My chickens are my favorite hobby. When I was growing up on my grandparents' farm, my parents kept game bantams and would let us kids take care of them. I was much more interested than my brother or sister, so I was the saddest to see them go when we moved. After about a 10 year gap in poultry keeping, I purchased three barred rock pullets while living outside of Washington, DC. After a stressful day in the great capitol city, my chickens made for the perfect way to relax and get caught up in the little things in life- torn bread pieces, bright green grasshoppers, and fresh grass. The DC life didn't suit my country soul so I moved back home a half-hour outside of Richmond, VA and got married. My husband and I have an 8-acre farm and now a daughter (spring 2011). We are constantly trying to carve out pasture from the once-cleared land we own so we can have more space for our Jersey cow and guard donkey. Lots of people drop dogs off near our property to run rabbits and deer, so that donkey has been quite the stoic guardian of Miss Millie. Not that a 950 lb cow has much to fear from a beagle, but the donkey keeps higher prey-drive dogs that occasionally roam in check. We had two guinea hogs who have since gone to hog heaven and become delicious sausage. No joke- the abattoir near us uses the tagline "Hog Heaven" on their sign We keep a number of different breeds and varieties of chickens, but I've decided to breed only Australorps, Wheaten Marans, and Blue/Black/Splash Ameraucana to the standard. For fun, I'll make Easter Eggers out of whoever I like best! I really want to have Silver Ameraucanas and nearly did- until a dastardly raccoon killed them! Perhaps I'll find some hatching eggs or will order silver chicks from somewhere in the spring. My breeding goals for each breed are as follows:
Australorps- Attain breed standard size but maintain moderate production (3-4 eggs per week). What initally endeared my hatchery Australorps to me were their gentle eyes and calm disposition. That they had squirrel tails and the occasional red feather was overshadowed by how easy they were to be around. I later bought hatching eggs from a breeder and got some better sized pullets. In the fall of 2010, my aunt bought me a pair of exhibition Australorps so I would have a handsome pair to work with. The cock bird was very easy-going and vigorous in the way one expects the flock leader to be, but the hen was a disappointment. She looked lovely but laid one puny egg a week. To me, that doesn't cut it. I decided to cross Mr. Handsome with my highest production hens and then pick the best male offspring as my future lead breeder. Then I put him over the best sized hens to get better size on the female half of my breeding flock. As I mentioned, my goal is to have a flock that lays pretty well but also produces a good-sized table bird. Because I did use some hatchery stock for production value, my birds will probably never win at a show, but I hope with time to achieve consistent looks, size, and importantly, laying ability.
Wheaten Marans- Boy, is this group a mixed bag. All were obtained in spring/early summer 2011 from varying sources so I have my work cut out for me. Since I speak French, I'll be working towards the standard as described in French. My goal here would be to have my own line of Wheatens producing 3 eggs a week with equal focus on type and egg color. I probably won't push for 8s or 9s since I want my hens to do a fair amount of laying rather than one or two extra-russet eggs whenever they feel like it. As with the Australorps, production value is of import to me because I think my hobby should help feed my family. A hen that lays one or two outstanding eggs a week won't earn her keep. Three and she's good enough
Blue/Black/Splash Ameraucana- With one blue hen from 2010 and a pair of blacks from April 2011, this group hasn't yielded any offspring yet. Once they do, I'd like these to be my exhibition quality birds. I like the Ameraucana's pluck and gregarious nature, so they're worth it to me to let them get off of the production side a bit and focus on the looks.
Jersey Giants- My gene pool is rather shallow at the moment with just a Blue Cock, Black Hen, and two 2011 youngsters. I had a good-sized group that included three Blue hens as well, but when a fox got into the pen he apparently went for what I presume were the slowest (and biggest) of the bunch. The two I've retained from my 2011 hatch have good promise in all areas except one- their combs. The splash cockerel almost has a split comb because the blade falls so far back. The blue pullet has a small side sprig, much to my chagrin. I'm hoping to come across either a quality pair of blacks or an established breeder willing to send me eggs or chicks. The splash cockerel is obviously not related to the black hen, so I can try that combination to see what comes out in terms of comb. I plan to put him over some of my more production-quality Australorp hens to come out with a blue layer/table bird for my egg and meat needs. If nothing else they'll be flashy and tasty! ***UPDATE: At the Virginia Poultry Breeders Association fall show I was able to buy a trio of Black Jersey Giants. These are of impressive size AND have good combs. We will be eagerly anticipating some spring hatches with these genes.***
EEs- Really, why not? The colorful eggs sell well and I can totally focus on fun color and production with these birds.
Questions? PM me or e-mail: [email protected]