March and the pens for this season are being put together, that is the birds selected for breeding are put into a breeding pen. The winter or off breeding period is spent in a big shed along with the eating egg flock and these are all let out first thing and locked up at night. Most of the roosters not quite up to the standard I’m aiming for are either in the freezer or in runs waiting for the final selection or a place in the freezer.
A few of the pure Indians are out on free range and keep a whole lot fitter running after hens or trying to protect the harem they have gathered from other cockerel. There is the odd fight, but Ben and now Dudley, my new collie pup break any serious problems up.
The pens this season will contain birds that were tested last year as first year pullets or birds in their 2cnd/ 3rd year. Once the pullets have gone through the first egg stage and the eggs have started to get size I test hatch a few to see what the conformation and type has fixed in that mating, (still having the birds that bred them) Any poor hatches due to fertility have already been sorted out with a 10 day hatch test, it can be done in 7 but given the extra 3 days leaves you in no doubt when you break the egg. Candling is fine, but running eggs on till full term means chicks everywhere and my other half doing my head in moaning about the amount of chicken I have.
This is an ongoing problem for me. I try to limit my flock to around 300, but always seem to have birds in every shed and runs at the end of the season. To pick out the best you have to breed in numbers to get a better idea what the gene pool in that strain holds and run them all on to fully mature. This, as you can imagine takes a serious amount of space, time and money, but there is no point in deluding yourself into thinking your birds are quality unless you have squeezed the very best out of what the birds have hidden in their make-up.
To build up a breeding pen of birds, which I usually keep to around 6 hens and a rooster means that those 6 hens were the best from all the chicks hatched from an original pair ( every line I have started with a selected pair). IF that pair produced as good as or better than themselves. It is totally pointless just breeding for the sake of it. With feed costs higher than I ever remember churning out rubbish is madness.
I visited a poultry keeper a week or two back and it was truly amazing. There were around 100 birds all living totally free and it was like stepping back in time 150 years. They were small large fowl, small through unselected (except for natural selection where the most virile rooster held as many hens in his flock as he could protect from other roosters) breeding. The roosters were a game based breed and very active. All the birds lot fit and in rude health.
I wrote that before we were hit by a blizzard and the amount of snow we had, plus the wind chill cause a few problems, as that morning I started lambing. I normally lamb outdoors in the field nearest the house. I’d had already bought the galvanised sheeting to extend the shed I had down in the bottom field, which is sheltered by a high holly hedge. The ewes, once bonded with their lambs go down at about 36-48 hours old and all I have to deal with at night are the ewes still to lamb.
I called in a friend and we hastily erected an extension after digging all the sheets out of a snowdrift. It took 2 days, but thankfully I only had another set of twins over that period.
I strawed the sheds down and managed to put the whole flock in under cover at night and as they lambed I penned them up in the sheds. Within a week the shed was full with ewes and lambs and just about enough room to run the ewes still to lamb in at night.
These sheds are farthest away from the house and are illuminated by car spotlights run off batteries and they made life a lot easier and lighter in the dark.
The wind chill up here was down to minus 5 every night and giving the ewes water was the biggest problem, as by the time I filled the tank up on my trailer and tractored it down there took about an hour.
All the water buckets (18 plus a big trough) were frozen overnight and I had to repeat the journey everyday.
The lambing finished last Thursday and I had 38 lambs from 20 ewes only losing 3, which was, considering the conditions very good going. The 3 I lost were from 3 sets of triplets and I ended up having to help 2 ewes that were having trouble giving birth.
The new pup Dudley is proving to be a lovely dog and is already earning his keep. He works alongside Ben who he follows on the outrun and now drops and stays at a distance. He stands his ground well against the ewes protecting her lambs and charging him and isn’t in any way aggressive towards the lambs or ewes. All in all a very worthwhile addition to the team. As he gets older I’m sure he will make a very good working dog.
April is now over and it’s May tomorrow, still cold and hardly spring weather. Had a few health problems over the last few weeks. My joints are aching and my one knee is giving me some trouble. Had a look on ebay for a second hand one, but only cheap plastic ones listed, so I’ll hang on for a while and live with it.
The post office have put the cost of sending eggs up again, from £9.75 to £11 (next day special delivery) for a parcel weighing up to 2kg, which is about the weight of the boxes I send out packed the way I pack them. I have a feeling my egg selling days are numbered, as I can’t seriously consider charge £11 postage on top of the cost of the eggs and posting them in poly boxes and sending them first class mail is not an option I’d want to take.
No egg seller can guarantee every egg is fertile and I wouldn’t feel it fair to charge over £30 for eggs with a chance of chick less eggs.