anyone breed for longevity / long-term health?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by cobrien, Apr 12, 2012.

  1. cobrien

    cobrien Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Before asking my question, I should mention that I just lost one of my girls today, Big Betty, so I'm sad and I would prefer not to talk about meat or hearing opinions on vegetarianism or pet chickens being silly. Usually I manage to have thicker skin but I'm just really sad as I get so attached. I respect anyone who raises their own meat, but my chickens are pets and I am a long-time vegetarian for spiritual reasons. I also grew up in the country and understand and respect the practical reality of farming.

    Anyway my question is whether anyone has ever tried to develop a breed of chicken that will live a long healthy life. I have raised chickens a total of ~20 years including about 10 in the country as an adolescent and 10 in the city as an adult. I've had a few live to 8 years of age but too many have died young and of those, I've learned (through autopsies done by vet) that many die of reproductive issues. It's taken a long time for this to get into my thick skull, but finally I get it - chickens have been selectively bred for thousands of years to provide humans with as much meat/eggs as possible in a short time period, with little attention to long-term health. That makes sense, I have no issue with that as people have to survive. This selective breeding has left chickens with bodies that a prone to a wide variety reproductive problems. I know I'm not alone in wanting a breed that can live a long and healthy life, even though it means keeping some old retirees that don't lay a lot. Any ideas?

    Rest in Peace, Big Betty.
     
  2. cobrien

    cobrien Chillin' With My Peeps

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    sigh....I guess the silence answers my question. I'm seriously thinking this will be my last flock unless I win mega millions and can work on developing my own breed :( poor Betty. She had 3 calcified eggs in her gut and it killed her just shy of her 3rd birthday.
     
  3. bobbi-j

    bobbi-j Chicken Obsessed

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    I guess "longevity" is a matter of perspective. Very few small animals live as long as an average human being. Eight years is a long time for a chicken. If you get that attached, it might be better for you to give up chicken-keeping unless you can go into it realizing that they don't last that long and enjoy them for the time you have them. I've learned over the years to not look at them as pets, but enjoyable farm animals with benefits. When the time comes to thin my flock, I swallow hard, do what needs to be done, and look forward to spring when I can get more chicks. This may sound cold-hearted to you, but it's how I handle it. It also helps for me not to name my food. I realize I keep chickens for reasons different than yours. Once again, just stating how I handle things.
     
  4. Fred's Hens

    Fred's Hens Chicken Obsessed Premium Member

    The hatcheries mostly sell chicks, of most all the breeds, that are designed to be productive, as you said in your first post. The more eggs a hen lays, the more eggs get hatched and more profitable the business is. Thus, without even a highly concerted effort, year after year, the top layers put more eggs on the incubation trays, getting top laying genes increasingly into the gene pool.

    A production red will lay upward of 290 eggs per year. Bob Blosi says that a heritage Rhode Island Red is unlikely to lay more than 220-230 eggs per year, try as one might. A slower developing, heritage Barred Plymouth Rock will arrive at POL months and months later than a production type, hatchery BR.

    The point is fairly easy to catch here. Speckled Hen, a mod here, has also stated that after suffering through so many egg prolapse issues with her BR, she also has switched over to more heritage blood lines for her replacement BR. For the very reasons that you have expressed concern, I would think.

    Slow developing, long living, heritage strains are out there. Once you've moved through this stage of loss, I'd highly recommend you seek out a breeder of quality, long lived, healthy birds in the breed of your choice.
     
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2012
  5. Beekissed

    Beekissed True BYC Addict

    Yep...I agree.

    I have 4 WRs, 4 NHs and a few BAs that are 6-7 years old and still laying every day or every other day in peak seasons. I think it's the breed, how you raise them, how you feed them that ultimately makes for a bird that produces well and for a long time. My money is on Black Aussies...they are phenomenally healthy, productive and long lived...also sweet, good mothers, don't go broody too often but enough to reproduce.
     
  6. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is concerned about longer term productivity (mulitple years) in some heritage poultry breeds.

    Longer term survival like you are interested in may not be all that natural when considering the typical live span of wild chicken like birds seldom exceedes 3 years.

    For promoting longer life span in birds you already have, try not pushing them as hard with respect to volume of feed intake and density. Also backoff on protein content of feed when they are not laying or in moult.
     
  7. cobrien

    cobrien Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thanks, everyone for the good advice. I was also thinking that a breed that cranks out less eggs makes sense. I am okay with their short lifespan relative to ours, it is the reproductive health issues that are bothersome, I guess because it is totally unnatural. The one I just lost was a BA but from a hatchery. bobbi-j I agree I may get too attached to keep this up...on the other hand I am addicted to them :). I've had chickens a total of 20 years and was also a vet tech for many years so you'd think I could handle the deaths more easily. but the losses seem to get harder to bear the longer I do this.

    thanks again for the advice. I don't have to make any decisions soon but if I do get more hens I'll definitely look for a good heritage breed.
     
  8. Gofygure

    Gofygure Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Have you ever thought about a parrot? They're very long-lived and intelligent. I think one would be a great pet for you, if you can handle the noise.

    Otherwise I don't have much to contribute on the topic of chicken longevity. I'm pretty sure most breeders only worry about the productive first few years of a bird's life, for better or for worse. I'll admit to never really considering the natural lifespan of a chicken before, save hoping our five 'never to be eaten' first hens stick around for a while. But it's certainly possible to find chickens who live to be nearly ten.
     
  9. DelDels

    DelDels Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Somewhere in my searches about egg laying problems I read that internal laying diseases can be caused by too high a protein percentage being feed to developing pullets. So last year I was able to get a "pullet grower" of only 15 percent. The pullets come into lay later and are more mature before laying starts. So far it has worked nicely. You can also cut 20 percent grower by replacing half with oats. This is supposed to prevent laying problems in older hens.
     
  10. DelDels

    DelDels Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I should add the oats or lower protein ration is started at 8 weeks of age.
     

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