Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chickening Out

Well, I thought long and hard on raising chickens and had narrowed it down to a breed called the Dominique and/or some Wyandottes. I liked the fact that these breeds have small combs on their heads (referred to as rose combs) instead of the typical tall pointy single combs most people expect to see on a rooster. As temps here in winter typically drop below 20f and often into the single digits (as in most of this week) there is a danger of those large combs getting frost bite. I can't imagine that feels very good to the poor chicken.

Another breed I considered was the Chantecler, a chicken bred by a monk in Canada early in the last century. Now that is one hard chicken to track down around here, but I did find a place, sold out till the summer. I figure by the time I got my order in I'd have to wait till August. It's a very rare breed in the US and apparently is threatened as a species. Being so cold up here, I didn't want to risk raising young chicks into the fall so I nixed that one for now.

Now it was simply a matter of finding an appropriate hatchery. I didn't want one too far away, the shorter the trip for the chicks the better. Almost everyone had Wyandottes, a few had Dominiques. Prices varied, figuring shipping costs was oft times confusing. I began to feel overwhelmed. After all, I don't even have a hen house built yet. The other problem is most places want a minimum order of 25 chicks. For this beginner, that felt like a bit much.

So this morning, after a short discussion with my husband, I changed my mind. I am still getting some chickens but I'm sticking with cheaper, more popular (and therefore populous breeds) that are sold by a hatchery in Michigan and supplied every spring by my local feed store. I'll be getting some of those Cornish X's I mentioned in my last post and some Barred Rocks (Plymouth Barred Rocks) and some Buff Orpingtons. They have regular single combs so in the colder weather I'll have to smear them with petroleum jelly. Supposedly, that helps.

The Orps are supposed to be good setters and mothers and the Rocks are a good meat bird. I'll get straight run so I won't know how many hens and roosters I'll have for a while but by the end of the year I'll thin out (referred to as "culling") a few of the roosters as you can't have too many of those, they'll drive the hens nuts and fight with each other. Whether I cull any hens depends on how many I end up with. This way I can decide if chicken rearing is for me without going to a great expense and feeling guilty about wasting money.

I'll also get 3 more runner ducks (this is the place I got my ducks from last year). I may even get 3 or 4 guinea fowl. I put off getting those last year, but they'd be okay living with the chickens. They aren't the best suited bird for cold weather, having come originally from Africa, but they eat nasty bugs like ticks and are a good watch dog against those sneaky hawks and eagles.

And, of course, I still want to get a few Muscovy ducks, but that's for another post.

No comments: