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I have been keeping chickens now for quite a while. It's enjoyable and of course provides for those lovely eggs, and meat if you are that way inclined. With the idea of keeping my flock going, I have decided to concentrate on particular breeds of chicken, rather than the factory-hybrid types.

Although my little ex-battery hens are tremendously rewarding (It's nice to have rescued something from horrible living conditions), they have their limitations for future flock planning. Granted, they do lay really nice eggs, and at quite a rate of knots, but they are not bred for longevity. In fact the lifespan of a normal egg-laying commercial hen is about 18 months, and after that they become nuggets unless some kindly people rescue them. The other problem is that the natural urge to go broody has been bred out of them, and indeed I doubt if the mothering instinct remains either. So, they are just egg laying machines with no chance of laying, hatching and rearing their own "family". This may be a definite plus for some people; after all not everyone wants the bother of rearing young stock and the potential of hatching out unwanted cockerels, but I am tryuing to look long term with a vew to keeping my flock in self-perpetuating mode.

I have done a bit of research into the various old breeds of chickens available. My criteria are: the hens must have the normal broody cycles. I know that their egg-laying drops during their broody period, but if you want chickens you need chicks; the hens in particular must be able to forage well for their food and not be unduly reliant on being fed by their owner. My ex-bats are fearless and friendly but they lack the normal scratch response that seems to be very strong in the older breeds; and lastly, the hens must have a long laying period. I don't mind a reduction in the number of eggs produced, but I would like them to be produced over a longer period. Ex battery hens are almost programmed to respond to light, and as soon as the normal daylight hours reduce their laying drops off.

I have kept Light Sussex, Brahmas and Orpingtons, and they are old and reliable breeds, although the last two are not well-known for laying large numbers of eggs, and being soft feather birds they can suffer a bit in bad weather.

I have come to the conclusion that the breed that will provide what I need is one of the older ones - the Dorking. It is a hardy, heavy utility bird that lays a reasonable number of eggs. It is reputed to be docile and steady, and is known for being a good mother. Just the attributes I need. Now, having decided on the breed, do you think I can find any?? No, they appear to be as rare as hens' teeth.
Check with the hatcheries and breeders. Over here we can have chicks shipped in boxes "next day air" and you get them one day old. You can have any breed you desire in 24 hours after the hatch.

I have never found anyone willing to part with grown, productive birds.

I have raised a clutch of black Astrolops, which are a breed derived from the Orpington stock. They hold the world record for egg production by a single flock. They have also held up well in my bitter cold winters so they should be good for your climate. They are a small hen with black iridescent feathers that glow blue/green in the sunlight.

I have found that my birds go broody as soon as the temps warm up to 75f-80f degrees the first summer after they turn 1 year old. If you do not let them hatch a clutch they will go broody every two or three months and sit on an empty nest for a month. When they go broody their egg production does not slow, IT STOPS COMPLETELY!

They have been good mothers and I have never lost a chick due to hen neglect. They also seem to adopt new chicks into the flock and forget who the mother was. And keep in mind that good mothers think that is their purpose in life. They will go broody often and stay that way.

I would suggest you mix your flock with a couple of the hens of a breed for hatching chicks and the rest for their continued egg production. Two broods of 12-15 eggs a year will sustain your flock and you do not need 15 hens all going broody on you.

My rooster was a full yellow Orp, so I have raised two clutches of mixed breed hens that have produced well also.

If you are used to rescue birds it will take some adjustments to raise chicks. Three months to killing time, six months before your first eggs, broody after a year, molt at two years, cold weather/short daylight shock (stopping egg production). And all the while you are still feeding them, protecting them and worrying over them. When a chick lays her first egg it is worth about 25pounds, since you have been feeding them for half a year.

If you pen them you must supply every morsel of food and if you let them free range you have predators that dip into the flock on a regular basis. You will have better eggs, but you will not save money on them, but you already know that.

As for being inclined to eat from the flock??? What do you intend to do with the 50% of your hatchlings that are male? And that is out of every clutch! You want 10 new hens to fill out the flock, you are going to hatch out 20 eggs to get them and half will be male.

You can't have 15-20 roosters running around going crazy and driving everyone nuts. Much better to have a big killing at 12-15 weeks, a good fry up and fill half the freezer.

That has been my experience anyway. I have enjoyed my hens, and the eggs, but sometimes they are a pain in the butt!
Quote:If you pen them you must supply every morsel of food and if you let them free range you have predators that dip into the flock on a regular basis. You will have better eggs, but you will not save money on them, but you already know that.

If you have the space, there is a compromise. We have 100m of electric netting, which creates a 600 sq m enclosure for our 20 hens. We move it once a month, so they have fresh pasture (and all the grubs, grit, etc that goes with it). We still supplement with commercial feed and scraps however.

MaryN, I hadn't thought about broodiness being bred out of laying hens. Ours rarely go broody. We have hybrids (not ex-battery, specifically bred for sale. We bought them at point-of-lay). However, our new rooster is a pure-bred Welsumer so, hopefully, we might get some half-Welsumer chicks. Looks like I'll have to incubate them though.
I tried portable netting with my birds but they simply flew over the wire.

My birds think they are eagles and do a lot of flying. I sometimes find them in the trees and sitting on the fence tops.

I had a coyote get after them once and they all flew straight up in the air. The look on that coyote's face was hysterical! He spun around in a circle looking for the meal that disappeared and then stood still in confusion just long enough for me to open up on him with the 12ga. I did not kill that particular one but he did learn that he could run like he had an afterburner in his butt.

The chickens refused to come out of that tree for a day and night.
Yes, the only time we've had a loss is when one of them has flown over and found themselves unprotected. At least you only lose one or two that way, not the whole flock as when the critter breaks into the compound.

We've clipped the wings of the one or two flyers that we have. That, together with the four-foot electric netting, seems to keep them contained.
Rhode Island reds are nice birds but I am going with some hybrid birds to start the ones I am getting are called goldline
My grandmothers kept Rhode Island Reds and White Leghorns. Those were the two primary breeds back when I was a kid.

Both were good general purpose birds giving both eggs and meat on many small farms back when everyone lived on a small farm.

Only the big chicken farms penned their birds and the entire US was a big paradise for free range chickens. Every farm wife was a chicken breeder and had 15-20 birds roaming about. The predators were under control back in those days when "shoot shovel and shut up" was the standard for predator control rather than calling and complaining to the authorities.

I still remember playing the travel game of "count the chickens", since all travel was on secondary roads, the chickens roamed free and often could not dodge the automobiles fast enough. Counting road killed chickens was quite the sport when on a long boring trip.

The highways were lined with white feathers!
(7 April 2015, 16:43)Mortblanc Wrote: [ -> ]The highways were lined with white feathers!

Sounds like my garden!! Built myself a besom out of some garden waste in an attempt to clear the carnage. Worked quite well actually, I was pleased.