Self-sustained, mixed-breed flock advice/experience?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by MyLittleRedCoop, Nov 10, 2012.

  1. MyLittleRedCoop

    MyLittleRedCoop Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 21, 2012
    My Coop
    Does anyone else have a self-sustained, mixed-breed flock? I'm trying to figure out logistics for our growing flock...

    Right now we have 4 Australorp gals. We selected Australorps based on their docile-ness, their broodiness, their fantastic egg-laying, their size, and their winter-heartiness. My 2nd choice in line was Brahmas, for the very same qualities, but the pretty black-green feathers won out over fluffy-feet.

    In the spring, I was planning to get a dozen more, straight run, so that we would be able to have at least a couple roos to pick from, so we can hopefully get a really docile guy who won't attack my kids. The "plan" was to order this last batch, then be able to hatch a dozen-ish on our own each season to keep the population of layers fresh and eat any of the cockerels. (Sorry - not trying to start a nasty discussion about whether others feel chickens should be eaten or not, so would prefer the discussion to stay off that topic!!)

    But I keep thinking it would be nice to add some light or buff Brahmas. Or maybe even a Leghorn, RIR or Plymouth Rock, to make the flock a little more colorful...

    My concern is, that if I allow the various breeds to mix, will I end up with an entire flock of chickens who no longer fit the bill for laying, etc? (Small sized birds, who don't lay well, and are mean, and can't tolerate winters well)

    I would really love to hear from people who have experience with this!
  2. TurtlePowerTrav

    TurtlePowerTrav T.K.'s Farm

    Jul 29, 2012
    Oregon City, OR
    My Coop
    I have a very mixed flock. Read my signature line. I currently have a BR broody laying on 3 eggs from my own flock. I am going to be getting 4 silkie chicks to put under her when my 3 hatch(i have 4 fake eggs under her so she thinks she has enough when I add the silkies). My EE's and sexlink are still young(8.5 weeks) but of my 6 hens I am getting 5 eggs daily. I am on the road to sustaining my own egg layers and meat birds. Sounds like you have a good enough plan. Note that in hindsight, my Production RIR's are on the more aggressive side with the younger birds(their breed tends to be that way), so I will probably not breed them out in the future. I have one of their eggs under the broody to see how its temperment is and judge from there.
    1 person likes this.
  3. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    The only reason you need purebred chickens is of you are going to show them or if you have a specific breeding program. Otherwise, you don't need purebreds for what you are talking about. I assure you, the vast majority of people that used to keep a flock of chickens on the homestead for eggs and meat did not worrry in the least about purebred chickens. I grew up on one of those farms in that kind of community. Our flock was not like that and none of my relatives or neighbors that had chickens had purebreds.

    If you want them for eggs and meat I would not get leghorns. They are great for eggs but pretty lousy for meat. They are just too small.

    Pretty much any of the dual purpose breeds will suit you. You don't really lose anything by mixing different breeds. After a couple of generations you just get some really colorful hatches. If you get them from a hatchery, you might look at their collections. As long as you can tell they are dual purpose chickens let hem decide which breeds they send you. Those collections are generally a bit cheaper as they will send what extras they hatch out. If all you want is eggs and meat, that shows how important I think specific breeds are. I really think any of the dual purpose chickens will suit your purpose. I'm basing that on what I saw when I was growing up many decades ago as well as what I am doing with my own flock.

    The trick for doing what you want to do is to select your breeders with some care. If you want larger chickens for eating, eat your smaller roosters and breed your larger. Select which hens are laying prettty well and hatch their eggs. Don't hesitate to eat a poorly performing hen. Now that my flock is set I eat as many pullets and hens as cockerels and roosters.

    I'll approach your taboo topic. According to a poll, about 8% of the forum members raise chickens for meat. That's in addition to egg laying. Egg laying and keeping them for pets pretty much tied as the main reasons forum members keep chickens. I know we are greatly outnumbered but don't be afraid to talk about what you need to do when raising them for meat. You'll get some support. There is even a meat section for specific questions.
    2 people like this.
  4. MyLittleRedCoop

    MyLittleRedCoop Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 21, 2012
    My Coop
    Thanks so much! This is really helpful. Being good for eggs and meat are both important, but so is being winter hearty and docile, as we live in Mn and I have kids who enjoy being around them. But it sounds like as long as I stick with breeds that are, in general, similar, I won't stray too far from the characteristics that were the reason for picking the breed to begin with. And selecting who to breed based on preferred traits/size totally makes sense. I wonder if a hatchery would be able to select based on more than just "dual purpose"...?

    And thanks for the tips on the meat side of the topic, too. I appreciate your candor, and the advice. I had really hesitated to even ask about this. I suspected we were vastly out-numbered, but was trying to be sensitive to those who feel differently about the topic. I just didn't want to start a thread that turned into a big hate-fest...

    Thank you both for your helpful answers!
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2012
  5. triplepurpose

    triplepurpose Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 13, 2008
    Having a mix of breeds to start isn't a problem, that's what I did too and wound up with lots of great layers etc. Ultimately, you may want to be somewhat selective in which ones you keep on for breeding and slaughter the others, which is what will improve your flock for your purposes or cause it to degenerate over a few generations. But the mixing itself is not the issue, a lot breeds were created by "mixing" several other breeds together and making selections. Also, you may find yourself having to introduce new blood from time to time down the line with a flock that small--to avoid inbreeding suppression over time and keep the gene pool wide enough to allow for good selection. In the old days, farmers with little flocks used to swap breeding roosters with eachother and such to bring in fresh blood once in a while (well, actually I guess plenty of us still do to this day).

    But don't worry about any of that now, haha! Your basic plan is sound. Good luck to you!
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2012
    1 person likes this.
  6. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

    Sep 19, 2009
    Holts Summit, Missouri
    Having purebreds for me means more consistent levels of production. First generation hybrids sometimes out perform pure but do not breed true which is important to me. I select breeders from each generation and it gets complicated when variation is amplified by crossing. In the end I like predictability.
    1 person likes this.
  7. Wisher1000

    Wisher1000 Bama Biddy

    I have found both to be true. On one hand, the mixed flock has a few birds that are smaller and lay fewer eggs (like 4 a week instead of 6) but on the other hand, I have raised some "muts" that were much larger than the parent stock and seem hardier. I have a BO/SLW roo right now that is a Hoss of a bird and would dress out very well. I do not eat my birds, but only because it would distress me to process birds (whether I know them or not) myself and I can afford to buy meat. If I had a neighbor who would process them, I would donate a few extra roos, maybe on halves. Not all of us "eggs and pets" people are against eating chicken, how could you eat store bought chicken and then condem someone for raising their own in much better conditions? I think most chicken lovers just get attached to their birds and can't think about eating them!
    1 person likes this.
  8. lynn1961

    lynn1961 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 14, 2011
    south central Oklahoma
    I am growing out my second batch of inteded cross breeds for a larger meat bird that is still a good layer.
    The first bunch of them were a cross of Welsummer roo over Easter egger hens (easter eggers are mutts ) These girls lay an average of 5 to 6 times a week and the eggs they lay are consistantly 2 1/2 to 3 inches long, really big eggs for such a smaller hen.
    This second batch of cross breeds are Buff Orpington rooster over Easter Eggers, Welsummer, Production Red, Buff orpington and Jersey Giant hens.
    Then have also used a Jersey Giant over the same type of hens.
    Out of these mixes there were 34 eggs set, 27 hatched. These little mixed babies are very hardy and are growing better than the full blood breeds of the above list. It will be interesting to see the outcome with the Jersy Giant crossing, as they are a slower growing breed that get really large. If nothing else there will be some pretty chickens.
    1 person likes this.
  9. Spangled

    Spangled Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jan 12, 2012
    Serenity Valley
    Sometimes it's handy to have a sub-flock of broody hens as part of your larger flock. I don't know how many chickens you're ultimately thinking of keeping, though, so who knows if what I have to say is worthwhile. From this sub-flock of broodies (say 4-6), you will always have broodies all summer long when you need one or two if you settle on a breed that is persistently broody. You use them only as hatching chickens and you don't hatch their eggs or you will end up with more broodies, which don't lay which means you don't get any eggs from them. You can mark them as broody by buying some of those little spiral bands that go around the ankles. Using two means that if one breaks, you'll still have one on the other leg.

    Australorps are more broody that some other breeds, but there are broodier breeds and you'll see that on some of the lists that others have posted on this site. The thing is that if you are hatching eggs from hens that go broody once or twice a summer, then you are making your laying flock more and more broody. In the end you end up with a lot of broody hens that aren't laying during the summer. While they don't eat as much when they're broody, you also aren't getting any eggs. That is the case with my Black Copper Marans. They were a broody bunch and I expected eggs from them all summer. But the strain/line I have is broody as can be and they just sit in the coop all summer off and on ... not laying eggs. I love 'em, but no eggs for long stretches. I definitely could not have a flock of strictly Black Copper Marans. If you settle on Australorps, then you may want to initially order quite a few and carry them over to the following spring/summer and see which ones go broody. It can be difficult to find enough broodies to hatch out chicks for you depending on which breed you choose.

    I have a sub-flock of broodies (not the Marans) that stay broody all summer or are raising chicks all summer ... off and on. I don't hatch their eggs when they lay them. When they go broody, I move them either to a broody box that is mounted on the wall in the coop or I move them to a little 4' x 8' coop/pen tractor. Once settled, I put the eggs I want under them. If they are in the wall mounted box, I move them to a 4' x 8' coop/pen tractor after the chicks hatch. If they are already in the coop/pen tractor for their setting time, then they hatch in there and raise them in that tractor. After a week or two, depending on factors, I let the hens take their chicks out to forage during the day and she'll bring them home in the evening. But I put the tractors near bushes/trees so they have shade and can feel safe under the trees even though there aren't really any aerial predators that I know of. Chickens are more of a jungle type of bird and seem to like spending a good portion of the day under bushes and trees and the mommas can keep their babies safe under there.

    You can figure out a system for yourself. I'm just going on about how we do it logistically so that you can get some ideas on how you might do it yourself logistically.

    Some people let the hens hatch eggs in the coop, but too many problems crop up if I allow that and this system just avoids some of the drama that I've encountered occasionally in the past. We all end up coming up with a system that works with what we have or want to buy or build; no one's system is just like anyone else's. But it is fun to read about others' system of using broodies because one can pick up tips and tricks.

    Some big chickens that were made with a eye for meat that also do well on the egg front are: Sussex (was once one of the main table birds in London), New Hampshire (developed for meat, but plenty of eggs, Cackle Hatchery used to claim old strain), Chantecler (White definitely huge, Partridge usually, White developed by fellow from Quebec over about 10 years for meat and eggs), and Buckeye (developed by Ohio female as table bird and for eggs). The Chantecler and Buckeye both have the Cornish in their lineage which is a big chested burly bird. However, Dark Cornish of today are not known to be great layers and their eggs are often small (or mine were). What's good for your MN winters would be the roosters of Buckeye and Chantecler would be either a pea or cushion comb and their wattles are both also small from the genetics that go with the P/P portion of their comb genetics. Frostbite often nips the ends off big combed birds or damages the wattles of roosters because the wattles drag in the water in the freezing cold of northern winters. If you cross the roosters of the Chantecler and Buckeye with the single combs of other breed hens, you will end up with chickens with smaller combs. The first generation will have smaller combs, then the second generation will have some that are more big and floppy-ish, and then the third if you breed those with smaller combs, will back to predominantly small. That can be handy if you don't want your roosters to have frostbitten combs.

    Colors. If you do end up crossing breeds, if you choose a black bird, many of your flock will be black. Same with white. You probably already know that. Australorps are E/E so their chicks will be black if the rooster is ... say ... pure red. And then if those chicks are bred to another pure reddish rooster, then only about 1/2 the chicks will be black ... if I'm remembering my genetics properly. Barring takes over the flock if you aren't careful. Lacing is a nice feature as is speckling. One thing to think about since you're thinking of eating some of these is how well do they pluck out? I've heard some folks discuss that some black chickens end up with black speck on them after plucking and that they like a golden/red or white chicken if they're going to be plucking them to roast.

    I would get advice on rooster breeds. I haven't had good luck with Barred Rock roosters. I know plenty of folks can do well with them, but I haven't. I have had really good luck with Buckeyes. They seem to do well with me (people) and other hens and roosters (chickens). New Hampshires, too, but Buckeyes have been better. (Some roosters get along with people, but not so much with other roosters or hens.) I have had great luck with Black Copper Marans roosters, too, but the hens don't lay well enough for your system. Your idea to buy a few and pick one is good. That's what I have done--actually I pick two, one as a backup. I don't ever pick the one that seems to like me the most because he usually ends up liking me too much and gets too close for my comfort. I also don't pick the one that matures the first and starts "liking" the hens too much too early. I go for the middle of the road guy, that hangs back a bit. I don't ever make a pet out of the rooster. I think of him as having his job and I having mine and that the hens are his. That usually works out pretty well around here. I have no idea if that's what will work for you. There are so many different ways to handle and manage chickens that it boggles the mind. I wish you much success!
    2 people like this.
  10. MyLittleRedCoop

    MyLittleRedCoop Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 21, 2012
    My Coop
    WOW!! This was hugely informative! Thank you.
    I had a couple questions...

    Egg selection - So, I totally get what you are saying about not keeping the eggs of the broodies or I'd end up with nothing but broodies. Totally makes sense. But how do I tell the eggs apart? My gals are just 20 weeks now and have their little "practice nest" set up complete with golf balls, but no one is laying eggs. (I'm not holding my breath... With the winter darkness and all...) However, 2 of the gals have larger waddles that are turning redder than the other two. So I was thinking they may start laying sooner than the other two... But, still - How do I know who laid what?? Unless I happen to be in there? I do have everyone banded with a different color already, just so I can keep them straight. They looked different as chicks, but all look pretty similar now that they are all completely black, aside from the slight waddle differences.

    Color/Genetics - I knew that certain colors were dominant in animals, but wasn't sure if it was the exact same with chickens or not. I was thinking of getting a mixed bag of Sussex, Dominique, Brahmas, Delaware and a couple more BAs. When I used a breed selector, these were some of the top recommended breeds. So, if it turns out that the BA roo is the "best", I would likely end up with an almost completely black flock? And it sounds like the barred and white also do the same... So, really, I should probably aim to have a brown roo, you think? Wow. I should probaly do some more research on that whole subject... Who knew a hobby would be so all-consuming?! [​IMG]

    Roos - I like your idea of a back-up roo, too. Will that work, having two in one smallish flock? I don't want to um, over-burden the hens. Lol. And I do appreciate the tips on picking one out. I figure a straight run should give me plenty of guys to choose from. Lol, though now, somewhat decreased, as I'll be selecting for color, too.

    Chick Accomodations - My DH is in the process of building me a 10x12 coop, so I figure about 20-25 hens would be my max. (Based on #s, I could have up to 30, but that just seems too crowded) I have a section (about 3x5) that I had designated as the broody hen area, that I can fence off in there so they can be "with" the rest of the flock, but not WITH the flock. I figured a small pen for outside time would be good, possibly attached, with a separate pop door. What issues did you find cropped up with the hens and chicks in the coop? I want to keep them close, as I've heard that helps when it comes time to integrate them.

    Meat aspect - I hadn't heard of the black specks on the flesh. Will need to look into that. I knew that the silkies had really dark skin and meat. I hadn't thought about the plucking/dressing aspect. That will likely be my DH's job if I cant find a processor in our area willing to do poultry...

    Clearly I have a lot more to learn and to research... Once again, I am so grateful to have years of experience close at hand, willing to share! Thank you!

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