraging drive. This is great for us but if we lived on a small lot in a town then we'd prefer a breed that is happy being confined to a coop and a run. The Sussex would be miserable under such conditions.

We also wanted a chicken that would occasionally go broody. The less we have to deal with incubators, the better. If you live with close neighbors though, you won't want a rooster because they crow a lot and they are quite loud. With no rooster you won't have fertile eggs so there's no point in having a breed that goes broody. That's just one hen that's not producing eggs: hens don't lay when they are setting.

We also wanted to raise a rare breed. The Speckled Sussex is listed as threatened by the American Livestock Breeders Conservancy. It is a dual purpose bird that lays brown eggs and has strong foraging tendencies. For us it's a great bird.

To help you pick a breed that suits your needs I highly recommend the Henderson's Chicken Breed Chart.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Greenhouse Icicles

Our home has a heated greenhouse attached to it. The idea is brilliant but the execution was poor. We lose a LOT of household heat through the greenhouse. We can't just let it get real cold in there because it is also our bathroom and the pipes would freeze (not to mention how uncomfortable baths and showers would be).

I imagine the people who built it thought the sunlight would warm the bathroom in winter. If it were double-paned and somewhat sealed I think it might. As it is, it just pours heat out into the great state of West Virginia. When snow falls on the greenhouse, it melts, and makes fantastic icicles.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Bird Netting and Snow

We have bird netting over the rabbit colony, to keep winged predators at bay. Some people think the netting will discourage raccoons and similar, but a raccoon will tear right through bird netting or even chicken wire. For them, we have electric scare wires. But for hawks and owls we have bird netting.

The first year we didn't have any problem with hawks and owls but the second year they all but decimated the colony in two or three nights. That's when we decided to put up bird netting. It worked beautifully.

After two or three years, the netting was getting old and tatty, all torn and fallen down in places. I kept thinking "I need to replace that netting..." but never quite got around to it. Then overnight I was down to four rabbits! When owls strike, they are effective. So I made a trip to the hardware store and got bird netting and put it up. Within a couple of weeks it snowed... and snowed... and snowed. And the bird netting fell down. I had strung it up on old clothes line that I ran up the middle of the colony from a gate post to a tree, and secured it to the fencing with regular old string. The weight of the snow was just too much.

This photo was taken in January. When the snow finally melted enough to dig the netting out, I re-hung it. It was down again within the week. It's been a trying winter in the rabbit colony. If/when we build another one I think we'll construct the "roof" of 2x4 or 4x4 welded wire on a wooden frame.

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