This is the year that we decided to move our chicken ranching up a level by breeding our own meat and egg birds. Raising chicks, though rewarding, is hardly any human’s idea of a fun time: it’s an ordeal. And frankly, there is no substitute for Mama Hen as far as chicken smarts goes. There’s too much to learn and we humans are poor teachers in the ways of All Things Chicken.
Step One in this venture: we’ll need two roosters, one for our egg girls and one for our meat girls.
Step Two was to decide what kind of egg-laying birds we wanted to breed. Our motley egg-laying flock currently includes six dual-purpose (egg/meat) breeds (Australorps (Maggie), Orpington (Sarah), Wyandotte (Helen), Rhode Island (Verloe), Plymouth (Letha), Black Sex Link (Mary Ellen)), and two egg-laying breeds (Leghorn (Pauline), Ameraucana (Phyllis)); all hardy souls that can be found readily in almost any American henyard. We wanted to try to raise birds that were threatened with disappearing according to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, and were a hardy, low-maintenance, calm bird, so we selected the dual-purpose Speckled Sussex, a breed known for its curiosity and kindness.
Step Three is to decide which of the meat roosters will remain to be THE rooster. Chicken Patty raised six adopted meat chicks this spring, of which three were cockerels. They are all currently in the henyard and so far one white slow-growing Cornish (like mama Patty) is showing promise of being a gentle soul. Chicken Patty, two red broiler chicks (Nice Rose and Sister) and one more white slow-growing Cornish hen (Girly) round out the meat bird crop, and all will soon have their own coop and run. SO: The name for the new meat-bird rooster? The Colonel, of course!
Step Four in this venture was the acquisition of five bantam chicks. Bantams are diminutive chickens: usually they are a third to a quarter the size of regular ones. Because they were bred for their size, chicken traits common in other birds (eggs, meat) were not a factor, nor quite frankly has any bantam selected for docility. In fact, they’re rather flighty birds, both literally (they can fly anywhere) and figuratively, as in, they’re unapproachable. They’re a lot like our guineas, in other words; lots of sturm-und-drang. One of the quite useful traits that hasn’t been bred out of bantam chickens is the urge to sit eggs and raise chicks. Should any of our girls decide not to sit their (now newly fertile) eggs, I figured having a few banty hens around would help as bantams don’t care whose eggs they sit on. Consider them the surrogate mothers of the henhouse, our Plan B for incubation and hatching.
Poor little Ellis
Step Five isn’t really a step, as I thought I had thought this through. Of the six Speckled Sussexes we had, one was a boy, Ellis, and therefore destined to be Egg Chicken King. However, he became sick! His illness caused me to break the #1 House Rule (No Poultry In The House Unless Plucked and Gutted) and did time in my office in a cardboard box, enjoying his scrambled eggs, milk and cornbread. I didn’t hold out much hope that he’d live, though, and it breaks my heart because he was so pretty. Indeed, he died, a few days later. There goes my hope of having home-hatched Speckled Sussex chicks next year.
Step Six: what in the WORLD am I going to do with five bantam roosters? Only one crows, though, and is quite a terror. He’s the cute white chick my daughter insisted upon buying this spring. As putative songster king of five boys, I started calling him Michael (as in Jackson), way before His Weirdness’ death of course. He even crows his name! MiCHAEL JACKson. Then, magically, we started to find little bantam eggs in the nestbox. Apparently, the other four are girls! (sigh) And, unlike his namesake, our little Michael actually likes girls.
Step Seven: WHY is the Black Sex Link pullet, Mary Ellen, crowing? Ah. I think we have found Ellis’ successor in the egg-bird rooster department. Mary Ellen (whose name is sure to be changed, or not) is a nice calm bird, very attentive and solicitous of everyone but Michael Jackson (who terrorizes any and all birds).
So…maybe I will have mutt egg-laying chickens after all. There are surely worse things, including raising the chicks yourself.