In February 2011, my friend threw a baby shower for me. Everyone attending was to bring a picture of herself as a baby so we could play a "Guess Who?" game. For fun, my mom brought a picture of me at about 18 months with...you guessed it, the family chickens. We kept chickens, bantams mostly, up until I was about 12 years old. A decade passed with no chickens; the dark years, some might say. I had graduated from Virginia Tech and been living up in Washington, DC for about two years when my roommates and I decided to build a chicken coop in our back yard and start up our own flock. (I promise that math adds up. I got my bachelor's about a month before my 21st birthday.) That little taste of the country was enough to help me decide I wanted to move back down to Hanover County. My husband and I raise chickens on our farm in lovely Old Church. I think I've passed on the chicken-itis to my daughter because she loves to watch the chickens. You can see a picture of her checking out a December 2011 hatch in my photo album.
While we have a nice assortment of breeds, last year I decided to breed only a few. Jersey Giants and Wheaten Marans have made the grade for certain, with Ameraucanas and Australorps on the fence right now. I raised up some nice Australorps last year and kept three top notch pullets and one cockerel only to have a raccoon kill both the cockerel and my original breeding cock I'd bought as half of an exhibition pair. No gent means no peeps. I'm toying with the idea of using last year's splash Giant cockerel over my Australorp ladies to make some nice blue layers. We sell eggs and a lady nearby buys up roosters to sell for the ethnic meat market, so that should be okay. I'll be on the lookout for a quality Australorp male in the future, though.
So, my Giants. These were my husband's idea. He saw a picture of them in an illustrated guide of chicken breeds and decided he wanted the biggest chickens on the block. In February 2010, we ordered a dozen hatching eggs from Maria Hall. We hatched out 11 blues, blacks, and splashes. Of those we kept three blue pullets, one black pullet, and one blue cockerel. In 2011, I set some eggs and crossed my fingers. It was a good thing I set them when I did, because while those eggs were incubating, a red fox scaled the chicken run sides (!!!) and killed two of the blue hens. Now, I was getting rather large with my daughter, so I didn't do as full a check as I normally would. We thought we fixed the torn wire, but unbeknownst to us, there was a small snag near the far corner of the run. We didn't find it, but a raccoon did. Then we were down to just the black hen and the blue cock. I kept a splash cockerel and a blue pullet from the hatchlings. Good things were on the way, though. At the November Virginia Poultry Breeders show, we bought a trio of blacks with great size and type. I've now got 10 eggs from that grouping + my two ladies in the incubator now (Jan 2012). I am really excited about where we'll go from here.
To be continued...