We evaluated the the requirement of our potential flock.
First they have to be an old breed, one that is tried and true. They have to be dual purpose, perhaps leaning to the heavy breeds. We want quiet chickens that are friendly and calm to work with. They have to be able to forage for a lot of their food. The hens should be broody and able to raise chicks to replenish our flock and supply meat birds without introducing the risk of outside birds coming onto the property. We would like decent but not overwhelming egg production.
Pullet eggs from a friends young hens.
We do not want to raise commercial meat birds, yes they grow at an incredible rate but we want birds that grow at a more natural pace and have few if any leg problems. It may take more time but the end product will be worth it. Homestead chickens have always been multi use birds, our pioneer ancestors could not have had it any other way.
Ralph has had a lot of Black Australorpe chickens over the years and my experience has been with crossbred chickens and some Golden Laced Wyandotte.
The Black Australorpe have passed the test of time for Ralph so they are # 1 on our Chicken list. He found them to be quiet, meaty, broody and just generally very nice chickens. They lay well [nice brown eggs] and seem to be quite healthy. He had them in North Carolina and they were not bothered by the heat and humidity and we have talked to people who have them in the north and they do just fine in cold weather too.
Now it gets harder, we wanted more than just one breed as we hope to use chickens as a way to enrich our land and keep areas grazed down by natural means. There are so many breeds to choose from. One of our main resources has been The American Livestock breeds Conservancy.
They introduced us to some wonderful heritage breeds that suit our needs and need our help to avoid disappearing from modern agriculture. I found the Buckeye Chicken very interesting. They became # 2 on our poultry list. They are a large breed and are noted for being developed by a woman. They are named for their home state of Ohio. These chickens are really friendly and will go broody with both parents being involved in chick rearing. They can be excellent mousers. They lay large brown eggs.
Buckeye Chickens [Google Image]
Buff Orpington made the initial list coming in at # 3. They are an old breed and noted for being the color of a gold watch. Gentle, they are broody and good mothers. They are quite social and friendly. They lay large pale brown eggs.
The Buff Orpington will fit well in our poultry plans. They meet all our criteria and have the bonus of complementing the Black Australorpe...imagine gold and black chicken's running around the orchard? Just lovely! The Buckeyes will be near the barn keeping rodents down and cleaning up after the goats and sheep!
Now the problems start. Do we need more chickens? No not really but there are several breeds that are endangered or critical, we think it would be nice to raise some of them to help save them. We will have to evaluate how things go and what kind of property we get.
Here are the other breeds we really like:
There are a lot of great chicken sites on the internet, here are some of the ones we use.
Our homestead chickens are going to be busy. Of course when you have chickens you have eggs. There are just the two of us so we hope to be able to have a small egg business to get rid of the excess eggs. The roosters of course will be used for meat with the exception of the best of them for breeding. The "meat" birds will be chicken tractored across pasture to help increase the soil quality. If we have room for some grass cattle the chickens will follow them to spread manure and control flies.
The hens will be used to control bugs and graze the orchard and areas that need grass control. They will be housed in houses on wheels so we can move them around as needed. The barn flock will be permanently housed near the goats and sheep.We plan on using electric netting to control the areas the chickens roam and in winter relocate them to more permanent areas for warmth and shelter from the elements.
Portable chicken coop [Image from PAllenSmith]
Initially we plan on a large flock to get started on our food security and storage. We have discussed canning and freezing chicken so we can have a years supply on hand. We hope to experiment with dried/jerked chicken and other means of long term storage of meat. We also want to have a supply of Schmaltz on hand. I hesitate to render the fat from commercial chickens, there is just to much unknown about how the commercial feed affects their fat but home grown farm birds should produce wonderful results.
Of course we will enjoy fresh chicken and any birds that are too flighty or aggressive will make stew or soup.
And the last job the chickens have will be therapy for the farmers! I have always enjoyed watching chickens and seeing their interaction with the world around them. They say laughter is the best medicine and I know watching silly chickens always makes me laugh and generally feel much better! This is just a glimpse of our plans for chickens and we enjoy finding out more and fine tuning our plans...of course a lot of these plans have to be a bit flexible as they may change with the property we eventually get. It is good to have basics in your mind though. Plan now and have fun selecting your Chicken assistants for your homestead.