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!