Advice Needed:)

Dec 1, 2018
Hello, I have been judging poultry for FFA for three years now and have been very successful but I have decided to further my research. I will be doing an agriscience fair project over the growth rates and overall vitality of layer chicks raised on plant based protein feed and animal based protein feed. This means I will end up keeping a large flock in my backyard lol. So I have a general plan but I need people with real-life experience to verify my ideas. I want a flock with docile non broody temperaments, good egg laying ability, and heat+cold tolerance. I was thinking Austrolorp or Easter Egger, yes, no, or other options?

I have a solid six foot fence so i was thinking they could free range during the day and I could build some sort of coop to protect them at night from predators. There will most likely be 10-14 hens total so I was thinking 6 by 6 not including nest boxes. Plus roosts. I also need to come up with a way to separate them for feeding and identify them to know which group they are in.

I was thinking I could use my great Dane wire dog cage and put two tubs in, one for each group and use it for a brooder. Obviously each with a feeder, water, and appropriate heat lamp.

Any critiques, ideas, or improvements?
I will be doing an agriscience fair project over the growth rates and overall vitality of layer chicks raised on plant based protein feed and animal based protein feed.
This would be interesting to see the progress and results.
I assume you will use the same feed from hatch to point of lay and beyond.
Design of experiment, and the ability to stick to it, is important for viable results.

You'll need a coop and run split in half...or totally separate.

As to breed, I'd rule out EE as they are a varied cross breed.
When I buy EE from hatchery the mix of parentage is obvious from plumage variety.
Not sure it really matters what breed you get, but making sure they are all from the same line might be a challenge and important for good comparison of progress.
Welcome to the forum, glad you joined. :frow Knowing where you are so we know climate might help with breed selection and is often important for other things. like housing. If you modify your profile to include that, the info is always available. Just knowing if you are north or south of the equator can sometimes be important.

Growth rate should be easy to measure, just weigh them regularly. Not sure how you are going to measure overall vitality? Is egg laying part of your measurements?

I agree with Aart, you need two separate coops and runs. Since you are doing a food based study you need to control all they eat, no foraging and no treats. Other than animal or plant based, you need to keep protein levels and everything else as close as you can. The fewer variables you have the more reliable the results. One of the big issues of this scale is that an individual chicken can vary from the norm quite a bit so you need enough chicken for averages to mean much.

I'm not sure what you mean by docile. Do you mean they take confinement well or do you want a chicken that is more easily trained to sit on your lap or shoulder and cuddle with you? You will find that people train about any breed to cuddle but some are easier than others. Not sure how cold your climate really is either. We often have people in Florida worrying about it being too cold for their chickens when it is definitely not.

Any chicken can go broody, even chickens from the production breeds. But many have had most of the broodiness bred out of them. I've also found that Australorp can certainly go broody. I got mine from Cackle hatchery and many of mine did. Not knowing what you mean by docile and looking especially at egg laying and non-broody criteria my first thoughts are leghorn, Rhode Island Red, or a hybrid commercial egg layer like ISA brown. Not sure which ones are going to be available to you but I'd lean toward the commercial egg layers. They are going to be sex links so you will know they are all pullets. A random male would really skew the results. There are plenty of others that could work but the main thing is that they all come from the same flock and are randomly separated.

I'm not going to discuss coop and run size until I know where you are located or at least your climate. To me it is that important. And how long does the experiement run?

There are different ways to identify them. Even if you keep them in separate coops and runs, I'd still want them marked. When they are really young you can use different colored food dye but they shed down and feathers often so you need to keep up with that. Depending in the color of the down and feathers maybe a spot on the forehead to show which group they are in with different colors on different body parts to identify individuals. Left thigh, right thigh. Left breast, right breast. Center of back.

I suggest colored zip ties on the legs when they get older. You have to keep checking to make sure the zip tie does not get too tight. You will probably need to replace them at least once. I've used red and never had any pecking issues but you have several other options. Do not use clear, they are really hard to see. Look at the color of their leg, yellow on a yellow leg may not be a good idea. Black on a dark leg may not work. I use the left leg to identify the year they are hatched, you might want to use one leg to identify group. On the other I use different color of zip ties or different combinations of colors to identify individuals. Blue/green is different from blue/orange.

Good luck with it, it sounds like fun but also some frustration. After you do it once you'll see plenty of things you could have done differently.
Breed types; You should try to get birds that tend to develop at a very uniform rate, with little variation between individuals. Maybe production reds, or leghorn types? For larger bodies and greater growth, Australorps do make sense.
How are you going to get appropriate diets? They will need to have identical nutritional profiles, except for the animal or vegetable only protein ingredients, and both be complete balanced diets for growth and production. How? Home made diets are very difficult to have balanced and complete; are you working with a poultry nutritionist?
Has this been done before? Research articles?
Many birds can fly over a six foot fence, so adding at least netting to prevent escapes will be necessary. And will all the birds in both groups have access to dirt? Then they will all get some animal proteins, as bugs and worms.
I have not read all replies, but excuse me if this is repetitive.

From a scientific experiment perspective I do not think that EEs are a good choice. Since they are not a pure breed and can have a number of birds crossed in with them now you are introducing many unknown genetic variables in your experiment. Now you not only have the food variable, which you are testing, but genetic differences. The experiment would be more accurate if all birds were the same breed, and more accurate yet if they had the same parent stock.
When you say both heat and cold tolerant, what temperatures are we talking for how much of the year? Geographic location would be helpful. What is hot to me or cold to me is different than what it is to you. It was below zero F this morning at my house and all my chickens came outside, however anything over 80F would be considered extremely hot here and my chickens would certainly not fare well in the 90s or 100s. Partly it's what they are used to. Had they grown up in those temps they might be fine in them. It's all relative.

Heavy bodied birds with small compact combs do well in cold, light birds with large combs fare better in heat, so something medium in both body and comb may be what you are after.

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