Advice for creation of good-laying flock

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by gadus, Jan 11, 2017.

  1. gadus

    gadus Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 28, 2015
    We currently have 18 birds, of which six are Americauna, six are Buff Orpington and three each of black and red sexlink. These birds are in their first six months of full production and give us an average of 12-13 eggs/day. We like all the variety but think that one breed is the way to go; rather than buy more chicks every year I'm going to transition to incubating them myself sometime later this year or early next year. For this spring, given the increase in demand for eggs from neighbors, we want to add 12 birds to the flock and one rooster-so we are on the hunt for local (Maine) sources for chicks and are considering all breeds but are extra curious about the Dominiques and also Heritage birds, at least the ones that are allstar producers (this may be a oxymoron).

    The idea is to add 12 hens and a cockerel to the main flock in late summer, after expanding the coop and then living with 30 birds over another winter before getting ready to incubate for the first time the following spring. While we like the production of the sexlinks, the personalities and eggs of the Americauna and the ah-shucks charm of the Buff Orpingtons, we are not wedded to any of them as far as breeds go. We do however, want to keep production high, the idea is to be able to sell at least 10 doz/week, essentially double our current output.

    After two years of production, we would like to be able to sell these birds and not slaughter them but it may prove impossible to get rid of all of them and so we may end up eating some, so meat quality at the two year mark is a priority as well.

    Any and all advice appreciated, mulled over and weighed carefully.
  2. dekel18042

    dekel18042 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 18, 2013
    There is lots of room for interpretation here. A production bird and even birds of certain laying breeds will outlay a dual purpose bird any day (I initially wanted a pure dual purpose flock but the years have often sent me in other directions for a time and I'm often working on a project or two to enhance my eggs.) After two years any bird can be eaten thanks to cog au vin and the crock pot but won't make a good roasting, frying or baking bird.
    Now in those two years a dual purpose bird will produce lots of good eggs and with the right recipe and preparation will be edible while the laying breed will give you several more dozen utilizing less feed, so that might be something to consider.
    If you cross good layer to good layer, you will probably get decent layers and I find I get very good layers and interesting colors of eggs when I cross an interesting colored layer with a production egg layer.
    I've changed directions several times, having fun all the way. And I do have a flock that can perpetuate itself which contains both purebreds and mixed breeds and hybrids Just depends on what you want and what you set a priority on.
  3. Egghead_Jr

    Egghead_Jr Overrun With Chickens

    Oct 16, 2010
    NEK, VT
    If eggs are what your all about you may want to rethink moving to a standard bred breed. Typically you non standard bred, closely resemble breed, from hatcheries are uber layers. Your not going to get that from standard bred birds. Is your call for eggs due in part to the color variations? With mixed flocks you can have a rainbow of color in every dozen. With one breed it's the same egg color. Have you eaten dual purpose chicken before? It's quite different than the 8 week old 4 lbs tender carcass you purchase from the supermarket. They will be smaller, half the breast meat thickness and as they are grown longer will have more muscle tone that leads to toughness/texture. They will have much more flavor but then again some people are so used to the mild flavor of young broilers they think a dual purpose too gamey in flavor.

    Basically there is a lot to consider. With hatching your own you will have 50% males and that makes for a lot of butchering and meat. It's not for everyone. Old hens are only good for crock pots. Young cockerels should be butchered by 15 weeks, 14 is better if going on the grill. There is a lot to be had by purchasing hatchery sexed pullets each year. Rotating out old hens and having half the flock new each year. You don't get top dollar for 2 year old hatchery birds but they've basically given you most their eggs by then so selling for 10 bucks is not a bad deal.

    As a standard bred one bird breeder myself I can say there is a lot of satisfaction to be had in this route too. Downside is less eggs and the mono color scheme of flock. Your lucky to get 200 eggs in first laying year from any of the dual purpose breeds.Dominique would be less, New Hampshire bit more maybe. The upside is if things go in your favor when purchasing quality stock and you make the right choices for breeders the flock will improve dramatically and will be admired by all. The birds themselves have more value if you can obtain and keep the quality up. You have to hatch a lot more birds each year to be successful in maintaining the quality of standard. Birds that don't make the cut I sell as layers with no added value. Yet to have enough breeder stock to sell those but maybe next year. Breeders would sell for more. There are a lot of breeds to consider. I think if you go this route German or American New Hampshire should be on your list of choices. Fine dual purpose bird that was developed from the Rhode Island Red for rapid development. Plymouth Rocks are another and of course you could go Oprington or even Marans for the dark egg color factor. I'm a traditionalist and like the keep the American Class not European. But one of the oldest breeds is also considered very fine texture and appealing table carcass- Silver Dorking.
  4. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    I’m personally not a believer in breeds, I’m a believer in strains. I’ll try to explain.

    A few years back I read about a breeder that had split a flock and started breeding for size, one flock large, one flock small. I don’t know how many generations it took, but he eventually had one flock 9 times as large as the other. They had the same ancestors and other than size they were the same breed. Through selective breeding he created one strain of a breed 9 times as large as the other, going by average weight of the birds in the two flocks.

    If you only hatch eggs from hens that go broody, after a few generations you will have a flock that has hens that often go broody. If you only hatch eggs from hens that never go broody, in a few generations you’ll have a strain that seldom goes broody.

    The same thing is true whether you are talking about the number of eggs hens lay, the size of those eggs, the color of those eggs, or any other trait you want or don’t want. If you breed for a certain trait you can enhance it. If you select against a trait you can diminish it. If you don’t select for or against you get a hodge podge for that trait, just a random mix.

    If you get a Dominique from one flock you may be extremely pleased. If you get a Dominique from a different flock you may be extremely disappointed. That’s because they are different strains of the same breed.

    Breeds do have general tendencies. Individuals within the same strain can still vary quite a bit, but it makes sense to consider breed when you get your starting flock. What I suggest is that you select a few breeds you think you might like and try them. Once you get them, forget about breed and select which individual hens seem to best meet your goals. Hatch their eggs.

    Do the same thing when you select which cockerel will become your breeding rooster. In 2015 I wanted to bring in a Buff Rock rooster to be my flock master/ breeding rooster in 2016. I got 18 Buff rock cockerels from Ideal Hatchery and raised them. Several of those were fairly small or slow to mature. A couple had behaviors I didn’t like. At the end, out of 18 cockerels, only three passed my criteria. I selected one of them. These were the same strain from one flock, yet only three out of 18 met my criteria. If I had only ordered one cockerel, which one would I have wound up with? I don’t know. Ideal was not selecting which chickens went into their breeding program based on my criteria, they use their own criteria. That’s why I got such a mix.

    Henderson’s Breed Chart is a good place to look for breed tendencies. Feathersite has some good photos so you can see what they look like.

    Henderson’s Breed Chart


    The more chicks you hatch and evaluate the better this process goes. The fewer criteria you have the faster you get where you want to be. In addition to egg laying and how big a cockerel grows and rate or growth, I also select for feather color/pattern, egg size, and egg shell color. That makes it harder to get to my destination. Sometimes I select against a trait I want to get a trait I do want.

    If you can select your breeders to meet your criteria each generation can get closer to what you want to wind up with. It’s not going to happen overnight but you will see improvements.

    Good luck!
    AUChickenGal and Lynnski like this.
  5. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    If producing eggs for 'the neighbors' is your goal, rotated stocks/flocks of sexlinks lighted during winters, then souping them their 2nd or 3rd fall, is the way to go.

    Just went thru this with a customer who wants more eggs during winter.
    They are passionately on the big fad wagon of 'getting back to the simple life' of growing their own pure and 'natural' food, and intellectually understand that growing and eating that food is often mostly seasonal, but can't quite let go of the grocery mentality of being able to go get exactly what you want to eat precisely when you want it. This is especially hard with eggs as it's not as easy to preserve/store them like meat and veg.

    What I've learned in the 3 years of keeping a mostly self-sustaining, multi-aged laying flock is:
    Egg production can have huge ebbs and flows throughout the year, less so (sometimes) if you use lighting in winter.
    Grow-out and molting cost money in feed with no eggs to sell to pay for said feed.
    Crowded birds often don't lay well, if at all.
    Slaughtering extra cockerels and older hens can be exhausting, both mentally, physically, and freezer space-wise.
    You better get used to eating less and 'more toothsome' meat and a LOT of stock/broth.
    Most folks don't want to buy older birds, at least folks who know how chickens work.
    Timing of stock replacement(hatching), culling, and housing/space management can be a delicate balance.
    You can chase the 'more eggs' demand with more birds and more housing and more everything else.....
    ......but it's a slippery slope often with a brick wall at the bottom.

    Sorry for the debbiedowner semi-rant.
    1 person likes this.
  6. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Flock Master

    Nov 7, 2012
    I can tell you that I am absolutely enamored with Dominiques. THey are fantastic birds, as personality goes. They have a small comb. They are super friendly, they are known to be occasionally broody, are not aggressive in the flock. They can be used to breed your own black sex links. What's not to like??? The only down side is that they are not super layers in terms of size or number of eggs. That being said, I'm getting some more Doms from an other hatchery this spring. (that strain may be better than the previous birds were) It sounds to me like you just might like the option of breeding your own sex links. By breeding your own, you will get chicks that can be gender id right out of the shell. They will have that hybrid vigor that is so nice, and you can choose the qualities you want in your flock. I'm breeding for small combs, and colorful eggs. All that is available in a sex link package when you choose your hen and roo to yield that! They may not have the production of the hatchery sex links, but they also will not have the reproductive issues that go along with the super producers. Yet they are very good producers, IMO.

    I'm kind of a neighbor of yours! This spring, I'm ordering: Doms and PBR. Those will produce BSL when crossed with my EE roo. Also ordering several other breeds that will produce red sex links when crossed with my roo. Ordering 2 trio's of Buck eyes. One of those roos will continue to produce black or red sex links with the pullets joining the flock this spring. And ordering a few more EE to keep the green and blue egg gene pool strong in my flock. All moving forward towards a colorful egg basket produced by a flock of colorful birds with small combs.

    Check out the Sex Linked Information thread.
  7. Weehopper

    Weehopper Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 26, 2015
    I've been reading that Australorps are a good choice for laying and eating. I am planning to get some this year.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2017
  8. dekel18042

    dekel18042 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 18, 2013
    Or another breed you might substitute for the dominiques, if you can get them, are California greys, my favorites. They are fantastic layers in their own right (Production layers). They lay extra large white eggs and to change the egg color just breed them to a rooster whose line lays colored eggs and you have a production bird that is sex linked, if you use the right colored rooster, and can lay all colored eggs depending on the rooster used They are also fairly small and really don't eat much. I got a few for a project I was working on and liked them so much I intend to get more.
  9. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

    Jun 18, 2010
    Southern Oregon
    Just chiming in about selling the birds at the 2 year mark. Of course, this can vary from region to region, but I've never had a problem selling birds of that age. 18 month old production bred hens I usually ask $15 each. I'm flexible on price and give breaks for quantity discount. Granted, I'm not selling more than say a dozen at a time, but they go fast. I also see ads on my local CL, small egg operations of up to 100 birds. They usually sell the birds a bit cheaper, $10 each, but their ads aren't up long so I imagine they sell out also.

    2 year old birds would be $10 each for me. I don't go lower than that, even on older birds.

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