Starting Your Own Heritage Flock

Starting a Heritage Chicken Flock

 

Step #1: Choosing Your Breed

       Perhaps the most exciting step is making the decision to homestead your own flock of chickens.  From them you will gain eggs, meat, valuable manure for your garden, hours of lazy enjoyment watching them do chicken things, insect and tick control, and the peace of mind that comes from taking a clear step toward sustainability and food independence for you and your loved ones.  It should be stated, that homesteading is true farming.  Making the choice to raise heritage fowl in traditional ways makes you your own farmer.  It is a noble vocation and most rewarding.  Nature is our ultimate teacher.  A return to her is a return to the co-creative process which always leads to joy.

       Having made the decision to become a poultry farmer.  The next decision is to choose the breed that will best suit your needs.  Nota Bene, the key here is breed, not breeds.  Perhaps the most common error for beginning poulterers is to fall prey to the color-filled catalogues of myriad breeds and buy a smorgesbord of varieties resulting in a lot of not much.  The decision to become a homesteading poultry farmer is the decision to establish a relationship with one breed and become its caretaker.  In return for your stewardship, they provide you with some of the most nutritious food available to man.  As you will see, reading these next paragraphs, although it is not deeply complicated, there is a level of involvement in true homesteading.  For most, one's level of success as a poulterer will depend on one's ability to make a commitment to a single, or at the very most, a couple of breeds.  If one is able to do so, the future will hold a productive flock of highly uniform beauties that are both a source of nourishment and pride. 

       Do your research.  Be disciplined.  Choose one.

       For the usual homesteader, the choice will normally fall between an egg breed and a dual-purpose breed.  Of the two, most will choose a dual-purpose breed because they are a good source of both eggs and meat.  The choice of an egg breed is appropriate for those who either do not wish to produce much meat for their freezers but would like an abundant egg supply or for those who have highly limited space to dedicate to their flock.

       Once one knows one's goals, the question is to choose a foundational or a composite breed.  To understand the difference between the two, click here.  Because of the irreplaceability of foundational breeds whose extinction would be definitive and irreversible, for any homesteader wishing to serve both sustainability and bio-diversity, foundational breeds are the logical choice.  An added bonus to selecting a foundational breed is their outstandingly ancient resume, which makes of your henhouse an adventure in historicity.

       It is important to select a breed able to excel in your climate.  For New Englanders, especially we northern New Englanders, this means choosing a breed with the appropriate head gear.  For better or for worse, most single combed varieties are not equipped to cope with our cold and enduring winters.  Among foundational dual-purpose breeds, the most worthy of homesteaders' attention are the Rose comb White Dorking, La Fleche, Houdan, Crevecoeur, and the Dominqiue.  Good choices for rare foundational NE egg-breeds would be the Rose comb Ancona, Redcap, and the Hamburg.

       To procure stock, the best choice for most will be the purchase of day-old chicks.  In New England, Yellow House Farm is your local source for RC White Dorking, White Houdan, and RC Anconas.  An added bonus to purchasing from Yellow House Farm is the option to participate in the Yellow House Farm Conservation Initiative and be a part of wider food security in our region.  Other sources of stock are the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities, joining the S.P.P.A. brings you access to their Breeders' Directory, Sand Hill Preservation Center, Superior Farms, and Ideal Poultry .  The first three will usually result in the highest quality stock.  However, availability is often hard to nail down, and cost can be prohibitive.  A valid option is to procure your base stock from Ideal Poultry, while turning to the other sources for stock of superior quality whose genetics can be used to spruce up your base.  Ideal Poultry customer service is excellent, and their availability on rare foundational breeds is usually good.

            A quick word to price, spend a little.  Good stock is not inexpensive, neither does it need to be outlandishly costly.  Remember that in establishing a true homesteading flock, you are going to perpetuate your own stock.  Thus, your purchase should amount to a one time investment.  From this starting point, if one initially spends $200.00 to then have fresh, nutritious poultry for the rest of one's life, that's not too shabby.

       As to numbers, most homsteaders' goals will require a minimum of 25 chicks.  50 is a better number.  Not all chicks are created equal and if too few are purchased you will not have enough to choose the best come autumn.  If you are compelled to save inferior stock on account of small numbers, your progress will be slowed.

       N.B.  When working with heritage fowl, it is necessary to bear in mind that they have all suffered from neglect over the last decades.  None are, as of 2009, truly up to snuff.  Their very future depends on our willingness to take them as they are and breed them back up to the excellence that is their history and future promise.  It is this willingness to engage them as they are, knowing that it isn't the fast track to easy profits, that will be most edifying and profitable in the long-term.  They have served us for centuries; if they are to be here when we need them next, it is essential that we serve them now.  If you purchase fast track hybrids, they will last but a year or two.  Insofar as they will not breed true, you will then be compelled to buy yet another batch.  This cycle will continue until you realize that you have spent more money in stock than you ever needed to, which, of course, big hatcheries bank on, literally.  Furthermore, had you begun with heritage poultry in the first place, your stock would have, by this point of horrilbe recognition, been much improved. 

 

Step #2:  Your Chicks Are Here!

       The first eight weeks of your chicks' life are critical.  Be prepared for their arrival so that all will run smoothly.  Remember the old adage: well begun is half done.  Oddly, as you return to farming, more and more of these old adages will start making perfect sense!

       In preparation for your chicks, line a high-sided plastic tub with a layer of newspaper and then add an inch or two of pine shavings to accomodate your chicks comfortably.  The shavings are necessary as chicks must never be kept on slippery surfaces.  Straddled leg will occur and that's the end of your young flock.  Cardboard boxes, though often used, are a fire hazard.  We never use cardboard boxes.  Large plastic tubs are widely available at department stores, are relatively inexpensive, easily cleaned, and can be reused indefinitely.  Your new chicks need room to doze beneath their heat lamp, find their feed and water, which should not be beneath their heat lamp,  run around, avoid their heat lamp as desired, and generally stretch.

       250-watt heat lamps are the usual choice for brooding chicks.  Often, though, when brooding indoors, a 250-watt bulb is not needed. 125 or 90-watt bulbs may be sufficient.  If brooded out-of-doors, it may be best to opt for a 250-watt bulb.  When using a 250 watt bulb, be sure that your fixture is equipped with a porcelaine base.  Simple spot-lights with plastic bases, often seen for construction projects, are not safe for 250-watt bulbs.  Newly purchased light fixtures should bear a sticker referencing the highest wattage recommended for safe usage.   A healthy dose of pyrophobia is not so bad here.  The usual recommendation is that the heat lamp should not be less than 18 inches above the bedding.  Anything less than 15 inches is asking for an early morning five-alarm.

       Watch your chicks and their relationship to their heat source.  If all of your chicks are huddled beneath the lampand are trying to climb over each other to the center, your lamp is too high.  If they are all fled to the corners, then the bulb is too low.  If they are all bunched up in one place as if huddling for heat and yet are refusing to be under the heat lamp where it would seem that they could be warmed, it is likely that there is a draught harrassing them.  Beware of draughts, prolonged exposure will hinder development and often kill your hatchlings.  The ideal temperature for day-olds is 95F.  Every week or so, you will raise the lamp to reduce the heat by about 5 degrees.  This will, of course, depend on where they are located and the time of year.  Always use the above description of behavior to tell whether or not your chicks are comfortable.  When the temperature is just right and there are no lethal draughts plaguing your chicks, they will move about freely, some eating, some drinking, some running after phantom dreams of butterflies, and others snoozing beneath their trusty lamp. 

       Be cautious as they grow.  Chicks need not be overcrowded.  All sorts of health issues emerge from overcrowding and the inevitably subsequent uncleanliness: coccidiosis, aspergillosis, and cannibalism, to name a few.

       A trick to avoid uncleanliness is to place their waterers and feeders on some sort of wooden shield such that they are not directly on the shavings.  Osmosis will make a damp mess of your shavings in no time leading to the possibility of all sorts of health issues.  By placing your waterers and feeders on shield-like pieces of board, they can be lifted out and cleaned daily, discarding the wet shavings from the board pieces.  Also, as your chicks grow, raise your waterers and feeders up on blocks such that they are always about chest level.  If too low, the chicks will fill them with shavings and general mess, causing you more work that you need.

       Next, it is necessary to consider what to feed your hatchlings.  The easiest route is to use commercially prepared Chick Starter.  Here in New Hampshire the choices are Blue Seal, Poulin Grain, or Agway.  Chick Starter is usually available in 25lb and 50lb bags.  Store your feed in a secure container such as a clean plastic or metal garbage can.  This will keep out the rodents and the potential for salmonella that they carry, as well as moisture that will quickly lead to unhealthy molds. 

       Whether to use medicated or unmedicated Chick Starter is a personal decision.  The medication in medicated Chick Starter is a coccidiostat included to vaccinate your chicks against coccidiosis, an extremely common threat to your chicks.  This vaccine should not be confused with the dreaded antibiotics used in CAFO's and large agribusiness to ward off the diseases waiting to thrive in their monstruous environments.  It is simply a vaccine to counter a common disease for chicks that is naturally found in the environment.  Some might consider it common sense others not.  A human correlation may be the decision to vaccinate or not vaccinate your children for measles.  Ultimately, it is a personal decision.

       Regardless of your use of medicated or unmedicated Chick Starter, one should always add a tablespoonful of apple cider vinegar per gallon of water.  This old-fashioned remedy is making a comeback.  It is thought to help early feathering, aid in digestion, and is even touted as a natural coccidiostat.  Many reputable breeders, now using unmedicated Chick Starter coupled with water treated with apple cider vinegar, are reporting zero levels of coccidiosis in their chicks for several years.  Realities being what ther are, though, should you choose against medicated Chick Starter, we highly recommend that you add the apple cider vinegar to their water and maintain high levels of cleanliness.  An added bonus with apple cider vinegar is that it goes a long way in impeding the development of green algae in the chick waterers, which reduces the need for weekly scrubbing.

       One common problem seen in artificially brooded chicks is referred to as "pasty bum".  Pasty bum is just that; chicks develop little wads of poo around their vents as if they were in need of wiping.  Usually this is blamed on high brooder temperatures.  Nevertheless, it appears commonly even when all is well.  When brooded naturally by mother hen, she pecks it off as part of here motherly routine.  Without a mom to speak of, there are always a few that end up a bit pasty.  Usually they're just fine, yet if pity moves you, the danggler can usually be removed with a wet Q-tip, a gentle touch, and a little patience.

 

Step #3:  They're Growing Up So Fast!

       By eight weeks old, you have moved your chicks out to the barn or coop.  A livingroom is no place for an eight week old chick, let alone 50 of them!  In reality, you probably moved them out several weeks prior, there is a reason for which chickens are not kept inside as cagebirds.  At this point you want a good foot of floor space per chick.  Remember the inevitable woes of overcrowding, besides it makes a heck of a lot more work for you.

       At this point, it is appropriate to give them daytime access to an outdoor run.  Chicks younger that eight weeks, without the benefit of a mother to keep them close and protected, are best kept indoors.  At eight weeks, depending upon the weather, most young pullets (a hen under one year old) and cockerels (a cock under one year old) are more or less feathered and ready to chase bugs and other yummies out-of-doors.  It would be unwise, though, to give them access to total free-range.  They will be hard put to find their way home at night, and you'll be hard put to find them.  The end result will be their place of honor on the neighborhood raccoon's table.  Aside from nightime marauders, chicken hawks find them easy pickings at this age.  Moreover, without mom's sense to get them out of the rain, a summer afternoon's thunder shower could prove a disaster.  If kept within a pen, it is easier to keep out predators, secure them at night, and usher them in out of the rain.

       Also, at eight weeks one is beginning to wean them from the heat lamp.  Depending on the time of year, it may be quite appropriate to exchange the 250-watt bulb for one of lower wattage.  Moreover, the light can be unplugged by day and plugged back in at night.  Slowly wean them such that they need no heat at all.  

       At eight weeks old, one switches feed from a Chick Starter, medicated or otherise, to an unmedicated Grower ration. It may be wise to start them on a Grower Mash to maintain the texture of their feed.  However, begin mixing it with a Grower Pellet to eventually wean onto pellets completely.  Pellets lead to less waste and spillage, which helps out the pocketbook.  Remember that feed is the single greatest expense for poulterers.  Moreover, spillage attracts rodents, which is better avoided.

       At this point it may be an option to start mixing a tablespoon or so of brewer's or nutritional yeast into their daily ration every once in a while.  This will boost their niacin intake which will help prevent rickets, a common ailment of birds at this stage of the game.  Don't overdo it; every few days is sufficient.  Keep up the daily apple cider vinegar.  At Yellow House Farm, we use cider vinegar from craddle to grave.

       By ten to twelve weeks of age or so, cockerels are being cockerels, bickering non-stop and annoying the pullets, sound familiar?  If housing allows, separate the sexes.  Cockerels are easily recognized via their combs and wattles that begin to develop much earlier that those of the pullets.  If housing does not allow, they should definitely have access to a large outdoor run so that pullets can separate themselves at will.  If neither is possible, you're going to run into difficulties.  The poulterer's mantra is "cleanliness and floor space".  One option, at this point, may be to cull out any obviously undesirable cockerels to enjoy as summer broilers and old-fashioned fried chicken. 

       We shall deal with slaughtering later, but now is as good a time as any to recognize the reality that slaughtering is part of a farmer's life.  Although it may not be immediately apparent, your flock's health and the good of the breed in your care depends on your ability to remove, in one way or the other, the extra birds from your flock.  Until very recently, every woman, save the most moneyed, butchered their family's fowl.  It is an honorable, even spiritual, tradition to be understood not shunned.  Here at Yellow House Farm, we have taught many people to butcher.  They have, without exception, left feeling bigger for the experience, less afraid of the natural.  On several occasions, the comment has been simply, "This makes sense."  When we return to nature and farming, nature and farming "make sense", i.e. "feel right", and we begin to realize that the perversion is the cellophane wrapped, styrofoam package of denial we buy at the supermarket every week.  No "USDA" mega-facility armed with non-farming health department bureaucrats can replace the surety of your own backyard and clean fresh air.  For those absolutely unable to take that step, there are many custom butchers to whom you can bring your culls for the prupose of filling your own freezer.   

       By fourteen weeks old, it is time to make a first significant cull of your egg-breed cockerels, i.e. if you are raising Redcaps, Anconas or Hamburgs.  These breeds won't amount for much as roasters.  Thus, it is deeply impractical and ineconomical to hold a large number of cockerels beyond this age.  Using your American Poultry Association Standard of Perfection, consider your cockerels carefully.  Cull your cockerels following the following criteria in the following order: vigor (bright-eyed, masculine, and ready to go); weight; shape/confirmation; color.  At this point, certain cockerels in your flock will be beginning to show early signs of excellence.  They'll have that certain je ne sais quoi that speaks of confidence and strength, look carefully.   Practice makes perfect.  Considering you have 12 to 25 cockerels (or more) to choose from, with a little practice, you'll be able to knock it down to the six best.  The others should be removed from the flock to a preparatory pen where they are fed either corn, fat and finish pellets or a mixture of corn and fat and finish pellets.  Try to avoid overly large spaces such that they soften up a bit.  Slaughter at 16 weeks.

 

Step #4: Ready To Lay

       By 18 to 20 weeks old your pullets are preparing to begin laying.  It is time to move them to their laying coop that will house them during their pullet year.  Under proper management, a hen lays the greatest single quantity of eggs during this time. The pullet year is a period which spans from 6 to 18 months of age, lasting from the time of her first egg until her first adult moult.  Remember the saying:  "Early hatch, early growth.  Early growth, early eggs." 

       If your goal is to save 10 to 20 pullets, hopefully you are looking at from 25 to 50 candidates, at least.  The best candidates follow the same criteria as those aforementioned for cockerels: vigor, weight, shape/confirmation, color.  When in doubt, use your Standard of Perfection; when not in doubt, use your Standard of Perfection. A good pullet at this stage has enlarged, reddening comb and wattles.  Viewed from the side, her body forms a clear rectangle, showing good depth.  Viewed from the front, she is quite square and full of breast.  Viewed from above, her back forms a fairly clear rectangle.  Avoid hens that taper back into a distinct triangle at the tail, when viewed from above.  This pinched shape inhibits high egg-production.  In general a promising hen's body is a spacious, three-dimentional rectangle that appears to give plenty of room to organs and the assembly line that is internal egg-production.  Pullets that have small, pinched heads, dull eyes, lathargic temperaments, concave and oddly angled bodies, pinched breasts, and triangular backs are not going to get you very far.  If saved, they will drag your flock down.  This, however, underscores the reasons for hatching many and culling many.  The more one hatches, the more one is assured of having a wide range of choices when choosing breeders and layers.  Those that do not make the grade are for the pot, another joy of keeping chickens. 

       Our next order of concern moves to lighting.  The old saying goes, "Even the sparrow lays in springtime."  This little piece of knowing tells us that it is not the spring that shows the good layer, but the ability to lay during the rest of the year.  Laying is the result of lengthening daylight.  Laying, like budding in plants, is subject to photosensitivity.  As the daylight lengthens in springtime, birds come into lay.  Thus, if daytime is extended artificially at the appropriate time, a hen is tricked into thinking it's spring and laying commences.  It's not the cold of winter that stops the eggs, excepting in the most extreme spells, it's the darkness. 

       At about 22 to 23 weeks, hang 60-watt energy-saver light bulbs (they run on 15-watts) in your coop.  Hang one for every 100 square feet or so.  Plug the lights into a timer set to turn on 13 hours before scheduled sunset.  The lights only need to stay on until daylight is strong (sometime around 8-8:30am).  By setting the lights for the morning, this allows for a natural sunset and easy roosting.  After two weeks, extend the light  to 15 hours before scheduled sunset.  By now many of your hens have started laying, and the others will quickly follow suit.  At this point, if the vast majority of your hens are laying, notice if there are a few who are not and remove them from your flock.  You do not want there sluggishness to be perpetuated into future generations.  Moreover, everyday they eat for free is a poorer day for you. 

       Once the pullets begin to come into lay, use up the remaining Grower ration that you have and switch to a Layer Pellet.  Continue adding cider vinegar to their water at the measure of 1 tbsp per gallon, and supply supplementary oyster shell and grit to aid in calcium depletion and proper digestion.

 

Step #5:  Spring is coming and Love is in the Air

       Ultimately, along with the ability to cull as necessary, it is the understanding and practice of the art of breeding that separates serious homsteaders from backyard tinkerers.  It was proper breeding that brought our heritage breeds into existence, and it has been the lack of proper breeding that has decimated them.  Unless we return to the traditional breeding of heritage poultry, their imminent extinction is assured, and with their disappearence goes the future of our communal food security.  Make no mistake, it is at this level, i.e. breeding, that the poulterer becomes such.  It is here that one is of greatest service to the breed in one's care.  This is the foundation of local food.  Remember that extinction is forever.

              For most homesteaders, a traditional Rolling Breeding System will do the trick.  Craig Russell, current president of the S.P.P.A., does an excellent job of elucidating this old-fashioned tradition.  It consists of maintaining one's flock in two parts.  At any given point, one is breeding first-year cockerels to second-year hens and second year cocks to first year pullets.  The rule is mothers to sons, fathers to daughters.  It is a simple to and fro of generations:

 Rolling Breeding 

 1st Breeding Season

 

2nd  Breeding Season

 

3rd Breeding Season

Original Trio
Cock

Hen

Hen

Pairing 1
Cock

8 Pullets

Pairing 2
Cockerel

2 Hens

Pairing 1
Cock

Cock

10 Pullets

Pairing 2
2Cockerels

2 Hens

8 Hens

We save for the next season the best :

3 Cockerels

10 Pullets

We save for the next season the best:

3 Cockerels

10 Pullets

We save for the next season the best:

3 Cockerels

10 Pullets

    
    

The above chart posits that one is beginning one's breeding program with a trio, one cock and two hens.  It is, however, just as well, or even better, to begin with a couple of cockerels and 10 pullets.  Ultimately, one is working two groups, or pairings, of six to ten hens each.

       Eventually, though, one's flock will start to show signs of a sort of bottleneck of inbreeding referred to as inbreeding depression.  At this point, it is necessary to import new blood into one's flock usually via the purchase of a new cock.  The difficulty with heritage breeds is, of course, their rarity and the consequent difficulty of procuring them.  To that end, Yellow House Farm is launching the Yellow House Farm Conservation Initiative.  By encouraging area homesteaders to raise the same breeds of fowl, we return to the kind of food security that was the reality of times gone by.  Knowing that your neighbor raises the same breed(s), and that he or she is breeding responsibly, one knows that at the appropriate time one will be able to exchange roosters, an old-fashioned rooster swap, and thus reinvigorate both flocks in one "fowl" swoop.  If enough homesteaders participate, the result will be a strong step toward regional food security that could endure for countless generations just as it always did before the advent of industrial agribusiness.

       On a slightly different note, when one invests time into a single breed, over the years one's flock becomes quite uniform and productive.  To the observer, it begins to exude health and beauty.  Eden is a choice that we make, and the bucolic is available to the willing.  When we remember that farming is the natural movement of our inner co-creativity, we shall regain the enjoyment of simple pleasures. 

       Which birds to use as breeders is a tough question but one worthy of consideration.  There are many different approaches to the birds.  As farmers, we approach matters from an extremely clear hierarchy.  Blatant disqualifications are just that; however, various people might differ on what that actually means.  Anything color-based is for farm purposes not in the category of serious defect, unless you are hatching so very many that one good bird more or less is not of distinct value. 

 

Choosing White Dorking breeders: 

       Our approach to Dorking breeding, for example, is to follow the Standard in the order that it is written.

1)  Know the breed's history and heritage.  This sets the stage for everything else.  A Dorking is "a dual purpose fowl for meat and egg production."  A pretty dual purpose bird that does not lay at the very least 150 eggs a year or produce a proper carcass for the dinner table is not a dual purpose bird.  Subsequently, it falls short of the Standard. 

2) Disqualification:  "Ear-lobes more than 1/3 white."  In reference to the White Dorking, one old-timer writes that breeders at his time were beginning to cull out birds with white in their ear-lobes in favor of those that were totally red.  In his opinion, these breeders were misguided, for, although the Standard called for red ear-lobes, he understood pure Dorkings to have traces of white in their ear-lobes.  Birds with purely red ear-lobes betrayed out-crossing to White Old-English Games, which was one of the ways that the birds were often invigorated back in the day.  In his opinion, a little bit of white in the ear-lobes was a sign that the stock might be pure.  From a farming perspective, this is neither here nor there.

3)  We start our breeder selection in the dark of night.  We find it much easier to weigh the birds, which is, for us, the first step.  We divide our young stock in 1/2 (at least): those that are closest vs. those that are farthest away from the Standard weight.  By doing it at night, we are less likely to be distracted by a superficial detail of color in an otherwise inferior bird. 

4) Afterwards, when approaching by daylight those who have passed the weight test, we first do an overview for vigor, trying hard not to be distracted by other traits, which is not easy.  Nevertheless, a bird without vigor is going to undermine whatever else you do, and Dorkings are not so populous and/or inexpensive as to be wasted and easily replaced.

5) Now is the time for shape/confirmation.  First and foremost, our question is: is that Dorking rectanglar?  Viewed from the side, a Dorking should look like a long rectangle on a slightly sloping angle downwards to the tail.  A short rectangle, approaching a square, is beginning to be a bit too Sussex-esque.  Viewed from above, it is a broad and long rectangle flowing toward the tail.  Avoid any obvious pinching toward the tail, which, from above, looks like a well defined triangle coming to a point at the tail.  This is not conducive to "dual purpose" egg-production.  Dorkings are firmly set on relatively short legs.

       Be aware of stance.  A dorking needs a wide stance.  Their appearence should lean towards that of the cowboy after a day of straddling a horse.  Legs that are too close together or, God forbid, knock-kneed, are horrendous for the nobility and integrity of a good Dorking.  Remember that the crowning glory of the Dorking is its breast meat.  Narrow, pinched, thin breasts squeezed between closely fitted legs are of no value no matter how pretty or evenly colored that breast may be.

       From a farming perspective, the aforementioned confirmation traits trump everything else.  Without second thought would we choose a well proportioned, rectangular cockerel on nice low wide legs with a slightly off comb over a perfectly combed cockerel with a slightly off rectangle on raised, rangy legs.  Likewise, a hen with a pinched tail but perfect comb is poison to the homesteading flock.  On the farm, a hen with a lop-sided comb who looks to have a promising carreer in laying and the production of well-proportioned chicks is far superior to a  nice hair-do on a shotty body.  Both will have to be bred out; the difference between the two is whether or not your flock remains productive and fertile in the process.

6) At this point, as we are looking at finalists in need of a tie-breaker, I consider color, and only now.  Remember the old maxime: "Don't estimate the size of the egg from the length of the cackle.  Fine birds are not made by fine feathers."

       Remember that the above description is for Dorkings as useful farm fowl.  Old-timers remind us not to breed for too many traits at once or you'll never get anywhere.  To this end, you must have a descending order of importance.  What is mentioned above is breeding to the Standard.  Often, one sees breeding that looks like the breeder has been reading the Standard backwards, starting at the end of the description (with color) and ending at the beginning of the description (with weight and purpose). 

       Is one better than the other?  Well, I'm not sure that talking about "good" and "bad" in the realm of non-industrial chicken breeding is valid (industrial chicken breeding being generally disgusting and probably even criminal if one considers the needs for world peace.).  As for the good and bad of farm breeding, you say "to-MAY-to."  I say "to-MAH-to."  However, you will finish with rather different birds at the end of 5 or 10 years of breeding depending on how you approach the Standard.  If you follow the description above, all things being equal, your birds will be Dorking powerhouses, with, perhaps,  slightly imperfect markings.  At this point, though, when you have productive gentle giants, you can begin the process of honing in the more superficial details.  If you have gone the other way, and you have a flock of perfectly colored birds that have suffered in size and productivity, the road ahead is long, indeed, to reaching the beginning of the Standard description.

 

Choosing White Houdan breeders:

       Considering potential Houdan breeders, few are the differences between these and the Dorkings such that it is safe to direct the would-be Houdan breeder to the Dorking description above.  Follow the same procedures, and success will follow.  Perhaps the most obvious difference between the two is the presence of the crest in the Houdan.

       The Standard states that the Houdan is to have a large crest.  Be that as it may, the crest is, for farming purposes, the least important aspect of the Houdan.  It is, of course, the most immediately striking outward characteristic.  Thus, one must resist the hurried urge to be blinded by crest qualities.  Finding its rank of importance in the above description for Dorking, the Houdan's crest falls somewhere between numbers five and six.  It is the least important characteristic of shape but should, perhaps, trump color.  Remember that "large" is not the same as "very large", which is the Standard description for Paduans, a.k.a. Polish.  "Large" most certainly does not mean huge, and overly done crests detract from farming practicality.  As homesteading caretaker of the breed, your job is not to harm the fowl by being mislead by vanity, which would eventually extinguish them--the barely avoided reality of their recent past.

 

 

 

 

A concerning matter for poulterers: The seriousness of the current credit fall-out and economic crisis should show us just how selfish and greedy our big business is.  Their inability to cope coupled with their blatant unpreparedness for crisis is an indicator of their priorities which have always been about short term profit for the benefit of few.  When deep troubles strike, their first concern is insuring their own bank accounts to the detriment of the average, comparatively humble citizen. 

       N.B. We should not suspect agribusiness of anything more.  Their irresponsible hybrids and oil-dependent mutant chicken products are no match for peak oil.  Secured by padded bank accounts, when the food crisis hits as a result of insufficient oil to fuel the current food industry, they like the banks will steal away, leaving us to flounder with devastated agricultural resources as our only hope.  The equally irresponsible government agencies that have promoted agribusiness' profit-driven cause will bemoan their feigned bamboozlement and decry themselves victims of good intentions, while insuring on the sly the security of their retirement funds.

       To this end, one of the more revolutionary options we have is to simply be prepared for the not-so-far-off demise of their folly.  Developing a sound breeding flock of foundational heritage poultry that survive on traditional farming methodologies is an excellent way to be able to feel secure during difficult times while also turning tragedy into enjoyment.  As my mother recently said, "If I had a fifty pound bag of oatmeal and chickens in the backyard, I knew you kids would eat."  All I remember is the pleasure of Dad cooking a pot of oatmeal in the morning and then we children running outside afterward to play with the chickens and see who had hatched in the night.  To those not in the know, this might sound a bit destitute; the rest of us recognize it as a little piece of paradise.  In his dear prison letter, De Profundis, Oscar Wilde talks about "the strange poverty of the wealthy."  Simple pleasures such as developing your own line of well-bred poultry in your backyard orchard, beside your family's own Victory Garden, will cure you, me, and everybody else of such ills.  Nature is a dear comfort.

      

 

 

Mailing list signup