Monday, January 21, 2019

Comparing Chickens

I've had my current flock for nearly 9 months now and I've noticed some significant differences between them and my last flock. Some are obviously environmental since I'm not free-ranging this flock as I did the first. But others appear to be breed specific, at least I'm assuming so.

Here's what I've noticed:

First Flock - six New Hampshire Reds bred locally and obtained at 8 weeks of age in early July 2016. They like to free-range and loved being near us while we were outside, often just hanging out with me. The first bird started laying right around 20 weeks of age and the others quickly followed with only one holdout to January of 2017. Most importantly, they laid eggs all winter. I typically got four eggs a day and frequently got six. They did very well with the cold, minimal frosting on the combs and totally willing to explore the pasture despite it being covered in snow. They were also very sweet natured and, unless they'd just laid an egg, quiet. Cooing was typical (especially if they were cuddled up around us) but the "I just laid an egg" announcements were loud and proud. In fact, you could hear them at my Dad's.
The first flock enjoying free-ranging
"You coming out to play?"
To sum up my experience with Flock #1, 6 birds from July to April, fox, 2 birds left to November. 803 eggs, $56 in purchased feed, 2 full compost bins of bedding/manure. If I'd managed to keep all six birds through that second summer I'd have had more eggs than I'd know what to do with. So I figured it a success (except for the whole fox thing) and definitely wanted to do it again.
Calm, interested, not aggressive
Hence, getting the Second Flock - this time I went to Tractor Supply and bought three Buff Orpingtons and three Black Sex-Linked. Given the fox situation, I've confined these birds to the coop, run, and fenced pasture. Now, this pasture is huge and has grass, fruit trees, and a compost bin for kitchen waste in it (the coop manure/bedding waste is in exterior bins so I don't risk the birds getting sick from eating their own poo) so there is lots to eat, scratch, and explore. That has not stopped them from making daring escape attempts. I ended up having to put up over 9 feet of fencing height to keep them from flying over and out. Pretty impressive. These birds are also more aggressive and very noisy. Now, I don't mean, attack-you-aggressive. But especially the Black Sex-Linked are right at your feet, pecking at your boots, and getting into whatever you're doing. Maybe they are bored but they're also very noisy and complain loudly all the time even when out keeping me company and helping in the garden (they're not locked up all the time - if I'm out actively doing something in the garden I have them hang out with me). This noise worries me as it's a huge lure to predators.

Checking out the dog
As for egg production, two birds started laying at week 20 and, again, all but one followed. The last bird to lay waited until December this time. They started off well with four or five eggs per day but as winter progressed they dropped off dramatically. Some days I only get one egg though three seems to be the average. I've never gotten six. The Blacks laid the most consistently when we had more daylight hours; the Buffs seem to have more skipped days. The worst layer is the bottom hen, also a Buff. As for the whole "dual-purpose" bird label, the Buffs have a decent size to them and should work but the Blacks definitely won't be worth the effort.
Gotta be in the middle of things
For cold hardiness, they hate the snow. As in, will not walk on it, hate it. Which means on nicer days when I could take them into the pines to scratch in the cleared areas, they won't come unless we shovel a path. Want to know how many times we've done that? Once. So now they hang out in the run and yell at the snow-covered pasture. Lots of yelling. They do seem to be doing okay with the cold temperatures though. No comb damage and their feet are doing well (probably because they refuse to walk on the snow).

I've added a branch to the run so they can play around and I give them stuff to peck (whole veggies, fruit) and scratch to find in the very deep hay I've put in there, so they aren't getting bored enough to peck at each other. And I'll add another bale of hay soon and let them spread it out as they will. The hay helps with insulation as well as giving them something to do.

I've pretty much decided that Flock #3 will be the New Hampshire Reds again and I'll get them from my local feed store as I did the first time.  The breed laid well, was fairly quiet, and had enough weight to serve as a dual-purpose bird.

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