Chicken-ranching crossroads

Sometimes, the best-laid plans…

Actually, it IS when life throws you curve balls that the best learning and best decisions come about. There’s always a bit of a wrangle, though. Today I went to place my order for Round Two of the tractor inhabitants. I’d also planned on getting a few geese and turkeys…just because, of course. Actually, the meat birds (including ducks, geese, and turkeys) WAS on the plan for this year. But the hatchery is kind of on backorder with everything I want. I am too impatient a cuss to sit it out, so I will be making my order from elsewhere.

I read somewhere (on Garden Rant, maybe?) that chickens are like the new IPhone. Everyone has to have them now to be considered cool. If that were really the case, I would be delighted. As it is, an uptick in popularity means my hatchery is overtaxed.

Plans: The plan for NEXT year was much more aligned with “let’s put the money where your mouth is,” and establish a breeding program for some endangered species of domesticated fowl. Next year’s plan also includes some ruminants (hey: it is pure stupidity to mow all 5 acres, so we don’t. We mow 2 of it, and even that is rather dumb, but I need the grass clippings for my gardens) and some pigs. Big plans, in other words. Lots of big plans!

But maybe I will have to up the chicken/turkey breeding program to this year. I think I will go with Privett hatchery, though I am not terribly keen on shipping the poor babies that far (they’re in New Mexico) but their catalog is deep and their ordering policy is pretty loosey-goosey (i.e., I don’t have to order 25 of any one bird, which is the case with my own hatchery). SO: next up in the tractor? Twelve meat birds. Maybe 12 breeding chickens in another tractor, 6 meat/breeding turkeys elsewhere: and here is where I would love some input: I am thinking about raising Delawares (chickens) and Bourbon Reds (turkeys). And some geese, for the freezer: looking into Toulouse. So: any opinions out there? (hah!)

20 responses to “Chicken-ranching crossroads

  1. I believe Barbara from has the Bourbon Reds .
    Dad and I usually get chicks from in ohio, I don’t know if they are backed up with orders but we have always been happy with our chicks and this year they started to let you mix smaller batches.
    I hope this helps.

  2. OooOh sounds like you have a plan about to be hatched. :Snicker: No recommendations here – but I’m glad you have enough acreage to have chickens!

  3. Wow!! Ambitious! I love it, go for it girl!! All I can tell you is, the heritage breed turkeys are a lot smarter than what I’ve been told a turkey is. I’m continually suprised by how curious, friendly and downright intelligent these birds are. You’ll love ’em! (I also think they’re going to be harder for me to cull than the chickens….they seem so aware….)

  4. I say go for it! The chicks we got this year were from Privett and I couldn’t be happier. They’re all healthy (well, the 7 that they coyotes didn’t get are) and they’ve grown well. I’m getting up my nerve now to put in an order for 25 Red Broilers to be delivered in August. FWIW we got Buff Orps, Silver and Gold Laced Wyandottes, Light Brahmas and straight run Cochin bantams from them. All healthy and happy.

    I saw Delawares and Bourbon Reds at a small farm the other day. Beautiful birds.

  5. I’ve ordered from Privett and been pleased. That’s where I get my slow broilers.

    I have Delawares in my flock currently, and I’m about to cull them all this fall. They’re the most aggressive, and best I can tell, they’re notorious egg eaters. Not cool. I’ve also tried Dorkings, which are all going this fall as well—not good layers. I’m in the process of switching my dual purpose birds to Buckeyes, which I’m really pleased with. The down side is that they have the darker feathers, which means more obvious pin feathers. That’s why I went with the Delawares in the first place. I also have several other breeds in my laying flock.

    All that said, I had no luck getting any of my hens to set this year, and my Narragansett turkeys are having issues as well. We have white Chinese geese, and they seem to be setting well at the moment. We’ll see if anything comes of it. They are tasty, but very disappointing on the goose fat front. I think that’s largely a function of being pastured, though.

    Hope that helps some.

  6. I had a pair of Toulouse geese years ago & they were great — just like watchdogs & not all that aggressive (if they liked you). Great big eggs with bright orange yolks. Can’t go wrong with them.

  7. With all due respect to Danielle, she’s running a CSA and selling her birds and eggs. Much of the reason the heritage breeds are now waning is because they don’t fit well into production operations and are better suited to the backyard flock. If the Dorkings don’t lay large, consistent amts, that’s not really problem for a family of three. I can tell you this much, my Dorkings don’t eat NEARLY as much as my EE’s do or as much as my other standard breeds have. And their growth rate appears to be faster. Even if they don’t lay every day for me, I think it will still be worth keeping them. But, I will also have duck eggs for my family to consume and I will have the EE’s as well. Perhaps a mixed flock for you if you’re concermed about production?

  8. You guys rock, as usual!!

    I discussed all of this with the husband. As ever, this is all my doing and he gets dragged into it (wasn’t that part of the marriage vows?) and we’ve decided to “just” do meat birds this year. So I will be mailing off a small order today to Privett.

    That said, I’ve crammed a bit and have a tighter idea for what I would like to raise next year. I am still in the dark about which breed of chicken: we’re doing dual purpose either way, and we’d love to keep rolling the stock, some for meat, some for breeding, some for eggs. The chickens will be living with the pets (the laying hens) so I am hoping the new chickens will be pleasant. So I will look into the Delawares again, as well as Buckeyes and Dorkings.

    That said, the next tractor inhabitants will be twelve Slow Cornish.

    Ducks? This year we have mutts: we think they’re Pekins but they could simply be Pekin/runner crosses. Next year we’re going to try to raise Magpies. Liz of Pocket Farm had surely influenced me there, but when I learned of their foraging abilities as well as eggs and good tasting but small quantities of meat, as well as their having a Critical listing on ALBC…that did it for me.

    Geese: We’ll be getting Toulouse this year, but are looking into American Buffs for next, mainly because of their foraging and parenting skills.

    Turkeys: This year it’s Bourbon Reds, though I am torn about next year. Possibly Blacks; need to do more research.

    Michelle: Thanks for the recommendation! I had looked into that outfit earlier. Their catalog is a bit deeper than my own hatchery, but they don’t do geese 😦 and only do std. turkeys. They are a lot closer to Michigan, though! Have you started harvesting your Cornish yet?

    Katie, thanks! Stay tuned, of course…

    Angie: What’s your breed of turkey again? I remember that they’re bronze-y… But thanks on the Dorking recommendation. I remember you had some problems getting them going. As far as your EEs go, the few I have had have been smaller birds so I haven’t noticed them being terribly piggish with food. They are cute though but a bit more wary than my other eggers. I do know though that Danielle’s CSA isn’t that big an outfit; she has only 10 families I think signed up…but she could better answer that. I know with three growing kids though she needs a lot of meat!

    Laura, thanks…I am so interested in Bantams too. Think maybe next year with the kid we’ll get some bannies, as she’ll be five then and can do 4H. I think they are adorable.

    Danielle, thanks, that helps more than just “some!” I really do need to research the whole chicken thing again. Buckeyes do appeal, but then so do a whole bunch of other traditional dual-purpose birds. Reliable sitters has to be something they can do, though I do suppose I can rely on bannies to pick up the slack there. But then if the point is to raise them, generations of them, then dang, they better lay AND mother, you know? It’s funny, but my hatchery sells Chinese geese as Africans. Who knows how people can screw up countries as much as that but there you go. The Chinese are kind of small, though, right?

    Artemisia, thanks. The Toulouse seem to be pretty friendly which is why I am going with them. They are kind of big too. They will free range so it’s somewhat important that they are not agressive towards a four year old girl.

  9. Another thing I thought of while feeding the chickens this morning that might be a factor for you: the Delawares have big combs that are prone to frostbite. Buckeyes have nice small combs, as do the Wyandottes.

    Yes, our CSA is only 10 members, and our focus is sustainability and heritage breeds. We don’t have production breeds, other than our slow cross broilers that we raise for meat because that’s what most of our customers want. We have raised the Dorkings and the Delawares for heritage meat birds, and they are tasty if smaller. The Dorkings simply didn’t lay worth a damn compared to all my other heritage birds, so I’m talking really, really low—a suspicion that was confirmed when I separated my flocks for breeding this winter. I was hoping this year to be able to use them as broody hens, but they didn’t seem to want to set either.

    The Buckeyes are another promising dual purpose heritage breed, and that’s the direction I’m headed in with my breeding program, just based on my own personal experience. I’m giving them another year for setting, since several of them were young. So many of them have had these instincts bred out that it’s hard to go by the breed description, I think. Finding individual birds with a broody personality is probably a better bet, at least ime. I plan to start banding mine who want to go broody.

    FYI, just because I’m kinda geeky about these things, we’ve had silver laced Wyandottes, Dominiques, Delawares, Speckled Sussex, Silver Gray Dorkings, and Buckeyes, as well as cuckoo marans, ameraucanas, and welsummers. For turkeys I raise Narragansetts, which I love, and Royal Palms. I’d definitely consider the Bourbon Reds, but I don’t really need another turkey breed, iykwim. We had Rouen ducks last year, but they got wiped out by a predator of some sort, unfortunately, and they’re so dirty that I won’t raise them again. I’ll stick to geese, who are self-sustaining on pasture, assuming that they hatch out some of these eggs they’re setting. Waterfowl, too, are much, much harder to process than other poultry, and we don’t have anyone around here who will do them, so we have to do them ourselves.

    The Chinese geese are a nice size for us, but they’re loud, loud, loud! And aggressive. They’re good guard geese, though, and they’re supposed to make good mothers. We’ll see.

    We also raise Tamworth pigs, Navajo-Churro sheep, and Nigerian Dwarf goats. So, yeah, I’m into the breed preservation thing, too.

  10. Thank you Ms D. I was going to bother you later especially regarding your Tamworths. I know you were very successful with the piggies recently (wasn’t it 13 babies?). I know Lisa in NH had problems with her sows squishing the piglets…

    Best point though about individuals vs. a collective (amnesia) about any one breed of anything. Frankly that’s how I deal with my plants: only the hearty and productive get to go to seed. I would imagine that’d be the same for our breeding animals too once I get that far. And thanks for including the entire chicken list!

    Small combs are a good thing. I haven’t had too much of a problem with frostbite on any of my birds but my ISA Browns as they tend to like to huddle by the window the silly things. The goofy Leghorn I have has a huge and floppy comb that gives her a rather jaunty appearance. In any case, I am looking to only be a backyard chicken farmer; I doubt I would ever get into selling things (but of course never say never) but I believe your ideas and mine are quite aligned.

  11. lol

    I don’t want to be much more than a backyard farmer either, but selling a bit here and there supports my habit. 😉 And the more I finance my little ventures, the less I have to answer to the man with the paycheck.

    The numbers of what we raise are pretty dang small, even compared to small farms. I only do about 20 turkeys a year, 50 broilers in the spring and 50 in the fall, half of which goes into our freezer. I have about 40-50 laying hens, though that will drop significantly this fall as the Dorkings and Delawares become lovely stewing hens. Maybe I have enough new Buckeye hens that it’ll mostly even out, but I got a straight run so I’ll need to wait and see.

  12. Hi, I haven’t started harvesting the Dark Cornish yet (I got those from Murry McMurry). They are only a little over 6 weeks old, slow growers for sure. I still can’t tell the difference between the boys and girls. I’ll post a pic on my blog soon.

  13. Oh, don’t get Magpies on my account, El! If we were to do it again, we’d probably raise Anconas instead. They lay nearly as well, but dress out bigger and are even more endangered.
    The Magpie meat is good, but I think duck is duck (having also tasted Khaki Campbell, Pekin & Muscovy)… really nothing special there. The drakes dressed out around 3#: 1# bones, 1# fat & 1# meat. I wish I was joking.

    That said, I do love my girls, but I’d love them just as much if they were Khakis.

  14. Great suggestion, Liz. I just read about them on your rec. and they do seem a bit bigger yet egg-laying too. The magpies appealed because they seem to be good foragers, too, and I didn’t really care that they weren’t that big…but you are right of course that dang if you have to go so far as to clean them there should be something there for your efforts! If you know a hatchery that carries Anconas, let me know, okay?

  15. A quick Google shows Cackle Hatchery: (

    There’s also Holderread’s, which is where I got my Magpies. He has a good page on breed selection:

  16. Our turks are Narragansett as well. The problems I had with my Dorkings is due to a virus McMurray hatchery had an outbreak of during the birth of my chicks, not a fault of the breed itself. They’ve acknowledged the problem was their fault and reimbursed alot of people during the spring because they sent out ALOT of sick chicks.

  17. Thanks again, Liz!

    Angie, thanks for sharing that. I felt so bad for you. Those are some cute turkeys, though! We’re only getting three. I hope for no mortality but then three turkeys is a lot for a family of 3 people…

  18. Out of 15 poults, we lost four. I hope you guys don’t lose any either. They are soooo cute. Can’t wait to see the pics of yours!! 😉

  19. I find it best to find the rare breeds from private individuals instead of hatcheries, as hatcheries don’t always have the best stock.

  20. Ultimatefowl! Thanks for commenting. I would love to learn about small breeders, too. I am always ready to hand my money over to small producers. Next year I will definitely check out your forum to see if someone is selling the Ancona ducks and Chantecler chickens I would like.

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