Starting over can be a hard thing to do. Remembering how far you came before can actually hinder you even more when you have to go back to the beginning. I found that I needed to do just that. My health was not great and I was finding that I needed to cut back in order to be able to still raise chickens especially in the Vermont Winters. I took a few years off to recuperate and then started trying the hard task of figuring out where to go from here.
I knew I wanted to use Orpingtons. The English Orpingtons with their round bodies and fast growth had always appealed to me. They laid eggs well grew fairly fast and were friendly large birds I would enjoy having around. My goal was 6 hens and one rooster and all my meat birds and future stock would stem from their bloodlines adding new birds in only once every 3-5 years to bring in qualities I wasn't seeing as much in my home flock. I would be breeding for quick growth rate, good egg laying and hatching, and a solid body confirmation. This would give me a good parent stock to then hatch eggs from next year and choose out the best of the best birds to replace those that were doing poorly as I went.
I started off with an order of hatchery Orpingtons. I got an order of Blue, Buff and Lavender Orps and out of those birds I kept the two blues and the lavender. They were growing well and were large heavy bodied birds at 5 week and good body type for hatchery stock. Both were listed as English Orpington type birds through Meyer Hatchery which was what I was looking for. They were not terribly friendly but we could still work with that.
I then found a friend locally who raised Chocolate Mottled Orpingtons and ordered 6 from her when they hatched waiting patiently to see what they would be like. 5 out of 6 hatched out Memorial Day weekend and were sweet and very people friendly little balls of fluff. Now at one week old they are about double their original size and are growing well. Now I just need to sit and pray that one of these little fluffs is a rooster. I am hoping that I will get a trio or a quad from these guys of 2 or 3 girls and one boy for my little coop and then we will be set to start out.
A New Direction
Seasons change and new ideas blossom with it. I originally got into chickens as a way to create my own meat and eggs for the family. Buying food commercially is getting to the point where it's no longer feasible. Originally I started with Gold Comets which is a laying breed and moved on to a variety of breeds as I learned about how to incubate how to butcher the extra roosters and how to care and manage my flock. That was back in 2011 and 8 years later I am finally finding my direction.
I have decided to work with English Orpingtons. I'm okay with the taste of heritage chickens and not only do I love the temperament of these birds but I also love the way they look and their ability to survive well in our cold northern winters. Their broodiness is also a plus since that will allow me to have some babies raised in the coop and others I can hatch out in my incubator so that I have a supply of new chicks each year to help work towards the traits I will need to create a dual purpose flock. With my breed decided upon I was led to the inevitable question of what traits will be needed to make a good dual purpose bird.
Traits for a Dual Purpose BirdA dual purpose bird is defined by it's ability to produce both eggs and meat for it's owner. So that is a good place to start.
To make a good dual purpose flock I would need birds that are very good layers. After all if they don't lay eggs I can't make more birds in the future. I also will want a bird that breeds true. Many of the hybrid breeds sold through the hatcheries such as Gold Comets, Cinnamon Queens and many more will lay an egg a day for most of the year, but when you try to hatch out those eggs you find you get a wide variety of babies. This won't do for a dual purpose flock. I would need to be able to place a rooster with hens that all have the traits I like and produce babies with the same traits. I also should be able to sell the female babies as pullets that are good examples of their breed. This will help with the cost of breeding and maintaining a flock over the year.
So where do you go to find birds to start with? Buying from a hatchery is fairly easy. I could put my order in and have chicks later that month, but are they the quality I would be looking for in a dual purpose bird? I ordered a few through a hatchery back in January and waited for them to arrive as the temperatures warmed up for spring. As the beginning of spring started to warm up and melt off the snow. My chicks arrived. They looked good and fluffy but how would I know if they would be big enough for a dual purpose bird? I had nothing to measure them against. I needed to find someone locally who had dual purpose birds that I could gauge their size against.
The search was on. I checked through my local Facebook page and friends I knew who had chickens and found a friend that had a breeding pen for Chocolate Mottled Orpingtons. That would be perfect! She was incubating a batch of eggs and the babies would be ready by Memorial Day. I asked for 5 babies and waited patiently. When the new babies arrived I was immediately smitten. They were so friendly from the start. This was one of the traits I loved about the breed and something that the hatchery chicks I ordered didn't have. They were skittish and wouldn't let me near them. As the babies grew I realized that they were catching up to the hatchery birds very fast. At 5 weeks old they were almost 1/2 the size of the hatchery birds at 13 weeks. They also had a larger amount of chest muscling and in general just felt heavy for 5 week old chicks. So heritage birds would definitely make a better choice than hatchery birds for sure and would give my project a bit of a jump start in the right direction.
So what other traits should I make sure my new flock and their future babies had before they would be added to my breeding pen? I spent a lot of time thinking long and hard on this. Egg laying would have to come first of course or the project wouldn't get off the ground. Because I live in New England and we get very harsh winters the birds would need to be hardy. Not just as adults but as chicks too. I would need to be able to start hatching chicks in February or March and hatch quite a few chicks each summer to make sure I had new birds to add to the ones I already had that would bring me closer to my goal. They would need to be able to hatch well out of the eggs with as little help as possible, adapt well to life in the brooder and grow out pen and to grow fairly quickly so they could be large enough to process or to lay eggs before the winter snows got to us in September or October each year.
Thinking about it a bit more I decided that not only growing fast but being good foragers should also be a trait to work towards in my future flock. If I am potentially looking at having to raise about 100 birds each spring/summer season then I would have to be able to support these birds while they grew and became meaty enough to process or large enough that I could sell them as started pullets. If the only way to support them would be for me to purchase feed for them that could get expensive fast. My previous flocks had loved to hunt for bugs and worms and other little creepy crawlies. They even weren't opposed to eating mice or frogs they could catch. I definitely wanted my future flock to be able to do the same, hunting for bugs, plants and other things to eat so that my feed bill could stay low, and the sale of the pullets would help cover the cost of the grain I did have to purchase. But would people want to purchase my pullets?
Orpingtons are a very popular breed in my area and they come in many different colors and patterns. Was there a color or variety that was more popular than others? I began watching the sales pages in our area to see what birds people were posting. I saw lots of lavenders, white and buff Orpingtons, and of course I had been able to find Chocolate Mottled. But there weren't any of the other varieties. I began to search through the breeders in other states and found Crele Orpingtons. The color was wonderful they were brown and black and red and had a lot of variety to them. I ordered some hatching eggs to see what I would get. My hatch finished on Friday and I found myself with 7 new baby fluffballs to add to the crew. So now I was up to 15 young chickens what do I do now?
Time to watch and wait. Nothing in the world of farming ever comes fast. You plant the seeds and wait for the harvest in the fall, all the while weeding and tending the plants to keep them healthy and strong. The same can be said for chickens. I have a coop, I have a decent sized group of babies to choose from, now I just need to let them grow play and see which ones show the traits I'm looking for. The first step has been taken and and each step will be one more towards my goal.