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Heirloom chicken trials


With three more cockerels in the freezer, I'm ready to pass judgment on this year's round of experimental chicken breeds. I didn't raise the five varieties separately, so I can't tell you who cost the least to feed, but I do have data on foraging ability, rooster weight at roughly fifteen weeks, and survivability. I'll start with the last.

We had quite a few predator losses this year, mostly due to human error (we forgot to shut in the chicks a few nights) but also partly because our guard dog is getting on in years and sleeps more soundly than she used to. It could be entirely random which chicks got picked off, but I wanted to mention that the australorps came through unscathed, the orpingtons only lost one bird, and the three other varieties lost two birds apiece. This is interesting because I'd read that dominiques are very good free-range birds because they're less likely to get picked off --- that wasn't the case in our very small sample.

Heirloom chickens

Moving on to meat qualities of the birds, I don't have any data on dominiques or New Hampshire reds. It turns out we did end up with one dominique cockerel, but his comb was so small when we went to snatch birds off the roost by flashlight that I thought he was a girl! And all of our surviving New Hampshire reds turned out to be girls as well. So you'll have to wait for an update on meat qualities of these two breeds at a later date.

My all-around favorite (without tasting any of the meat) is definitely the Rhode Island red (the dark brown bird in the photo above). Australorps grew a little bigger (averaging 2 pounds 13.9 ounces dressed for the australorps versus 2 pounds 11.9 ounces dressed for the Rhode Island red), but the Rhode Island red had the brightest fat. This is a key indicator if you're looking for high-quality pastured meat since yellow fat comes from birds that forage the most, meaning you're getting more omega 3s and the birds are probably eating less feed.

In contrast, our orpington cockerels were big losers, having quite pale fat that almost looked like the fat on a cornish cross. The orpingtons were also the lightest birds at fifteen weeks, clocking in at 2 pounds 6.2 ounces. Although they'll likely catch up to the other breeds later, this slow growth probably also means they eat more feed for every pound of meat that ends up on the table (although I can't be positive of that fact). As a final nail in the breed's coffin, the orpingtons are the only birds in this flock who have been causing trouble, refusing to abide by my pasture rotation and returning time after time to the first pasture we started them out in. So while Kayla assures me that orpingtons are good pet chickens, I'm afraid I have to take them off my list of prime thrifty chicken breeds.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Just wondering do your Dominique Chickens have feathers on their feet? I have one chicken (unknown variety) that has the same color feathers but has some feathers on it's feet.
Comment by BW Fri Jul 31 11:06:41 2015
I raised Australorps for the first time this year, along with NH reds, Plymouth Rocks, and light Brahmas. The Australorps were the first to mature and begin laying, followed by the plymouth Rocks and NH Reds. So far, I do t think the Brahmas have started laying, though both my roosters are Brahmas and they seemed to mature faster than the pullets. I really like the Australorps, even though they are flighty and have escaped our electric fence a few times. As an aside, so far,the Brahma roosters ha e been mild mannered.
Comment by Deb Fri Jul 31 18:44:31 2015

We're finished with Buff Orpingtons as well. We've had ours for going on four years and they are indeed notorious for not staying where you want them. Our Buff rooster was a real rabble-rouser and we don't miss him! They're only plus is that they were good at going broody and mothering. The last of the Buff hens are slated for canned chicken come cooler weather.

This year we've got Black Australorps and hope they are "it." They have grown quickly and I've never had a rooster try to crow at such a young age! I've had mixed reports on broodiness, which I need for sustainable chickens, so we'll see!

Comment by Leigh Sat Aug 1 05:09:55 2015
I've enjoyed hearing everyone's experiences here in the comments! BW --- I don't think dominiques have feathered feet. But the very similar cuckoo marans sometimes can.
Comment by anna Sat Aug 1 13:19:23 2015

Very timely post since yesterday was first culling for me. I managed six cockrell and two pullets before my back demanded that I call it a day. After reading your post I decided to do a 5 AM sorting rather than chase them in the tractor; much easier thanks! The birds are huge but still smaller than hormone filled store birds. They eat a lot though averaging 1/2 pound per week. They forage fairly well with nice yellow fat.

I kept two cockerells and six pullets for breeding. I'm interested in seeing how they lay althought they are reported to be good layers with large eggs. I currently have 12 Dominique and six Sexlet hens that lay very well until it got over 90F. The Sexlets give good extra large eggs plus a dozed jumbo-plus eggs that I sell for $4 vs $3/dozen. I won't be retiring to Jamaica but I get enough to pay for aĺl my feed meaning free eggs and now meat. Hopefully the cockerells will 'man up' and quit being pushed around by my mature hens

Comment by Tom Sun Aug 2 06:40:21 2015
I got two buff colored mystery chicks out of a meat bird bin (they were clearly not meat birds) at tractor supply at the same time you got your chicks. I asked you what breed your buffs were because they looked just like mine. I thought they were buff rocks, and still think they are buff rocks, because they look more like buff rocks than New Hampshires. Mine still look like yours - also not quite like New Hampshires. Are you sure yours are New Hampshires? I guess they could be poor quality ones. Mine are both pullets.
Comment by Tine Wed Aug 5 20:31:01 2015
Tine --- The palest ones in the photos are Buff Orpingtons. Perhaps those are the ones you're looking at?
Comment by anna Wed Aug 5 20:52:59 2015

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