Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Self reliance in chickens, part 2: breeding

From left to right:  Tiny, Blue, and Winnie
Let's talk about a self sustaining chicken flock.

What we want in a flock

We eat eggs for breakfast every day.  Usually 8 or 9 a day between the three of us.  We need 12-15 young-ish hens to get this number reliably;  we currently have 13 hens, ranging from around 4 years to less than 1 year.  For the past month or so we are getting between 5 and 9 eggs a day:  some hens are not pulling their weight!

But then again, we're transitioning from a rescue/adopted flock (ex-commercial laying hens, which are past their prime) to a younger, mixed breed flock.  We'll probably continue to adopt a few rescue hens once in a while, but I'm planning on most of our chickens being no more than 3 years old.

Rather than buying chicks every year, a better way to self reliance is breeding our own replacement hens.  We don't want to invest in fancy equipment (mainly coz we're broke), so we need one or two of our chickens to go broody on us.  And we need a cockerel.

Cockerels

It just so happens we've got a cockerel.  In fact, we've got three!  But there's another little issue, and that is proximity of neighbors.  Crowing cocks are loud--really loud, especially early in the morning (4 am anyone?).  We've discovered the no-crow collar which works pretty well on one cockerel, is less effective on another;  and the third, well, he seems to have worked out how to get around it because while about half his crows are muffled, the other half are pretty glorious.

Actually, everything about this third cockerel is glorious.  He's big, handsome, has a magnificent comb and wattle, is wonderfully proportioned, and has all the best instincts:  he finds food for the hens, is always on the lookout for predators, and is ready to defend the flock with his new spurs.  And he's got a very healthy libido.  The other two cockerels don't even compare.  His name is Winnie, and we think he is a Maran.

We want to breed Winnie if we can.  He was a strong, fast-growing chick, has good instincts, and is mostly friendly:  he's got great genes.  We've got a few laying hens we'd like to breed as well:  big and friendly, and good layers.  What we don't have is a broody hen.

Broody hens

We've never had a hen go broody.  Nearly all our hens have been commercial laying hens, and that instinct has been bred out of them.  We have three young hens of different breeds this year;  we hope one or two will go broody next spring/summer.  If we don't have a broody hen, there's no point to keeping a cockerel--let alone three!  Which leads us to...

Chicken dinner

We will be eating at least one cockerel.  Maybe two, maybe all three.  If we get a neighbor complaint about crowing, Winnie's going in the pot, and the next cockerel can step up to his job.  In fact, Winnie's been a bit aggressive towards the six year old (but not to me or the husband) and though we're working on this, if he can't be friends, he's dinner.  To tell the truth, he looks like one tasty bird.  I'd be sorry to kill him--but not sorry to eat him.

And if we manage to breed our own chickens, some of them--surplus cockerels--will also be going in the pot.  And we'll probably be eating some older hens in the future, to make way for younger ones (we won't be eating rescue hens:  it sort of defeats the purpose).  Raising our own meat is one of my self reliance goals.  Chicken, provided we can breed and raise it ourselves, is a great way to fulfill that goal.

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