Posts Tagged ‘pullet


Improving your chickens through breeding

by Chuck Everett

The whole act of preservation of our rare breeds begins and ends with patience. It has often been stated that patience is a virtue. When dealing with rare breeds’ patience is not a virtue; it is a requirement! Certainly patience can be a learned behavior. Maybe it can even be acquired over time. I just wish folks wouldn’t try to learn or acquire it with the rare breeds with which I’m working. I don’t wish to sound harsh: just honest. This year alone I have mailed out somewhere between three and four hundred hatching eggs all of rare breeds. It is always depressing to here that the folks who were so eager to receive the eggs have dropped the said rare breed in a year or so because they didn’t realize how much patience this whole process was going to take. Many of our rare breeds have fallen into a state of mediocrity or worse. It takes years and years of work to bring them back from the brink of extinction to a place where they even approach the Standard description.

I’ll get calls that ask why the leg color is wrong, or why the weight is not up to Standard, or if there is anyone else raising the breed that is further along. Oh, might I add that most of these calls come from the folks that I felt sorry for and I sent them the eggs for FREE. All I ask for many times is the cost of the postage and about half the time that isn’t even sent back to me. I just figure they needed the money worst than I did and write it off: back to the calls. I usually begin by asking, ‘You know these are rare breeds don’t you?’

After I receive an affirmative answer, I then ask what attracted them to the breed. Nine times out of ten that is when I find out that they wanted to be different, to standout at the local poultry show, and to brag to all their “going green” suburban friends that they were saving a piece of living history. No where did I hear anything about patience or hard work or the challenge of breeding for improvement. I didn’t hear any of these things because these folks either weren’t aware of the need for improvement or it never even crossed their little minds. So, this article is meant to inform folks before they call for hatching eggs or chicks.

1. Rare breeds need improvement. The improvement could be related to health and vigor, type or feather color. Possibly it might include all of these things. It is important to remember that there is no perfect fowl. They all have some fault somewhere. Even the best of the show strains still throw chicks with faults. It is only more so with rare breeds.

2. Improvement requires patience. In the first years of working with a breed you will see some dramatic improvements that come about by simple selection processes. However, this all slows down after those first few generations. Sometimes, it even seems that you go backward instead of forward.

3. Improvement requires culling. Culling is a part of the selection process. It begins when the chicks hatch and continues all the way to the breed pen. The harder you cull the faster will be your improvement: provided you have hatched plenty of chicks. If you can’t cull a bird then don’t call me or any other breeder for stock. You are wasting our time and taking away potential birds from our breeding stock.

4. Improvement requires a basic working knowledge of the breed you wish to improve. This may seem rather obvious. Yet, there are lots of folks out there who don’t own a Standard and aren’t planning on breeding to the Standard. How else can you seek to improve a breed unless you have a Standard to guide you? If your breed of choice is not included in the APA or ABA Standard then you should research the breed and find out of there exist a Standard from the breeds country of origin or from another country that has written Standards.

5. Improvement comes with hands-on experience. I believe in research and study; otherwise I would never have done the hard work required for my master’s and doctorate degrees. That said experience is the best teacher. Reading about something and doing it are two totally different things. As a matter of fact, don’t believe everything you read: especially on the Internet. Any fool can put something online. It doesn’t make it true just because it is in print. Also, be very careful concerning old poultry material. Years ago there existed many opinions that reflected the wisdom of the day which has now been proven to be untrue. Even the description of our old breeds in these older poultry records can not often be trusted. During the 19th century many writers quoted other writers as if they were speaking from personal knowledge. What they quoted might not have been true at all.

6. Improvement requires an understanding of breeding and breeding systems. One of the great things about raising chickens is that I get to breed they way I want too: so do you. Yet, there are still some basic breeding systems that have been proven through the years. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Read about these systems, talk with others and decide what would be the best fit for you.

7. Improvement requires good management. Management includes everything from feed to housing. I have found that if I free-range my young stock they are healthier throughout the remainder of their lives. There is no substitute for green grass and sunshine. A good start is essential to good birds. Birds need to be routinely wormed and sprayed for lice and mites. There housing needs to fit your particular location. You’re not running a hospital, but the housing should still be cleaned and sprayed periodically.

8. Improvement is enhanced by sharing stock with other serious breeders. Now we were all new once upon a time. I don’t want to discourage you from sharing stock with new folks at all; just make sure they know what they are getting into. Whether you give stock away, trade it or sell it, you need to be honest about the quality of the stock. Sharing stock will give you a person to go back to should your line need freshening up or should something happen to your birds. The person you share with might be a better breeder even than yourself; thus, you can get birds from your on line that end up being better than your own.

It has not been my goal to discourage anyone from raising and breeding rare breeds of poultry. On the contrary, I have only meant to encourage and inform. Raising and breeding rare breeds is my passion. This year alone I have hatched over 400 chicks of the rare breeds I keep. I plan to keep only a few of these birds. The remainder will be eaten by my family, given away to friends, or sold at poultry shows I attend. I begin hatching each year during Christmas week and continue to do so until the first week of June. That means that I’m setting eggs every 7 to 10 days during that entire time. Poultry is my passion; improvement is my goal!

For more information on breeding, and preservation of poultry, visit the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities. You can also reach Mr. Everett at the Ultimate Fowl Forum.



By Chris McCary

The Buckeye is a dual purpose breed and as its name implies, it heralds from the State of Ohio originating sometime before 1896. It is the only American breed with a pea-comb. The Buckeye also has the distinction of being the only breed of chicken created entirely by a woman, Mrs. Nettie Metcalf in Warren, Ohio. It was admitted to the American Poultry Association’s (APA) Standard of Perfection in 1904. Mrs. Metcalf’s Red Fowl creation pre-dates the introduction of the Rhode Island Red to her Mid-Western area.

Mrs. Metcalf set out to create a large red fowl. She began by first crossing a Buff Cochin male to Barred Plymouth Rock females. She then crossed the half Cochin pullets with a Black Breasted Red Game male she acquired the next year, probably of Oriental ancestry and genetically Wheaten or dark Wheaten in color. She took the red offspring of this mating to create the breed.

The Buckeye is a even shade of rich mahogany bay in color. Its feathering is tight much like the other breeds in the APA’s American Class of birds. The Buckeye has a distinctive slate colored bar in the under-color of its back. This bar of slate under-color was meant to enhance and deepen the outer mahogany bay. The mahogany bay covers the entire body of the Buckeye with the exception of the unexposed primaries and secondary wing feathers and the tail feathers which may contain black.

Reddish medium size eyes set on a face that has a “bold expression” on a well arched neck, its head “well-up.” The Buckeye’s yellow beak is short and shaded with a reddish horn.

The Buckeye’s muscular thighs and wings are situated on a body with a long broad back throughout its length. This is coupled with equally broad and deep rounded breasts which are carried above the horizontal giving the bird an almost square-like appearance. The Buckeye has yellow legs. The Buckeye also appears heavy and full. This appearance is not deceiving as the Buckeye Rooster weighs in at a hefty 9 pounds and the Buckeye Hen at 6.5 pounds. Because of this appearance, many mistakenly believe the Buckeye has Cornish in its background, but the Buckeye was not created using any Cornish blood. Mrs. Metcalf only desired to attain the appearance of the Cornish as it appeared around 1905, which is radically different from the Cornish of today.

The Buckeye is an extremely active fowl. Indeed, it has been called the most active of the American breeds. This high level of activity is not without purpose as the Buckeye is highly admired and regarded for their excellent foraging habits. The Buckeye will actually stalk, hunt and pounce on mice with some describing them as almost catlike in this ability. However, the Buckeye does not tolerate confinement as well as some other breeds. The Buckeye overall is also one of the hardiest breeds. Due to their medium size pea comb that is “set closely on the head,” they are especially touted for their cold hardiness.

The Buckeye is an unusually friendly breed and is the first to come running and greet you first thing in the morning. They have a profound and remarkable curiosity. Most of the Roosters are usually friendly toward their human owners but some can become quite aggressive at times. The Buckeye Rooster makes a variety of calls and sounds even emitting an occasional and unusual sound described by some as a “dinosaur roar.”

The Buckeye is moderate to slow to mature but is known as producing a very good meat carcass of mostly dark, rich meat with a whiter than usual white meat. The Buckeye Hen is also a good layer and is known to even surpass the non-production Rhode Island Red Hen. The Buckeye Hen is also capable of going broody. She lays a large, brown egg.

Although is has been referred to as a “Sporty Rhode Island Red,” the Rhode Island Red was not used in the Buckeye’s creation. Upon hearing about the Rhode Island Red’s on the East Coast of the United States in 1896, Mrs. Metcalf decided to call her creation, at first, the “Pea-Comb Rhode Island Red.” She even traded some stock with early Rhode Island Red Breeders.

The Buckeye has never been a widely popular breed. Ms. Metcalf discovered early on that her renaming and designation of her Buckeyes as “Pea Comb Rhode Island Reds” after hearing of the Rhode Island Red’s creation in the East actually served to diminish the Buckeyes appeal. In a change of heart, Ms. Metcalf decided to return her breed the name of their home, Ohio, the “Buckeye State.”

Many poultry enthusiasts widely believe the Buckeye to be some version of the Rhode Island Red. This is not true. As has been mentioned previously, the Rhode Island Red was not used in the creation of the Buckeye. Although some true pea comb Rhode Island Reds no doubt instantly became Buckeyes upon Mrs. Metcalf’s re-designation and the Rhode Island Red has recently been introduced into some lines to increase genetic diversity, the Buckeye remains a distinctly different breed.

In contrast, the Rhode Island Red of today is a much darker in color than the Buckeye and its feathers will be red to the skin. The Rhode Island Red is oblong in shape and appears almost rectangular. It is a lighter bird, less stocky than the Buckeye. The Rhode Island Red has a single or rose comb.

The Buckeye is considered a very rare heritage breed chicken. Without the collaborative efforts of a few long-time breeders and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC), the Buckeye might well have gone extinct. With the ALBC recent program to help recover the Buckeye and new found enthusiasm among Buckeye breeders, the breed is endearing itself to a new generation and making a comeback.

There are no other varieties except the deep mahogany bay color. The Buckeye does also come in a Bantam size.

For anyone interested in Buckeyes and wishing to become more involved, join our Buckeye Discussion Group to learn more.


Basic Feeding for Chickens

Ok, I get questions from people new to chickens all the time on how to feed them. I could write pages on feeding, but the following article will discuss very basic feeding methods.

There are basically 3 age groups of fowl; chick, young fowl, and mature birds. To match these 3 groups there are 3 different feeds; starter, grower, and finisher. (I know, I didn’t mention layer feed, but I will discuss this later) All you need to do is match the feed to your fowl’s age.

Now, what if you have several different age groups of chickens all together? Ok, this is simple, just feed them all the feed you would give the youngest birds in your flock. If you have adult birds with chicks, feed them all starter. If you have adult birds with young fowl, feed them grower.

What about my laying hens, how do I get them the calcium they need? Layer feed has the extra calcium that hens need to lay. The problem is, that the extra calcium is not good for roosters, young birds that aren’t laying, and chicks. The solution to this is to feed them all like I described above, but provide a dish of oyster shells for the hens that are laying. This will allow the hens to get the calcium they need, without the rest of your flock being forced to eat it like they would if you used layer feed.

What about grit? If your birds are on the ground, whether it is free ranging, or in a run, they won’t need grit. If your birds are not allowed access to the ground, you will need to provide grit to them for proper digestion.

What about treats? Treats should not be a regular part of your birds diet, but if you feel you must, try things like green vegetables, grass clippings, and fruits. Corn should be used very sparingly as it is high in fat, and low in nutrition. Corn should not be used in the summer months at all, because it will make your chickens over heat trying to digest it. On the same note though, whole corn is a good supplement in the cold months, because it will help keep your birds warm.

There is much more I could discuss, but this should give you a good place to start if you are new to chickens. You can see more about feeding, and nutritional requirements of chickens at the Ultimate Fowl Forum.


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