Thursday, March 04, 2010

Selecting a Chicken Breed


When we decided to get chickens, we knew we wanted a dual purpose breed, which means it's a breed that's good for both meat and eggs. Meat birds take about 10 weeks to get to butchering size but they never get old enough to lay eggs. Dual purpose birds take about 3-5 months to get to butchering size so that's a lot more feed expense if all you want is meat. Egg layers lay an egg a day and most will lay right on through the winter time although production may be reduced. However, they make a scrawny carcass that's not worth the trouble of butchering. Dual purpose birds lay an egg two out of three days and their laying almost stops in the short winter days unless you provide supplemental light. So if you're not going to be butchering that's a lot of feed expense for just a few eggs.

So one of the main things you should consider when choosing a breed of chickens is why you want to raise them. Do you want meat? Eggs? A little of both? Are there ordinances against butchering where you live? Would you be happier with a dual purpose breed or would you prefer to have a permanent flock of egg layers and then raise meat birds a couple of months each spring? Or do you just want the companionship and entertainment that chickens provide? In that case perhaps an ornamental breed would be better for you.

We also wanted a bird that was good at foraging. We have a lot of land and we figured the more they could feed themselves, the better it would be on our pocketbook. As you can see in the video, our chickens love to get outside even if the foraging conditions are, well, sub-optimal. They have a strong foraging drive. This is great for us but if we lived on a small lot in a town then we'd prefer a breed that is happy being confined to a coop and a run. The Sussex would be miserable under such conditions.

We also wanted a chicken that would occasionally go broody. The less we have to deal with incubators, the better. If you live with close neighbors though, you won't want a rooster because they crow a lot and they are quite loud. With no rooster you won't have fertile eggs so there's no point in having a breed that goes broody. That's just one hen that's not producing eggs: hens don't lay when they are setting.

We also wanted to raise a rare breed. The Speckled Sussex is listed as threatened by the American Livestock Breeders Conservancy. It is a dual purpose bird that lays brown eggs and has strong foraging tendencies. For us it's a great bird.

To help you pick a breed that suits your needs I highly recommend the Henderson's Chicken Breed Chart.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Greenhouse Icicles

Our home has a heated greenhouse attached to it. The idea is brilliant but the execution was poor. We lose a LOT of household heat through the greenhouse. We can't just let it get real cold in there because it is also our bathroom and the pipes would freeze (not to mention how uncomfortable baths and showers would be).

I imagine the people who built it thought the sunlight would warm the bathroom in winter. If it were double-paned and somewhat sealed I think it might. As it is, it just pours heat out into the great state of West Virginia. When snow falls on the greenhouse, it melts, and makes fantastic icicles.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Bird Netting and Snow

We have bird netting over the rabbit colony, to keep winged predators at bay. Some people think the netting will discourage raccoons and similar, but a raccoon will tear right through bird netting or even chicken wire. For them, we have electric scare wires. But for hawks and owls we have bird netting.

The first year we didn't have any problem with hawks and owls but the second year they all but decimated the colony in two or three nights. That's when we decided to put up bird netting. It worked beautifully.

After two or three years, the netting was getting old and tatty, all torn and fallen down in places. I kept thinking "I need to replace that netting..." but never quite got around to it. Then overnight I was down to four rabbits! When owls strike, they are effective. So I made a trip to the hardware store and got bird netting and put it up. Within a couple of weeks it snowed... and snowed... and snowed. And the bird netting fell down. I had strung it up on old clothes line that I ran up the middle of the colony from a gate post to a tree, and secured it to the fencing with regular old string. The weight of the snow was just too much.

This photo was taken in January. When the snow finally melted enough to dig the netting out, I re-hung it. It was down again within the week. It's been a trying winter in the rabbit colony. If/when we build another one I think we'll construct the "roof" of 2x4 or 4x4 welded wire on a wooden frame.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Snow pics

I haven't blogged recently because it seems like there's nothing to blog about. It's been snowing since mid-December. This is more snow than we had in our previous three winters in WV and more snow than I've ever seen in my life. We parked the ATV near the house and it seemed like a good idea at the time but now it just seems foolish. If the snow ever lets up we'll drive it over to the shed and park it under cover again.

The bridge that my husband built over the wet-weather creek. I'm not sure if it's a wet-weather creek or if we had amazing droughts our first two years here. The first year it flowed off and on. The second year it didn't flow much at all. Seems like it's been flowing most of the time this last year. Anyway the bridge is lovely and we use it all the time as we park on the other side of the creek from the house.

A close-up of the bridge railing showing how deep the snow was earlier. That's a 2x4 that the snow is piled upon.

I just thought this was a pretty cool picture. I'm easily amused (and amazed) by snow. My husband, a snow veteran, just laughs at me when I run around taking pics like this. He derives happiness from my enjoyment of the snow, even though he teases me about it. We have a lot of branches down in the yard now. Will be good for kindling next year.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I grew up in the South. We didn't get a lot of snow and when we did it was cause for huge joyous celebrations. One flake and businesses closed, grocery stores ran out of milk, bread, and toilet paper, and children all over town started watching anxiously for accumulation.

In WV we have plenty of snow. Enough for sledding! We found a particularly good hill the other day.



Monday, January 11, 2010

Driving to Town

This past weekend, my husband and I had to go into town to get prescriptions filled. I took a few pics. This is the most snow I've seen since I've been here. We had more a couple of weeks ago but I was out of state visiting relatives.

Here's a beautiful scene snapped out the window on the way to town. This might become my desktop background, despite the fact that it's not too clear.

The creek is doing its best to freeze over nice and solid. I've never been ice skating on a pond or a stream. I would love to try it! Skating on a stream is especially attractive to me, because I'd get to see the area from a new vantage point.

Icicles!! There were much more impressive ones than these, but these were convenient and we were going slowly, so these got photographed.

After we arrived in town, the back of the truck looked like this. It's interesting how clearly the wind patterns show up in the drifted snow. Now I understand why, when I forget and leave my back window open on the highway in the summer time, all those leaves and/or hay blow out of the bed and into the cab!

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Cherry Pie

We had a delicious cherry pie for our New Years Eve meal. I like to have a nice meal on New Years Eve. I'm getting better at pie crusts. DO use store bought flour, DON'T use home ground wheat flour -- it's too heavy. DO use butter, DON'T use margarine or shortening. This one still had some problems. The filling stayed juicy and never set. I mean, it was juicy like juice you drink. Like water. But good! We just put it in bowls and ate it with spoons.

The cherries are from summer of 2008. We didn't get a cherry crop in 2009 for some reason. Gotta love that deep chest freezer (and that kid that climbed up in the loader to pick cherries!).


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