18 January 2013

choosing chicken breeds for your needs

 Greetings all,
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


Kate said...

Great post, we are in the middle of planning out chook shed, will order that book.

Makeminemidcentury said...

Brilliant post, Posie. When the time comes for us to get chooks I want to remember this one. Choosing chickens sounds like choosing a dog.

Michele @ The Hills are Alive said...

Have you ever had to move house with chooks. Keen to get some but trying to get my head around how we would dismantle and pack them up and resettle them to move house. Sure it can be done - pet carrier cages? Boxes? Moving house so stressful (well it is to me) and wouldnt want to stress out me even more or the little chookies. Any advice on that aspect of keeping them ie the portability or otherwise (renting)

Woollybutthill said...

Hi, love your post on the chickens. Kids here just received the 'chicken catalog' and love choosing despite the fact we cannot keep any at present. Love the Araucana's sometimes they would lay 2 pretty eggs in a day. Glad yours are doing so well and you can expand.

When we kept chickens we used a dog crate to move fully grown ones and this worked out well. They adapted with no problems. I have relocated many different animals including bees but cats are the hardest however still quite possible - lots of love helps!

x M

leah of sang the bird said...

Great post Posie. I am loving your chicken pics on IG! We are about to add some more girls to our flock. I love having chickens, also we have had a huge reduction in the number of ticks on our property! xx