Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Starting the Chicken Flock 1994

Our flock of chickens was started in 1993 with a half-dozen mixed-breed hens we bought from a friend.  They were mainly Rhode Island Red and Barred Rock crosses.  We wanted them to raise their own chicks, so we added a banty hen and rooster to the mix.  Over the years, we've brought in new blood in the form of Buff Orpington hens and, for roosters, an Araucana and a Black Jersey.

The flock now has about two dozen hens and two roosters.  They're a very colourful bunch.  Some could probably trace their ancestry back a dozen generations on this piece of land.  I don't feel as if I own them at all; it's more like they cohabit the property with us -- except that we provide their grain.

At this point, the flock is more interesting than productive.  Not only are they fairly old, on average, but they also seem to have reverted to their original, wild, practice of laying only in the summer months.  For the past three years, they've quit laying completely by October and started again in early March.  The fact that we don't provide lights or heat is only part of the explanation, since for the first decade they laid right through the winter, just at a reduced rate.

We lose very few chickens to predators, although they are completely free-range.  They are a pretty cautious bunch, but I think that sharing the barn with the goats and sheep also helps.  Having all those hoofs and horns around probably deters the small hunters.  The only problem we have occasionally is with the birds of prey.  (See my post of Jan 30.)

The hens will be starting to go broody by some time in April.  I try to discourage them, with limited success.  If they had their own way, they'd likely raise a couple of families each summer and I wouldn't get any eggs at all.  I expect some return for all that grain I buy for them!

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