Musings on Raising Chickens

I had to have a good talk with my hens the other day, as they’re just not laying enough eggs for me and Chris to eat, and to have some to sell to our neighbor. They clucked and purred at me, but I’m not sure they got the message that if they didn’t straighten out, they were going to end up in the stew pot.

A little mutt hen...no idea of her parentage!

But in all fairness, it is late fall, and it’s much colder, and darker, so I should expect fewer eggs. It’s just so frustrating when you know they can do better. The last winter Colby was here, we were averaging about a dozen eggs a day! Maybe Colby was the key. He has a special touch with his chickens. Ah well, he’s stationed in Hawaii, and I don’t think he can come home just to talk to the chickens. And all of those birds are no longer with us, as a few critters got to them while they were free ranging or staying out late at night and missing curfew.

Fluff, a Polish Lace hen, who is Colby's last remaining chicken. She's about 6 years old now.

I do have a light on for about two hours in the morning. That gives them the impression that it’s daylight longer. They are supposed to have about 14 hours of daylight, if I remember correctly, to consistently lay eggs. Well, right now, we may be getting about 12 hours of daylight. I was also out of lay mash, which helps provide the right nutrients for them to be able to lay eggs regularly.  And they are growing in some new feathers, so that depletes their nutritional stores too. I’m hoping that once they have all prepared for winter, they can return to the egg laying business. So between the lights and the lay mash, they have started to lay a few more eggs consistently. I tell them they are very good girls when I put them to bed at night. They reply with coos, purrs and quiet clucks.

Light Brahma hen

One major difference from a few years ago, is that I have no idea what breed most of these hens are. I do have two Buff Orpingtons, a Light Brahma, some colored Leghorns and my most recent addition of Aracuana/Leghorn cross pullets, but the rest, hmm, that would be about half of them, are total mutts of who knows what parentage behind them. I would like to clean out the non-egg layers, and replace them with maybe more Buff Orpingtons, Red Stars, or Buckeyes. I’m seriously considering replacing most of my flock over time and just focusing on a few breeds of chickens that are considered endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy ( http://www.albc-usa.org/cpl/wtchlist.html). Some of the breeds that I’m most interested in are the Buckeyes, as mentioned before, the Maran, or maybe the Lakenvelder, Chantecler, Favorelles, Delaware or Dominique.

Chickens in the courtyard.

I like the Buckeye especially, as it is a 100% American breed, created by a lady in Ohio in the late 1800s/early 1900s. They are supposed to have a really good, people-friendly temperament too, which would be cool. I like the Maran too, as they supposedly lay chocolate colored eggs, and are also rare, although I don’t see them on the ALBC list. The Chantecler was developed in Canada specifically for the harsh, cold weather in Quebec, and is known for being very hardy and an excellent layer of brown eggs, even in winter. The Lakenvelder is a really striking bird, with a dark breast and head area, and dark rear, with either white or a pretty golden red color in the middle. Favorelles are an old breed from France, while the Delaware and the Dominique are American creations.

A nice mix of naturally colored chicken eggs.

Before I decide what breed(s) I’m going to focus on, I need to figure out what I’d be raising them for. Do I want a dual purpose breed for eggs and meat, or do I want a prolific egg layer? Do I want a fast maturing meat bird? Do I want colored eggs or white? So much to think about! I know I want a good tempered bird, something that is known to be more friendly and not too flighty. And a bird that does well with free ranging, although I do feed them in the morning. And definitely something that is not fragile, and will handle the freezing temperatures we have in the winter. It’s not too bad usually in the summer, but winters are always cold.

I’m seriously considering breeding the Aracauna also, or maybe continuing with the Aracuana/Leghorn cross I have now, as I do have a gorgeous rooster that was supposed to be a hen in the group that we bought this spring. I’ll have to build a separate coop for them, so that I can make sure it’s only this rooster breeding the hens, and I can collect their eggs for hatching next spring.

These are the Aracuana/Leghorn cross chicks this last spring. I really love their colors!

I did lose one yesterday. When I was out feeding the bulls, I noticed a little bunch of feathers from a reddish colored chicken, but no body. When I did a head count last night, one of my little Aracuana/Leghorn cinnamon colored hens was gone. I think she might have been taken by a hawk or something, as there are no feathers, no bones, no carcass, so it wasn’t a dog. I really hate losing my hens. I never, ever seem to lose a rooster! Sigh…I noticed today that the other chickens that normally fly out of the coop didn’t leave it, so I really do think something got them, and now they’re hesitant to come out of the coop. Tucker is suppose to guard or watch over them but there are so many buildings, he can’t really see all that is going on where they roam.

This summer, we lost another one of my ducks. It’s not surprising, as Chris would tell me that he saw them about a half mile or so away from the coop, out in the field. Something got one of the girls, and since then, the few remaining ducks don’t go very far away! I’m thinking I might replace her next year, but I haven’t really decided yet.

Since I’m not going to be getting anymore chicks until spring, I have some time to decide where I want this chicken thing to go. But it’s so challenging when there are so many fascinating breeds! And I really want to be able to sell more eggs, now!

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4 responses to “Musings on Raising Chickens

  1. Tammy,
    I especially enjoyed this blog. I have always been fascinated by raising chickens and became more intrigued when I attended our county fair. I was amazed at all the different breeds, some beautiful and some, well exotic. Someday I plan to have a small coup, in the meantime I will enjoy the fresh eggs from our CSA organic farm.

  2. Chickens are awesome! Thanks to Colby, I will probably always have a flock of some until I’m too old to take care of them anymore. I know a lot of cities and towns are now allowing people to raise hens for eggs, maybe meat, so you could look into that. The girls would love it! Here’s an informative website on most of the chicken breeds: http://www.ithaca.edu/staff/jhenderson/chooks/chooks.html . The only problem I have is that there are so many fascinating breeds, I want one of many! LOL!
    I’m not having much luck this week. I lost the little cinnamon hen, then yesterday I lost my Khaki Campbell drake, and today, it looks like little Sage killed another one of my hens. Sigh, seems like every time I get my flock built up, something starts killing them off!

  3. Hi, I want to also do the Aracuana/Leghorn cross that you bred
    question 1), were they easy to sex and at what age ?/?
    question 2), did all the girls lay blue eggs ?/?

    • As I bought them from a local feed store, I don’t know how easy they are to sex. I did end up with one rooster out of seven birds, and I don’t recall him looking any different than the others. The four remaining hens lay either a light blue or a dark green egg (as seen in the picture). I am considering putting the five birds in a pen by themselves later and hatching out some eggs to see what happens. Good luck with your birds!

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