Cindy Skillman

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since Sep 12, 2018
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Grew up during the “back-to-the-land” movement in the 60’s/70’s, but I was too young. Then like magic I was too old. Now it turns out at last that I’m just right (as Goldilocks famously said.) Having the time of my life.
Zone 3-4 (usually 4) Western South Dakota, central Black Hills
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Recent posts by Cindy Skillman

You are right--I'm thinking weeks and saying months. Thanks for pointing that out.
8 months ago
For some reason I can't see your pics, Ryan.

If you'd like to free range those Rangers, just open the coop door (once they're 2-3 months old) They don't generally get too far away for me. Feed them in the evening, in their tractor. They'll probably already be in there or nearby if you're close to sunset. We (strangely) don't get a lot of predator pressure here despite the many coyote songs all round, sometimes all day. 🤷‍♀️ Even if all you do is let them out when you're outside, that's a help. OTOH, the less exercise they get, the tenderer they'll be. The birds kept penned don't seem to be suffering as long as they get moved regularly. I don't like moving them only once a day though--not once they get much bigger. Too much pooping going on. I feel bad for them, walking and lounging on that. 🤢
8 months ago
Wow! They’re really going at it. My birds (even most of the males) thus far generally get their hackles up and stare at one another for a few seconds, then one backs down. The end. 🤣 Yours are much more enthusiastic about the whole thing.
11 months ago
I’ve been looking at Tyler’s Livestock Conservancy link and it led me to Cackle Hatchery to look at Delawares. That got me (somehow) to a mixed breed called Indian River, which comes out of a DE over New Hampshire cross. They were apparently very popular back in the 40s. I’m interested in the Delawares anyway and apparently the NHs are great egg layers, so I think I’ll order a dozen Indian Rivers to grow out and see how we like them. I’ll also get some male DEs (and a couple-three pullets in case I want to make more DEs), some of the males to grow out and process, while saving the best two for breeders, Ditto the NHs.

Of course there are only another dozen more breeds I also really, really can’t imagine not trying. I already have 40 hens & pullets, 7 cockerels, 30 heritage turkeys, 4 drakes that I hatched to try out my new incubator and (hopefully) 3 geese and a gander (American Buff), plus three Scottish Highland cows and a bull. So three calves soon to join the menagerie, hopefully. I might be letting this get a little out of hand...
11 months ago

Jen Fan wrote:A meat bird is a meat bird, and all chickens are edible.  

Very true. And all breeds lay eggs. That said, I wonder whether it’s not worthwhile to keep primary layers AND breed(s) intended (by me at least) primarily for meat use. Multi tools are great in an emergency or as an expedient for minor repairs but I wouldn’t want to use a multi tool for all my needs, tool-wise. Not that I wouldn’t eat the meaties’ eggs, if I didn’t need to hatch any more meaties any time soon, and not that I wouldn’t make soup of a layer, esp extra roosters. I like your management style. 👍🏼 It sure suits my temperament. 😋

OTOH, I also like my chickens roasted or smoked as well as other more tenderizing means of preparation. (Not that I have anything against soup, but that’s where the leftovers go.) CX and other hybrid meaties are just oversized chicks so they’re nice and tender. I like tender meat. I’m old and my teeth are tired—they’ve never been my best feature and age has not been their friend. I don’t like being dependent on hatcheries however, and I’d like not having to process all my birds in a couple of days. That’s frankly exhausting and takes a heckuva lot of freezer space. So, I want to make capons.

Andrew, I grew out a batch of Color Yield this spring. I think they’re pretty close to the FRs. Really nice birds. I just want to have birds that breed reasonably true, or if hybrid, that it was me making the mix and me who could repeat it. I gather that JGs are kind of like the giant rabbits—mostly bone—so I haven’t really considered them although I think they’d be way cool. 💕

You bring up a good point about sourcing... There aren’t a lot of serious breeders around here that I know of, and I sort of worry about bio security even if there were. I visited the local poultry club and got the impression they were mostly pretty casual regarding that sort of thing. So, if I wanted to get good bloodlines, is there some hatchery I maybe should consider? I’d bite the bullet and order from Greenfire if only they’d at least try to give me a girl and a boy. I’m not big on gambling. I don’t want to order half a dozen super-expensive chicks only to find I have all boys or all girls, and it could definitely happen. (That said, I’ve been real lucky on turkeys, twice having gotten a very even mix, but they’re less than half what Greenfire wants.)

Tyler, I have BA females... they’re really nice birds and decent layers though not very big. I got them from Cackle Hatchery. I know people do use them for meat birds. Maybe I’ll order some from Meyer or Murray and get some from our feed store, then try breeding them into larger birds. I have some Buckeyes I could throw into the mix to give them less vulnerable combs... I’m also very open to giving the Dark Cornish a go. I’ll look into them. I’ll also have a look at your link.  Thanks, everyone!

11 months ago

Ellendra Nauriel wrote:I raised a mixed flock this summer, and noticed that Columbian Wyandottes were absolutely enormous compared to the others, with Black Australorps and Silver Laced Wyandottes tied for second. The CWs also have tight combs and wattles, which make them less vulnerable to frostbite. I noticed that you're in a cold area where that might be important.

My CWs wound up being saved as laying hens instead of butchered, so I can't tell you how the carcasses compared. But from examining the live birds, and from the difference in weight, I'd say there's a lot more meat there than what the others had.

I have CWs and they’re kind of skinny, though nice girls and so pretty. Isn’t that interesting? Where did you get your CWs? Poultry isn’t a big thing around here, so not a lot of breeders to buy from, but I object to paying $29 for a single straight run chick from Greenfire. I guess it’s just gonna be a total DIY thing. I really do like my CWs. They’re such sweeties. They’ve got something of a tendency to broodiness, though I’m not sure I’d trust them with any eggs I cared about very much.

Yes, I like the rose and pea combs. They’re dominant though, I believe, so in my limited understanding, I think it might be fairly easy to erase single combs from any breed I really wanted to work with. I don’t like my birds having frost bitten combs but it doesn’t seem to bother them. That said, I do want rose or pea combs on all my birds eventually.

KC, I’ll keep a bit of a journal on the caponizing—hopefully at least a little bit successful. What I really want is as self-sustaining system as possible. Feed is pretty expensive here, and we live far enough out that collecting food scraps from restaurants and grocery stores seems a daunting proposition. Next year I’m going to attempt a garden, if we get a spring or summer. 🥶 If it materializes, that should help some. I’m getting old, though, and I seem to get tired more easily. I’m especially tired of never-ending rain/snow & cold. I really want to make this happen. I have considered the frypan specials. I might just do that—it’s a good idea.

Andrew, I had Color Yield broilers this summer, from Cackle. Then I ordered CX from a local feed store. I kept them in the tractors, moving them 2-3 times a day and while I felt like the CYs were livelier, I was pleased with them both. They were really gentle, likable birds. I hated butchering days, but I’m not going to stop eating meat, so I want to be honest about it and in touch with the cost involved. I feel like maybe I just don’t want to be involved with causing these birds to be made. I think I’ll be happier raising more survivable birds that have a bit more enjoyable life. And of course, there’s the whole matter of being dependent on the hatcheries. I don’t like that. So... I do like tender chicken and I’m pretty sure DH would not be happy with tough birds, hence the caponizing idea. I’ll try to keep y’all apprised as to how it’s going. 😊
11 months ago
I ought to have specified... my goal is for personal/family consumption. The only way I’d get into selling would be live birds. As far as I’m aware, there’s no processing facility in the area that accepts poultry, so probably not much future in that for me. I’m married to a retired insurance adjuster. 🤣 He freaked out over me even selling eggs to my friends. I don’t know and haven’t been able to find feed-to-meat conversion rates on any but the modern meat breeds. And I agree about the free ranging adeptness being important. I have some Suskovich tractors that I used last summer, so I would be using those, but I would allow the birds to range outside the tractors as well, and only provide feed in the evening. For the last two weeks I might provide the milk-soaked grains and confine them to the tractors unless they’re really hung ho to get out and forage.

Sex linked would be nice. I’m not sure there are any sex-linked meat birds though. I think they’re mostly first generation crosses also, which don’t breed true in second generations, etc. I don’t really understand the genetics well enough to figure it out myself at this time. What folks do as far as I’ve learned thus far, is first they wait until the chick weighs 1-2 lbs, at which time one can usually venture a pretty good guess based on behavior and possibly some other secondary traits. This is the preferred size for caponizing. The second thing is they start on the left side, from which the active ovary can be seen. At that point, if you see you’ve guessed wrong, you can either attempt to poulardize (remove a section of the oviduct) if you want female meat birds, or abort the procedure and put the chick into the recovery cage. I haven’t done this surgery yet. I’m pretty persistent though, and there’s an excellent thread on the subject at Backyard Chickens forum, so hopefully I’ll figure it out fairly quickly with minimal trauma to defenseless chicks. 😳 Not saying I’m not nervous about it, but other people have learned this, so I should be able to as well. 🤞🤞🤞
11 months ago
Mine fly onto the coop roof or fence rails but that’s about it. They don’t fly that well. I thought they did until I saw one of the wild ones flying across the field and up into the pines on the other side. I had seen it before, but it had been a while. They’re a lot smaller so that makes a difference (the first round of wild poults were dying in the wet and cold “spring” while mine were in a nice warm brooder and then coop), but still... mine are soft. My hens are a lot smaller than the toms. I’ll definitely be processing the black hen and a couple of the Narragansetts. I think I’ll keep my bourbon red female, or one of the males... I’ll try and remember to let you know how it all goes. I’m just not sure what they’ll weigh. The girls aren’t that heavy to carry. They look bigger than my Cornish Cross did, but they feel lighter (if I’m remembering accurately.) I haven’t picked up any of my Toms in a while. They look huge, but all those puffed out feathers! Just from looking, all the toms seem about the same size. The Sweetgrass are jakes & jennies yet, so I can’t make much of a comparison there.
11 months ago
I’m not sure that apparent homogeneity would be a reproducible trait, if you know what I mean. However you might be able to recreate it by surgically caponizing some of your little jakes.

From what I’ve read, turkeys are easy to caponize, but since they are customarily harvested at 6-7 months, which is on the cusp with regard to their reaching sexual maturity, there’s no point since the goal of caponizing is to cut off the testosterone before it hardens the muscle and fouls the taste (depending on the consumer’s palate, of course). I’m not sure that’s right, though. They start their characteristic male behaviors (strutting, gobbling) and physical differentiation from females way earlier than that. I got my Sweetgrass poults August 8th. I don’t know when they hatched... maybe they were a week old, so about thirteen weeks now. They’re too fast and too many (15) to tabulate how many males and females I have, but I’ve been able to tell them apart (most of them) for quite some time. Therefore it makes sense to me that there’s testosterone pumping already, presumably doing stuff to body and mind long before they’re capable of making fertile eggs. Does that sound right?

I’ve been studying about making capons of cockerels (haven’t tried yet—got no cockerels at present to try on), and apparently the best time is between 1-2 lbs. If you wait much longer, the testes get large and soft/fragile, making it really tricky to get them out in one piece (or at all) and do it without killing the bird. I don’t know, but I imagine the optimal weight for a poult would likely be similar to that of a chicken, or maybe a little bit more. All of my turkeys are too big, but when spring comes and I start getting new poults, I might have to give it a go. Not right away, but once I (hopefully) get good at doing it on chickens.

I guess you can neuter a female too, by removing a bit of Fallopian tube. It’s my understanding that it isn’t necessary to remove the ovary (there’s only one functioning and it’s on the left side in chickens... probably in turkeys too) and that removing it would be difficult. In chickens, spayed females are called Poulards. Without the Fallopian tube, the pullet expends all her calories toward the rest of her body, putting on those yummy layers of fat. Poulards are s’posed to be even tastier (though smaller) than capons.
11 months ago
I’m planning to raise heritage chickens for meat this year. I’ve purchased instruments and am hoping to successfully learn to caponize without killing too many chicks 🤞 I intend to practice on some tom turkeys I need to slaughter soon—dead birds feel no pain—so that at least I’ll have some idea what I’m looking for. I might process a couple roosters as well but I’m not sure yet that I won’t want them for breeding, so maybe—maybe not.

Anyway, I’m interested in advice as to breeds that would be good to try. So far my short list consists of: Buckeyes, Brahmas, & Cochins. I’ve looked at Bresse, but I guess the gene pool here in the US is still pretty thin and I have no experience in breeding so I may not be up to that challenge just yet. Plus they’re killer expensive. I have a few Buckeyes and Cochins already, and I like them. I admire the Brahmas and have been wanting to get some. Oh yes, and Sussex. Speckled Sussex are supposed to be really nice birds and I had been wanting an excuse to get some of them as well.

Any advice? My concern with the large breeds is that I don’t want to end up just growing out a lot of bone with not that much meat. (Though I do like bone broth.) I need super good foragers to cut down on feed costs but I will supplement them as needed. I plan to start a small mealworm operation, just for my birds, so that should help. Looking forward to hearing from y’all. TIA!
11 months ago