Monday, March 27, 2017

The Great Chicken Experiment - 5 Week Chicken Check-in

We're over a month into The Great Chicken Experiment, and we're already seeing some pretty drastic differences in the birds. First of all, I did a weigh in for the first time today, and made a startling discovery: I have two extra chickens! Chicks don't exactly hold still for head counts, and apparently in all the kerfuffle, I missed a couple. Whoops!

At 5 weeks, the Cornish Rocks are in their own brooder in order to give them the extra room they need.

The two I missed, a Speckled Sussex and an Australorp, got added to the brooder a little later than everyone else, so they're about two weeks younger. Any chicks we add more than two weeks apart in age get their own brooder so they don't get trampled by the big kids. More on that later...

I'll add the new girls' info at the bottom, below the update.

Meat Breeds

Cornish Rocks 
These chicks typically come as a straight run, meaning you don't know if you're getting boys or girls. This doesn't much matter since we'll be processing them when they reach 8 weeks of age, well before any crowing starts. Even without the crowing, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that we've got a couple of little roosters in the mix. They're saucy little birds and out of all the chicks, they're also the boldest and friendliest. It's a little sad knowing that these curious, outgoing birds can't stick around, due to the health problems that develop once they reach processing weight.

The two roos both weigh in at 11.5 oz. at 5 weeks, and the hens weigh in between 9.5 and 10.5 oz. They love scratching around in the brooder, looking for seeds and bugs that we bring in for them. They're very active at this point, always flying up to perch on the edge of the brooder when I take the lid off.

A very important note: Because Cornish Rocks grow so quickly, it's very important to begin limiting their access to feed after the first week. We pull their feeder out of the brooder in the evening and return it in the morning, always leaving access to fresh water. This slows their growth down a little, helping to stave off leg and heart problems.

Breakfast time at the Cornish Cafe!

Red Rangers 
These little chicks are still in the baby brooder. We picked them up at The Grange on March 17th, so they're about four weeks behind most of the others. Even at the ripe old age of 2 weeks, these little puff balls are showing more growth than their heritage breed brooder mates. These little chicks are weighing in between 2.5 and 4.5 oz. and are still a bit shy, unlike the Cornish. 

Red Rangers reach processing weight in around 12 weeks, are very hardy, and love to forage. Once they grow in all their feathers in a few weeks, they'll be moved outside into grow out pens, weather permitting. This will give them plenty of room to grow, as well as provide them with a healthier, more well rounded diet. Plus, chickens just have fun roaming the farm!

Guessing this is a little Red Ranger Roo (left) and hen (right), based on their behavior. They're starting to grow in wing feathers, and still taking lots of naps under the heater. Pictured here at 2 weeks.

Dual Purpose Heritage Breeds

A note about dual purpose and heritage chickens: Dual purpose chickens are, obviously, birds raised for more than one purpose. These are good choices for homesteaders in that you get a reasonable number of eggs consistently, while also raising a bird that will have a good dress out weight for the table. Any decently sized bird that lays 3 or more eggs per week can be called a dual purpose chicken. 

Heritage chickens are a little more specific. As defined by the Livestock Conservancy:

  1. APA Standard Breed
    Heritage Chicken must be from parent and grandparent stock of breeds recognized by the American Poultry Association (APA) prior to the mid-20th century; whose genetic line can be traced back multiple generations; and with traits that meet the APA Standard of Perfection guidelines for the breed. Heritage Chicken must be produced and sired by an APA Standard breed. Heritage eggs must be laid by an APA Standard breed.
  2. Naturally mating
    Heritage Chicken must be reproduced and genetically maintained through natural mating. Chickens marketed as Heritage must be the result of naturally mating pairs of both grandparent and parent stock.
  3. Long, productive outdoor lifespan
    Heritage Chicken must have the genetic ability to live a long, vigorous life and thrive in the rigors of pasture-based, outdoor production systems. Breeding hens should be productive for 5-7 years and roosters for 3-5 years.
  4. Slow growth rate
    Heritage Chicken must have a moderate to slow rate of growth, reaching appropriate market weight for the breed in no less than 16 weeks. This gives the chicken time to develop strong skeletal structure and healthy organs prior to building muscle mass.

This little thing is beyond adorable with those little floofy foot feathers! One of the smaller chicks in the brooder, this chick should grow into one of the biggest. At five weeks, she's only weighing in at 9 oz., but Brahmas are slow growing and she's got about five more months of growth ahead of her. She's one of the shyer girls in the heritage brooder, hanging at the back of the flock. When picked up, she always hunches down and sits quietly.

Brahma chick at 5 weeks

This little girl is still in the baby brooder at two weeks old.

Buff Orpington 
This little golden girl is one of the biggest in the brooder right now. She's also the bossiest, furiously cheeping at any other chicks that get in her way. When the brooder lid lifts, she's always the first one to run over and see what's up. At 5 weeks, she's weighing in at 11.5 oz., the same size as some of the Cornish Rocks. She's going to grow to about 8 lbs. and she's off to a good start.

Buff Orpington chick at 5 weeks
This chick is the biggest of the lot right now, weighing 12.5 oz. at nearly 6 weeks. This isn't surprising, as the Delaware breed was developed for rapid growth as a broiler bird. She looks tough, but she's actually one of the sweetest.

Delaware chick at 5 weeks

This big chick is still working hard at growing in her first set of feathers. She's looking a little rough around the edges right now, but she's going to be a real looker when she's big. She's pretty frisky and is often the first to jump up to perch on the edge of the brooder. At 5 weeks, she weighs 11 oz.

Dominique chick at 5 weeks

Mottled Java
This little one is still pretty tiny at only 2 weeks old, and is still in the baby brooder.

Plymouth Rock 
One of the bigger chicks, the Plymouth is the sauciest bird in the bunch. She's a regular escapee from the brooder, one of the first to scold anything new, and is completely fearless. At five weeks, she weighs in at 10 oz.

Plymouth Rock chick at 5 weeks

Rhode Island Red (non-industrial) 
This little RIR girl is pretty shy. She usually hangs out at the back of the flock, but she's fearless about getting into the fray when something exciting like fresh dirt or seeds are brought to the brooder. Already a good forager, she weighs 8.5 oz. at 5 weeks.

Rhode Island Red at 5 weeks

Rhode Island White  
A similar, but different breed of chicken than the RIR, the RIW is another member of the big kid brigade. She weighs 11 oz. at 5 weeks old. She's a bit bossy, shoving some of the other girls out of her way, but she's pretty sweet most of the time.

Rhode Island White at 5 weeks
This is one of my favorite chicken breeds. The lacing patterns on the wings are so very lovely, and our Golden Wyandotte Beatrice is one of our most consistent layers. We lost the original Blue Wyandotte, she was sickly from the start, but we were gifted a couple of new ones over the weekend. They're only a few days old, so they'll be in the baby brooder for a couple more weeks yet.

Aaaand, my two surprise girls!
Speckeld Sussex 
This is a heritage breed dual purpose chicken that lays lots of pinkish brown eggs, frequently even laying through the winter months. It does well in confinement, is a good forager, and dresses out well for the table. Adult birds weigh in around 7 to 9 lbs.

At 4 weeks old, this little one is a couple ounces behind most of her brooder mates. She's a bit on the shy side, and sticks close to her buddy, the black Australorp. Her gorgeous patterning is already showing up as she grows in her first set of feathers. 

Speckled Sussex at 4 weeks
This is the breed of chicken that shows up frequently at our front door when people find them wandering around the neighborhood. While none of these feathered party crashers were from our flock, we took them in until their owners were found. This has led me to believe that Australorps are flighty escape artists. They are reported to be an active breed and I'm curious to see how this one does.

They're excellent layers of large brown eggs, they do well in hot and cold weather, and they have an excellent growth rate. Adult birds reach 6.5 to 8.5 lbs.

Still looking a bit rough around the edges, this little girl is half way to having all of her first feathers. At 4 weeks old, she weighs 8 oz. and is already outpacing her favorite brooder buddy, the Speckled Sussex.

Black Australorp at 4 weeks

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