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Chicken Breeds

 
Kirk Hutchison
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  I once read an article about a man who "built a better chicken". He bred a slightly smaller than normal (for a regular) chicken from banty stock. It ended up being much more food-efficient than other chickens of similar size. I seem to have lost the bookmark, but I was intrigued. What characteristics do you think the ideal forest garden chicken would have, and how would one go about breeding one?
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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I think, if they are to be free-range, they'd need to be able to fly fairly well, and roost in trees (keeping in mind that chickens always return to the same place to roost at night, so the area underneath gets way too much fertilizer).  They should be alert; the males should be protective of the females and young; they need to be mixed or mottled colors for camouflage (solid-colored birds stand out against their background much more than mixed-colors such as the Barred Rock).  You'd probably want the hens to be around four or five pounds, while the roos would be maybe a pound heavier -- smaller birds might be a little more efficient on the feed, but would probably also lay smaller eggs, and would have less meat when you did need to butcher one.  The hens should be good natural mothers, although not broody all the time, because then you wouldn't get any eggs. 

Probably, the best birds for the project would be Old English Game (large fowl, which are expensive to get hold of) crossed with something like a Leghorn.  I've been told that OEG X with a good layer breed makes a really nice chicken.  But since we have only a little over an acre, I need heavier birds that will stay home and not go over the fence into the neighbor's yard.

If you have cold winters, and the birds are going to winter out, or in an unheated coop, you should select a slightly larger bird -- body mass retains heat -- and go for a rose or pea comb to reduce the chance of frost-bite.  It would also be a good idea to use one of the breeds known for continuing to lay through the winter.  There are a number of them; my favorites are Buckeye and Salmon Faverolle.

Kathleen
 
Kirk Hutchison
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I might pop an Easter Egger into the mix as well. I like the colorful eggs
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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I like the colorful eggs, too -- if you wanted to add even more color to your mix, you could get one or two of the breeds that lay dark brown eggs!

Kathleen
 
Emerson White
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It will always be a trade off between the higher feed conversion rates of smaller animals (take less time to grow, and time with meat on the bones is time that the meat is burning food and fuel. and less processing time with larger birds. A chicken can turn a pound of feed into 5 ounces of egg, a quail can make 7.

What do you want from the bird (meat, eggs, both)? How much are you planning to feed them? How are you going to feed them?

2nd what Kathlene said about coloration, dark browns and blacks are good, "Partidge" colors. Birds have better color vision than we do.

Typically the more active birds will forage better, The Cornish X Rock crosses are lazy and will starve on a healthy field, where as a jersey giant will do alright for itself. The difference is that the giant takes 32 weeks to get to the size the cross gets in 8.

The Wyandotte is good at finding its own scratch and comes in a variety of colors, and is a dual purpose bird.

Australorps are solid I believe, but dependable layers that might be added to the cross to produce a reliable layer.

There is the spaghetti approach too, You take every mutt chick and assortment you can find, and toss them together in a big flock. If you find out that any chicken is especially mean or noisy or good at hiding eggs, or too small, eat it. What doesn't stick to the wall goes in the soup pot, and what does stays around till the next generation.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Emerson White wrote:There is the spaghetti approach too, You take every mutt chick and assortment you can find, and toss them together in a big flock. If you find out that any chicken is especially mean or noisy or good at hiding eggs, or too small, eat it. What doesn't stick to the wall goes in the soup pot, and what does stays around till the next generation.


LOL!  This is sort of what I've been doing, only one or two or three breeds at a time, rather than all at once.  I'm getting it down to the ones I really like, though -- Wyandottes, Faverolles, hoping to get some Buckeyes soon....

Kathleen
 
Ken Peavey
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I've got a pair of partridge cochin hens.  Their color blends in with the leaves on the ground nicely, whereas the giant whites kinda stand out.
 
Kirk Hutchison
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  I like the point about coloration. I suppose some experimental breeding is in order.
 
Lisa Paulson
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I am no expert but noticed many traits to consider, one being the temperature hardiness considering body type and the larger the comb tissue, the better a bird can cool in heat whereas a smaller combed bird conserves more heat.  I  am choosing Australorps to start out a small flock with as they are dual purpose birds and noted as HARDY, and for a newbie like me that will be an important trait .  They are active for foraging too and I plan to experiment having free range during the daylight hours. 

Others will have differing needs and criteria be it optimizing food, or broodiness to raise their own meat flock, perhaps a leaner bird that is hardier in heat. 

My first experience a decade ago was getting 10 Auracana chicks thinking I would have some laying hens with low cholesterol eggs and a few males to cull .  Well I ended up with  9 cocks and a hen that needed protection, plus I learned the hard way they are fighting birds, loud and lean, not putting on weight, plus so tough I could not cook them, I traded them to a family member that had a preasure cooker in exchange for much appreciated salmon.  My next experience was some white meat bird breed our local co-op brought in each spring. They were a bit horrifying growing fast and deforming, it put me off and I would not eat those either, mentally I lost all appetite for meat.  So now I am trying for a small egg laying flock with a vague idea  I have an option to buy a rooster later and can iexpand in time to raise a meat flock from hatched eggs.  I am already considering getting a few golden laced wyndotes (sp?) since the 4Her I consult with raises them, and Muscovy ducks...

http://www.ithaca.edu/staff/jhenderson/chooks/chooks.html

I found this website helpful with a chart on breed characteristics and observations

 
Emerson White
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When life gives you cockrels you make capons.
 
Kirk Hutchison
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Ok, so it seems the main traits I would be selecting for would be:
(in no particular order)
1) good laying
2) good camouflage
3) good mothering abilities
4) ability to forage for food
5) moderate cold and heat tolerance
6) docility
7) ability to live entirely off of forest garden products
interesting egg coloration 
9) ability to fly fairly well
10) not good at hiding eggs
 
Emerson White
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And wants to b eaten, H[sup]2[/sup]G[sup]2[/sup] style
 
Kirk Hutchison
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Emerson White wrote:
And wants to b eaten, H[sup]2[/sup]G[sup]2[/sup] style


Not so much. I wouldn't really be raising them for meat.
 
Emerson White
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I just think your list is a little to hopeful, that was the idea I was trying to convey. That and a little towel day cheer
 
Kirk Hutchison
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Ahh, I see. I doubt such a chicken exists yet, but I have high hopes for breeding. When I get land, I will start (even if it takes years).
 
Emerson White
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I see a conflict between 1 & 9 and another amongst 3,6,7 & 10
 
Emil Spoerri
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what I figure, from what I have read, is that the good mothering gene butts up against the good layer gene.

Apparently the reason why the best layers are great layers is because they never go broody.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Emile Spore wrote:
what I figure, from what I have read, is that the good mothering gene butts up against the good layer gene.

Apparently the reason why the best layers are great layers is because they never go broody.


This is true, but there are a number of breeds that will go broody once in a while, rather than all the time.  Or, one or two hens of the flock (of all the same breed) might be good broodies, while the others lay steadily.  This allows you to set eggs under the broody hen from an assortment of your other hens (and I'd include one from the broody hen, as well, if you are trying to maintain that ability in your flock), while the other hens continue to lay well.  This is about where my flock is right now.  I've got a dozen Wyandotte hens, of which three have gone broody either last fall or this spring -- one hen went broody both last fall and this spring.  So if I maintained this flock, I could probably hatch out three dozen chicks a year (if no more of the hens go broody), enough to supply all the replacements I need and put some meat in the pot, too.  In the meantime, I'm getting on average eight to ten eggs a day from the hens that aren't broody (they don't all go broody at the same time, usually).  It works well for me.

Kathleen
 
helen atthowe
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I just read in Mother Earth News Issue No. 239 page 30 that the quickest breeds to start laying are Cherry Eggers, Indian Rivers, ISA Browns, Pearl Leghorns, and Golden Comets. Pearl Leghorns also ranked high as producing well in free range (rather than confinement) conditions. Any one else have experience with breeds  that start laying quick and do well free-range?

Helen
 
T. Pierce
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Kirk Hutchison wrote:
Ok, so it seems the main traits I would be selecting for would be:
(in no particular order)
1) good laying
2) good camouflage
3) good mothering abilities
4) ability to forage for food
5) moderate cold and heat tolerance
6) docility
7) ability to live entirely off of forest garden products
interesting egg coloration 
9) ability to fly fairly well
10) not good at hiding eggs


all this adds up to  american game fowl.  not to be confused with the Old english game bantams and not to be  lumped with the old english game fowl.  this list describes them to a tee.  they will go broody, but as long as you keep their nests down to one egg. they will lay all season long.  if you keep lights on them they will lay yr round.  course they wont lay like a sexlink or leghorn. but they are better than other so called layer breeds.  i at one time tried to eat the extra pullets.  but if these are free ranged they are so tough its not worth it. even at a young age. if pen raised the meat is still to tuff IMO.  its a dark meat too.  one must not forget these are athletes.  born and bred for sport. so they must be tough.  thats why they can endure what will hinder or even kill most breeds of fowl. 

another con to owning these is the roosters will not tolerate each other from the age of 4-6 months.  at that age catagory they will start to kill one another.    even hens will fight.  but generally these will get along if in a free ranged environment.  if raised like this you have a good chance of them going feral very easily. 

but all said and done.  they match the list above better than any other type of fowl alive.
 
Helen Deergrove
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"  I just read in Mother Earth News Issue No. 239 page 30 that the quickest breeds to start laying are Cherry Eggers, Indian Rivers, ISA Browns, Pearl Leghorns, and Golden Comets. Pearl Leghorns also ranked high as producing well in free range (rather than confinement) conditions. Any one else have experience with breeds  that start laying quick and do well free-range?
Helen  "

You might look into  Egyptian Fayoumis. They are quick maturing, active, and also have very good instincts for avoiding predators.
 
                  
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What you need is Old Fashioned Yard Birds in other words get you some already mixed breed mutt birds or pick several breeds with traits you like and a rooster or two (starting with chicks keeps the Roos friendly and sane) and let nature take it's course hatching out chicks which will hopefully meet your criteria. Either way I don't think you are going to find a specific breed of bird that will meet all your criteria any better. BTW my personal mix has easter egger's in the background so I get blue and green eggs with one laying an almost olive drab egg but I also have a hen that lays a light brown egg with darker speckles is that for interest? 
 
Sam Surman
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Pnyeredting (my typing 'interesting' in the dark) thread, I've had the game birds for years and recently had decided that I needed a leghorn rooster to bring in some better laying lines ... am I correct in thinking that the rooster gives you the hens traits? I like the size of the eggs and the hens are such hard workers I'm sure a little leghorn in them would make for a much better laying flock, with perhaps some barred rock on the next generation?

Cheers

 
T. Pierce
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dolmen wrote:
Pnyeredting (my typing 'interesting' in the dark) thread, I've had the game birds for years and recently had decided that I needed a leghorn rooster to bring in some better laying lines ... am I correct in thinking that the rooster gives you the hens traits? I like the size of the eggs and the hens are such hard workers I'm sure a little leghorn in them would make for a much better laying flock, with perhaps some barred rock on the next generation?

Cheers




interesting plan. ive never considered trying this cross.  i dont know how well the leghorn will make or break the game hen lines.

ive known brown egg laying breeds crossed over game hens. and they did fine.  only thing that comes to mind. is that ive read the leghorn breeds are known to be high strung and flighty birds.  much like the game lines.  could this cause even wilder offspring??  just a thought.  only way to find out is try it.  the calmer brown egg lines will give a little more body the game offspring and calm them down some too.  the stags from the cross will still have aggression,  but wont be game, hence wont fight to the death as a well bred game line will.

as for crossing BR onto the next generation.  ive never been in favor of shotgun breeding like this.  b/c on a good cross the hens will favor the brood cock side and cockerals will favor brood hen side.  but you go throwing another variable in the genetic soup.  the offspring will not be predicatable. 
 
Sam Surman
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Tnx DR, for sharing your thoughts ... you could be correct, my thinking was that I was getting a soft feather laying strain into the flock, and that then perhaps I would try improving egg size by introducing the PR or perhaps RIR depending on what was available next year or perhaps the following year when I know how this first cross turns out!

I could just start a fresh, but I really admire the game fowl and their natural ability to look after them selves, being great foragers, if I could hold onto some of their better qualities and improve the egg numbers I would be well pleased.

Over the years I've found that most poultry keepers were not interested in egg numbers or even the hardyness of their flock ... the two traits that are most important to me!

I've just found a guy that has wyandott's in a neighbouring town, so that might possibly be an interesting cross, rather than the leghorn?

Cheers

 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Wyandottes could be a good cross (I have some and like them), but not all Leghorns are flighty.  If you do some research, you may be able to find some from a calmer strain.  I've got a Mille Fleur Leghorn rooster (from Sand Hill Preservation Center) and he's just fine (and very pretty).  I don't know how well the Mille Fleurs lay in comparison to a White, because his hen got eaten by a raccoon last fall, but I should be getting a few more of them soon and will hopefully find out how well they lay.

Laying and hardiness are important to me; so is the ability to hatch and raise flock replacements.  I don't need every hen in the flock going broody, but it is desirable to have several broody hens in the flock.

Kathleen
 
John Polk
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If you want a breed that will give some good broodies, look at Orpingtons or Australorps (bred from orpingtons).  They are also calm, docile hens that are prolific egg layers.  Delawares can also be good brood hens, and are good layers as well (they are frequently the hen involved with the Red Star, sex-link cross).  All 3 of those breeds are well adapted to free-range.  Anything that comes out of the Leghorn breed will seldom be broody...too many generations of "Lay 'em & Leave 'em" have been bred into them.  They will, however, give you more eggs per pound of feed than anything else out there.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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I've also had several Easter Eggers (commonly, and incorrectly, called Ameracaunas) go broody and raise chicks, and at least three of my Wyandottes have gone broody (I have eight Golden-laced and one Buff).  These breeds are very decent layers and lay pretty well through the winter even without light.  Have to say, though, I've had quite a few Australorps and Buff Orpingtons over the years, and while a lot of people say these are pretty reliable breeds for going broody, I've never had one go broody.

Kathleen
 
Sam Surman
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Kathleen Sanderson wrote:
Laying and hardiness are important to me; so is the ability to hatch and raise flock replacements.  I don't need every hen in the flock going broody, but it is desirable to have several broody hens in the flock.

Kathleen


I didn't mention this, but I agree 'ability to hatch' is also a very important trait.

I've dropped this local guy an email to enquire aout the GL wyandotte rooster he has for sale ... if it is a nice bird, its gonna be the way I go  ... taking only the good from both breeds I'm gonna have nice hens later this year   

Hopefully the deal works out, I'll let you all know how I get on, and thanks for everyone's input

Cheers

 
Sam Surman
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Well Mr Wyandotte has moved in ... but he is very slow at getting to know his new lady friends! he's acting the perfect gentleman clucking about and showing them tasty morsals ... not at all like a game rooster!
watch this space

Cheers

 
James Stark
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Hey er'body,

Sorry if this strays slightly from the topic. I am relatively new to the chicken scene. Only three years ago, I started keeping chickens for eggs. My first flock of 8 birds was from someone leaving the country. Most of the birds were older, but it was a good introduction for me, and 8 older birds still provided enough eggs for my table. When I lost several in the span of 2 months, I decided that I'd get some new birds and increase the size of the flock since my whole family was begging me for eggs on a daily basis. (Ever notice that when you give someone a dozen eggs laid by chickens that eat grass, bugs, seeds, table scraps, and whatnot, that they never want to buy at the grocery store again?  :wink So I bought 15 pullets from a hatchery. They are "brown layers" and actually do quite well foraging, and lay plenty of eggs. However, as I become more educated, I learned that these were not the birds I want. They never go broody, and if I hatched their eggs I would end up with poor birds, if the eggs were even viable. But most importantly, I found out these were basically "factory chickens" and I now refuse to support that industry. OK, rambling background over....

My question is this: If I were to mix a flock with say, some really good egg layers that don't go broody, toss in a couple Orphingtons to brood some of the eggs, and select a few good layers to keep each year, would that work, and what breed would be the best to use for that? I know Orphingtons do well in my climate (zone 3) but what would you suggest for the egg layers and the roo?

P.S. I don't really mind having a culled bird that doesn't make a very good meal. My dogs appreciate any meat, and nothing ever goes to waste around here.
 
T. Pierce
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if it was I...and i wanted to keep something for brood purposes.  id go with the ultimate brood machine which is the silkie.  if you wanted a very close second.  and wanted something that was a far supperior mother very protective,  and a decent layer.  (much better than a silkie)  id go with a few game hens. 

ive had a few orphingtons. i was not impressed.  smaller eggs than i needed and even though they would go broody they werent consistant enuff.  for the silkies and games. its a quarantee that you will have some hatching going on. 
 
T. Pierce
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dolmen wrote:
Well Mr Wyandotte has moved in ... but he is very slow at getting to know his new lady friends! he's acting the perfect gentleman clucking about and showing them tasty morsals ... not at all like a game rooster!
watch this space

Cheers




do you have a game rooster?
 
James Stark
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Thanks DR. So much of the info I have is from someone who heard it from someone....and so on. Nice to get the opinion of someone who's actually got some experience. I'm going to an auction/show next weekend, and I'll keep an eye out for those!
 
Sam Surman
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Dead Rabbit wrote:
do you have a game rooster?


Yes ... he is in a seperate flock and is very active when introduced to new lady friends  ... dropping the wing, if you kno what I mean 
 
T. Pierce
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dolmen wrote:
Yes ... he is in a seperate flock and is very active when introduced to new lady friends  ... dropping the wing, if you kno what I mean 


lol.  some games are real gentlemen.  and others are rough on the ladies.  i do love my games.  i keep just a few now adays.  i dont really raise them anymore.  but i do like their eggs.  they are much more tastier than any other breed of fowl ive owned. 

 
T. Pierce
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James Stark wrote:
Thanks DR. So much of the info I have is from someone who heard it from someone....and so on. Nice to get the opinion of someone who's actually got some experience. I'm going to an auction/show next weekend, and I'll keep an eye out for those!



mr stark.  your very welcome.  i know a few things about fowl.  they are my passion.  and the world of game fowl take your ordinary knowledge of barnyard types to a whole nother level.   owning gamefowl is a science.  anyone can read a book.  and most known knowledge on fowl is ordinary repetition that anyone and everyone that has owned fowl for a few yrs knows.  experience  first hand takes all that other stuff that books and science  teaches you.  outa the proverbial box.   thats why i enjoy this site so far.  the info is stuff you cant learn most anywhere else.

here are a few nice roosters ive had in the past



 
James Stark
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DR. That is EXACTLY what my rooster looks like! I've never known what kind he was. (The guy I got him from didn't know either). What kind of bird is that, and are there others that look the same? The only difference is my guy doesn't have a tail. He was the smallest/youngest among four, and they picked on him pretty bad. When I got him he was tailless, was missing all kinds of feathers, and his bum was all raw and oozing. That's why I took him. Now he's nice and big, his feathers are beautiful (except for the missing tail) and him bum is all healed up (but it's still bald as a doorknob! LOL)
 
Sam Surman
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fine birds    they certainly are different to the norm ... I've had them for years, but with the price of grain, I now would like a few more eggs     I've one muff hen that is sitting (gone broody)  just today and she has only laid  9 eggs!

Cheers

 
T. Pierce
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the first one was a pure wood lacey roundhead.  the second is a yellow legged hatch.  these are just different strains of american game fowl.    bred for different abilities  and characteristics.  there are numerous strains that favor in looks these two.  it would be hard to say exactly what yours is by just looking at them. youd have to know family history and the breeder too.
 
After burning through the drip stuff and the french press stuff, Paul has the last, ever, coffee maker. Better living through buying less crap.
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