The hens are getting a bit long in the tooth, or should I say beak. Our first chickens (of which we still have a few) were some one- and two-year old birds that we bought in the fall of 2008 from a woman who was downsizing. We then ordered about two dozen (maybe more) day-old chicks the following spring.
Since then, due to natural and not-so-natural losses (we had a LOT of fox trouble this year, which I wanted to address before adding any more birds to our farm), we're down to 15 hens and one rooster.
These ladies are eating as much as always, but are providing one, maybe two eggs a day between all of them, and that's after a three week dry spell. (I can just imagine it: "You lay the egg today, Betty -- it's your turn." "Actually, Mrs. Peck-Peck, I laid the egg on Thursday - it's your turn." Only on our farm.)
And yes I know it's cold and dark out, but they've never had such a drop in production -- I think they're just at that life stage.
I love my chickens, but they've got to pay their way around here. It's time to bring in some new layers. It's chick ordering time.
While I previously bought my chicks through the local farm co-op, which in turn source the day olds from a hatchery in southwestern Ontario, I wanted to find a local supplier. And while I was happy with the breeds that we've been tending -- Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Reds, Columbian Rock x Reds and Black Sex Links -- I wanted to diversify into some heritage breeds.
Then I heard about a hatchery less than two hours south of our farm (ed. note: Performance Poultry, in Prince Edward County); one that offers heritage breeds, plus many of the fancy birds that we see at the county fair poultry shows, plus quail and guinea fowl and the wee sweet bantams.
As I was looking through their online catalogue I could feel the tug of all these beautiful birds -- wouldn't they look gorgeous scratching around the barnyard? Then I snapped back to reality and reminded myself that I'm looking for good layers with nice temperments and hardy dispositions. Not pretty fox treats.
I'm kidding about the fox treats. Not the nice temperments.
So while I was taking a quick (ok, not so quick) tea break today, I started making my chick shopping list (without yet seeing the price list, mind you. So this may change very quickly.)
So far I'm considering:
• 4 Wynadottes
• 4 Orpington
• 4 New Hampshire Reds
• 4 Black Australops (hmmm, I told Lucas I was only ordering 12 (or so) chicks this year as we're not actively selling eggs this season.)
I'd also like to try raising some meat birds. I've been vegetarian for over 15 years, but my family eats meat and I want them to be eating animals that have been raised with the utmost respect, love and care, from start to finish. More on this line of thinking later.
This hatchery offers the White Rock x broiler, as well as a Red Broiler meat bird -- I'm considering 8 to 12 of the latter. They grow more slowly (white rocks grow in 6 to 8 weeks, or 10 to 12 weeks for a larger bird) but without the leg problems common to the fast growing breeds, aka genetic ticking time bombs. (Which comes first -- a trip to the butcher or the massive heart attack? I'm being disingenuous, but only just.)
I'm thinking I'd like to pasture these birds in some sort of chicken tractor. But first I have to build the chicken tractor.
Finally, I'd like to raise a some turkeys. Well, I'd like to raise only two turkeys -- one for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas (actually, I have this idea of growing our entire holiday meal, which sounds fairly simple, but knowing me it'll morph into a project of epic proportions. See the above mentioned chicken tractor.) -- but given what I've heard about raising turkeys (they can drown in a rain storm) I think I'll be raising a few extras, just in case. I'm considering the Ridley Bronze a Canadian heritage turkey. But like the meat birds, I've got to do some more research on this. That'll have to wait until tomorrow's tea break.
What breeds will be on your chick list this year?