Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Choosing chickens and ducks for 2017


Hatching season is upon us, well sort of. We certainly know that our first clutch of eggs will hatch by the end of the week, but it's a little early to expect to see the girls going broody and sitting on eggs in the nesting boxes. But I have no doubt that it won't be too long before I have to find ways to entice a couple of the girls off the nest or decide to put eggs underneath them to hatch.

Last week I popped a few eggs into the incubator, they are the little eggs laid by the young Australorp, Jersey Giant and Cream Legbar girls to test for fertility. This means starting them to incubate and then candling them after a few days. Candling is the process of shining a light through the egg shell so that you can see what's going on inside the egg. Nowadays people don't usually use a candle, they use a bright torch light in a darkened room. Neither the Jersey Giant nor Australorp eggs were fertile and only one of the two Cream Legbar were fertile. I will test again in a couple of weeks and then, once we know that the eggs are fertile I start incubating them to hatch.

I have loose orders for some Cream Legbar chicks, but before I hatch any chicks I will confirm the order and take a small deposit because the last thing we need is to raise more Legbar chicks and then be stuck with them if they aren't bought. Over the course of the year we will be reducing our Cream Legbar flock to just two girls so we may well offer two of the girls to the person who's placed the order and then she has the choice of chicks or girls who are laying.

Several people have also expressed in interest in having Australorps and again, I will confirm the orders before hatching too many Australorp eggs. Having said that, our preferred meat birds are Australorps and Jersey Giants and to supply us with a regular source of meat, we will need to raise quite a few birds. This year we were effectively experimenting, finding out how long it took to raise a bird to a size that gave us more than one meal, whether I could dispatch and prepare birds for the table and whether we thought it was worth the time, cost and effort to produce our own meat.

We have decided that it is indeed worth the effort, that we are prepared to wait for the months that it takes for an organically raised bird to get to a good size and in comparison to a shop bought bird, the cost is similar (see my blog post about the price of raising meat birds).

Our hope for this year is to raise enough meat birds to provide at least one bird per fortnight, this should give us ample meat for a varied diet.

In addition to the Jersey Giant and Australorp chickens, I am keen to raise some La Bresse Gauloise chickens, which are white birds that grow rapidly and produce meat that is considered to be of the best taste.

As we also have duck eggs to hatch and the ducks are ready for the table much sooner than chickens, I think we will probably hatch as many ducks as chickens to give us an even wider variety in our diet. 

 Yesterday I put a duck egg into the incubator so that we can also check the duck eggs for fertility. Frederickson, the young drake is certainly enthusiastic in his attention towards the three girls, but as yet I am unconvinced that he has perfected his technique, so we will test fertility on a regular basis until we are sure that the eggs are fertile and then I can set up the incubator to hatch a batch of duck eggs.

I am very happy with the breed of duck that we have, the commercial Aylesburys are pretty to look at, grow fairly quickly and although they flap their wings each morning and night, they are too large in the body to be able to lift themselves off the ground and fly away. The three girls are from completely different flocks with no known connection, which should allow us to build a healthy flock and the young drakes will provide us with a good source of meat.

In December I dispatched five of the drakes, three of which were given to friends and family for Christmas. Once again this year, we intend to give duck as gifts, but we can also take orders if people would like a duck. 

The couple who owned our smallholding before we did have asked for three female ducks to join them at their new smallholding and so, once we have hatched some ducklings and confirmed their gender, we can let them have the girls that they'd like.

In the incubator at the moment are a mixture of Light Sussex, Appenzeller Spitxhauben, Silver Laced Wyandotte and some of our own hybrid eggs (for pictures of these breeds see this blog post). I am hatching these because I'd like to have more variety of colour in our laying flock and our own hybrid birds should be olive egg layers which will add a new colour egg to the mix of egg colours that we have now.

If you'd like to pre-order hatching eggs from our smallholding, please get in touch.

I'm still having fun making vlogs about our day to day life and here is yesterday's offering - Chickens, carpentry and compost.

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I also post vlogs daily (almost). You can find my YouTube channel here.
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