Sunday, March 4, 2012

Starting seeds and poultry decisions

I set up the seedling rack yesterday. Wiped and scrubbed the racks and shop lights. Moved shelves to the appropriate level. Hung lights. Moved into south facing windows. I was planning on digging through the snow for old plastic trays, domes and six pack holders - you'd think by now I'd store them in a more accessible location...I know they're around somewhere and I'll end up recycling most of them yet this spring. D surprised me with some shiny new trays, packs, domes and a large bag of seed starting mix last night. Perfect timing. So, if the day goes smoothly, I'm hoping to sow the first seedlings of the season today. I will be starting celery (Utah red heirloom if I remember correctly), summer and winter thyme, lavender, oregano and maybe some basil. It is early for the basil, but I love to start a few and transplant them into roomy pots and snip basil throughout the spring. I'll succession start it at least two more times before planting out. Next I'll start any other slow growing (ten week) flowers/herbs. Then peppers, tomatoes and eggplant the last week of March/first week of April - about eight weeks before I plan on planting in the ground.

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;
  1. Silver Wyandottes,  four eggs/wk, 200 eggs a year. Handle confinement well. Hardy. Dual purpose, easy going temperament, good winter layers. Pretty.
  2. Delawares, four eggs/wk, large brown eggs. Heavy breed, matures quickly, good broiler. Quiet, friendly, adapts well to confinement. 
  3. Welsummers, decent layers of lovely dark brown eggs. Gentle, sweet, handles confinement well. Lovely plumage. 6lb. females.  (although shorter laying season).
  4. 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. 
  5. 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.
If I were to special order some birds, I would be getting some Sussex hens which are a heritage dual purpose breed, decent table fowl and very productive, nice disposition. I would also get at least a few Leghorns. Our feed store is carrying Chanteclers which I am not planning on getting because although they are good hardy winter layers that may not even need supplemental light, I've read they do not handle winter confinement well. These birds have a hawkish aggressive look to them. I would be interested in hearing from people who have experience with Chanteclers. We have raised Brahmas who are a large hardy bird. They are also very gentle and handle confinement well. They just didn't lay real well. I felt like we got a couple eggs from each hen their first year. They were by far the hardiest birds who would be outside in the cold when everyone else was huddled inside. A quick word on foraging. With the exception of the Cornish Cross, I have yet to see a chicken who was not an active forager. So, I think good foragers is a given regardless of the breed you choose.

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!


Lindsey at NW Backyard Veggies said...

The Sex linked hens are not heritage but you can't beat them for early maturity and egg laying.

Sounds like a good mix of hens to have around. It's nice to have a good mix - and always nice to look out over the flock and see variety! (If only just to make your eyes happy...)

Buttons said...

Happy Spring Emily you are truly an inspiration to all of us.B

Ashling said...

Such busy plans....I so enjoyed reading this, as we're preparing to start our own seeds and build our new, smaller coop. Happy almost-Spring!

Trish M. said...

We are trying to decide whether to order again from Murray McMurray or to go with AK feed. If you did change your mind and want to go in on an order and share the shipping cost, let me know. We've always had good luck with them.

Emily said...

Trish, the breeds I want are not available with Mcmurray until June or July. I think I want to keep all my layers the same age and get started earlier than that. I'm still a bit on the fence. I'm thinking I'll just have to reserve the breeds I want next year in early January.

Trish M. said...

You know Emily I just discovered that Murray McMurray does not carry the french freedom rangers. We wanted to try them this year instead of all cornish X. But if you do change your mind, I think we will get some chicks in early Jun this year so that it will be warmer outside for them. Good luck with your decisions.

Anonymous said...

We have white Chanteclers. Our barn is unheated - logs - and along with our other chickens they did fine. This was our first winter with them and I am very pleased. They have been calm and friendly. The problem we have is we got straight run last July and all but 4 (out of 12) are this spring we'll be butchering roosters to can. I can't say how they have been for others, but we have had good success with them. Hope this helps.
blessings - carol

Charity said...

I'm biased toward the buff orpingtons.......very calm and good winter layers. But its nice to have variety and I haven't tried most of your breeds except the black sex links, which I agree are good layers. I've found the red sex links actually do a bit better though.