Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chicken Tid Bits

Chicken Tid Bits:
For a small flock, it’s important to consider a few elements about yourself:
·         Why am I raising these things… meat, eggs, spectacle?
·         Do I have an opinion on the color of eggs?  Of the meat?  Of the feathers?
·         Am I even allowed to do this (if I get caught)?
I had a friend ask me for some advice on chickens the other day.  He’s starting a small flock and wasn’t sure which direction to go.  I asked him if he’d thought about the points above.   He just wanted eggs – that narrows the scope down a lot right there.  He doesn’t mind the color and he’s only planning on four to six birds and his neighbors don’t mind, but he knows he doesn’t want a rooster anyway because of the noise.  Ah! I said.  “California White Leghorn!”  That’s when it occurred to me that I have, by default, become ‘that guy’ in some respects, though as I’ve stated multiple times, I am no expert.
Let me share with you briefly some of what I’ve learned about birds in the few years I’ve been working with them in a series of posts that I’ll compile on the days when I can't work on the main theme that the rest of the blog is following.  I'll call them "Chicken Tid Bits".

Where to Buy: 
If you’re planning on buying birds from a large supplier, such as Cackle Hatchery (, Ideal Poultry ( or McMurray Hatchery (, the internet is a wonderful thing but a warning to consider: The birds are mass produced and strive for quantity, not quality, of the genetic strain they’re selling.  They will deliver you functional birds, don’t get me wrong.  Currently, my entire flock has come from McMurray.  However, in our last batch of birds that I ordered, 25% of my birds were dead within a month and for the second year in a row a particular breed of bird developed scissor beak (where a misaligned top and bottom beak slide past each other, making feeding a problem), which tells me that they’re not successfully weeding out problem genes in their breeding pool.  It’s convenient, particularly for less common breeds, but you take a gamble on both the stock of the bird and even more so on the professionalism of the people handling them in transit as a recent video-gone-viral of a FedEx employee tossing parcels over fences reminds us.
·         Try to find a local supplier, but don’t pay more than a $5 or so for a day-old chick, $12 for a 6-week old...  (there’s no money in birds, we all know that, don’t be a mark)
If you’re willing to even a bit of driving, or if you can’t find a supplier near you that will work with your budget, look for poultry auctions.  Most country areas should have them somewhat regularly.  This is a particularly useful option if you just need a few birds, like my friend, because the large hatcheries require an order of 25 or more to even try to guarantee that the birds have enough warmth to survive the trip.  Of course, if you can’t make the auctions or find a farmer, you’re probably back to having your starting flock shipped.
You can also breed your own, which K. and I will start when the weather warms some here, once you have some birds to work with.  The down side to this, of course, is that it’s less of a guarantee of your end-yield numbers than shipping chicks if you have a definite goal in mind.  Also, an advantage to shipping or hand-selecting is that you can easily rotate your breeds to keep track of which birds are ready to “retire” as layers each year or two.  Birds will live a while, but they won’t make it worth your while as egg producers past a couple of years, and the numbers will certainly drop off in the winter.  Of course, then you can rename them "Stew"... even the girls.

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