My chicken experience so far:
- March - acquired 3 hatchery EE's from a local feed store. Refurbished a small A frame coop for them to live in.
- December - hatched 6 eggs, 4 cockerels and 2 pullets. Kept birds in the house over the winter. (Very bad idea!) Purchased larger used coop off craigslist to house older birds and younger birds in in the spring.
- February - local hatchery started offering welsummers. Purchased 3 straight run chicks. Brooding in same room as the December hatch, but different brooder.
- March - VERY BAD WINTER. Birds remain inside. Cockerels getting fiesty. Took 3 to be processed. Looking like welsummers are 2 boys and 1 girl. 1 of the boys found dead in the brooder one day from unknown causes.
- April - Spring arrives mid April. EE's allowed to free range again, December hatch moved into new coop. Temporary fence put up around new coop while permanant run is being built. One EE dies very suddenly for no apparent reason. After coming to conclusion that no one is sick, 2 replacement pullets purchased; 1 SLW, and 1 Amberlink.
- May-July - run around new coop finished. Older 2 EE's integrated into flock with remaining December hatch in the new coop. Lots of stress for me, but ultimately successful. Welsummer's moved into old A frame coop, new chicks slowly introduced to them in a seperate cage inside the A frame run each day. Welsummer cockerel taken to be processed. SLW and Amberlink moved in with Welsummer pullet. Intro goes very well.
- August - November - 5 eggs hatch from my own flock. 2 pullets, 3 cockerels. Pullets are daughters of my favorite EE. (yeah!) A frame flock integrated into main flock. Notice it goes pretty well for the younger two, but the welsummer struggles to find her place. August hatch moved into A frame, but pretty clear the cockerels are going to be a problem. Two pullets integrated into the main flock, and left the cockerels in A frame coop.
- December - 3 young cockerels taken to be processed.
- March - mixie hen comes down with a case of bumblefoot. Head-thumping fun trying to get this under control. Ongoing problem still dealing with today. Can get it under control, but comes back again. Also work begun on new, larger coop, and plans made on what to put into new larger coop.
- April - 15 chicks hatched for 2015 Easter HAL. 9 given to a friend. Remaining 6 are 4(!!) pullets and 2 cockerels.
- May - July - EE hen goes broody in May. Attempts to break her of it fail. Allow her to hatch out 3 eggs in July. Decide to order some breeds I can't get locally from Meyer Hatchery in Ohio, hoping she'll raise those too. Um, Nope. Quickly set up brooder in the house. In June, April hatch moved into A frame.
- August - 1 one month old brooded chick mysteriously disappears. No chicken seems to care. Also new larger coop is finished. April hatch pullets moved into new coop. Put off plans to have April hatch cockerels processed, cause it's looking pretty good that remaining 2 brooded chicks are also cockerels, and want to have them done at the same time.
- September - integrate Meyer chicks with April hatch pullets. I'm getting good at this; everything goes really well.
- October - Decide 1 April hatch cockerel is too pretty to eat. Move him into new coop with his sisters and the Meyer girls.
- November - Take 3 cockerels to be processed. Brooded chicks raised mostly free-range end up larger after processing than their half brother, who was raised mostly confined, and who is almost 3 months older. Huh.
- Jan - March - Mild winter. Birds able to free range through most of it, though a good portion of February spent locked up in their runs. Also keeping them separate during February in anticipation of hatching eggs in March. I want to know who father's what! Interesting change; before the separation, older rooster was top dog. After separation, younger rooster is now the boss. Have to keep a close eye on them; may need to go back to one rooster.
- February - Welsummer hen killed in run by something, which appears to have gotten in by digging under the coop. No other birds killed, but roosters comb is bloodied. Perhaps he was defending? All birds confined to coops while work done to make absolutely certain nothing can get in again. NEVER think you are secure enough.
- March - 12 chicks hatched for Easter HAL. Chose eggs to hatch from the older girls based on who the best egg layers are, chose eggs from the younger girls based on which breeds are better meat producers.
I started keeping chickens because I enjoy having animals around, and I'd become more and more dissatisfied with how factory farmed animals are cared for. While I don't intend to give up meat, I want it to be raised and cared for humanely. Since I haven't the resources or time to raise my own beef cattle or pork, I buy those from local farms where I know their condition. But chickens seemed like something I could handle on my own. I'm not a big egg eater, so a couple hens would suit me fine; but chicken math is a strange thing, and my flock has managed to balloon past anything I could ever require for my own needs. Not as big a problem as it could be; I've found I'm able to sell enough excess eggs to keep the excess birds fed. The rest of what I don't eat myself goes to friends and family.
One side effect of my ever increasing flock was the extra boys. Unfortunately, I couldn't keep all of them. But since I'd made up my mind well in advance that these weren't pets, it wasn't too difficult to have them butchered. Some day I even hope to learn to do it myself. The flavor of my boys has been wonderful; it surprises me everytime I cook one of them. Unfortunately they aren't much in size. My last attempt landed me my largest yet at just over 3 pounds. The first few were about 1 1/2 pounds each. You can still make great soup with that, but I'd like some to be a little meatier.
So that's going to be part of my breeding plan going forward; to try to breed for more meat. I love tinkering and learning genetics though, and I can't really stand it when everything looks the same. My birds need to be individuals to me, even if I am going to eat them someday. So I'm going to try and keep adding in new things, while not losing old things that I want to keep. I'll probably fail a lot, but that's okay to me, so long as I'm learning a bit and having fun.
My current roosters:
Cooper - mixed breed, parentage unknown, except he did hatch from a green egg, and he passes on muffs and beards to most of his kids. So there is EE in his background.
Chicken - Cooper's son by my SLW hen. I wasn't going to keep him, but I really thought he'd grow into a pretty boy (and he has) and he was huge. Even as a chick. So I thought he might be a good place to start my breeding experiments from.
This years Easter hatch I used 4 hens:
Red - mixed breed. Pee comb, greenish legs. Brown eggs. Overall probably my 3rd best layer. She's laid through 2 winters now, with no added light, and produced more eggs each year than most hens around her age.
Domy - SLW, hatchery stock. She is my 2nd best layer, but only laid eggs through her first winter. But she's also mom to stud-muffin Chicken, so I'm hoping to get more like him from her and Cooper.
Delaware Hens - Delawares, hatchery stock. I can't tell these girls apart, I don't like that. But I wanted Delawares to try and improve the meatiness of my culls, and I'm curious how the chicks will turn out. Had to trap nest in order to collect eggs, since I also can't tell their eggs apart from the buckeyes and the mixed breeds they share a coop with.
So, I set a total of 15 eggs: 4 from RedxCooper; 6 from DomyxCooper; and 5 from DelawaresxChicken. The hatch went well; I ended up with 12 chicks. The big disappointment was that only 1 of Red's eggs hatched. Red is my girl with ongoing bumblefoot, and I'm wondering if this had an adverse effect on the health of her eggs. 1 died between days 9-12, 1 died between days 12-15, and one died on day 18. Not sure what this all means. Domy's 6 all hatched with no problem, and the Delaware eggs all hatched, though the last needed assistance.
The Delaware's babies
So, my plan at this point is to let them grow. I'm going to be tracking weight weekly, trying to keep updating pictures, and anxiously waiting to figure out who is a girl and who is a boy. I can't keep most of these chicks; I'm going back and forth on who/what to keep; I may keep one boy from the Delaware's and replace Cooper with him. I will keep at least 1 girl from Cooper's chicks to replace my lost welsummer hen, and I may keep up to 4, depending on if I decide to replace any of my older laying flock this year or not. I won't know that for a while.