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"Fact": Isa Brown chickens will die without feed

Phil Hawkins
volunteer

Joined: Sep 13, 2011
Posts: 227
Location: Gippsland, Victoria, Australia
    
    8
I was at an agricultural show yesterday, and mentioned that I keep free range chickens. The person I was talking to assured me that isa brown chickens would "lay themselves to death" without bagged feed. This sounds like something invented by a feedstock company, but it seems plausible that we may have (through selective breeding) created chickens that are quite unnatural, just like cows that can die from falling over and bloating, which presumably would not have been the case 'naturally'.

Anyone know whether there's any truth to this?


I have a sporadic blog at http://philarly.com/
I twitter via @philarly
Hugh Hawk


Joined: Aug 21, 2011
Posts: 225
Location: Adelaide, South Australia (Mediterranean climate)
I don't think chickens are very good at slowing down or stopping their laying if they don't have enough nutrients to produce eggs.  Calcium deficiency for example can cause weak-shelled or even shell-less eggs, but the chicken will keep laying these despite the problem.

However, you can feed the chicken all it needs without the feed coming out of a bag, for sure

Best practice seems to be allowing chickens access to "nutritionally complete" food at least part of the day so that if they aren't getting what they need on forage, they can top up.  Supposedly if the chicken has access to better, fresh stuff, then they won't eat any bagged stuff.  Not everyone thinks this is totally true, but you could definitely reduce your supplemental feed significantly.

When you are providing bought food, if you offer a free choice of feed (separated feeds) instead of a mixture or pellets, you will be able to observe what the chickens are wanting to eat more of.  That might help you adjust your forage to better meet the chickens' needs.  If they go for stuff high in protein like sunflower seeds, then perhaps they want more protein; if they go for shell grit then maybe they need calcium, etc.


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Phil Hawkins
volunteer

Joined: Sep 13, 2011
Posts: 227
Location: Gippsland, Victoria, Australia
    
    8
When I do (occasinally) fill up their feeder with bagged feed (Barastock Golden Yolk) they definitely go for it, but the same is also true with kids and fast food, so I wasn't in a rush to draw the conclusion that it was better for them than forage.
Leila Rich
steward

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3912
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
    
  83
Hybrids like ISA browns are bred for one thing: to lay lots and lots of eggs.
They lay when most chooks won't, like through winter and when food's inadequate.
If it has to, the bird will use it's own energy reserves to produce eggs. The constant laying requires a large intake of high-protein food and a massive amount of the bird's energy.
One reason why hybrids tend to have short lifespans.
Phil Hawkins
volunteer

Joined: Sep 13, 2011
Posts: 227
Location: Gippsland, Victoria, Australia
    
    8
Thanks Leila,

We got our birds for free in June from someone that was getting out of semi-commercial operation. We started with five, and one dropped dead a month or so ago (I had seen it seemingly fine 15 minutes earlier!). We probably get a couple of eggs per day on average. When this lot passes on we'll probably get some breeders and stuff. Any recommendations for a hardy egg and meat breed? We have a fair bit of land, so I'd rather have more chickens than more eggs per chicken.
Leila Rich
steward

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3912
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
    
  83
Phil, there's a few threads about favourite chook breeds on here.
I think barred rocks are good dual-purpose birds: grow fast and heavy, lay pretty well (you won't get great egg production from the heavier breeds anyway).
They are also thick and lazy, which sounds less good, but translates to fast weight-gain and chooks that aren't escapologists (take a bow, bantams...)
Also light Sussex, although the roosters can be huge and nasty; I'd avoid them around kids.
Rhode Island Reds are good layers.
How hot does it get where you are in Gippsland? Heavy breeds can really suffer in the heat, so make sure there's lots of shade.
Hugh Hawk


Joined: Aug 21, 2011
Posts: 225
Location: Adelaide, South Australia (Mediterranean climate)
Leila, do you think your comment about hybrids extends to all kinds?  For example, if you keep different types of birds in a pen and let them all breed, you end up with the chicken equivalent of a mutt.  These mutts aren't bred for a particular thing but they tend to be good and vigorous, whereas (some) purebreeds can seem a bit wimpy.

I started off with 3 wyandottes, far too heavy for my climate (make sure you get a lightweight bird Phil, I assume you get heat where you are).  One was a colombian which was quite vigorous, but the other 2 are wimps.  Since then have added 1 isa brown (freebie) and a couple of mutts.  I think the mutts are great because they all have their own visual characteristics, whereas purebreeds you can hardly tell apart sometimes.
Leila Rich
steward

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3912
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
    
  83
I'm not talking natural hybrids where a random rooster and chook of of 'mixed parentage' get it on
To be honest, I have no idea what happens to ISA brown or highline genetics within a free-range flock, but I can't imagine they get any worse!
I agree Hugh, mutts are great and what you end up with in a mixed flock anyway.
I'll change my tune...Phil, maybe scrounge some well-looked after 'bitsas'.
I reckon a good rooster,  changed from time to time ( I know people that have a 'rooster roster', where they exchange birds occasionally to reduce inbreeding).
I still reckon barred rocks are good birds, but my climate's  cooler than yours.
                        


Joined: Aug 01, 2011
Posts: 66
Location: San Diego
If you want a flock to be self sustaining to the point where they hatch their own replacements both bantams and araucanas are good. They are semi wild anyway; but there isn't a lot of meat on them. If you want a reasonable number of large eggs and good meat I doubt you can beat Rhode Island reds. They are also good foragers and make excellent mothers.
I'd put barred rocks in the second slot; also good all purpose chooks.
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 977
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
Mind, I haven't tried this yet (would like to someday), but several people have told me that for free-range chickens that lay reasonably well, try crossing Old English Games (either size, I think) on a good laying hen such as a Leghorn or a Wyandotte or Black Australorp.  The offspring are supposed to lay better than the OEGs but be better free-rangers than the mother breed.

And the layer hybrids WILL stop or reduce laying if they aren't properly fed.  A friend of mine was complaining about her hens having almost stopped laying -- I knew she was trying to feed organically and avoid soy, so I asked what she was feeding.  It was just a combination of cracked grains with a lot of corn, very low in protein (and her birds were free-ranging).  I suggested she give the hens some milk from her cow each day and see if that helped -- she reported back within a few days that it had worked! 

Basically, it's going to be a compromise between feed and egg production.  You have to decide what you can do.  For some people, they may opt to have just a few hens and try to raise a diet for them that is equivalent to or better than the layer pellets from the feed store.  Someone else with more land may decide to keep a large flock on free-range and accept that they'll have to hunt for eggs each day.  There are several other options, of course!

Kathleen
                        


Joined: Aug 01, 2011
Posts: 66
Location: San Diego
In Oklahoma I had 40 acres of brush and semi open ground for them to forage on. I never fed anything except when the ground was frozen or covered with snow. I got plenty of eggs although sometimes you had to hunt for them. The chickens I killed were always fat and healthy. They raised their own replacements and there were always hens around with chicks.
I lost some to predators but not as many as you might think so long as I had them in a secure coop at night. I accomplished that by coaxing them into the hen yard with a few handfulls of scratch just before sundown.
wayne stephen
steward

Joined: Mar 11, 2012
Posts: 1739
Location: Western Kentucky-Climate Unpredictable Zone 6b
    
  93
Overall I'd say Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds have been the sturdiest and most consistent birds We have raised. They range good but are not the wiliest breed. Ameracaunas are good layers too , and they are savy outdoors. We have a fair amount of predation problems. The smartest bird We raised was a Splash Andalusian. She was too wild and started roosting high in a tree , not a good idea - and she used to hide her eggs . I would suggest mixing up alot of breeds and see which does best for your climate and forage availability. Its more fun and interesting to see a motley bunch ranging your land. We have hot humid summers and cold winters , the climate here really taxes our birds. Just started some ISA Browns too , we'll see how they do. I raised a Cornish-Rock broiler to see how she would do and she lays very large brown eggs consistently, I would not do it again - she is very slow and clumsy - but surprisingly range smart - you never know - have fun.


Permaculture is CPR for the planet !


Shep Wallaby


Joined: Apr 11, 2012
Posts: 16
Location: Northern Rivers NSW Australia
Australorps all the way for me! They live for years (my oldest chook was over 10 years old and still laid the occasional egg) (oh, and 'chook' is 'chicken' in Aus.), they lay lovely big light brown eggs, they are a placid and friendly people, are not flighty at all so are real easy to contain. Their beautiful black plumage has beautiful flashes of green...so pretty. They are great foragers, too.
I never raised chicks from eggs from my girls, so cannot really comment on their mothering abilities. When I wanted new bought in chicks mothered, I put them with my bantam rooster (fluffy feet type), he was the best mum ever!


What goes around comes around
Dave Beta


Joined: May 08, 2012
Posts: 4
Location: Wanaka, New Zealand
Phil Hawkins wrote:I was at an agricultural show yesterday, and mentioned that I keep free range chickens. The person I was talking to assured me that isa brown chickens would "lay themselves to death" without bagged feed. This sounds like something invented by a feedstock company, but it seems plausible that we may have (through selective breeding) created chickens that are quite unnatural, just like cows that can die from falling over and bloating, which presumably would not have been the case 'naturally'.

Anyone know whether there's any truth to this?


I spend some time at a local organic farm which runs ISA browns completely free range on large (8 hectare) paddocks. My mate who works there says some have gone wild and live in the shelterbelts, and he reckons they are the healthiest looking hens. Its a pretty fertile area and I think there is a water race there. No idea if their laying or not. ISA browns are super hyperactive, can lay 2 eggs a day sometimes, eat a lot more food than heritage breeds like RIR and Barred rocks, and tend to die at age 3 from eggs breaking inside them. They also feel the heat much more than the dual purpose heritage breeds, as the DP birds insulation works both ways. DP birds are also far more resistant to lice, partly from their denser feathering and partly I think because they look after themselves better as they havent been bred to suffer like the commercial hybrids have.
If you've only got the room for one rooster I would keep Barred rock Hens and have either a black Langshan, Astralorp or RIR cock. The langshan is large, has quite a bit of breast meat for a heritage fowl, is a docile good forrager, lays well in winter and has some broodyness. The astralorp is more broody, lays well also and is large. In my experience RIRs arent very good eating roosters as they grow slowly but crossed with barred rocks the cockerals dress out around 1.4kg at 18 weeks and are great eating on a freerange and grain diet. All three of these roosters will make black sexlink chicks when crossed with barred rock hens.
Leila Rich
steward

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3912
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
    
  83
Welcome to permies, Dave
Thanks, that's great info.
Terri Matthews


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 410
Location: Eastern Kansas
    
    3
Back when I free ranged my chickens, i always kept feed available. They din't actually eat that much of it,but I would rather the birds tha fed me eggs were not hungry theselves.

Every morning the birds would walk right past the feed dish, heading for where the cicadas and the grasshoppers were the heaviest. After a few hours of foraging they would come in for some bagged feed, and how much they ate depended on how good the foraging had been. They PREFFERED bugs, but they very often could not catch enough to fill up on them.
Jay Green


Joined: Feb 03, 2012
Posts: 587
    
    8
Shep Wallaby wrote:Australorps all the way for me! They live for years (my oldest chook was over 10 years old and still laid the occasional egg) (oh, and 'chook' is 'chicken' in Aus.), they lay lovely big light brown eggs, they are a placid and friendly people, are not flighty at all so are real easy to contain. Their beautiful black plumage has beautiful flashes of green...so pretty. They are great foragers, too.
I never raised chicks from eggs from my girls, so cannot really comment on their mothering abilities. When I wanted new bought in chicks mothered, I put them with my bantam rooster (fluffy feet type), he was the best mum ever!


I'll put in a vote for BAs as well. My oldest and most productive hens for their age have been BAs(have some that are 7 years old and still laying every day or every other day in peak season), White Rocks(6 yrs and going strong), New Hamps(6 yrs also), RIRs, Leghorns. I've found all of these breeds stand out above the other breeds I've had over the years for excellent laying, longevity in laying, hardiness, foraging and thrift on feed.

I cull vigorously each year for laying, hardiness and feed thrift. I've found some breeds are just better than others and I've also found that selective culling can optimize those breeds as well so that you are left with those you can breed one to another to have mutts with the same sustainability, health, laying abilities, etc. I've found it helps one develop a more sustainable, care free and productive dual purpose flock if you think in terms of years instead of just the next laying season. Plan for having your layers being productive for longer than 2 years....if you have breeds that lay themselves out in 2 years, you are continually in need of replacements and you never really get to know your individual birds and their traits.

I've always free ranged and fed once a day, in the evening for foraging months and in the morning for winter months. Soon I'll be trying to taper off feeding any supplements during those forage-rich months and see which birds still maintain condition and productivity on that. Those that don't will be culled and the ones that do will be bred for more of the same.
 
 
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