18 January 2013
choosing chicken breeds for your needs
I am constantly asked about keeping chickens - how, why, which, what, when & who. It's quite flattering as while i'm a huge cheerleader for the backyard chicken, we haven't even had them for a year yet. I do my research & a lot of love, goes a long way to keeping animals alive, happy, fed & flourishing. Toss in 4 eager pairs of hands to help, you have tame, friendly, healthy & vibrant pets!!
Today was a scorcher - all around Australia - 40C here in Canberra with a hot wind blowing in your face . . . & we were off to collect a couple of 3 month old Plymouth Rock pullets. WHEN: we've only had baby chicks in Winter, keeping them alive during -5C nights was quite manageable with their feather coats & older hens' wings to snuggle under. Of course, as new borns, they were indoors under heat lamps on tiny blankets. Raising chicks over Summer requires water, shade, cool breezes & more water.
HOW: our chickens have a coop (bought on line, half the price of pet stores, even with delivery) under waterproof shade cloth, with extra nesting boxes, all elevated on crates - off the ground. We have extended the chicken wire from the side passage - the full length of the garden, so they have over 40m of wandering, under hedges & shrubs too. Chickens prefer covered spaces with trees overhead, so don't discount the idea of extending a chicken run around/ including bushes, they'll love you for it.
WHY: we chose Plymouth Rock chickens today, for a few reasons . . . a) it's a breed we haven't tried yet, b) we could purchase some locally, c) they are beyond pretty with amazing feathers, & d) they are both an egg laying & table bird breed, something to consider when we move to a real farm to produce our own 'meat'.
WHAT: we prefer the slow growing breeds - so their legs can hold their weight. The average/ inexpensive chicken raised for supermarkets are fast growing (it's all about profit, maximum turn over, mass production) & their legs cannot support the weight of their 'huge breasts' = cruel.
WHICH: a mix of breeds is fun, interesting, aesthetic & an adventure. We have Spangled Hamburg, Pekin Bantam, Rhode Island Red, ISA Brown, Wyandotte, Araucana, Silkie, Indian Game, Plymouth Rock & cross breeds. The Pekin Bantams would be my pick for young families - so friendly, easy to handle & not at all overwhelming, loving a cuddle; the Wyandottes are nortoriously unfriendly, shy, aloof & our Saxophone (white Wynadotte) prefers to stare at a fence than let us love her. My favourite is the Araucana as they lay coloured eggs (blue, green, lavender, khaki) & they know they are the princesses, soak up the attention, love a little adventure & are so pretty.
WHO: this is 'who' humans?? Chickens thrive on a wonderful variety of healthy kitchen scraps, ours adore the animal husbandry & time we put in - cleaning & freshening up food, water, scratch piles & nests. By extending the run to the back fence, they have a hill to wander, endless places to dig cool dirt nests during the hot days & chat to us through the wire/ windows/ gate all day. They lay a fantastic amount of eggs & we appreciate it. One day we will breed a table bird group for eating, but we won't tell them that, just give them the best lifestyle . . . until it's our dinner time.
I would invest in a couple of books, don't overwhelm yourself with internet searches & information, keep it local, then experiment with different breeds, starting off with ISA Browns is excellent - they are fabulously friendly, inquisitive & produce almost an egg-a-day, however, they are very common. We use The Contented Chook from the ABC Shop as it's Australian, filled with common sense, ideas, recipes & local know how. They require simple feed, water, nesting boxes & perches.
Above all, they make the most lovely pets, with interesting personalities & quirks. They are fantastic school holiday entertainment . . . teaching children the highs & lows of real life, love & loss. You have to ensure your chickens are safe, from foxes, hawks & dogs. Some chicks stop thriving & fade away, but best give them a fighting chance with absolute security.
I've been tagged on Instagram #5shotinstachallenge theme #chooks, if you want to see more. Enjoy, love Posie