Should I cross-breed my Buff Orpington hens or start over with a new breed?

Discussion in 'Meat Birds ETC' started by hveggeberg, Jan 30, 2016.

  1. hveggeberg

    hveggeberg Out Of The Brooder

    Jan 29, 2016
    Pilot, Virginia
    I posted a thread yesterday asking why my Buff Orpingtons were so scrawny, and I very much appreciate all of the feedback I received. It seems most people agreed that Buff Orpingtons are a dual-purpose breed and will simply take a lot more time to make a good meat bird. But, even with lots of time, they will likely not yield as much white meat.

    If so, then I would like to post some new questions:
    1. Should I cross-breed my Buff Orpington hens to produce chicks that will be better meat birds?
    2. If so, what breeds do you recommend?
    3. Or, am I better off just starting over with a new breed of meat chickens?

    Here are the qualities I'm looking for in my flock:
    - Good brooding qualities. I want hens that will be effective in raising their own chicks. I don't want to have to keep buying baby chicks from a hatchery. I want to be self reliant. This is the main quality that steered me towards Buff Orpingtons.
    - Good meat birds with ample white meat.
    - Good foragers. My chickens free range, and I want them to benefit from this type of nutrition.
    - Good in cold weather. I live in the Appalachian Mountains in southwest Virginia. It doesn't get as cold here as Alaska, Maine, or Minnesota, but it does get down to zero, so I want birds hardy enough to withstand in the cold weather.

    So, what do you think?...cross-breed my Buff Orp hens, start over with a new breed, or stick with my Buff Orps?
  2. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

    Jun 18, 2010
    Southern Oregon
    I would keep some Orpington hens to be broody mommas for you. Since you're wanting meat more than egg production, I'd look at maybe Dark Cornish (also have a good reputation for going broody) or maybe try some of the slow broilers or Pioneers. Some folks have had good luck breeding those for a few generations. I don't know if they go broody or not, that's why I was thinking to keep some Orps to brood. Sometimes one breed won't fill everything you want.
    2 people like this.
  3. ghulst

    ghulst Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 31, 2008
    Zeeland Michigan
    If you want good broodies cross a silkie with any good laying hen like leghorn or ISA brown and you will not fine better broodies. I did it 30 years ago and hatched geese under them.
    1 person likes this.
  4. Egghead_Jr

    Egghead_Jr Overrun With Chickens

    Oct 16, 2010
    NEK, VT
    I'm with Donarae, not one bird can do everything. If you can not bring yourself to hatch eggs and must have a broody then get a Silkie or Polish. Cross those birds? I wouldn't, nor would I want more than one or two of them. Their sole purpose would be to look goofy and brood chicks. Keep their eggs out from under the broody. Why breed that broody? You only need one or two of them and Silkie or Polish are everywhere if you look around locally you'll find them. Easy to replace those dedicated broody when they get old from local person.

    I also agree that the Pioneer, aka Dixie Rainbow, aka Rainbow Chicken as the prime candidate to make a good dual purpose bird. They are a hybrid so wont breed true. Take the fastest growing cockerels of offspring and mate back to mothers. Take the fastest growing females from that mating and mate back to fathers. So that's a year to grow out in which you keep the fastest growing two males and all pullets, butcher all other cockerels at 12 weeks for meat. Then a second year growing their offspring and keeping biggest two cockerels at 12 weeks again to eventually breed with best of the mother birds. Third year weigh out the females and mark the best and only breed those few to their fathers when they are of age. Butcher all cockerels. The chicks on that fourth year will be very uniform and only continue to get uniform each generation if selection for breeders is done. If you build a breeder pen so your only mating the best cockerel and best two hens (only hatching their egg) the rate of uniformity will vastly increase. Basically it's a 4 year gig and you've made a line of birds that will carry the traits your looking for and can self perpetuate into little ones that will grow to very close likeness of parents.

    The genetic material is all there in the Pioneer Hybrid. They wont breed true as they are a hybrid but you can pull out the genes you want to move forward by strict selection and make a very good fast maturing meat bird that lays well. Your target butcher age should be 12 weeks. Keep records of bird live weights and use leg bands to ID birds for records.
    2 people like this.
  5. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    I grew up on the Tennessee side of the Kentucky-Virginia-Tennessee border. We had a free ranging flock of maybe 20 to 30 hens and normally one rooster that fed themselves in the better weather though we did supplement their feed in the winter. They went broody and raised their own replacements. They basically took care of themselves except when we had to break the ice on the pond so the horses, cows, and chickens could get a drink and that supplemental feed in winter. Much of my family and many neighbors had similar flocks. Sound good so far?

    Our main purpose was not meat. We raised two hogs and butchered a beef calf to supply most or our meat but we all had eggs for breakfast practically every day of the year. When we did eat a chicken, Mom could feed a family of five kids with one scrawny hen. It was not all white meat, some of the parts served were neck, back, liver, and gizzard. Sometimes she would fry a chicken but sometimes she would make chicken and dumplings, a great way to really stretch a small chicken.

    These were not a breed but were a barnyard mix. Every four of five years Dad would bring home some Dominique, New Jersey, something like that to mix with his flock to keep the genetic diversity up and maintain the productivity of his flock. The backbone of his flock was Game chickens, probably descendants of some of the first chickens to go into that country when the pioneers went in. Game chickens are good broodies and good foragers. They are not very big though, nothing like the size of what we call full-sized fowl. They fed a lot of families for a long time and cost practically nothing in the good weather months to feed and surprisingly fed themselves a lot in our winters too. Snow didn’t cover the ground that often and you’d be amazed what they can find on ground we consider barren.

    A lot of that depends on the quality of your forage. We were on a farm with all kinds of different grasses and weeds, some cut and some just let go, different grass and weed seeds, all kinds of stuff to scratch around in to find nutrients (cow and horse manure, decaying vegetative matter, a wet weather spring that has a fair amount of critters), hay seed when we fed the cows and horses in the winter, and all kinds of creepy crawlies and flying critters to enjoy chasing and eating. Our kitchen wastes were not available to the chickens from March until October, those went to feed the hogs. Almost no one on this forum has that quality of forage. Some of us have somewhat decent forage but we still have to supplement their feed year around. Most of us have to provide most of what they eat.

    Now, let’s look at your goals.

    - Good brooding qualities. I want hens that will be effective in raising their own chicks. I don't want to have to keep buying baby chicks from a hatchery. I want to be self-reliant. This is the main quality that steered me towards Buff Orpingtons.

    Some breeds are known to go broody more than others but this does not mean every hen of that breed goes broody at the drop of a hat. You may have noticed that with your Orpingtons. I’ve only had two Buff Orps but neither went broody in two years. Whether or not they go broody is an individual hen thing. Another thing to consider is that eggs and chickens come in different sizes. Some bantams may be able to only cover 4 full-sized eggs, while I remember a hen hiding a nest that we never do find and bringing off 18 chicks. I normally give a hen 12 eggs of the size that she lays and they usually do OK but I have had a hen that could only handle 10 eggs that size. I don’t know how many chicks you want to hatch a year, but you may need a pretty decent flock of bantam Silkies or Polish to get enough for you, let alone enough full-sized hens that go broody.

    Going broody is an inherited trait. I’ve selected my breeding stock with going broody as one criteria so I have a flock where several go broody. My main laying/breeding flock is only 6 to 8 hens and one rooster and I need about 40 to 45 chicks a year to have all the meat I want. I can’t do that with just broody hens. They don’t go broody often enough at the right time of the year so I have to have a spring incubator hatch to get enough. Not all broody hatches are wildly successful either. Most of the time a broody does a better job of hatching than we can with an incubator, but I had a thin-shelled egg break under a broody and ruin all the eggs. I’ve had a snake eat the eggs out from under a broody. Incubator hatches aren’t always wildly successful either. You may find you need a fair-sized flock to hatch and raise enough chicks for you.

    - Good meat birds with ample white meat.

    Different chickens, whether breeds or barnyard mixes, have different proportions of white meat to dark. Most of the dual purpose don’t have a lot of white meat. The Cornish (not the Cornish Cross hybrid broilers, the true Cornish breed of chickens) are known for having a fair amount of white meat. I’ve never raised Pioneers or Rangers so I don’t know what kinds of white to dark proportions they have or how well they do if you keep them as breeders. To get a higher proportion of white meat you might try these or mix them with your hens.

    Other than white meat I have no idea what qualities you want in a “good meat bird”. We have different goals. Egghead is fixated at butchering at 12 weeks (sorry Egghead but look back through your recent posts) so that requires a bird that packs on a lot of meat early. The age of the bird has a lot to do with how you cook it. Young birds like that can be fried and grilled. The older they get the more you need to use a slow and moist method of cooking. 12 weeks is a legitimate goal if you are going to fry or grill them or sell them to people that will. That’s not my goal, I much prefer an older bird and use appropriate cooking methods.

    Size is not the most important criteria for me either. There are only two of us. We can make two meals out of one relatively small hen, though the second meal might be left-over meat in soup that I can. I still want a cockerel that puts on a reasonable amount of meat but my butcher age for them is more in the 18 to 23 week range. My goal is not a cockerel that packs on a lot of meat early but that reaches a nice size around five months. Mine forage a lot too so I don’t buy as much feed as someone that has to buy everything they eat.

    - Good foragers. My chickens free range, and I want them to benefit from this type of nutrition.

    All chickens will forage some but I find the best are the ones that are used to foraging and are not that big so you have somewhat conflicting goals if overall size and packing on a lot of meat early mainly from foraging is your goal. Larger chickens require more nutrients to grow and maintain that larger body. Some of this depends on your quality of forage but depending on forage is not how you normally get really large chickens that have a lot of meat on them, especially at a young age. That’s why the smaller chickens like games are champion foragers. The Dominique and New Hampshire Dad got as chicks did fine foraging too but they were not the plump prize-winning chickens many people think about these breeds. They are still totally healthy and thrive but think of them as more athletic versions of the breed. They are more likely to have the body of a soccer player as opposed to a Sumo wrestler.

    - Good in cold weather.

    I can remember a stretch growing up where we had four days and five nights where it never got above zero Fahrenheit. We had chickens from our barnyard mix sleeping in trees. Most were in the coop but a few preferred the trees. Those trees were in a sheltered valley and were thick enough that they were not in the wind all that much, so they do need to have shelter. They had great ventilation and never had any problems with freezing to death or frostbite. Most of the dual purpose breeds should have no problems with your kind of cold weather with a little protection. Even Turken (Naked Necks) with bare necks and half the feathers of many other breeds are considered a cold weather breed. Give them a shelter where they can get out of the wind yet have great ventilation and this should not be a huge worry.

    We all have different goals. What works for me would be unacceptable to Egghead. Donrae is closer to me but we still have our differences. You’ve gone a long way down the right road by defining what you want but you probably can’t have it all, especially immediately. If you breed your own flock for the qualities you want you can get closer. The better the stock you start with the easier that is. The fewer your goals the faster you will get there. But you may find your goals change a bit as you go along, mine have. I think it’s important to try but to also be flexible.

    My suggestion is to get some Cornish, Rangers, or Pioneers and see how they work for you. Then decide if you want to do them specifically or cross them with your Orpington to get other traits you want. There are many different paths that can take you pretty close to what you want but the main thing is to choose one and start walking.

    Good luck.
    2 people like this.
  6. hveggeberg

    hveggeberg Out Of The Brooder

    Jan 29, 2016
    Pilot, Virginia
    Thank you very much for your advice. I never thought of just having a few hens around (silkies or polish) to hatch out eggs. What a great idea! It doesn't matter what breed they...they're only job is to sit on eggs and hatch them. And, as I understand it, they'll hatch out any eggs...not just the ones they laid. So, that means I can take that factor out of my genetic requirements and focus on the others. If my Orpingtons don't turn out to be good mamas, then this is definitely the way I'm going.

    Also, thank you for the very detailed description of how to breed for specific characteristics. I'm new to all this farming stuff. I had a general idea of how to breed (i.e. keep the ones that have the traits I'm looking for and cull out the others), but I didn't really know about mothers vs. fathers and how to breed the offspring. Thank you.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2016
  7. hveggeberg

    hveggeberg Out Of The Brooder

    Jan 29, 2016
    Pilot, Virginia

    Wow, what a detailed and thorough response...thank you so much!!

    I'm going to let the experiment with my Orpingtons play out for another couple of months. We just got our first egg on Sunday (at 21 weeks old). So, we will see if any of these hens actually go broody. We also slaughtered 3 more roosters yesterday (bringing our rooster to hen ratio down to 3 to 29), and these roosters dressed out a bit heavier than the first batch. These were 4 - 4.5 lbs at 21 weeks (vice 3 lbs at 16 weeks on the first batch).

    So, if any of the hens go broody, then I will stick with these Buff Orpingtons for a little while longer and see how they do with raising baby chicks. If these chicks are what I'm looking for, then I'll stick with BO's. If not, then I may try crossbreeding my BO hens with Cornish, Ranger, or Pioneer roosters. Or, I may cull all the BOs and start over with Cornish, Red Rangers, or Pioneers and breed them for the meat characteristics I'm looking for. Then, I could get some Silkies of Polish to sit on the eggs and hatch them out.

    For now, I'm going to let this play out for another 2-3 months.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2016

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by