My crazy Texas landrace breeding project for permaculture

Discussion in 'General breed discussions & FAQ' started by DMSelena, Aug 26, 2016.

  1. DMSelena

    DMSelena Just Hatched

    Aug 25, 2016
    Hey y'all.

    As I mentioned in my introduction thread, my husband and I manage a permaculture farm on some acreage in S.E.Texas. I bought the land a few years ago -- small acreage with a natural pond/wetland -- and I've spent the time since then returning it to native Texas plants mixed with permaculture crops. I call it a gently managed wilderness. I mainly raise chickens for eggs and meat, but I also raise ducks to keep the pond balanced, and a miniature pig. In the past, I've fostered various other poultry with mixed success.

    My philosophy on my farm management is based on research I've done into sustainability, soil science, and ecologically-sound land management techniques. Managing topsoil erosion was my biggest challenge since this started as a giant lawn with some trees. Now it's a lush multi-story woodland space with many beautiful native wildflowers, shrubs, vines, edible native plants, fruit trees, and heirloom crops. My chickens play a role in the land management. They have a coop, which they sometimes use, but they have complete free-range of an entire fenced acre of managed permaculture land. They have free access to the pond, as well. I do not lock them in at night. They are free to roost wherever they want, and they seem to migrate their night roost with the seasons.

    I've lurked here for many years, but I thought I'd go ahead and post about this little "project" so that I can keep track of what I'm doing, get thoughts from others, and maybe even provide something of interest to the community. So, sorry for the length, but this is four years of work I'm writing about for the first time.


    To be very clear: it has taken me several flock failures to get where I am now with a stable, self-staining population of truly free-range laying chickens. I provide them with free-choice feed so my layers don't get calcium-related problems, but they spend the vast majority of their time and energy getting nutrition from the land. I also provide monthly parasite control for worms during the warm seasons. Other than that, I don't intervene.

    It has been an expensive and sometimes harrowing road for me and my birds. I have lost entire flocks to predation, disease, accidents, and just stupidity (both mine and theirs). However, I found that once I stopped meddling with them so much, things began sorting themselves out. I started researching landraces and became interested in trying to develop something like one for my farm. Primarily, this has been a matter of introducing certain breeds into my flock, selecting for people-friendliness during the first year, providing them with the basics and their freedom, then letting nature sort the rest out for me.

    There are certain characteristics that are important to me, which I believe nature to be indifferent about, so this is why I have chosen good layer breeds, as well as breeds known for being gentle and broody, and I do culling for anti-social behavior myself during the first year.

    Cockerels that attack me more than a couple of times get culled. Hens that are hand-shy usually get selected out on their own because I've noticed they also tend to be the ones who run away from the house when there is a threat instead of toward it, and wind up over the fence eaten by neighbor dogs or otherwise snatched. The friendlier ones recognize me and the house as safety, and they will flock near me when I'm outside, following me around loosely as I do farm chores. I do talk to them, but I don't know that they particularly enjoy my company, however they are more relaxed about being in the open and spend their time scratching around, playing with each other, and generally getting up to chicken antics instead of being on alert when I'm present.

    I had two roosters left out of six who had good qualities, but recently one broke his leg and never recovered. Both of them were very easy-going with me, watchful with the girls, attentive to predators and cautious about the boundaries of safety. Now I'm down to one. He's a Cuckoo Maran: a good guy who does his job well while tolerating me. I lost about half my flock on his watch before he matured and learned his territory and the best ways to manage the girls, but he did figure it out. Now, with complete free range and under his management, I have not lost a single bird to predation for over six months.

    Out of my current 20 hens I get an average of 1 egg per bird every 2 days. A little less in the winter. About a third of the flock has broody tendencies. They have a large shared nest in a kiddie pool brooding contraption I built for them and filled with dirt and grass which I keep on the deck. They were raised in that contraption as babies and now they are raising their babies there after many failed attempts to nest elsewhere (including the coop), which I found interesting.

    My hen stock includes pure breeds and mixes of: Buff Orpingtons, Wyandottes, Plymouth Barred, various production strains, Ameraucanas, Cuckoo Marans, and Rhode Island Reds.These 20 girls are what I have left out of over 100 chicks that I've purchased and who-knows-how-many hatched chicks who I never knew existed before they were lost, just to give an idea of how much I've incurred getting to this point. I just introduced a new clutch of gold sex links and Australorps who have been adopted by one of my Ameraucanas. I'm hoping that the Australorps will add their heat tolerance genes to the pool. I'm expecting another new hatching of babies from my girls in the next week or so.

    I let my hens raise their chicks as they choose and provide no assistance other than feed. The mamas teach their children about the perils of life outside better than I could. They already know about hawks, foxes, raccoons, dogs, etc. They know the best places to find bugs and seeds. They've even learned how to catch minnows, and they teach their children that, too. They do seem to teach those who are capable of learning about how Humans are Good and Safe, and Not Dragons. Those who don't learn that lesson, I expect, are among those who I didn't get to meet before nature selected them out.

    I will still continue to cull roosters for excessive people-oriented aggression, but I plan to let at least one who passes muster this season grow up to help with predator patrol duty. Interestingly, back when I had a bunch of boys, I never had any problems with multiple roosters fighting amongst themselves. There were a few displays, but I think having all the land they want to run around in keeps them from feeling cornered and having no choice but to fight to the death. The worst I ever saw was some puffing and strutting, a bit of feinting and lunging, then they seemed to decide who was Top Cock and the boys got along fine together after that was sorted out. It's very similar to the hens' pecking order, but with more pomp and prettier plumage. When I had both boys they really seemed to enjoy each other's company, and they appeared to take turns with guard duty. I notice my single rooster seems a lot more stressed now that he's alone. We'll see how it works out with new boys growing up in the flock.

    After I get a few more generations of mixing under my belt, I plan to work on breeding in some meat-bird characteristics. I was thinking Cornish for the muscle, Jersey Giant for the size to support it, and maybe some French Bresse chickens later one to add flavor. I'm not sure if that will really be a viable goal for this project, and I would be happy if I just maintained a self-reliant landrace-ish breed of productive layers. It is most important that they are able to tolerate the hot summers here and fairly chilly winters (it gets down to 18F here in February) while maintaining their laying ability than that they necessarily be good for meat -- but it would be nice to have both. I'm not sure if adding muscle bulk will make them less heat tolerant or otherwise affect their survival and use. I was hoping that adding the size genetics of the Giants would help, but I honestly have no idea.

    I'm on generation 3 now, and I already see a trend toward good camouflage among the mixed girls who survived to adulthood. A lot more speckling and lacing, brown, red, black, and gold -- all of which blend very favorably with the underbrush here -- and only one solid color mixed breed. White barring disappeared within one generation, so I'm thinking that just didn't work out too well here for whatever reason.

    Anyway, that's what I'm up to. I'm going to try to keep documenting my progress here, including my failures.


  2. JayColli

    JayColli Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 13, 2016
    Nova Scotia
    Hi Heather! I'm surprised no one else has responded to your thread as I find developing a landrace suited to a person's particular an extremely interesting prospect.

    I'm only new to chooks but I'm headed down the same path as my particular situation lends itself pretty well to letting my birds free range so I figure why not take advantage of that right? I'm very interested in hearing more about your broody kiddy pool contraption. I have a pullet that went broody at an inconvenient time last year so I'm hoping she'll have another go in the spring but we have a lot of raccoons around so I'm looking for ideas...

    Any pics of what a S.E. Texas landrace flock looks like?
  3. 1cock2hens

    1cock2hens Chillin' With My Peeps

    Sounds like an awesome project ^_^ idk how i missed this post/ I want to do the very same thing here in Missouri
  4. JayColli

    JayColli Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 13, 2016
    Nova Scotia

    What breeds have you integrated into your landrace flock and how, if at all, do you help them to raise their own chicks?
  5. 1cock2hens

    1cock2hens Chillin' With My Peeps

    I haven't done anything/ I want to do this/ I am in the planning phase / I am stuck living in town with a POA that doesn't allow any chickens while I build a tiny cabin on 15 acres I own
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2016
  6. Ballerina Bird

    Ballerina Bird Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 29, 2014
    This is fascinating! I don't know how I missed this post either, but I'm glad it came up again as I am very interested to hear about your project.
  7. GabrielBane

    GabrielBane Chillin' With My Peeps

    Sep 20, 2016
    Following! Would love to see how they adapt from generation to generation!
  8. 2MooreChicks

    2MooreChicks Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 13, 2016
    Fayetteville, Tennessee
    I'm glad this thread is still fairly current! I live in town and keep a small mixed flock of laying hens, but my long-term goal has always been to help revive a struggling breed. I've had my eye on the campine for a while, but as I studied the SOP and the mentality of show breeders, I realized this was not the direction I wanted to go.

    My husband and I just bought some rural property and suddenly I'm able to make plans for my new smallish-but-not-too-small homestead, including the chickens I want to raise on it. I still like the campine as a base; I ordered two
    Campine pullets from a hatchery just to get a feel for the breed. If anyone here has used campines in their efforts to create a landrace I would love to hear how it worked out! And I'll be sure to check in on this thread again. I think I could learn a lot from someone who has been working on a project like this for so long.
  9. burdboy

    burdboy Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 19, 2016
    This is my dream, but I can't do that because I have breed projects I want to do also.

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