Saturday, January 8, 2011

Heritage chickens

Katherine and a Delaware hen
The poulty world has its meat bird rock stars and its egg-laying champs, but if you want one breed to do it all, you're in for some compromises.

White cornish hens crossed with white rock roosters produce chicks that achieve 5-6 pound of growth in 6 weeks!  These are what are available in the store, and even from free-range meat producers.  We raise a batch of 50 every fall.  As hybrids they have a few faults: they can't be kept as breeding stock because their chicks will not show the same characteristics, and if kept past 6 weeks, they fall over.  That's right, they eat so much and gain so fast that their little legs just stop holding them up.  People still raise them (even humane and sustainable operations) because they are the only economically feasible option.  Every other breed takes too long to reach maturity.  The costs of housing, care, and feed keep them out of the competition.

For maximum egg production you can't beat the scrawny, nervous leghorn.  For my farm, I want animals that are personable and well-suited to our Kansas climate extremes.  I've always chosen heavy laying chickens because they need only minimal heat in the winter and fill up the pot when their time is up. 

My current flock includes: Buff Orpingtons, Red Star hybrids, Black Australorps, Arucanas, and Delawares.  Of these I'm hoping to have good results from the Delawares.  Of the breeds listed as critical by the ALBC (American Livestock Breeds Conservation), they sound like the best dual-purpose breed for our farm.  If they pass the laying test then they can expect a rooster and chicks in their future.

Delawares were the commercial meat bird of the past before the Cornish cross monster chickens took over.  I can still expect 4 months from hatch to slaughter, but at least I'll have a purpose for the males I hatch.  Up until now I've never encouraged a broody hen to hatch eggs, but that will be in our future I'm sure.  Even so, we'll still probably grow a batch of Cornish crosses for the freezer.

No comments: