January 7, 2010

Summary of 2009 Chicken Experiments

I tried some 'experimenting' with my chickens in 2009.      I found a hatchery selling Austra Whites, which my mom had originally started her flock with, and was a major part of the 'heritage' of my 'handed down' hens I like so well.  So, I ordered chicks of Austra Whites.
     My mom also had a grey rooster of unknown breed as part of her flock, and we have had a great admiration of the grey hens/roosters in the 'handed down' chickens.  And I have had a type of black hen that is very nice.
     I had a few questions:  was the original blue rooster a Blue Andalusian and would that have explained the few greys and blacks, plus the speckled ones we are now getting in the 'handed down' flock?  Are the speckled ones similar at all to the Austra Whites?  For the past 18-20 years, I have kept a 'closed flock'... in that I didn't introduce any new breeds, just kept hatching eggs from my hens.  But prior to that, I had purchased a few chicks from the local feed store, not remembering their breeds, but am guessing by past photos that I had a few Brown Leghorns, and possible Black Stars, etc. etc.  Over the past 18-20 years, I have culled any young fryer that showed traits of the above, but maybe they had some input into our flock.
    So, I decided to try chicks of several breeds, at similar age of chicks hatched from my 'handed-down' flock, and have some fun. 
    I tried Blue Andalusian, and discovered body shape and disposition, as well as feather-growing patterns (I am not sure of the term for this!), were different than our 'handed-down' greys, blacks and speckled.  I tried the Black Australorp and the Black Star, and can be reasonably sure that these are not in the good black hens of mine.
    The Brown Leghorn pullets are nice, and fairly close in temperment and body shape/size.... so some of the good traits in our 'handed-down' flock may have come from a rooster I had 20+ years ago??
     The Austra White did  as expected.... we are very happy with them.  They acted and looked, from the day old chicks to laying pullets, as Mom remembered.
     The Blue Andalusians were okay, but not what we wanted, and so I gave them away a few days ago.
      I lost the Phoenix rooster, and so also gave away the Phoenix pullets.
      I have some young breeding stock of my 'handed-down' greys and blacks.
Here is a photo of my coop in November, before The Fox and culling the Blue Andalusains:
In the front, left is the one Brown Leghorn pullet.  Next roost back, l to r:  2 Austra White pullets, with black legs, one of my grey pullets, and a Blue Andalusian pullet. Behind them:  starting on the right:  my young grey rooster, to his right is the young speckled pullet, and a Austra White with yellow legs. In the back, facing the wall, is the Blue Andalusian rooster, and facing front is the Silver Phoenix rooster.

Doing what they should be doing:  Laying!
In December, I had 48 chickens in the coop, 44 hens, young and old.  Six of the 44 were molting.
All of December, I would gather 24 + eggs one day, and 32+ eggs the next! WOW!
I was feeding them alfalfa hay and wheat, plus the coop was warm and I turned the light on.

My Greys -- 1/10

Final Report on My Greys "Heritage/Handed Down" -- January 2010:
I have had some nice pullets from my greys and the other 'heritage/handed down' hens!
They were nice, sensible chicks, and grew up well.  Matured quickly and butchered into a nice fryer.
The pullets began laying at 3 1/2 months of age.... and have laid well:  approx. 4 eggs per 7 days.
Their eggs sized up quickly from the first smaller sized ones.
    The grey and black ones from 'My Own' eggs are similar/identical.  The speckled ones from 'My Own' eggs are slightly smaller, especially in the head and amount of feathers, possibly in body width.  Other than shape, they seem similar in laying, attitude, and community behavior.  Possible... maybe... the speckled hens are not as happy when the temps drop in the high minus zeros.
    I had saved 3 grey 2008-hatched hens and 4 grey pullets from 2009... but The Fox took a few.  I now have 3 young grey pullets and one older grey hen.  The nice NICE grey rooster survived and has all my future hopes planted on him!
    I also lost one black hen to The Fox, but still have 2 black 2008-hatched hens and 1 black pullet from 2009.  I have 3 speckled 2008-hatched hens and 1 speckled pullet from 2009.  I also kept the speckled 2008-hatched rooster.


Austra White -- 1/10

Final Report on Austra White -- January 2010:
The Austra White chickens were great! I can only praise and highly recommend them!
They have no flighty-ness, and are wonderful foragers and live well with other chickens, even in crowded conditions. They have taken the cold VERY well, and have laid VERY well.
They matured early, and began to lay at 3 months of age. The roosters were okay for butchering... light as expected for a hybrid cross including White Leghorn, but very acceptable.
     The roosters matured VERY VERY early, and began to crow and look for hens at 2 months of age. This is the only 'fault' I can find... because it is a fault. The roosters began to hunt for hens, harass any hen they found, and in general caused quite a 'ruckus'. I began to butcher the 'cull' roosters at 2 1/2 months of age, and they were light, as expected for that age and the breed. I saved two roosters until 4 months of age, when I chose one to keep and one to butcher, and at that age, the butchered one produced a nice well-meated body. Next year, I will simply have a seperate pen for the Austra White males... and I am expecting them to gain a bit quicker, when they don't have the opportunity to range 'hen-hunting'.
     I read somewhere that Leghorn meat tastes differently than the meat breeds'..... and in comparing notes/fried chicken with my sister-in-laws', who have Buff Orphingtons and Light Brahmas, as well as Cornish Rocks.... we have to agree that is very much true! When someone says: oh, I remember farm fried chicken... it tasted so good, we are betting they remember eating a 'egg-laying' breed, and are comparing that flavor to the flavor of the commerically produced 'meat-breed' chicken. There is a difference... hard to describe, but we generally summarized it as: leghorns crosses have a bit more 'dark' meat, and that flavor while the meat breeds have larger white meat portions, and generally all their flesh tastes a bit more like white meat. I definitely found I preferred fried chicken from my old 'heritage' flock or the Austra Whites/Brown Leghorns over the Orphingtons/Brahmas/Black Australorp.
    The hens began to lay early, and have laid very reliably since.  The eggs remained small, pullet-sized for a bit longer than my old 'heritage' greys.
    The Austra White chickens were not 'pets'... they didn't want to follow me back to the house, yet they would come greet me if they thought I was carrying the scrap bucket.  In the coop this winter, they have been very vocal, greeting me with a low clucking and talking as I clean the coop, etc.  They come to look at my overshoes, and see if there is any bits of hay to pick.
   Overall, these Austra White chickens are just what I want!  :)
    I received chicks from two hatcheries.  One hatchery sent chicks with pullets/black legs and scattered black feathers and roosters/yellow legs and all white feathers.  The other hatchery sent chicks with pullets/yellow legs and a few small black feathers ... roosters/yellow legs and all white feathers.  From all I can read and learn from growers... the 'breed' is actually a 'hybrid cross'... and the chicks with the black legged females were either a first cross or close to the first cross.  The chicks with the yellow legs were from a flock some generations from the original mating of a White Leghorn female and a Black Australorp male. Or maybe they were a mating the opposite way???? White Leghorn male and a Black Australorp hen???
      I am not sure what I will get from mating an Austra White with an Austra White.
     The hens in front of the rooster and at the very front/bottom of the photo are the yellow-legged hens.  The rooster is from the first batch of chicks.

The two white hens in this photo are Austra Whites from the first batch.  The grey hen is one of my 'heritage' greys.

Black Australorp-- 1/10

Final Report on Black Australorp-- January 2010:
   I have enjoyed the Black Australorp hens!  I have 5 and plan to keep them with the Austra White flock/rooster.  They were very placid... more extreme than calm, so placid seems more appropriate.  They didn't do anything cute or clever, but neither did they do anything bad.  They seemed to stay close to the coop, but seemed to stay out later in the evening... they seemed to like the dark!  I thought I would lose some of them to predators, but didn't... even The Fox didn't get a single one of these!
   They sized up quickly, but matured slowly.  Our neighbor had Black Australorps also, and had two roosters in her bunch.  They were very, very difficult to tell which was pullets and which was roosters!  We had to go by the starting spurs and the longer feathers at the base of the tail.  This would be a negative thing, if I had many of these to sort and butcher.  I didn't have any roosters, so cannot say what they butchered like.  The neighbor's BAs appeared to butcher out similar to the size and shape of my old 'heritage' greys. (She had one of my grey roosters of approx. the same age.)
    They began to lay at 3 1/2 to 4 months of age, and have laid very, very well since.  In late November, I turned a light on in the coop, as I wanted to see which breed was laying which eggs, and how many they would lay under optimal conditions.  The Black Australorps had been laying several months, and so of course, two decided to set!  I eventually convinced them to stop, and am hoping they have the same idea when it is Spring!  I think they would make great setting hens and very good mamas.
    I do not plan on keeping a seperate flock of Black Australorps, or very many hens, but I will see how they set and hatch... and what they produce/add to the Austra White line.  The Austra White is actually a cross between a White Leghorn hen and a Black Australorp rooster, so I don't think knwo what I would get with a cross between the Black Australorp hens and the Austra White rooster... but the eggs from the AW hens and the BA hens will be obviously different, and I can sort out the BA eggs  when setting a hen or incubator.

Brown Leghorn -- 1/10

Final Report on Brown Leghorn -- January 2010:
     I sold the first 5 Brown Leghorn as they were rose-comb, and butchered the rose-comb rooster.  I kept 5 of the single comb Brown Leghorn pullets.  They were very strong as chicks, and fit comfortably in the coop with the others.  At one time, I had 98 chicks/chickens in the big coop, and that means everyone must get along!  Even being turned out during the day, too many in the coop is a situation that brings out even tiny tendencies toward aggressiveness!  But the Brown Leghorn pullets 'played well with others'.
     When The Fox came to visit, I lost four of the Brown Leghorns.  The only one remaining was the darkest colored one, as well as the only one with an over-grown comb.  But her attitude, body shape, and laying abilities are okay, so I will put her with my grey rooster, as planned.  (Remember, the original intention of having Brown Leghorn pullets was to see if they produced hens similar to my old brown favorite.)
    They butchered fine, wide and deep, with ample meat at an early age.  They began to lay at 4 months, and have layed very reliably... this one hen has layed 5 eggs in the last 7 days.  She is off the roost and eating early, even in the cold temperatures.
    She is at the far left, in the very front, in the photo included in the Summary of 2009 post.

Blue Andalusian -- 1/10

Final Report on Blue Andalusian -- January 2010:
   The Blue Andalusian chicks were lively and very brave:  they would wander away from the hen with the attitude that they were safe from the World.    I lost three chicks at two months of age, and I think they just wandered far enough away from the hen and the coop, they could not find their way back.  They were not friendly, but were calm and alert.  In September, when I moved them to the big coop, they became very, very spooky.  For nearly two months, they would hit the walls and fly around every time I entered the coop and/or poured grain in the pans!  None of the other chickens were concerned a bit, but the Blue Andalusians were very easily spooked.
    I intended to keep a good blue rooster, and several blue pullets, as well as one of each of the other colors:  splash and black, so that I could compare their growth, body shape, and attitude to 'my old' heritage speckled, greys, and black  hens.  I chose two other roosters, one black and one blue, as well as two splash pullets, and two blue pullets... and offered them free to any 4-H member who would use them for a 'blue color heridity' project.  After two months, with noone interested, I butchered all but 9 pullets and the best blue rooster.
   These were not good chickens for butchering!  I am used to butchering egg-laying breeds of chickens, but these Blue Andalusians were VERY, very lean... I mean long legged, and very thinly muscled.  They butchered out to look much like a wild pheasant.  Their meat was soft and dark when raw, and seemed lacking in flavor when cooked.  At three to four months of age, they were still very small and slight.
    In December, the Blue Andalusians calmed down and became very nice.  They were happy to see me and began to gain weight.  About half of the pullets nearly doubled in size since October!  They were still not a 'broad, meat-type', but they got some wider and taller.  I am not sure if it may have been mostly feathers... as the Black Australorp look much larger than they actually butcher, because of having so many feathers.  Maybe the Blue Andalusians gained more weight as well as more feathers.  They did take our minus 30 temps well.
    They began laying later than the other chickens.  They were nearly 6 months old before they began to lay.  The last Blue Andalusian pullet to lay was 7 months of age.
     When I began my planning for 2010, I decided to give the Blue Andalusians away.  I can always buy more chicks.  But, I am sure my mom's old greys were not Blue Andalusian, comparing bone shapes, and body stance and head shape.  I was disappointed in the Blue Andalusians, and must give them a Negative Rating.
     They were beauties though!  Here are photos taken in November... they were very clean, smooth, and seemed to 'pose' for the camera!

Phoenix -- 1/10

Final Report on Phoenix, both Golden and Silver -- January 2010:
     In September of 2009, I had two Golden Phoenix pullets and one cockerel.  I had a pair of Silver Phoenix. The Silver Phoenix pair were very sweet, beautiful coloring and the Silver Phoenix pullet was a 'darling'... she looked like she belonged in a silver cage in a royal castle!
     The young chickens that had been in the 'box' coop under the tree had been roosting in the tree instead of going in the coop, so I had begun packing them, each night, into the barn to roost.  By September, about half of them were going in the barn by them selves, and I would pack the stubborn ones still roosting in the tree!  We had no sign of predators, and the chickens were safe from most of them so long a they stayed in the tree.  SO... one night, coming home late from a shopping trip to town, I decided to leave the six chickens in the tree for 'this one night'.  Yes, you guessed it:  the next morning, The Silver Phoenix pullet was gone.  It looked to me, that an owl came by.  Our yard light is about 40 feed from the coop and tree, and I thought they were safe enough.  I know nothing is safe unless it is locked in a coop... but I was taking a chance ... and I guess I paid the price.  :(
     I kept the Silver Phoenix rooster and he was really a beautiful bird.  He is in the background of the 'group photo' I will add to the 2009 Summary post.  The Golden Phoenix rooster was a 'wimp'... he had some really bad 'faults' if you looked at him using the breed 'standard'.... and using a 'practical' view, he had all bad faults ... as far as looks, actions, and attitude.  He was small, cowardly, acted and looked like a hen, and was horribly colored.  So I butchered him, and decided to keep a 'mixed Phoenix' bunch, just to test their laying and attitude.  I went into fall 2009, with two Golden Phoenix pullets, and the Silver Phoenix rooster.
     In December, the Silver Phoenix rooster was one of the casualties of The Fox.
     Below is a photo of one Golden Phoenix pullet on November 2009:  Behind her is a Blue Andalusian pullet... the Phoenix is about 2/3 the body size of the young Blue Andalusian.  I butchered the 'wimpy' Golden Phoenix rooster... he was smaller than the other breeds, and although he was a month older than the Blue Andalusians, he produced a better fryer.
     The Phoenix layed early and very often.  I had two Phoenix pullets and gathered four eggs every three days.  The eggs were small but not tiny.  The Phoenix were very calm and fit in well with the other chickens in the coop.  They seemed to take the cold well:  we had temps in the minus 30's and they did very well.
     As I began making plans for incubation and hatching in 2010, I decided to give away the two Phoenix pullets. 
    I WILL TRY THE SILVER PHOENIX AGAIN!!!  I liked their attitude and their appearance.