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Breeding Sustainably

 
Linda Potter
Posts: 31
Location: In the Sierra de Bazas, Andalucia, Spain
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Hi,
I was wondering if anyone has had success with breeding chickens for meat and eggs (one roast chicken a week or every other week and a dozen eggs would do us) sustainably over many generations on a small family smallholding scale. By sustainably, I mean avoiding inbreeding. Is it feasible with a small number of birds, 30 ish, and still getting that one (or half of one) roast chicken and a dozen eggs a week ? If so, over how many years/generations could you make it work if you didnt keep small groups of hens with cock(s) as separate breeding colonies (without getting into probability equations.... my maths isn't that good !). Quite a complex question, I know, but perhaps someone has been pondering this as well. Thanks !
 
John Polk
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With a small 'closed' flock, inbreeding could occur after several generations.
Chickens create a new generation each year.

A good way to break this cycle is to get a fresh rooster every few years.
Roosters are often 'give-away' items around here.
If somebody wants to hatch a dozen hens, they will also hatch a dozen cocks - a surplus.

If you have a nearby neighbor who raises a good, healthy flock, you can probably swap roosters with them.
The next time, use a different neighbor.
Farmers with good genetic stock are probably a better choice than most hatcheries.

A key to successful breeding is to use the best rooster you can get.
The egg laying genetics is passed from the hen to the rooster, who then passes it along to the next batch of hens.
 
Linda Potter
Posts: 31
Location: In the Sierra de Bazas, Andalucia, Spain
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Thanks. Sound advice !
 
Maya Toccata
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Linda, Do you have a breed picked out for good egg production and meat?
 
Linda Potter
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Location: In the Sierra de Bazas, Andalucia, Spain
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Hi Maya !

Well, because I want a roast chicken every week or two; and I will be keeping them alive longer than your average homesteader because I dont have a freezer and have high hopes for lots of free food for them; and , according to everything I've read, even a poor layer will lay 2 eggs a week, I think a breed that might not lay so many eggs BUT will continue with some laying in the winter months would be ideal. (That was a long sentence!! )

I do want to try to breed my own for meat and to replace egg layers otherwise its going to turn into an expensive hobby instead of another string to my self-sufficiency bow. At the moment , and I am still debating, Jersey Giants or Jersey Giants hybrid. I really like Adam Klaus' thread about a good homesteading breed/hybrid called Eldorado, but I can't find anyone who sells Dark Cornish here in Spain.... yet.

Any thoughts?

Cheers,
Linda

So my idea, at the moment is, Jersey Giants
 
Luke Townsley
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Location: Dugger, IN Zone 6a
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Personally, I would look at Heritage Whites aka White Rocks, barred rocks (a personal favorite), buff orpingtons, Australorps (if you don't mind a black bird) as well as the giants. It depends partly on whether or not you are comfortable having birds that don't chew, taste, or look like the Cornish X from the store. Also, for eating cockerels, avoid giving them laying mash since it it high calcium, and I suspect it makes the meat tough.

Also, you will want to age the meat from your home grown birds to make it more tender.

If you are talking about eating adult chickens without getting production, yes, it is expensive if you have to feed and house them. I grow meat birds and would consider it a luxury to grow one out to adulthood and then process it without getting eggs.

For cost effectiveness, your great grandparents had the right idea. Process the fryers (ie young cockerels), and stew the old hens.

BTW, I just saw you are in Spain. Have you looked at the old Cornish chickens?
 
Linda Potter
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Location: In the Sierra de Bazas, Andalucia, Spain
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Hi Luke ! Oh yes, I want eggs. Just don't necessarily want a real good egg layer as a priority. Good meat and lots of it, broodiness, calmness, hardy and some eggs are my priorities.

I know I can find barred rocks, orpingtons, australorps and I will consider them all. I can get the Cornish cross, but i don't want them as they die too quickly after they reach slaughtering weight. I haven't seen any original cornish though and would love to find some.

They do offer some different breeds/hybrids here in Spain. I am just finding out about Abrocam Gigante. Well, its going to be a big bird, isn't it?

Thanks for your input. Much appreciated.
Linda
 
Luke Townsley
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I used to be part of a Cornish facebook group. There are a lot of people into the old fashioned ones, but I don't know about your location. They are slow growing and known for flavor, and seem like a good candidate for your purposes. I don't know how well they forage. And yes, Cornish X meat chicken aren't what you want if you want to grow them to adulthood.

I decided against raising them, opting for "american" breeds instead. Very scientific, I know.
 
Peter Ellis
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Just one thought about keeping chickens around for years and then eating them - Stock.

I once made the mistake of roasting a chicken from the supermarket that was packaged as "whole fowl". I was later informed that this was grocer speak for an Old Hen.

It tasted appallingly bad, unquestionably worst chicken I have ever eaten. Just a word of caution regarding how to use those aging birds And only one data point, ymmv.
 
Linda Potter
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Location: In the Sierra de Bazas, Andalucia, Spain
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Hi Peter,

Wow, I knew that old birds were tough, but I didn't know they tasted bad. Hey, stewed slow and low with some white wine in my sun oven should do the trick. I mean isnt Coq au Vin (rooster in wine) a recipe for an older bird. When I find out, I can start a new thread with some 'Tough Old Bird' recipes. Thanks for the warning. Linda
 
Luke Townsley
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I haven't eaten really really old chicken, but the hens I have had have been awesome in flavor. I definitely would NOT want an old hen from a confinement operation though. It is very helpful to age the meat at around 38 degrees F for about 48 hours (you will notive Rigor Mortis passing and the meat will get more tender and more flavorful. I do that will all my chickens, but it is more important for slower growing birds.

Old roosters on the other hand... I don't know if it is the hormones or the calcium from the laying mash, but my not-so-old rooster was so tough I could hardly butcher him. We made bone broth and gave the dog the meat. It wasn't chewable. The flavor was fine though.
 
Linda Potter
Posts: 31
Location: In the Sierra de Bazas, Andalucia, Spain
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Hey Luke,

What do you mean by ageing the meat ? My Italian neighbors in Ontario used to hang their slaughtered rabbits outside the back porch, is that what you mean ? If so, how long is long enough and how do I keep the flies off ? We have A LOT of flies !
Thanks.... oops... just seen you've answered some if this....
 
Luke Townsley
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Location: Dugger, IN Zone 6a
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To age chicken (and rabbit) at home, process it completely so you are left with a whole carcase and chill it in icewater to get out the body heat and lower the temp to 38 degrees F. Then keep it in icewater, or the bottom of your refrigerator (must be above freezing, around 38 degrees F), for 48 hours. When rigor mortise starts to pass, and you can actually move the carcase enough to bag it and the meat starts to get softer, you can either eat it or freeze it. It doesn't hurt to let it age a bit more when you thaw it out.

IMO, this is an important step with the types of chickens we are talking about. It won't make an old hen into a fryer, but it should make it so no one complains about it being tough when you stew it, and the "fryers" should actually be good fried if you don't dry them out. Granted, they will be denser than Cornish X.
 
Luke Townsley
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You can just fill up a bucket or barrel with icewater and keep ice in it to age chickens and rabbits. The meat will absorb a small amount of water.
 
Luke Townsley
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Some people soak it in brine.
 
Linda Potter
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Location: In the Sierra de Bazas, Andalucia, Spain
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Thanks! I don't have a freezer but I can buy a bag of ice from the supermarket. I will try the brine first. I think I remember a TV cook, Nigella Lawson, doing that with a chicken. Eggselent !
Linda

 
Maya Toccata
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we just butchered a 7-year-old hen (buff orphington) i cooked the whole thing in water in the pressure cooker for broth and then chopped the meat up very small for chicken salad. the taste was good, the meat was still pretty tough (as you might expect of a 7-year-old hen!) but edible. the broth tasted pretty strong but we enjoyed it with miso.
it was the butchering and eating of this hen that made me want to start a cycle of weekly butchering and annual breeding so our meat is not so tough.
 
Linda Potter
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Location: In the Sierra de Bazas, Andalucia, Spain
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Hey Maya,

I'd love to keep in contact with you to share our experiences with an annual breeding cycle. Where are you and what's your climate like ?

One of my concerns is sourcing unrelated stock. I really am in the backwaters of rural Spain - proper hillbilly country......, heck even some of the people are in-bred ! There are a few farmers/breeders online so I can go to them for some fresh blood, at least for a while. Because of this, I think that it would be too difficult for me to keep a pure breed pure.

I read in another thread that geoff lawton says, "dual purpose hens are butchered after 2 years of laying. We raise our own birds with broody hens & keep the new recruits. We butcher the roosters at 17 weeks."
I think I will try using that model broadly speaking except the roosters will be eaten at 17, 18, 19.... weeks
. It will be interesting to see how many weeks old becomes too old. Looks like 7 years is definitely too old
.

Well all this is still to come for me. We are only in the process of building the Chook Nook. (see I'm silly, I've even already thought of a name for the chicken house). It will be a veritable fortress by most peoples' standards. We have roaming dogs, feral and domesticated, foxes, eagles and opportunists, so we need to get it right, right from the start.

Thanks for your input.
abrazos,
Linda
 
Luke Townsley
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The "proper" moment to process roosters is when you can't stand to keep them any more. After they start to turn from cockerels to roosters, they will drive you and the hens crazy, especially in a mixed flock.
 
Linda Potter
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Location: In the Sierra de Bazas, Andalucia, Spain
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Hee hee hee, Luke ! I was hoping a docile breed would lessen the need for 'mercy' killing, but hey, any nasty b******s will end up straight in the sun oven.... if need be, we'll have lots of friends over as well.
 
Maya Toccata
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Linda, yes, lets keep in touch. I'm in the high desert of California, USA. It gets very hot here so that is a concern when choosing a breed. we've had about 15 laying hens and one rooster for 7 years. auracanas, buff orphington, Delaware, and wyandotte. all of them have done fine in our harsh climate, and are still laying well. the buff orphingtons are the only ones who wanted to sit on eggs (go broody) and the auracanas have been the best layers in both cold and hot weather. I was thinking buff orphington would be our dual purpose choice, but was a bit disappointed at how little meat there was. I guess I'm just used to the cornish cross...
 
Linda Potter
Posts: 31
Location: In the Sierra de Bazas, Andalucia, Spain
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Hi Maya,

I'm in the Altiplano of Andalucia; very hot dry summers and winter nights that often go below freezing but not very far below freezing. We're about 2700 ft up on the base of the Sierra de Baza. Our climates sound similar. We moved here from the UK 4 years ago.

I will be checking out a farmer who a friend told me about. I know his chickens are BIG and either meat or dual purpose. I am hoping they are Abrocam Gigante or Jersey Giants. The Abrocam seems to be Spains favorite dual purpose bird, meaty and a quick grower, but I can't find out if they are friendly to each other or broody. We will see and I'll let you know. First the chicken house !

Thanks
Linda
 
Maya Toccata
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Linda, we are at 2700ft elevation too! we get only about 10cm annual rainfall - hyper arid. we've had our hens in a fenced run (hawks, dogs, and bobcats are all threats) but are building a chicken tractor set up for the new flock. I think I've settled back on buff orphington. only they and black giants are very likely to hatch their own eggs (of the breeds I can choose from here) and I worry that a giant black bird would suffer under our hot desert sun.
now to research chicken tractor designs!
 
Linda Potter
Posts: 31
Location: In the Sierra de Bazas, Andalucia, Spain
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Hey Maya,

Oh, a chicken tractor with bobcats around. Tell me about it sometime. I would love to give them a more natural life ie more like free range. I guess that is what you are trying to do. Sounds a step too far for me at the moment, but maybe in the future.

We are in a semi-arid region. Average 32 cm of rain. How do you get your water ? We will be getting hooked up to get agricultural grade water onto our property in July (hopefully). We've been holding off doing anything more than a small veg garden as, apart from saving rainwater, we've had to transport water in ourselves. My husband is digging a swale too. So I'm planting tree seeds this year for shade, fodder, fruit, and a small amount of wood for fire or woodcrafts. My last attempt failed miserably. This time I did a lot more research (and, you know, I think there is more information out there too) so I am cold stratifying, soaking, and scarifying my little heart out. Also covering the pot with plastic wrap keeps the moisture in. No matter how often you water the soil seems to dry out without it.. Much better results.... well we've got tree seedlings. I think i managed 1 last time i tried. Have you
heard about Moringa?

Had I realized that you can feed your chooks on farmed bugs and some
greens, I might have started with chooks instead of growies.

Keep me posted on the chicken tractor, Maya! I am a frequent flier as I travel back and forth between the UK, where I work for about 3 weeks in a run, and Spain where all the fun stuff is. I'd love to pick up our conversation on 1st May.

Let's catch up then !



 
Maya Toccata
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I've been reading harvey ussery's chicken pages ( http://www.themodernhomestead.us/article/poultry.html) and he had tons of very relevant info on breeding, feeding, and managing poultry flocks. it's got me thinking maybe instead of all buff orphingtons i should have a "sub flock" of old englis just for their mothering skills. if i didn't need the meat birds to be broody i could go with a meatier bird like white jersey giant. hmmm.
 
Luke Townsley
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Maya Toccata wrote:I've been reading harvey ussery's chicken pages ( http://www.themodernhomestead.us/article/poultry.html) and he had tons of very relevant info on breeding, feeding, and managing poultry flocks. it's got me thinking maybe instead of all buff orphingtons i should have a "sub flock" of old englis just for their mothering skills. if i didn't need the meat birds to be broody i could go with a meatier bird like white jersey giant. hmmm.


If you are hoping to do this long term, you might thing about trying to select for broodiness. If you (or your neighbors) manage a large enough flock size to develop your own strain, from what little I have heard, it should be well within reach.
 
Linda Potter
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Location: In the Sierra de Bazas, Andalucia, Spain
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Hey Maya, thanks for that link. I will be gleaning it for any info. Never heard of old English. Do they have another name ? I guess they are supposed to be broody ? I had a thought that if it turns out that I have no broody hens, I could get 2 or 3 silkies. Not to breed, but to 'sit'. I'm guessing, their eggs should be sufficiently smaller than the rest so I can identify them. And I happen to like pickled eggs..... smaller eggs are better to pickle ! I know I am taking a chance that the big breed Jersey Giants will bully the small silkies but I've read the Jersey Giants are relatively docile, so it might work.
 
Linda Potter
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Location: In the Sierra de Bazas, Andalucia, Spain
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Hey Maya,

My new, cheap and cheerful tablet is on the fritz and needs replacing so my internet access will be sporadic (local library) until that's sorted. 'Talk' to you soon !
 
Zach Muller
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John Polk wrote:

A key to successful breeding is to use the best rooster you can get.
The egg laying genetics is passed from the hen to the rooster, who then passes it along to the next batch of hens.


Hey john I am just curious to know what characteristics I could look for in a cockerel to ensure quality?

I have a ~year and a half old cock that is very good tempered and potent. He is easy to control and does a good job of keeping away the cats and hawks. My younger cockerel is a lot more weary of human touch and will try to peck at my hands given the chance, but it seems he is getting more acclimated to me as he gets older. I am coming up on processing one of these guys and I thought it would be the younger of the two since he seems a little crazier and harder to handle, but the older one already has an offspring sitting on eggs so that's 2 generations for him. I am still leaning toward processing the young one at this point, and trading for another gentle rooster when I need to.
 
Johnny Niamert
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Some notes I took while watching this video series featuring Jim Adkins of the Sustainable Poultry Network include the following for selecting good breeders:

Feather size - wider = better
Skull size - wider = better
Pubic bone size - 3 fingers wide spread. Soft, pliable. Not hard. Slightly curved inwards. Not straight or really rounded.
Molting - Bird molts all at once and quickly over 6-8 weeks. Molting isn't spotty. Don't cull when molting.
Heart girth - wider = better. You want a 'flatter' back.
Body depth (legs to top of back) - Taller/wider = better. Easier to pass eggs.
Keel bone - want a good size.
Food consumption - more = better.

In addition to good temperament, not aggressive, friendly, manifestation of breed characteristics, etc.
 
Maya Toccata
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linda, the breed i meant is "old english game." I'm not familiar with them either, but harvey ussery (my new guru) says they are top notch mothers- guaranteed to go broody and protect their young. he also said silkies are an excellent choice for mothers. i like your idea of pulling the smaller eggs to make sure the giants are what hatch.
 
John Polk
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I would suggest that for the first year, breed as normal. But, keep some of the best (cocks/hens) an extra year.
Pullets, their first year, lay smaller eggs, but in their 2nd year, lay fewer but larger eggs.
Smaller eggs = smaller offspring. Larger eggs = larger offspring.

Also, on the egg farm I worked on, they claimed that the cockerel to pullet ratio was about 60:40.
But when they bred the older birds it became more like 50:50.
Those were the reasons that they chose to select hens for their breeding pens from their 2nd year flocks.
They produced a higher %, and bigger hens.
This allowed them to meet their breeding quotas with fewer hens, and less feed. Simple math...$$$.

 
Linda Potter
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Location: In the Sierra de Bazas, Andalucia, Spain
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Hey Maya !
Just discovered Naked Necks. Although there are conflicting reports (but aren't there always..... ) the Naked Neck is mostly reported to be easy to pluck, disease resistant, good forager and good in confinement, quickly broody, tasty, meaty, good layer of large eggs even in the winter and friendly. Downsides are they are ugly, but I never let that bother me ! And Burra has a thread where she seems to have gone off them because they weren't heat tolerant enough. They were locked outside in the summer sun, so it is an extreme situation, but i take her point.
Anyway they certainly sound like they are worth a try to me. I can get them here in Spain. I noticed during my research that Murray McMurray sells them in the US.
Added bonus, .... perhaps any potential predators of the human kind will think they are too sickly to bother stealing !
 
Kim Briggs
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Did anyone ever figure out how many chickens are needed for the flock to be self-perpetuating? I have a small flock of Silver Grey Dorkings that I would like to try and keep going and get eggs & meat. I chose them because I wanted a dual purpose heritage bird. They were prized for their tender meat in Dorking England, they're good foragers, good sitters, good mothers & gentle (for my kids)… and I love the way they look & you can tell them apart as soon as they hatch.
 
Linda Potter
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Location: In the Sierra de Bazas, Andalucia, Spain
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Hi Maya,

Thank you for telling about Harvey Ussery's book. Its really informative. I have to say that I have learnt a lot from reading on the forums in permies, but there's always more to learn. For example, I didn't know that cocks do a dance for their ladies before mounting them and that this is a good thing to look for in a breeding cock. Also I thought it was cool that he showed you how to caponise, but i haven't looked at that yet. I'm getting my naked necks at the beginning of Asugust.... finally ! I'll start a naked neck thread I think. Look out for it !
 
Lonnie McManners
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I have started my own class or flock of birds for my uses, they are Barred Rock's bred for my purpose's but my thought is that you can raise your own pullet's cheap every year but the problem is in finding a rooster that you want breeding your hens. Most people buy them from hatcheries where life is factory and babied mine have to be survivers since that's what I want in my flock with other trait's. anytime you breed weakness in your flock you hurt yourself if that's not what you want. You have to be really cautious with a rooster as his traits determine half of your flock therefore can quickly destroy everything you are working for.
 
Linda Potter
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Location: In the Sierra de Bazas, Andalucia, Spain
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Thanks for that Lonnie. That is something I will be paying close attention to. I recently stumbled across a video from the Sustainable Poultry Network and this is their main raison d'être. I realised I have a lot to learn !
 
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