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    January Diary.

    Castle Farm.

    Another year and another breeding season just a couple of months away.

    I can only comment on the breeds I keep or have kept in the past.
    Iv’e had the Exchequer Leghorns for many years. I have kept Scots Greys, Light Sussex, Rhode Island Red, Brahmas, Cochin,Orpington, Friesian Fowl, Seabrights, Gold Campines, Wyandottes (Large Fowl and bantam), Dorking, Warren, Spangled Hamburg, Sumatra Game bantam, Silkies and Australorp.

    Of all those breeds I’d like to get some Rhodes back again,but, it would be difficult to find any worth taking on as a project, re-building them back to a top layer would take time I don’t have left.
    I went to a championship show a few years ago and came back with a trio of RIR, they had taken the red card and cost me dearly, but they were really nice examples of the breed

    The system I have here is now a closed flock..Nothing comes in here in live form, The odd batch of eggs now and then, but nothing else. The runs I have for segregation are away from the main poultry yard and are in an open fronted barn where she parks her car.

    The birds went in and I fed and watered them. The next morning I got up and went down and she (who must be obeyed) went mental about that ******* cockerel that woke her up at 4am. She had arranged to have some anoraks come and stay over night and the birds had to go or else…been their lots of times and it ain’t nice, if she is having a bad day I am. So I let them go, as I couldn’t risk taking them into the yard in case they brought a bug in.

    These birds were a lovely rich red, but not having bred them or knowing their pedigree I could only guess at their worth, they looked, except for the richness of color a good utility breed/strain.

    The Rhode Island Red was at one time the top utility breed in the UK. It laid and stayed was the mantra, which was meant to say the laid all year.

    It wasn’t the perfect dual purpose breed, as it carried it’s breast bone to high and at the time there were some very good Sussex around for table work. A cross mating of these two breeds were common and some strains of this cross could be expected to return up to 200 eggs in a season and roosters and ‘spent hen’ were saleable.

    There are not many breeds that can be described as Utility anymore. If you look at that word in the real sense it meant eggs and meat, but when the hybrid layers and the commercial table birds became available it took it’s toll on the true Utility traditional breeds. Nothing comes near to the hybrid layer and white feathered broiler type if your looking for a return on investment in feed.

    There hangs the thought, by a thread. Do these hybrid layers, claimed to lay 300+ eggs in a season, actually lay that amount, they may, if they were kept in optimum conditions, but who has conditions like those. How many eggs do they lay if they are stuck in some shitty coop at the bottom of some garden, fed left overs and called bloody Mee mee or mummy cluck. Love them or not they killed off the traditional breeds,except in the odd corners of poultry keeping and exhibitionists.

    We need to look out for some of these breeds before it’s gone to far to bring them back.

    If you have read any of this you will know I’m a traditionalist as far as poultry is concerned. Some breed are now are getting really beyond reason and going in the same direction pedigree dogs and cats have gone.Micro Pigs..Don’t get me started on about those silly buggers.

    If say 100 people read this and just 10%  of those take up a breed and make it better by selective breeding for attributes other than fancy feathers I will have at least achieved something.

    Australorp Large Fowl.

    I’m in a position this year to have a go at my Australorps. Last season I had a few spare hens, but they were in the eating egg flock, birds that I concidered a bit below standard. It’s pointless penning every bird just because it’s the same breed, you’ll end up with a flock thats going downhill in a handcart. Pick only the best birds and breed from them.

    Anyway..This season I have a number of very nice pullets that come March will be fully in lay and hopefully giving a good size egg. They were hatched last May and run on grass right through and are still out on range now.

    I intend to make an outcross to another breed to tighten up a few points and bring some fresh genes into the ‘bloodline’

    I don’t like feathers that are to loose and unless I tighten them up the birds are going towards the Orpington, which they at one time were. This breed were Utility Black Orpingtons and arrived back from Australia after being crossed with ‘other breeds’. It’s a long story and has a number of senarios both from here in the UK and Australia. I’m not bothered who called it what or really what went into making it a breed of high regard both as a layer and exhibition breed, Some strains were of a dual purpose type, but not all.

    One way of getting the feathers closer to the frame would be an out-cross to a Croad Langshan.

    But that would bring in feathered legs.Pink feet and a sickle that is much to long. It would put a larger cushion on the hens and  bring the feathers to low down on the leg,besides that I don’t know of any good ones with any history. All the above faults would take years to breed out. Putting Croad back in after all these years would bring back to the surface all sorts of things.

    Even a Croad cross Orpington would take to long, as Orpingtons are now totally fluffy knickered and egged out.

    I’ll pen a couple of promising pullets with a Welsh Black Rooster. No Feathered legs. White feet and toes, same coloured egg, good tight feathers and seriously black and back in the ‘bloodline’ lies Australorp at  50%.

    The resulting birds will be 3/4 Australorp. I envisage a few Red/blacks in the mix, but I can over the next year or three breed back on black untill I can be assured it won’t show red in the hackles and cape.

    To be continued.

     

     

    Utility Poultry. Breeding for the Dinner table.

    Welsh Black Hen.

    Australorp Large Fowl

     

    Breeding poultry allows people to create a bird that can be bred for purpose and there are a few types, including exhibition and pet/garden. I breed for utility and that is not for feather or fancy markings, although it needs to be fit for purpose.

    I’m not bothered what type comb the bird carries or what colour it’s feet are. I like black and glossy. I like the feathers close to the body to shed the rain easier. I don’t like to see soggy birds with feathers that hold onto water and allowing the water to wet the underfluff. I enjoy seeing birds roaming out across the fields in all weathers, not hunched up trying to escape the weather, if they are not active they are not working to find their food.

     

    Welsh Blacks.Welsh Blacks.

    About the only time my birds are not getting free feed is when the snow covers the ground.

    Last winter we had heavy snow and minus 12 and the birds survived without exception.

    So! the story so far.

    After spending a number of years breeding to improve the vigor and laying ability of Indian Game, Large fowl Australorp, Exchequer Leghorns and French Copper Marans I started cross breeding to try to establish a better table bird that layed a good number of eggs and was able to free-range and be weatherproof enough to handle the elements up here on the Welsh Border Hills.

    Indian Game Rooster.

    I started with this bird as the foundation cock in the Indian Game pen. He was a fairly typical short legged exhibition type that had just enough vitailty to mate with a hen, if she didn’t resist his advances.

    This ‘improvement’ along with only breeding from the birds that produced the best return, either by laying eggs or producing a decent weight for a cockerel.

    I get asked time and again at what age do the cockerels get big enough to eat. The whole idea of breeding utility or a breed that is a worthwhile project for meat and eggs is you take them when you need them…up to a point.

    Mixed Roosters from this season.

    By this time of the year almost all of this years birds are at point of lay or sexual maturity if males. There are younger ones growing on that have been hatched as fertility tests through the egg selling season. During the last couple of months any cockerel that dragged (lagged behind the rest of his group) has been removed and taken to the kitchen and here lies the answer to when to take them out. You eat your way to keeping the very best birds.

    There is a light that goes on in the part of your brain when you have enough knowledge and experience to look at a bird and know if it’s right or not. The way the bird moves across the ground.The balance it has. The amount of activity that it takes part in during daylight hours. Put all together it’s vitality.

    You can ‘harvest’ a bird anytime, it doesn’t have to resemble the supermarket stereotype, as these are a commercial factory farm chicken and to be honest if you want a fast meat bird buy them, but don’t expect the same flavor and meat texture as a free-range naturally reared chicken. ‘Broilers’ are the best there is when converting feed to flesh.

    All the pens are now out on day release and free to wander around the farm. With around 50 testosterone charged roosters running about bursting with the need to mate it keeps Ben on his toes breaking up fights and unsolicited matings. With this amount of roosters running around an older rooster just protects the girls he has in his ‘harem’.

    Keeping the roosters running around loose keeps them fit and very active and when the actual breeding season starts the chosen males are penned in the stud pens (4ft X 4ft) and into the adjoining pen goes the pullets/hens. 24 hours later when they are penned together to mate the rooster would tred a mop head if you threw one in as by then he is fully hiped up.

    2011 Improved Indian pullet.

    The above picture is a this season pullet and as you can see she has a major fault which needs to be bred out. That fault is a cushion (The rise of feathers above the tail) Indian pullets should have a sloping back and if you look at this bird and dismiss the feathering above the tail shes not bad. This fault was brought about by me penning the mother of her to a rooster carrying to much sickle feather. This is why you need to progeny test every pen of mature 1st year birds before you pen them for birds joining the breeding project proper. She will not be chosen for breeding from unless she gets X  mated back to the Australorp line where the cushion will not matter, but that means another breding pen and I doubt I’ll be doing that.

    Indian Game Rooster (Bad Example)

    This is the bird that caused the problem. Not only does he carry to long a tail that has also got white in it, but the sickle feathers are to long and breeding to a male IG such as this brings a bigger cushion in on the resulting pullets. Other than that he’s not a bad example and I used him because of the vitality the bird has.

     

     

    November Diary.

    French Copper Blue Marans.

     

    Last day of the month tomorrow and it’s been really mild up until now. I gave the grass a final cut yesterday and I hope, being as the ground temperature is still high enough for the grass to grow, it will re-flush giving another feed or two for the birds.

    Over the last few weeks I have fed bucketfuls of windfall apples which are sliced up and dropped for the birds to get at the sweet flesh inside the skin. This and large amounts of Swiss Chard (bright lights) has kept them all busy and working.

    I still have chicks from late sitters, bit of a pain this time of year and these growers will take much longer to mature as there is much less daylight for them to feed. All 4 lots of chicks will be kept on chick crumbs until spring now, as it’s higher in protein and it will take them longer to fill their crops and hopefully keep them out of mischief such as feather pecking.

     

    Feather pecking is a habit that once it has started is very difficult to stop. It usually starts with a grower losing a feather, almost always from a cockerel and more often than not when the birds are crowding around a freshly filled feeder. A bird climbing on top of another will dislodge a new feather and another will grab it as a trophy and eat it.

    Overcrowding and boredom along with ammonia soaked litter will trigger an outbreak and before you spot the signs you have a number of birds pecking the feathers out of other birds. Left untreated it will result in the drawing of blood and cannibalism.

    If your spending time within earshot of the growers you will hear the squawk of pain and distress the victim makes.This squawk is slightly different to the noise the birds make if they have just had a peck from a higher up the order in the flock. You will hear the same bird regularly making the same sound, remove the victim and if possible the main antagonist and pen separately. I had 2 Wyandotte bantam pullets take this habit up and to break it I penned with the very large Marans rooster in the first photograph. It stopped the problem, but created another, the now almost mature pullets follow him around everywhere and will not return to their own hatch group.

    There is no way of stopping them when they start, except removing the culprit and victim. If it has got to the stage where more than 1 bird is pecking, if you don’t take out the bird that has been attacked the others carry on attacking it. It can and will result in an horrific death and once they have tasted blood they will find another victim.

    Give the as much space as you can as over crowding does’t give the birds room to get away from the attackers. You can try anti-peck and Stockholm tar, but it rarely works. The bird supposedly gets iodine from the feathers along with other minerals. A varied diet and greens give the birds something to work on other than each other. I use clover and lawn clippings.

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    June Diary and just the odd ramble.

     

    Improved Indian Game Pullet.

    If there were 2 things I would, if I had the backbone or whatever it is you need to have when giving something up you enjoy…do.

    I smoke very heavily, as I feel I need to give more than just the tax on my old age pension to our wonderful treasury to squander on lost bloody causes like the long term unemployable and foreign bloody aid.

    I wake myself up most nights with a wheezing chest and fall back to sleep with the knowledge that, come morning, hopefully, I’ll be back in my greenhouse/shed/my space toking on another Benson and Hedges busting a lung in a self destructing hope that some bugger somewhere who benefits from my chucking  a large percentage of £7+ at a packet of fags appreciates the sacrifice I make on their behalf…so, if your there reading this a thank you Dave would not go amiss.

    The other thing I need to address is my compultion to breed more birds. I have far to many already, but have just set another incubator full (48).

    I have about 16 broodies sitting, but only 2 are sat of viable eggs. The others are on dead eggs. The chicks from test hatches are doing well, some are now 15 weeks and looking like being what I’d hoped them to look like.

     

    The best test by far was a batch of ‘ Improved French Marans’ these are another step towards a dark egg laying table bird or a dual purpose dark egg layer. They hatched with attitude and almost forced the top off the incubator at 24 hours old. I had to move them out of the brooder box by day 5, as they were just bouncing around the box.

    They were moved into a broody coop under a 150 watt dull emitter and a low wattage lamp of about 20watts for light. By day 10 I had them on greens (Clover) and they were perching by 16 days. The whole hatch looks full of bounce and I’m re hatching some more in case something happens to the rooster I bred them from.

    Improved Marans hatch day.

    These are by a very good rooster (Welsh Black) penned with 6 black and  blue French copper Marans 2 year old hens.

    The hens are from an improved line which is now a 5th season strain, selected for egg color and general vitality and how the bird handles laying and feather retention balance. I like to see a bird looking in reasonable condition well into a laying season, as it indicates she is fit and agile enough to get the protein it takes to lay and keep feathers on. Not all birds do look in good nick, some feather loss is inevitable, but birds that look like battery hens that are free ranging should not really be bred from or at least monitored careful for the color and amount of eggs she lays.

    It’s impossible to keep on top of everything if you have to many birds to look after, feeding and watering has to be done, cleaning and general bird welfare comes well before sitting in the house watching television. It all takes time and effort, but I don’t want to keep birds in squalor so stock comes first.

    I have been trying to reduce my numbers for a couple of years and have bred towards just having 1 breed. A breed that does what it says on the tin. I want a dark brown egg laying dual purpose bird that will lay and be a calm sitter a breed that it’s worth taking the cockerels on for table birds with the knowledge that corn prices are going to get higher, in fact a dark brown egg laying Welsh Black.

    Over the next month or 2 I shall move on most of my birds, as there is no way I can cope with another winter like the last 2 caring for this many birds. My health suffered last year and my OH (other half) has already bought a bungalow in Hay-on Wye with a short term view of moving into civilization and I need that like I need another hole up my arse, so some birds have to go.

    The eggs I put in today (OH away on a holiday) are Improved French Marans and a few tests from breeding pens after rooster swapping, which is a mid season way of gene swapping in a strain/line. Using the best of the hens still looking fit and healthy and still producing with another rooster, usually related to the out coming rooster to see if a different gene mix throws out any interesting chicks.

    Improved Indian Game with Welsh Black hens.

    Record keeping must be practiced as after a few weeks you will forget which grower came from which pens of birds.

    March Diary.

    Jubilee Indian Game Pullet.

    March has already gone and the breeding season has started again. I have already hatched quite a number of chicks in test hatches to see how the fertility of the pens are this year. With the exception of a pen of Cochins I’m pleased enough, considering that a month ago when I set the eggs the weather was foul.

    I have had to remove the gallery and will go through and watermark all the photographs of my birds, as again this year I am finding photos of my breeds being used by ebay sellers who think it’s perfectly alright to post other breeders photographs on ebay listings.

    I know for sure of one person who buys eggs at Hereford poultry auction and probably others and matches them to photographs on the web and sells them on ebay. This is not only fraud, but bloody annoying if you own the birds who’s photographs he has used. I have a zero tolerance of these sellers and report any to ebay and email the buyers informing them that they have been conned,plus reporting the seller to trading standards.

    Of course your not allowed to name and shame these people, as in this day and age it’s infringing their rights or some such crap. I’m getting old and cranky and cannot understand where all standards of decency have gone.

    I have also had to remove the comments box, as seemingly if I use the word cock instead of rooster my comments box gets flooded with spam for Penis extensions/Viagra/Inflatable sex toys and god alone knows what else, so if you need to leave any feedback mail me.

    I’m glad spring is here again and there is a flush of fresh grass. I have finally finished lambing my ewes and have a fine crop of lambs running around the fields. This is always stressful and tiring, as I have to be up at dawn and the last walk around is about midnight with the lamp checking any ewes that look as though they may lamb soon.

    I have the usual spring egg glut from the pullets just starting into lay and any eggs layed in the runs that get muddy from the birds entering the nest I hard boil, shell and mix with rolled barley and milk with a drop of cod liver oil in.

    I’ll update as soon as I get a chance.

    February Diary.

    Indian Game Young Cockerels.

    The last day of this month and I’m struggling to pen up my breeding birds for this year. I have the birds, all fit and some are in lay, but the bit I’m struggling with is how many dare I breed this season.

    I normally do test hatches throughout the breeding season to check the fertility in each pen about now and allow the eggs to hatch to assess the vitality of the chicks and see how strong they grow away, but with feed prices higher than I ever remember and talk of them getting even more expensive the last thing I need are more mouths to feed.

    I have normally sold the majority of the birds I bred last year by now, but this winter has seen the trade in poultry drop away. Perhaps I’m breeding the wrong types of breeds and should turn away from poultry that earn their keep in egg production and meat and start breeding the fancy types that attract the pet keepers. The fluffies and tinies that are about as much good as a 1 legged man in an arse kicking contest as far as utility goes.

    Welsh Black Cockerel.

    I hope this season to start to fix both lines of the Welsh Black and the Improved Indian Game and start breeding them along 2 separate strains. Up to now I have just selected the strongest growers and best layers and not really taken into account markings, especially in the Improved Indians.

    The combs on the both types vary, but I suppose you don’t eat the combs, so why worry, but it would please me to get them how I want them after coming this far.

    I get single and rose combed birds. Obviously the single combed birds are carrying the gene for single comb from the Australorp in the breeding and the rose combed from the Indian Game.

    I spent an hour today digging over an area of ground that all the manure from the stables and garden gets dumped on. The birds were taking large amounts of worms and getting a lot of exercise raking over the soil I’d dug up. A large number are working well away from the runs in the surrounding fields getting whatever they find in free feed and come back to the yard a few times a day to top up with a grain feed. As soon as I open the runs up in the morning they rush out across the fields to grab the best feeding sites.

    I have 4 broodies down on eggs, well 3 on eggs and 1 on a hatch of chicks. Thats a small drawback with the Welsh Blacks and Improved Indians, if you miss to collect they sit, which is a pain if you have as many birds as I have.

    The grass is just starting into growth up here and the birds are, with the exception of the odd one moulting, in good physical condition.

    Not long now before we can get a 12 hour day and I shall start penning up the breeding birds.

    Brilley Blues and Silvers.

    Red shouldered Blue Pencilled Wyandotte.

    Ramblings Part 8.

    Free-range Australorp Large Fowl.

    Getting towards the middle of January and it’s turned from very cold and snow to very windy and wet. The birds are looking very well with a number of them laying. I’m getting a lot of pullet eggs from the Welsh Blacks and Improved Indian Game along with French Copper Marans and the 3 year old Welsh Blacks have been laying right through since early December.

    With the birds having to range farther for wild feed, Ben is kept very busy keeping them in bounds and spends all day out with them.

    Ben.

    The birds I bred last year from the Welsh Black/Improved Indian Game pens are now starting to lay. This season I have to fix a few minor/major problems, mainly the comb in the cockerels. The pullets have tightened up in the feather, making them a lot more weatherproof. The size is still very good and they are solid when handled, but it’s the cockerels I need to work on.

    Welsh Black 4th Generation.

    I’m getting a mix of comb sizes and shapes and the type I would like is this one.

    Welsh Black 2cnd generation.

    Trying to fix a certain trait is easier than trying to fix more than 1 in a single attempt, so I shall have a closer look at the remaining Cockerels I have, pick out the bird with the tightest comb and mate it to a couple of proven hens (pullets last year)  that also have a good shaped comb. I shall run another pen along side these containing 2 good Welsh Black hens mated with one of the darkest Improved Indian Game.

    Improved Indian Game.

    Hopefully this will produce a selection of birds that can be chosen to take this breeding to the next stage.

    Picking what heads your breeding pen is of vital importance, starting with the male.

    He should be bursting fit and well grown. A bird who’s development has not been checked by bad husbandry. His whole attitude to life should be one of vitality and energy.

    Australorp Rooster

    His feathers should be close fitting, depending on the breed, His eyes should totally fill the socket and be big and shining bright, just check to see if the eye does actually fill the socket, as breeding a fault like bad eye displacement takes a hell ova lot of breeding out once you have it in the strain.

    He should announce himself often and should always be prepared to defend his group against all comers. Charged up with testosterone, he will be certain  to fertilize the eggs.

    The male in a breeding pen must be of quality and fit, or it will be a total waste of time and energy, culminating in a hatch of rubbish chicks that will grow into rubbish chickens.

    The hens and I say hens, as pullets in their first season can be used, if well grown and laying well, but you will get a better chick that is larger,stronger and have more vitality than a chick hatched from a pullet egg.

    I usually run any pullets I have bred on after selection for a chance to see how they perform in laying and general well being before re- selecting any to go into a breeding pen.

    December Diary.

    French Copper Blue Marans.

    The weather has been awful, freezing cold and heavy snow. Nearly all the birds are in runs or in the sheds. Just trying to keep water before the birds is difficult and takes hours to go around all of them.

    The birds that are in lay at the moment are the Welsh Blacks and a few Copper Blue Marans. I have a number of Wyandotte pullets just starting into lay and 2 Wyandottes broody. I removed these 2 into a coop, as I don’t want any sitting at the moment.

    All the birds are in very good feather and health. I have cod liver oil in every feed at the moment, as the sunlight isn’t enough to give them the vitamin A+D they need to keep healthy.

    To give the birds something to work on I have thrown some hay in the runs, this they enjoy picking at and it gives them some work to keep them on the move. Before the frost started I gathered a number of sacks full of windfall apples which I cut into slices and give to the birds. We have had minus 14 here last week and a very good French Copper Blue rooster has caught frost bite on his comb even though he was Vaselined it still caused a black scab on the side of his comb. This is a bit of a major set back, as he was one of the best Copper Blues I have ever bred.

    Comb damage is not only disfiguring, but can effect fertility in a male bird if bad enough. Usually giving the comb a coat of grease helps, but in this case it didn’t.

    Every afternoon the birds get a warm feed of flaked maize soaked with an oxo cube and hot water with added rolled barley and wheat to give them a full crop to go to the perches on. I feed this in old flat baking pans that are removed at dusk. The scratch feed of mixed corn is given in the litter at the same time, as some of the lower pecking order don’t get near the pan till the other higher up birds get what they need. Any feed left in the litter is cleared up next morning when they come off the perches. Needless to say the litter must be cleaned out on a regular basis, as not only will it harbour germs, but any build up in ammonia can cause breathing problems and can trigger feather picking in growers.

    Welsh Black Pullet.

    I have been surprised at the way the birds have coped with the bad weather and getting a bit of fat onto the bird has surely helped keep them warm in the sub-zero temperatures we have  here at night. On more than one occasion the thermometer has read minus 10 and one night last week it went down to minus 14.

    My thoughts are turning to next seasons breeding pens and I have made a decision to sell a lot of my breeding stock and keep fewer birds, as I cannot bear the thought of another winter like this trying to keep the birds comfortable. It has taken a toll on my health and I still haven’t booked an operation for gall stones which were diagnosed as in urgent need of removal last May. The problem I have is finding someone who can take care of my flock of poultry and sheep, 3 dogs and 2 cats while I’m in hospital having it sorted, which may take a week or two before I’m fit enough to get back at it.

    Of this seasons birds there are some very good Welsh Black pullets showing nice tight feather and sheen. I have bred some lovely Jubilee Indian Game and some very nice Exchequer Leghorns.

    Of the 20 or so Australorps I shall be looking for a good cockerel and a few nice pullets and there are some well combed youngsters showing already.

    My biggest pleasure this year was the Wyandotte bantams and some of the amazing colours the pens have produced. The Single combed pen produced a number of lovely cockerels, but as usual I cannot keep them all, so just 1 from the 5 I have will be retained for next season.

    Gold laced Wyandotte.

    Ramblings Part 7.

    Silver Appleyard Duck.

    Click to enlarge photograph.

    We have snow and ice and everything is much harder for the birds and myself.

    The birds that are ‘out’ spend most of the time in the big dutch barn during the day, just scratching around and keeping off the snow. They crossed the snow from the grass runs,but are reluctant to go back over it at dusk, so I had to catch up quite a few after dark and return them to their runs.

    Keeping the water ice free is a major problem and the daily round of unfreezing drinkers really takes a lot of time, but has to be done.

    Water is vital to a bird, it regulates the body temperature, aids digestion and clears the liver/kidneys of waste. If your birds are laying and they run out or cannot get at fresh water they stop laying, as a lot of water is taken in to be used in the production of the egg.

    I have about 46 drinkers to see to at the moment and all freeze up over night. I empty each one out before nightfall and fill again first thing in the morning for the first drink and if the temperature stays below freezing and the ice up again I dunk the drinker in a bucket of hot water to thaw. I can usually do 5 before I need to replace the hot water. This will only work if the drinkers are clean, any that have got dirty need dealing with separately.

    Gold Laced Wyandotte Cockerel.

    The 10 8ft x 10ft covered runs are dry, as I have sheeted them over with a tarp.

    They are littered with straw to give the birds something to work on during daylight. As long as the birds stay dry the cold shouldn’t be a major hardship.A well fed bird will carry enough fat and feathers to get it through a tough winter. It’s when your birds get wet and cold the problems start.

    I caught up a few Wyandotte bantam pullets and found them to be quite lightweight, possibly from competition from larger fowl for food, so they have gone back up into the granary under a low wattage lamp to give them more light and a longer feeding time. I shall put these back on a chick crumb mix and extra maize for added protein and fat building.

    As yet, I have not selected birds to go forwards into the next years breeding plans. There are a number of very good Welsh Black cockerels and pullets that I have my eye on, along with a some nicely marked single combed Wyandotte bantams, this is a breed I have started a line on, just as pets mainly for the lovely colours I have managed to breed into them.

    Single comb Wyandotte with cold feet.

    Single Combed Wyandotte Bantam.

    Ramblings Part 6.

    Australorp Cockerels.

    It’s 21 days into November and we have had a couple of frosty nights with more forecast for later this coming week. The earlier hatched Australorp,Welsh Blacks and Improved Indian game are now at sexual maturity and beginning to be a nuisance. They are big birds and bursting with vigour and more than ready for the job they were bred for.

    It is not a job I look forwards to, but hanging onto them any longer is foolish, as they will get bigger, but getting another pound or two on them isn’t worth the delay.

    I have a couple of 8ft x8ft indoor pens where I can put 4 in at a time for a week to give them the final finish.

    Once a bird has made it’s frame and fleshed it, the food it takes is used for maintenance and building up muscle and once it has done that the rest or most of the food gets converted to fat to give it a fall back supply of energy if times get hard during the winter months the same as every animal and bird does.

    If you have birds that are sexually mature it’s time to have a closer look at then. Most people will pick a bird up and feel the amount of flesh on it’s breast and most of the time, if the birds are anything other than a commercial broiler type your going to be disappointed with the result, as the bone is not totally covered and I’m afraid it never will be. The area to look if the bird is ready is above and around the tail, as that’s where it lays the fat down. The bird will only put meat on the breast if it has been bred to do so and keeping it until it fill up is a waste of time and feed. You have to breed a table bird and all traditional heavy breeds have lost out to fancy feathers and backyard breeders who have not selected for the reasons these breeds were ‘designed’ for.

    While I’m rambling on about table birds I feel I need to cover feeding/finishing.

    Most of you feed a pelleted feed, fine if you like filling your birds up with whatever the feed mills put into it, but at least at the finishing stage you can change to grain. Forget about protein of 17% it’s gone past that stage by now. All you will do is put more fat on them to be ripped out and chucked away at dressing time.

    A week or 10 days on a grain diet will give them a proper flavor. Whats the point of keeping and growing your own table birds if your feeding them the same crap commercial poultry producers do.

    Wheat, rolled barley or  rolled oats and cut maize, grit is a must, as the birds need to be able to digest the grain ground in the gizzard. This feed is very palatable and easily digested. The barley and oats are better for being rolled as they are digested faster and easier than whole grain.

    Fresh greens or cut apple will give them something to do and after a period on this diet give them a last feed that evening allowing at least 12 hours for the birds digestive system to completely empty. This is to stop any feed in the gut from fermenting and turning the intestines green.

    On the appointed day, without fuss I catch up the first bird and dispatch by hand dislocation and start to remove the feathers immediately.

    The act of killing the bird make it tense up and every fiber in it’s body tightens including the follicles that hold the wing feathers, so I do those first while the bird is warm. I don’t scald, as it not only makes the carcass look blotchy, but drives any bacteria into the flesh. After the wings I tail it and then the back and breast.

    After plucking I hang them for 24 hours to allow all the tension in the meat to relax.

    Dark Laced Indian Hens.

    more on this to follow.

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