Posts Tagged ‘hawks’

Chicken breeds

May 21, 2009

When I started this blog I had intended to write a whole lot more about the whole process of getting chickens. I had read so much, including lots of good blogs, books, magazines, websites, etc. One of the things I wanted to write about was the process of choosing which breed to get. We carefully thought about whether to start with pullets or chicks, when to get the chickens, how to get them, how to house them (which we are still debating about!) whether to get layers or fryers or both, etc. I even spent a bit of time trying to figure out which breed to get. Some breeds are really good layers, but they aren’t good at foraging. Some are good meat birds, but again, aren’t necessarily good at foraging.

One of the best resources I found was Chickens, which was a Hobby Farms publication. The chart in the magazine was based on Henderson’s Chicken Breed Chart. This chart is super useful in helping choose a chicken breed. Some people just want eggs, and lots of eggs, making the Leghorn a good choice since it has been bred to be a profuse layer (at least the production Leghorns). The chart indicates how big each breed gets, which makes it useful for those who just want meat. It includes a bit of history, the colors, whether the hens will sit on the eggs (broodiness), whether the breed does well in the heat or cold, and whether it is adaptable to confinement, free ranging, or could go either way. 

Some chickens are dual purpose, which means they can be used for eggs or meat. There are chicken breeds that have been bred specifically for laying (Leghorns are most commonly used in the United States) and meat (Cornish Cross). The reason they are popular is that they convert feed to eggs or meat very efficiently, so they are the cheapest breeds to use for those purposes. However, they are not good for every hobby farmer or backyard chicken keeper. 

My requirements for a chicken breed were:

  • a breed that is fairly friendly and docile so I don’t have to worry about them attacking the kids
  • a breed that is dual purpose in case we decide to let our flock grow and have some for meat and some for eggs
  • a breed that is somewhat broody for the same reason as above
  • a breed that is cold hardy as our winters can get pretty cold

I was also interested in chicken breeds that are rare or uncommon, as listed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC). I was really interested in the Delaware, because it is rare and is very cold hardy. Delawares were commonly used for meat before Cornish Crosses became so popular. Getting Delawares is a problem because none of the stores sell them, which means you have to order them from a hatchery, which means a minimum order of 25. I was not ready to have 25 chicks when we started out. So, I was left with the choices at Farm King, which were not very good. Then Ang. recommended Farm and Home Supply in Keokuk (she’s also the person I bought the Buff Orpington chicks from). I called them up and they had much better choices. For some reason, though, the stores did not always have on hand what they said they would have. So when I went to Farm and Home Supply to buy chicks, but it turned out they did not have the breed I had decided on after my phone call. Fortunately I had my copy of Chickens and was able to pick out New Hampshire chickens. The New Hampshire is a great dual purpose breed. They are supposed to be good layers and adaptable to free range or confinement.

In hindsight, I think it worked out well that I didn’t get Delaware chicks since they are white. I would be much more worried about them getting eaten by hawks than I am about the New Hampshires. Our chickens have free ranged the last two days and have put themselves in their coop. I’m not too worried about them because it’s hard to spot the chickens ranging when the grass is tall (though it might be easier to see them from a hawk’s point of view). Even so I am sure they do not stick out as much as a white chicken would. I am still interested in the rare breeds, but am happy with the New Hampshires and the Buff Orpingtons.*


*New Hampshires are on the watch list and Buff Orpingtons are recovering, according to the ALBC website.


Chicken observations

May 20, 2009

I was out watching the chickens the week before last while taking a break from the garden. I watch the chickens a lot, but I am usually mulit-tasking This day, though, I was only laying on a blanket watching the chickens. This is really fun and relaxing and I should do it more often. Anyway, I noticed a few things. We definitely have two roosters (cockerel, really since that is what they are called until they are a year old), and one of them does not stay all that close to the pullets. I’ve noticed this more since then and am thinking this rooster is not a keeper. On this day that I was watching him, he also got freaked out by something and then suddenly attacked one of the hens by biting her near her ear. Not nice, Mr. Rooster! 

I also noticed that the hens really look different, but that you have to look closely to see the differences. I was laying there, watching them and writing down notes so that I could tell them apart. I noticed that one has a ring of black tail feathers. You can’t really see the black feathers from the top or the front, but if she is walking around, scratching at the ground, you can see the ring of feathers. Another hen has some black near her hackles. It’s hard to see from far away, but up close is easy to see. This hen is also a little darker than the others. One of the hens is a bit lighter and I think is the chick that was always a bit smaller and lighter in color. So anyway, now that I can sort of tell them apart it is time to give them names. We were planning on using the names of my grandpa’s sisters. I made sure this was OK with him since he reads my blog. He said it was fine and it actually worked out that we have 4 hens. He had five sisters, and four have already passed away, Aunt Hazel being the most recent. So I figured we would name the four hens after the four who have passed away: Lula Mae, Rosalie, Georgie, and Hazel. As soon as we figure out which is which, I will take pictures and post them with their names. 

While I was watching them that day, a hawk flew over head. I did not see it at first, but I did notice something was wrong as they were all peering at the sky with one eye and making a sound I have never heard them make before. I cannot describe the sound, but it must be the “hawk” sound that I’ve read about. I looked up in the sky and finally did see the hawk, but it was long after they saw it. They happened to be outside the movable coop (for some reason it seemed that they could not find their way in) in a huddle anyway. So they were not easy to spot and the hawk moved on.

In other news, the chickens are free ranging for large parts of the day. It just depends on what is going on. I don’t like to leave them unsupervised, so Sunday and Monday they didn’t get out much. Then on Tuesday I let them out and I ended up getting bonked on the head by something and wanted to go inside. So I left them out and they ranged all around the house and the garden areas. They seemed very happy about this situation. I wanted a breed that would do well free-ranging or in confinement and New Hampshires are supposed to do well in either condition. The thing that I didn’t read is that once you let them range, they will not be happy being confined. They are not happy being in the movable coop for long. Even if it were bigger, I just don’t think they would want to be in there for very long. They love ranging. The benefits of free ranging chickens are numerous. They are obviously happier, therefore they will be healthier. When they start laying eggs, their eggs will be healthier as well. They are eating lots of bugs and weeds, which in turn means they are eating less feed. This is exactly what I wanted to happen.

I do worry about hawks still, but now that it is spring I can easily see how much shade and cover the chickens have to hide from hawks. The bigger concern is the outdoor cats, but so far the chickens seem quite unconcerned about Swirly or Little Gray. The chickens did have to set their boundaries with the cats, but they did that and now don’t pay much attention to those two cats at all. Mama Cat seems fine as long as I keep her tummy full. I’m sure she will disappear again once her kittens are older, but hopefully not before we can get her fixed!.

Rethinking the coop

March 18, 2009

So I’ve been rethinking the coop and the whole issue of free ranging. I would LOVE to let the chickens out to wander around until their hearts are content. Yet, “trying” free ranging basically means doing it until something happens, which most likely means one of the chickens is killed by a predator. After getting the chicks, it’s hard to imagine doing it that way! So, I don’t want to let them free range, and yet I want to let them out to eat bugs and weeds and fertilize the ground, so we will have to figure out a way to do that while also protecting them from predators, which as I mentioned before we have almost all possible predators for chickens.

I have been rethinking this for a while, but yesterday we were outside and saw two hawks circling around. I am taking that as a sign and am currently planning a movable coop that will work until we eventually build a hen house with an attached run right by the garden. We should be able to work on a hen house and run soon, but first we will have to build a movable coop and get the garden started.

It’s kind of fun looking at coop and run designs. There are so many ways to be creative while making a coop for the chicks. I am also thinking we should insulate ours since it does get cold here in the winter, so maybe we will have to practice with some straw bales. Yippee!

A quick update: we marked out the garden today and it is about 38 X 34 feet, so it will be a very good size. We may not plant the whole thing right now, but we will get it tilled. Then I figured if we don’t plant the whole thing, we will just plant a cover crop for the chickens to munch on.