breeding project - chicks that can take the heat and keep foraging

Discussion in 'General breed discussions & FAQ' started by purposefully, Nov 1, 2011.

  1. purposefully

    purposefully Hatching

    Oct 29, 2011
    I have another one of those half baked ideas about maintaining my own flocks and breeding my own crosses. I know it's been done a lot - or rather, I know it's been discussed a lot, I'm not sure many people actually do it. To be honest, I don't know that I'm going to do it - I haven't raised chickens since I was a youngster. I just want to be heading in that direction, and would like to avoid some of the more glaring mistakes.

    There's almost no way this will be short, I'm sorry [​IMG]

    My plan (isn't everyones?) is to develop a layer flock and a meat flock that are very low input. I'm starting with the layers. I'm hoping a three way cross will be sufficient for my purposes, but I suppose I'd be willing to go four way - even though that means I would have to maintain two additional separate flocks. I intend for these to be terminal crosses - I have no interest in creating new breeds, I just want to have well-selected heritage flocks that produce crosses that are very well suited to my needs. Basically, I'm banking on maximizing some admirable traits in a few different breeds and aiming for a big helping of hybrid vigor.

    I know some of you have been exactly where I am right now - I'm anxious to hear if you think I'm going about this properly. Any and all advice would be welcomed. Again, I know this is long, and I'm sorry, but finding these sorts of threads from other people normally ends up being the most valuable source of information for me as a lurker.

    The breed selection process:

    First and foremost, I need breeds that handle Florida heat and humidity well. I used the mother earth new survey ( - less helpful than I thought it was when I first saw it) and the Henderson breed list to come up with a good sized list of breeds that do well in insufferable weather. I also did a LOT of searching here, and while it didn't really add any breeds to the list, it showed me what breeds people are interested in.

    I should mention that while I don't particularly care what my flocks look like (other than healthy) I will be maintaining the standards of each breed, because I'm counting on being able to sell/trade and fetch a good value from these parents flocks.

    Anyway, I had this very long list of breeds that can flourish in the heat, and had to pare it down further. My next major selection criteria is ability to forage. Note that I'm not necessarilly saying I need a chicken that is all that efficient, they can eat all day for I care - I just want them to eat bugs and grass all day, and consume significantly less feed.

    I have a goal, here, that may or may not be reasonable: I'd like to feed a laying hen no more than 25lbs of commercial feed each year, supplemented with no more than 25lbs of sprouted grain and (shudder) roaches. I had every intention of raising crickets - been there done that - but as much as it grosses me out, roaches sound like the way to go.

    In any event, it's more difficult than you'd think to sort breeds by foraging ability - it's too qualitative and subject to too many variables. Still, I tried - again, using the mother earth news survey (mostly using it as a ruleout - if any significant number of respondents said the breed was not well suited to free range, I pulled it off the list) and Henderson and the board. That yielded me 26 breeds - in no real order:

    Rhode Island Red
    Naked Neck
    Jungle Fowl
    Old English Game
    New Hampshire Red

    I've gotten further than this in my research, but I haven't written the commentary yet. I'll add it tomorrow. In the meantime, does anyone have any other breeds that I should be looking at? As of now, I've only tried to select for heat tolerance and free range tendancies. Are there any that made my cut that don't belong there?

    Thanks [​IMG]

  2. GotGame

    GotGame Songster

    Jul 13, 2010
    NE of OKC
    U would want to take Malay off that list, they eat a lot more than that. Im not sure many large fowl could survive 25lbs of feed a year.
  3. just2rosey

    just2rosey Songster

    Jan 7, 2011
    New Kent
    Barnevelders are a hard breed because there are only four lines in the U.S. and the double lacing requires more complicated genetics than the BBS Ameraucanas I went with instead. I had thought about the Barnevelders last year before I started my flock. I have a few different breeds and they all forage well, even during the blistering hot summer we had this year. Its in their nature. I purchased for myself a few Easter Eggers, a couple Speckled Sussex, Silkies, Bantam Cochins, and Ameraucanas. I will say around here small and light colored are vulnerable to prey from hawks while free ranging, darker breeds are less vulnerable, but I live in the woods where there is a lot of overhead cover for the chickens. A friend gave me her flock of chickens consisting of six leghorns and six red sex-links. I like them all, especially the sex-links. Now these didn't grow up free ranging, so they are more inclined to run back to the feed pan than to forage all day, unlike the chickens I raised. Sadly though, my Ameraucanas hatched later than the others and they haven't started laying yet. We (my daughter and I) plan on breeding purebred Bantam Cochins and Ameraucanas and as well as my own barnyard mix (crossing my production layers with a LF Ameraucana roo. Good luck with your flock! Its fun to speculate.
  4. nicalandia

    nicalandia Crowing

    Jul 16, 2009
    Quote:people before you have done their research and made the crosses so you don't have to do it again,

    Option 1. Use the best laying dual purpose breed, I say go with hatchery RIR or Barred Rocks, keep the hens as egg layers and the use the boys as meat..

    Option 2. Raise The Best egg layers and the best meat type breeds, that way you will have more eggs than the first option and have more meat, not only that, the best egg layers start to lay first than dual and they eat much less, example is your white leghorns... and you can eat your CornishX at 8 weeks, at that age a RIR/Rock are pipping and chirping [​IMG]
  5. kfacres

    kfacres Songster

    Jul 14, 2011
    I don't believe a guinea, would surive on 25# of feed in one year, let alone a chicken...

    You say, that you want to maintain, only one flock-- yet you intend to keep the parent stock lines running pure? Now, with this in mind, you had better either have a zillion places to free range birds, or you're going to have to coup them up... To be healthy, most birds require 1/4 to 1 lb of feed a day... That's more feed in a month, than you want to feed in a year.

    If you decide to free range them all, goodbye to purebred genetics- consider that worthless.
    If you keep them in runs- that's no different than being couped.

    Now, one thing for you to keep in mind, is that just because the text book tells you a breed is heat tollerant, does not mean it actually is. Breeds evolve over time, and change, some good, some bad.. either way, most text book defintions are way old and outdated. Let alone half the breeds on your list are either extremely rare (meaning expensive to begin with), or just plain expensive if you plan to buy quality birds (not hatchery); especially if you plan for the parent stock to have valueable eggs.

    Under your two strict guidelines, IMO the breed that would rank number 1 in my book, for both--- for sure in the top 5 of both--- is not on the list...

    There was a very popular Simmental bull, that recently died--- and his name was Dream On.

  6. kfacres

    kfacres Songster

    Jul 14, 2011
    One more thing... chicken breeders of most all of those breeds, will not be willing to part with potential breeding prospects (of any quality), to somebody looking to crossbreed and make their "own"
  7. purposefully

    purposefully Hatching

    Oct 29, 2011
    First, if I said I only wanted pne flock, it was a legitimate screwup on my part - I have resigned myself to the idea that I can buy hybrid chicks every year, raise heritage flocks and sacrifice a good bit of efficiency, or I can maintain several different pure lines and breed my own terminal crosses that are particularly well suited to my conditions. I figure the way that's most feasible is to start with one of the breeds I'd want in my crosses, and add on breeds from there. I'd assumed that even a three way cross would require me to keep five flocks, and a four way cross would require seven.

    As for the list, I don't know why leghorn isn't on it - I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that's what you think is missing. I'll have to check and see which component kept it off. I had every intention of using a Leghorn as the parent in the final cross, and they should have been included on my list. Actually, I think they'll be the first breed I start with - just ten hens and a roo.

    I should also say I'm obviously not considering all of these breeds, I just put the whole list there because I'd spent some time converting parts of the mother earth survey into an excel spreadsheet, and i figured anyone looking for good pasture breeds for hot weather would appreciate someone else's list.

    As something of a spoiler (I don't have my spreadsheet here to be more specific) my favorite layers at this point are the RIR, Leghorn, Araucana/Ameraucana, and the Hamburg. In the end, though, it'll come down to experience with what breeds have a good significant hybrid advantage between them. To that end, I wish I had access to appropriate journals, I find it hard to believe there aren't studies quantifying hybrid vigor between different breeds. I have found lots of very old studies, but they're all based off of very old versions of the birds.

    And as for the amount of feed (which, as I mentioned, I'm not sure is attainable) I didn't think that it was that far out of the realm of possibility, considering I'd also be giving an equal amount of wheat and oats, sprouted for even more bioavailability. I realize my parent flocks wouldn't be able to survive on this, but I really do think that a low-input layer cross must be possible.

    Also, why wouldn't a breeder be willing to sell me their stock? I'd be doing a reasonably good job maintaining the standard in a pure flock, and the crosses I'd be making wouldn't breed true - I wouldn't be encouraging mongrelism. It did not occur to me that if I were willing to throw money at it, that I wouldn't be able to find a good reasonably local breeder willing to sell to me.

    Out of curiosity, does anyone who expressed surprise at a total of 50# per year have pastured flock?

    Where meat birds are concerned, I'm trying not to even think about them yet. I'm nearly certain it will have to be a 4 way cross and that would be a lot more flocks.

  8. skylinepoultry

    skylinepoultry Songster

    May 22, 2011
    Old Fort, Tn.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2011
  9. gallorojo

    gallorojo Songster

    Oct 15, 2009
    You can raise chickens on very little feed, not 25 pounds a year, but very very little, if you get active foragers, and free range them on good range. There is a night and day difference between a rock and a leghorn in foraging ability. You need either small, or very slow growing birds. Stay away from big and fast growing!! I currently have maybe 65? chickens, and go thru about 25 pounds of layer pellets and 20 pounds of oats a week, but, I have good free range, other livestock to make food, a big garden, etc. I don't feed our feral bantams anything 9 months of the year. The birds will not lay as much on this sort of regime, or grow as fast, but, that is not everybody's goal
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2011

  10. kfacres

    kfacres Songster

    Jul 14, 2011
    Quote:That's pretty accurate, IMO.

    I can relate to free ranging, high quality range type enviroments, on three occasions. The first- is quite comparable to the situation above-- about 50 lb of feed a week for 5-60ish birds free ranging every single day, sunup to sundown. That's pretty close to 1 lb a week, per bird-- which will end up being over 50 lb a year for each bird- twice what she wants to input. Now, with this said, this was a mixed batch of w leghorn, EE, RIR, RSL, BSL, and Cochins for the most part- few banties mixed in- all hatchery sourced.

    My parents have run a flock of soley free range birds, for the last 10 years-- I mean free range, they have no chicken house, and the birds either roost in the trees, or the shed. These birds also get zero supplimental feed- directly... but they have a free choice to our sheep and cattle feed; which is scattered everywhere in bins, barrels, or left overs in the feeders... It'd be immpossible not to visit a feed location, and not see a chicken helping themself-- I bet the chickens eat far more than 1 lb a week-- this is similar type birds-- EE, RIR, BR, BSL, a cochin, and a few Cornish crosses- again hatchery sourced.

    For the most part of the summer, I had a small set of EE hens at my place- we let them free range every day, daylight to dark-- and supplimented them with nothing. Each sporatically layed an egg about every 3rd day, and quit laying in July or Aug-- and as a two weeks ago, had not gotten all their feathers back in from molting during the last 3 months almost.

    To the OP:

    I hope you are young, and loaded with cash... With the projects you have planned, it will take more than a lifetime to actually acheive a desirable end goal. It took the BIG GUYS almost 70 years, billions of breeder birds, and trillions of dollars to get the Cornish X birds to what we have of today.

    In reference to the Leghorn- I would use it either strictly as my free range bird of choice, or for sure to make up a high percentage of my ideal bird. If you don't want white eggs, then use a brown or blue egg laying rooster over your hens, but I'd for sure mate back Leghorn after that for a 3/4 product. Why reinvent the wheel- why don't you think studies exist? It's proven time and time again, Leghorns are the most efficient of all breeds when feed intake, foraging ability, and egg producing ability is desired?

    I used to have a few Hamburg hens running around- nice layers, comparable to a Leghorn in regards to eggs and size... but laid an egg about 1/2 the size of a good ole WL hen. Matter of fact, our best EE layer this summer, was a high % Golden Hamburg HQ female.

    Sometimes, people dont' realize-- it's not about raising livestock to be zero input-- it's about raising livestock on a minimum input scenario-- with the proper ratio of minimum inputs- and then being able to get much closer to an ideal or maximum output... by starving them, you wean calves at 600 lbs, but then weigh them in for yearling weights of 800-- and by the same token, by starving your laying hens, sure you save on feed costs.. but you only get 2 or 3 eggs a week from them...

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by