Chicken dreams

We have been keeping chickens for nearly 8 years, but we decided this summer to sell off our entire flock in preparation for an entirely new venture. I have been spending time lately trying to decide what breed we really want to go forward with. We have owned probably fifty different breeds over the years. Some of them we loved, some of them were complete disasters. 

That wasn’t always the fault of the breed. One year, a very large rat snake decided to eat just my Aseel chicks. Out of a flock of 25, it focused each time on the 3 Aseels. By the time we caught the snake, it had gotten the very last one and hastily regurgitated the chick in an attempt to flee. But that put an end to that experiment and I never managed to get any more Orientals in the following years. One year, my naked neck juveniles all decided to huddle beneath an empty water pan during a hot sunny afternoon. That was the end of the naked neck experiment, but it was hardly unexpected. Those particular chicks seemed far less clever than any of the others, and disaster was just a matter of time.

At this point, I am more interested in a breed that will perform well at the fairs as well as in the nest box, without chasing trendy breeds. Heritage breeds are topping the list, for  the most part. 

Our flock of Jersey Giants were interesting creatures, but more than slightly difficult to deal with. If you’ve seen that scene in “Jurassic Park” where the velociraptor jumped up on the metal kitchen counter, you have a pretty much perfect image of what it sounds like when a Jersey Giant rooster jumps on something. If they decide that they’re going to try to flog you, you really have a problem on your hands. 

The Jersey Giant hens laid beautiful light brown eggs, but the heat bothered  them a lot. We have had the same issue with all the different large breed chickens we have owned– Brahmas, Langshans, and Faverolles. Of those, the Favreolles seemed the most fragile and miserable, and we had heat losses. Unless we relocate north, I suspect that we will stick with lighter breeds.

The middle of the road breeds like our Delawares, Wyandottes, and Speckled Sussex all had decreased production in the heat of the summer, too, even if they seemed more comfortable. For hot weather, we haven’t been able to beat the Leghorn varieties for egg production. 

But, of course, all the Mediterranean breeds lay a white egg. I personally prefer white eggs but everyone else around here likes brown eggs. When you’re outnumbered 7 to 1, you really have to stop dreaming about a beautiful flock of Andalusians and try to find something else that fits the bill. 

I grew up hearing stories about my great grandmother’s flock of “Domineckers” so it’s tempting to buy a good quality starter flock of Dominiques and try to keep improving them. I haven’t had much experience with breeding birds for the barred gene, howver, and I will admit that it seems intimidating to try to breed not only for the correct size and body shape and good egg production but also for the right color and size of the stripes!

I guess that it’s time to “hit the books” and read up on color genetics. I have a vague idea for a homebred strain that I would like to see. I just don’t know yet if I can actually get the genetics to work. In the meantime, however, I plan on buying a really nice flock of heritage birds next year and keeping them pure. I may have a few crossbreeding experiments going on, but the new chicken barn that we are going to build should keep any idle roosters in their places. The less I have to deal with a rooster who is protecting his hens from the evils of the rake and the feed bucket, the better!    

Warm November and the Wasps

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Well, it’s 84 degrees outside right now and the sunshine is bright with not a cloud in the sky. Our dwarf okra plants are loving it, as you can see from the pretty flowers they’re still putting on. What you can’t see from that photo angle is that the base of each flower is crowded with big red wasps, sucking the juice out of the stems and totally ignoring the little butterflies and moths that are perching on the insides of the blooms.

We have had no end of trouble with wasps this year– several different species, and lots of them. Most of our plants that required pollination by bees have struggled this year, because the wasps have been killing any bee that shows her face in the vegetable plots. We have had to wage a total war against them, blasting their nests with wasp spray. The problem has been so bad that I actually went out at noon one day, sprayed and killed a huge nest with about fifty wasps on it, and by the time my husband went out to spray nests at 8pm, there were another 30-40 wasps hanging on the nest, oblivious to the army of their dead on the ground below.

This isn’t the first time we have had trouble with one type of insect getting much too populated for the area– the year that the grasshoppers ate everything right down to our holly bushes was a bad one– but it’s the first time that the bees have been so depopulated. Without bees, we don’t have fruit. So it’s looking likely that we will be purchasing our own hive next year. This means that we will need to continue the war on the wasps, of course, but also that I will have to plant a lot more flowers to make sure that the bees have a steady food supply.

I never complain about an excuse to plant more flowers, though. I am still impatiently waiting for my Sweet William seedlings and alyssum seedlings to really take off. The very warm and mostly dry autumn has made it a challenge to keep everything moist enough for the seedlings to prosper. The Swiss chard and other greens are wilting in the heat. We’re supposed to get a cold ¬†front this weekend, which should help, but that could spell doom for the okra plants. They’re too tender to withstand a norther.

It looks like we will have to launch another attack on the wasps, too. One of them flew into the game room yesterday and took up residence in the ceiling fan. We had to drive it out with a lighter flame before it would leave the inner mechanisms of the fan. If we’d left it, I have no doubt she would have built a nest right in the fan. They’re completely indifferent to human rights. Everyone thinks that it’s roaches that would inherit a post-apocalyptic world, but there would certainly be wasps left to hunt them.

Anyway, those beet seeds didn’t sprout at all, so I need to get to work. Peace out.