Monday, July 8, 2013

Merging Chicken Flocks and Making Plans for Heritage Meat Birds.

This past week I merged our flock that we hatched into the main coop.  This is my 3rd flock merging and was the easiest so far.  There was the issue of the flock flying over the fence looking for their original home the first few days and I was dreading having to give them a hair cut so they couldn't fly.  Not because I think it would be hard but it's just another thing to do on a list that's pretty long already.  I put them in lock down and didn't allow them to free range for a day and it has helped.  They are still flying over but not as frequently so I'm hoping the problem will resolve on it's own as they become comfortable with their new space.  I have found the easiest way to merge flocks with our set up is to do it with equal or close to equal size flocks and to allow the birds to meet for the first time in free range yard then when it's sun down and they are mellowing for the night put them all in the coop together.  This method worked really well this time around with mild pecking. 

Now I'm in the planning phase of what I want our lives with chickens to consist of.  We currently have 18 birds.  2 are roosters, and only 9 are laying age but out of that nine my egg production went from 7 eggs a day to 3-5 a day.  One is a Speckled Sussex and is a terrible layer of small eggs that seem to fall out as she's walking so if we find her eggs it's usually by stepping on them.  My Americana's are great layers and in their prime.  They are a very neurotic bird but good layers so I'm happy with them.  The others are Rhode Island Reds that are moving into eggopause.  We acquired these birds during their prime and got a good 6 months of egg production but they have decreased in production by 50% over the past 2 months. 

What I have learned from all this so far is I have zero interest in raising chickens that don't serve a purpose.  We plan to raise "pet" chickens in the front yard and they will be silkies that will serve the purpose of entertainment for the kids and incubation for future birds.  With the backyard chickens however they need to serve the food needs of our family in order to justify the cost.  I feed my chickens organic feed which is more than double the cost of GMO feed so every bird who eats and doesn't produce is a drain on our grocery budget.

I have had a hard time getting useful information on the best way to raise meat birds, the way I envision raising meat birds, which is free range heritage birds that will first produce eggs before being processed for meat and will fill the coop with extra layers during the winter months so we can maintain a 7 a day egg plan.   I'm leaning towards Delawares with a 2 cycle a year rotation.  I'm still unsure how long I can raise them before jeopardizing the quality of the meat however.  With my current flock I will turn the Rhode Island Red into fowl which will make for great slow cooked meat for chicken pot pie and dumplings.  The younger flock will become our egg layers while I work through this new plan of mine and will later become fowl as well. 

I know this post is a rambling but I wanted to share in the hopes of starting a conversation on the best way to raise heritage birds that can provide the largest production of eggs before providing meat while enjoying a healthy free range life.  If you have advice or ideas, please share!

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