Breeding a Dual Purpose Homestead Bird

Discussion in 'General breed discussions & FAQ' started by aShMaNv, Oct 11, 2014.

  1. aShMaNv

    aShMaNv Chillin' With My Peeps

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    This is a very exciting time for me. I have just bought five acres and am putting the finishing up the final touches on my new 12x8 chicken coop. I have had chickens for the past three years or so. Mostly just 4-6 assorted brown egg laying hens. I just got married around a month ago. My wife is my high school sweetheart. She loves to hunt deer and fish and working in the garden with me. Being able to be self reliable and provide all of our own food is important to both of us. It seems the majority of people have completely lost touch with where their food comes from. Now that I finally have the space and means, I am very interested in breeding a dual purpose homestead bird that lays decent, is halfway cold and heat tolerant (Oklahoma), and makes a decent sized meat bird for the freezer.
    Now I think it is important to set expectations from the get go. A dual purpose bird is not going to lay like a leghorn and dress out like a Cornish and to think so would be unrealistic. However, I think that a good balanced mix is not impossible with careful breeding.
    I grew up on a commercial cattle ranch. There was always more thought and care put into breeding than anything else. My dad would look at what good traits were already there and what was lacking. If he was planing on keeping the heifer calves from the mating he would look at breeds with strong maternal traits and milking ability. If he was planning on selling the entire calf crop he would look to breed a bull with good meat quality such as muscle and marbling. But he always tried to keep a balance of the two and only bred to the most productive, quality cattle he could find. The result was a productive mother with outstanding meat quality. The very best cattle were the 4 way crosses. My dad would take a more maternal breed such as the Simmental cattle and cross with a meat breed like Angus. Then do the same thing with two different breeds like Maine and Hereford. Then cross the two mixes which ended in a 1/4 Simmental, Angus, Maine, Hereford mix. Best looking most productive cattle I have ever seen were 4 ways. The would far out produce the 2 way crosses. Because of hybrid vigor they retained the good traits of every breed. Why not apply the same thing to chickens to try to make the best dual purpose bird possible.
    My thoughts are to try to take a Rhode Island Red/Barred Rock cross (black sex link) and breed with a Australorp/Delaware cross. I would like to set standards for culling. Weights to help with the meat side and laying records for egg production. I know each one of these breeds is considered dual purpose already, but why not try to maximize hybrid vigor and take the best traits each one of these breeds has to offer and try to produce something great. This is just a experiment I wanted to try myself and thought someone may have input or someone may just want to follow along. I don't claim to be a chicken expert, nor a cattle expert. These are just things I have observed over a few years and thought would be a rewarding experiment. Any input and suggestions would be greatly appreciated [​IMG]
    -A
     
  2. HEChicken

    HEChicken Overrun With Chickens

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    No need to reinvent the wheel [​IMG]. I would say the main thing is to start with heritage breeds from a breeder rather than a hatchery. I've been working with heritage Barred Rocks and heritage New Hampshires for some time now and they meet all of your criteria. However I did not start with hatchery stock. Hatcheries breed all breeds - even those nominally "dual purpose" - to be good egg producers, because that is what most people want. Consequently, many of their birds show little resemblance to their stated breed. For example, hatchery Barred Rocks tend to be small, bad-tempered, have terrible barring, but are generally good layers. Why? Because hatcheries added leghorns into them, in order to improve laying. This reduced size, interfered with feather barring, made them less friendly but yes, they are good layers.

    My original acquisition of Barred Rocks was from Good Shepherd poultry farm, where the line has been continuously maintained for more than 100 years. They bear almost no resemblance to hatchery BR's! They are large, full-bodied birds with calm, quiet temperaments and phenomenal barring.

    My NH's - same thing. Huge birds, brilliant color, great temperaments.

    I free-range a flock of more than 100 birds over several acres and encourage good foraging by limiting how much I feed. Consequently the birds supplement the feed they do get, with an enormous variety of greens and bugs. I run both NH and BR roosters over a variety of hens, but only hatch BR and NH eggs. You see, BR x BR is of course a BR. And I get purebred NH's too. But BR x NH and NH x BR also produce offspring that are valuable to me. In one case you have the start of a flock of Delawares and in the other, you end up with Black Sexlinks. Its like getting 4 breeds for the price of two [​IMG] and allows me to have my cake and eat it too: a variety of breeds that are fully free-ranged, rather than penned to ensure the lines remain "pure".

    I butcher my cockerels at 18 weeks of age. They are a decent size at that age and yield a good amount of meat. The pullets I am selective on. I want to continue to improve the birds I have so I keep only those pullets who meet the breed standard. The remainder I sell as point of lay culls from my breeding program (always disclosing to the buyer why they did not make the grade but so far my buyers haven't cared as they are only looking for layers). I don't advertise my birds - all sales are "word of mouth" so if I don't have a buyer, I butcher the pullets as well.

    You are correct - they don't lay like hatchery birds. The BR's lay 3-4 eggs a week, the NH's 5-6. All hens are born with approximately the same number of eggs so egg laying is really only a matter of whether they lay well for 2 years or 6. A hatchery bird will be an egg laying machine for at most two seasons and will then be spent. Mine continue laying at about the same rate, into their fourth season. I band them by year to keep track of their age and butcher older hens as stew hens. No need to feed a bird that is past being productive, since I am trying to run a homestead - they are not "pets".
     
  3. aShMaNv

    aShMaNv Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Choctaw, OK
    Those are all great points!! [​IMG] I have been keeping up with the heritage poultry threads and love reading them. I am so glad that there are people interested and dedicated to keeping those breeds true to type. Like you stated the hatchery birds are better layers but so much else is sacrifices. They are smaller, different temperaments, and after a few years decline rapidly in production. Can you tell a difference in production between your pure barred rocks or new hampshires and the crosses? Also, what do you look for specificlly when breeding/culling? And thanks for letting me pick your brain lol [​IMG]
     
  4. gjensen

    gjensen Overrun With Chickens

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    It really depends n your expectations. How efficient you expect them to be etc. Every one's view on what is acceptable is vastly different.

    For purely utilitarian considerations, you would probably be better off with a cross. I am a bit nostalgic, and am a fan of Standard bred birds, but most good examples are not especially productive anymore. You may decide that they are good enough.

    On the other hand if you are most concerned with meat and eggs, and how much it costs, they are not as good as you can do.

    Hatchery birds are generally decent layers, mature fast, but they are underweight. Standard bred birds have good size, are average to poor layers, and are generally slow to fill out. Everyone can think of examples that do not fit my generalized statements. There is always exceptions to general statements.

    One thing I find when people discuss these things is that everyone has a different frame of reference. Fast, slow, average, good, etc. mean different things to different people.

    If I wanted to develop a purely utility dual purpose strain, I would cross the two. I would secure a couple barred males from the hatchery black sex links. I would put them over some heavy Standard bred Barred Rock hens. This would be a three way cross.
    I would pay no regard to barring, color etc. I would select towards the Barred Rock type, and put pressure on rate of growth, fleshing, and egg production. What you would be doing is using the best of both worlds. Combining fast maturity and high egg production with the size of the Standard bred birds.
    Your initial cross will be relatively consistent, but the next generation will start going all over the place. It would require you to select towards your ideals. In a few years you could start seeing the effort stabilize. In the mean time you would have plenty of eggs and meat.
    It would not be difficult to create your own strain that laid 220 large eggs a year that also was ready to process at 14wks. If you select and mate wisely, you can keep the vigor up for some time.

    There are many options, and there is nothing wrong with any of them.
     
  5. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

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    I agree don't go through all the work other folks have already done.

    Spend some time researching and cruising the threads for traditional dual purpose birds. Rocks, Reds, Delawares, etc are the more common American birds. You can look at something like Marans or Orpingtons to widen things up some. If you look at the folks who really breed the heritage lines, and can get in their good graces, you can get some wonderful birds. Lots of them breed for "using", vs showing, so the egg production is still good, and the carcasses are nice sized. We have lots of threads in this section and the Breeding to the Standard section for the different breeds. My best advice is to read and research tons before you start asking a lot of questions of those folks. They respond better to educated, precise questions than basic generalities [​IMG]
     
  6. HEChicken

    HEChicken Overrun With Chickens

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    My Coop
    Production is about the same. However the crosses are spectacular birds, again compared to their hatchery counterparts. Because the parents are quality, when they cross, the offspring are quality as well. I have a BSL hen who is really magnificent. She is large with great body type and really tight, close feathering.

    When culling I am looking to maintain the breed standard for each breed according to the SOP. For example, I had a rooster whose legs were not straight - he was quite knock-kneed. Unfortunately he passed that trait along to his male offspring so I wound up having to cull him and start fresh with a new BR rooster.

    Although I do not - and never plant to - show my birds, breeding to SOP is not really about winning in shows. The SOP was, for the most part, designed to ensure healthy, productive birds and many of the traits set out in it are specifically about production. Legs set too close together indicate a narrow pelvis that will make egg-laying difficulties (like egg bound) more likely. Knock knees not only don't look good - the legs are not as strong as straight legs. And so on. So - if I breed to SOP, I am breeding healthier, hardier birds, who ultimately will be better producers.
     

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