I started tackling our hallway yesterday, making room for a small incubator and a chick brooder. I've been making some poultry decisions with the idea to keep things simple. As much as I love having turkeys around and in the freezer, I'm planning on abstaining from turkey poults this year. The plan is to trade a friend some of our laying ducks for a heritage turkey come fall. We will be eliminating the ducks as we need room. We are going to hatch some goslings for the summer but we are either just going to have our current goose pair, or maybe just two females next winter... Furthermore, we are going to raise less Cornish Cross, 15-20. We are going to get more strict about not keeping older layers around. So we will be butchering or selling the two year old hens to make room for the more productive ladies.
Living on a steep hillside and having a small amount of flat land, makes it difficult to have large animal pens. Thus we have ended up with a few movable chicken tractors of various sizes. We have two (three in the summer) protected chicken coop/pens. When chicks and turkeys are overcrowded there are more losses. In addition, Cornish cross grow faster than layers. Ducks and turkeys all grow at different paces. So, while I have read about people raising all various species in the same pen with success - I find that the layers do better on their own as do the ducks and turkeys. There is less crowding, less stress, less bullying and fighting. As a result we have ended up raising four turkeys in one moveable coop, pullets or ducklings in another tractor, adult layers in the top coop, and ducks or growing pullets in the other two. This makes for lots of juggling of birds, multiple feed/water stops to make each day =more labor and time.
This year I am hoping to swing into the feed store and pick up thirty to forty sexed laying chicks at one time. I'll pick up meat birds a few weeks later. The laying pullets should all fit into the bottom chicken coop/pen for the summer. The Cornish will go into our largest moveable tractor. I've yet to figure out what to do with the geese. I think they'll go into another moveable tractor, but be let out to roam if they can behave themselves. So, we still end up having birds in four locations. However the Cornish are short lived. The geese possibly temporary. Leaving us with two pens and lots of productive layers going into winter.
I am interested in dual purpose breeds. Breeds that handle confinement well. Gentle, docile, friendly breeds. They also need to lay fairly well. And I want the hens to be big enough to be worth butchering, five to six pounds. Cold hardy and laying well in winter are other obvious considerations. I do like pretty birds, colorful feathers, kind faces. I am also drawn to heritage breeds. I am in love with the idea of raising hens that were common one or two hundred years ago.
In the past I've ordered birds through various hatcheries. It tends to be more expensive and risky. This year I decided to go through our feed store exclusively and let them take the risk for me. They have a special order list that peaked my interest but when I looked up the specific breeds at the hatchery, all the birds I was interested in are already sold out. I'll remember to order in December next year! So, working with what our feed store will be bringing in, This is what I plan on getting and what I've read about them;
- Silver Wyandottes, four eggs/wk, 200 eggs a year. Handle confinement well. Hardy. Dual purpose, easy going temperament, good winter layers. Pretty.
- Delawares, four eggs/wk, large brown eggs. Heavy breed, matures quickly, good broiler. Quiet, friendly, adapts well to confinement.
- Welsummers, decent layers of lovely dark brown eggs. Gentle, sweet, handles confinement well. Lovely plumage. 6lb. females. (although shorter laying season).
- Ameraucanas, lay beautiful blue and green eggs. I find these birds to be a bit flighty, small in carcass size and to have a shorter laying season and to mature slowly. However, their lovely eggs make up for their shortcomings.
- Black Sex Links, these are not heritage. However, these have been our best layers over the last four years. They are gentle, mellow, friendly birds who mature quickly and lay large brown eggs through the winter.
On side notes, our friends who raised a pig for us two years ago in exchange for buck service for their does, have decided to do so again for us. So, yeah pig and not having to keep one ourselves - yet. I think I've finally figured out a better location for my bees, our unused greenhouse in the trees. We have a greenhouse that was built above our buck stall (once upon a time prospective Sauna). My plan is to take out a south facing window and set the hive up against the opening. That way the bees flight path will be above our heads, but they will be in a prime sunny warm location. We have two very pregnant does due the first week of April. I am getting excited. Thinking of C names, Clary, Calla Lilly, Calypso, Camelot, Cleopatra... I've been reading an awesome book - must have for all goat owners; The Accessible Pet, Equine and Livestock Herbal, by Katherine Drovdahl )Fir Meadow. I'm planning on sharing some of what I've been reading soon. Happy Spring everyone!