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.
It would be nice to have enough room to have roosters and let it all run as it was intended to. Our hens make enough noise for a dense urban neighborhood, though!
Good luck with yours — it seems as though you’ve thought it through.
Bantam Cochins are wonderful little things. Not flighty, very friendly, love people… everything we like about certain standard sized birds, but in a nice little broody package. I just so happen to have a breeding pair of whites, so if you’d like some hatching eggs sometime I’d be happy to send a few your way (the pair is young and not laying yet, but should be soon). Or next spring when she brings up some chicks and has them started I’m sure we’ll have extras — but then you face the whole hassle of quarantine. None of my birds have ever been ill to my knowledge, but I’d hate for them to pass along something I didn’t know they had.
Your story telling is so funny!
We ordered Dark Cornish for meat last year, kept 2 roos and 10 hens. THE HENS WONT STOP SITTING. They are the broodiest of broodies. I’ve had as many as 8 hens either moms or soon to be moms at one time.
The roos arent friendly but they arent aggressive either.
The meat is tougher than store (blob) meat but not when cooked in the crock pot.
Good luck, having the moms raise the babies sure is fun.
Your chicken project is very interesting! I have a black australorp pullet that I do believe is gonna crow soon. I thought he was a she….I’m hoping that I just have one rooster!
I nursed two chickens this year, successfully. One broke it’s leg at the ripe old age of three days. Toothpicks as spints, a little physical therapy…good to go.
My Silver Laced Wynadotte, that is named Helen as well, was attacked by a raccoon and bitten on the head. I nursed her in the house with lots of yogurt, mash and fresh fruit and antibiotics. I think she is still blind in one eye, and she has a crooked claw.
I just have my chickens for eggs and entertainment…..would really hate to have to eat one. 🙂
Enjoy your blog so much.
I too aspire(d) to breeding specked sussex, and we ordered 2 speckled sussex roosters and ended up with 5. They are a little over a year old. We plan to soon cull some going into the winter… it’s hard, they’re beautiful, but the two top roosters are also aggressive, and we have more than we need.
I figure we live perhaps about 3-4 hours from you. If you wanted to obtain a mature speckled sussex rooster, and were motivated enough to drive that far, I’d give you one. 🙂
While preserving rare breeds is a good idea, what really counts is preserving the genetics of the rare breeds. Frankly, in raising mutts, you are building a flock that is adapted to your conditions; you are preserving the valuable genetics of each breed, and tweaking them to your location and requirements.
Which is how these breeds developed in the first place. I am a big fan of indescriminate breeding. You never know what delightful surprises you’re going to get.
Laughing… we’ve had the same gender mixups with our birds, too!
Loved Beach Bum’s comment-since that’s what’s happening in my hen house when the 21 chickie girl babies I bought produced two roosters, one Orpington and one Silver Wyndotte. They crow their heads off. I’ll keep them both until the neighbors start to complain.
Loved the post.
Silkies are very broody, and extremely friendly – and also very unusual, as well as moderately good layers. Anyway, cheaper and easier than an incubator.
Oh Stef I am not sure HOW much room is “enough room for roosters.” The one pressure relief valve we have is Happy Hour (from 5-dark) when they all run out and around the yard. Goodness, things would be dire if they couldn’t get out, and I do swear that the older girls can tell time.
How sweet, Diana. My friend Catharine has a full-sized cochin as her rooster. His name is One-Eyed Jack and he is the sweetest guy, especially for a rooster. And funny looking too as he tends to look like a bow-legged cowboy. I’m glad to know there are calm banties out there! I’ve always wondered about quarantine but then again I believe in the good-germ theory of “tough it out.”
Wow, Michelle, your experience sounds like mine with Chicken Patty! She spent a good two months of this spring and summer either broody or thinking about it. I almost brought home more babies from the feed store for her the 2nd time: crazy. I hope her daughters have the same ability. And yeah, maybe the birds are tough because they’re not confined? I have often wondered about that. Leaving them in the fridge for a day after plucking also seems to help tenderize them, I have found.
Jayme, I thought for the longest time that Maggie (our black Australorp) was a boy because she was SO tall compared to the other girls. Nope, she’s just big, and lays really big eggs too. And how funny that you and I both have Silver Laced Wyandotte Helens! I admire your stewardship of the little things; chickens are quite delightful. And yeah, eating them is a huge step and you certainly don’t need to take it! Doing the chicken-tractor thing certainly helped in our evolution into chicken…eaters.
Hi Paul and Mandy, well! I might have to take you up on that. I mentioned it to Tom and he said, “do we need to go on a chicken run then?” I will email you off-list. It’s a shame but Mary Ellen isn’t really what we want in genetics. We’re back to calling her Stew (as in Stewpot) now.
Interesting, Beach Bum. I would think that doing this generationally would take years to perfect, and admittedly I am a lot more slipshod than that…plus, I get attached (of course). Some of the traits I would like to continue are the ability to forage, be in confinement, and have small combs, because it does get quite cold here and it almost never gets above 85*. Thus, the speckled sussex, which has the added benefit of being naturally camouflaged. So, we’ll see. Certainly, our meat birds are going to be mutts, as their only necessary trait with them will be “we’re big.” Vive la difference!
d.a., isn’t this what always happens? hah!
Kimberly, you’re keeping them both? I’ve heard the Orpingtons are great calm guys, like, the surfer dudes of the chicken world. Both birds are probably quite gorgeous.
Thanks for the tip, David! I have admired Silkies in the past, but worry about their hardiness with those fluffy feathers, poor things. As it is we have one feather-footed bantam now and I worry she’ll be an ice-coated creature once the weather cools way down. But yes, incubator-free is what I always hope to be…
I can vouch for the silkies. And they’re ADORABLE.
Name your new rooster Merry Alan. It’s just a vowel movement, that’s all.
Wow…wish we lived closer! I just gave away a gorgeous Speckled Sussex rooster to a friend who wanted a mate for her one and only hen. I decided not to breed to SS’s, so kept the 5 hens. So far I’ve not been impressed with their egg laying prowess, but they do seem impressively “meaty”, especially when they run (waddle?!) towards me in search of treats!
lol well yea… that BSL “hen” looks nothing like the coloring is supposed to be for a girl. it looks exactly like the cockerels/roos do! (the barring pattern)
what gave it away?
pretty birds though.. good call on using the slow growing cornish X as the boy for the meat flock
When I was a child, my older sister attended LMU and bought home a little chick that she saved. Some one was going to feed him to a snake. He grew into a white bantum rooster. He used to chase joggers and peck at their heels. I would sit in my parents den, quietly doing my homework. Some guy would slowly jog by, huffing away. All of the sudden, he’d speed up and sprint. I’d look down at the guys feet and see “Chicky” running just as fast and pecking away. He was better than a watch dog. Even the cat left him alone. And yes, he did crow beautifully.