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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.