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Breeds of chicken for free range

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15218
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
In Joel's books, the breed of choice is cornish/rock cross.  For those that are not aware, this breed has several attributes the significantly separate it from the other breeds. 

It's ready for harvest at 9 weeks - other breeds are generally ready in twice that long.

It has an excellent feed to meat conversion ratio. 

The flavor is fantastic! 

This breed tends to have a higher mortality rate (before harvest). 

The birds are dumb and lazy.  Other chickens will chase a grasshopper to eat it, but not a cornish/rock cross.  And there's the rub.  Might there be a breed that has all of the upsides, but is willing to forage more?  One might reason that if the bird were to forage more, it might cut down on the feed bill.

So my question to Mr. Salatin would be:  have you experimented with other meat breeds?

A quick trivia note:  I asked about getting some at whole foods and they had no idea what I was talking about.


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Kelda Miller


Joined: Jun 30, 2007
Posts: 763
huh. funny that they're naturally lazy. i wonder if the forage-geared rotation kind of equals it out so they're more enthusiastic

on this same topic: what are the ducks that will Go AFTER a slug? sure, they eat them. but i'd want a duck that goes out of its way. at the bullocks i noticed the muskovee ducks and  all the chickens like snails much better, but here in pierce county i've never seen a snail problem.

so the same question with duck: meat breed that likes to Chase slugs, you get the trophy.


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Joined: Mar 11, 2008
Posts: 36
Location: Snohomish, WA
I have had chickens for about 10 years. That is, my own chickens rather than the ones shared with my family growing up.

I really like all of my girls, but I especially like my Salmon Faverolles. They make a nice meat and egg bird. I have had lots of different breeds but these are really nice.

Cornish/rock crosses are nice too.

Muskovees can be hard in some areas since they fly. My muskovees flew right over to the lake and never came back. 

I have Indian Runners and a few mixed now that seem to like it here well enough.

The challenge out here is that the many predators like them too.


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paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15218
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Predators:  how much space do you have? 

I solved the predator problem by getting a livestock guardian dog (great pyr). 
                                  


Joined: Apr 24, 2008
Posts: 6
Location: Olympic Peninsula
Hi,

I am new here but I really did not like the cornish/cross chickens - too nasty. 

I am trying Dark Cornish Chickens.  I got a batch last year and they were ready for harvest right around 12 weeks.  They are a beautiful bird, not as meaty as the cross of course, but very tasty!  They have a very thick skin so we didn't skin them like the cross, rather pluck and freeze whole.

I left the hens and a few roos and turned them loose in a brushy area I have.  Put in a few dogloos and chicken tractors with straw for nests.  I had one hen hatch out three chicks in March!  Now I have several others on nests in various places so they will be self propogating.  They clear the weeds and bugs and will not roost inside, rather they prefer trees in the worst of weather!  I haven't had a mean rooster among them!

You can see some pictures of them on my blog at deberosahomestead.wordpress.com

Next I am going to try crossing them with my buff orpington layers to see what comes out...


Check out my blog at:  Deberosahomestead.wordpress.com
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15218
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I couldn't really see a pic of them.

So they take a little longer ... and they are a little lighter when they are ready ...  and they are tasty, but!  Are they as tasty?

How are they at foraging?

Buff Orps are a lovely bird.  Pretty.  Easy going.  Good brooders.  Just a fantastic, all around farm bird.  Except for  two things ....  they have a poor feed to meat conversion ratio and they have a poor feed to egg conversion ratio.  This seems to be the case for nearly all dual breed birds.  I raised lots of buff orps for a long time and mixed in some other nice breeds and started getting lots of interesting cross breeds.  But the bottom line was that they just don't produce like the egg only breeds or the meat only breeds.

I guess if the mission is to just have some chicken and not worry about efficiency or profit, then buff orps are great.  But once you start counting up income and costs ... 

                                  


Joined: Apr 24, 2008
Posts: 6
Location: Olympic Peninsula
Here is a link directly to their picture:
http://deberosahomestead.wordpress.com/2007/12/09/dark-cornish-chickens/dark-cornish-chickens/

Sigh, yes I am afraid efficiency is not my top priority here on Deberosa.  I am just learning here.  The Buffs are not for eating, just for egg laying and they do produce a bit better than others I have had in cold weather.  I keep a light in their coop.  I did get 6 sex links last week and they are in a brooder.

As far as the taste of the cornish - it's not the same as the cornish cross, the meat is richer and I tend to cook the birds whole with them rather than debone them.  I like both but the cornish cross turn into such dirty sickly birds that I just don't grow them any more.  They just didn't seem natural to me is all.  The cornish are great foragers!  I am clearing out parts of my property with them where I want the nice salal and huckle berry bushes - they scratch out all of the weeds in large areas.  In their old area I threw down clover seed so in the fall I will switch them back to clean out the garden and eat the clover while I plant the other area.  Works out for me.  Once the orchard gets established I may try them in there, but they roost high in trees so that may be a problem.

I got my homestead in 2003.  It was an old abandonned place.  It took me three months to clear enough brambles to get to the back of the barn!  I found a hen house completely set up so began my first experience with chickens.  Of course I ordered a couple of everything from McMurray's.  I let them Free Range - a little too free they were destroying everything!  Gradually I've gotten fences put in and at least a bit of a method to my madness.  Added a Dexter cow and was supposed to get three pigs today but that didn't pan out - they will be clearing another acre for me this summer for more pasture/forage growing.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15218
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I hear what you are saying about the cornish-rock-cross.  The first time I raised them, they got to about six weeks old and I thought "These are the ugliest, stupidist, laziest birds I have ever raised.  By far!  I am never going to raise these again!"  And then I was shocked at how freaky big they were at 9 weeks.  Harvesting them at nine weeks is pretty bizarre right there.  Wow.  And then I tasted the first one and "I'm raising these EVERY year!"

The taste is just that good.

So then it kinda comes down to how to mitigate all of the downsides.
Dave Boehnlein


Joined: Jun 10, 2007
Posts: 291
Location: Orcas Island, WA
    
    2
I've been using the chart at the following link to get a feel for a bunch of different breeds. Perhaps people will find this a useful research tool:

Henderson's Chicken Breed Chart:

http://www.ithaca.edu/staff/jhenderson/chooks/chooks.html

Dave


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paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15218
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Spiffy list Dave!

The varieties I didn't see on that list were the red stars and black stars.

                                  


Joined: Apr 24, 2008
Posts: 6
Location: Olympic Peninsula
It says the cornish like I have are crossed with a "rock" to get the cornish rock cross.  Anyone know if they are talking about a plymouth rock?  Is it possible to breed your own cornish crosses?
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15218
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I'm not certain, but I think the "rock" is a "white rock".

Yes!  You can breed your own cross. 
Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
well I have to go for effeciency mostly here but even at that I don't plan on doing the cornish/rocks again. I lost alot to leg problems even when feeding them to control their growth and that cancels out the excellent feed conversion ratio. and in order for them to be economically worth it my meat chickens need to forage for at least some of their own needs and the crosses are pathetic foragers. they can't fly and are more subject to predation and they really are just lazy. I plan to soon be getting a flock of dark cornish, they are supposed to be excellent foragers and good meat birds. I am happy with my barred rocks for layers and I suppose with the dark cornish around I could try my hand at a few of my own type of cornish/rocks if I get the hankering.


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paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15218
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I visited a farm that was raising the cornish rock cross.  They were harvesting a lot of them at three weeks of age!  It sounded like less than 10% made it to 8 weeks of age.  That would cut waaaaaay back on your mortality rate.
Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
They are freaks aren't they! none of mine were worth butchering at three weeks but I made it a point not to feed them real hard too. I've heard thats what the little "cornish game hens" are in the store, the cornish/rock hens that are just a few weeks old. I'm going to stick with my dark cornish idea because I want to raise my own meat birds and not have to order them. It has cooled off way earlier than normal here (scary weird weather)so I need to get on a roll with them.

Darn. Mcmurray says they are sold out. I may have waited too long. I'll have to try some other hatcheries.
http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/product/dark_cornish.html
Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
cool! somebody is already selling chicks that have been selected for ranging ablility!

http://www.jmhatchery.com/free-range-broiler/colored-range-chicks/prod_5.html
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15218
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
But how do the taste tests compare?

And howzabout some layers that are bred for their forage ability?
Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
I was hunting for free range layers but no luck yet. but free range meat birds are a good start! it might be worth crossing a few of them with some leghorns or something. maybe a ranging layer could be developed faster that way.
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 977
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
My guess would be that nobody is working on a free-range layer only because there are already a lot of breeds that are well-suited for that.  The Henderson Breed Chart will give you some ideas of suitable breeds for layers that free-range:  http://www.ithaca.edu/staff/jhenderson/chooks/chooks.html#

Avoiding white or mostly white breeds (because they are easier for predators to spot), here are some breeds that work well for free-range layers:  Ameraucana; Andalusian; Australorp; Barnevelder; Buttercup; Campine; Catalana; Dominique; Dorking; Fayoumi; Hamburg; Barred Holland; La Fleche; Black Langshan; Leghorns other than White or Mottled; Marans (also a very decent meat breed); Minorca; New Hampshire; Orpington; Penedesenca; Plymouth Rock (any of the colored varieties); Rhode Island Red; Spanish; Sussex; Welsummer; Wyandotte (other than white). 

A friend of mine said she's had the white 'slow broilers' from Welp Hatchery, and really really likes them -- they don't outgrow their legs and hearts like Cornish Cross do, and she kept some of the hens, and they turned out to be very decent layers.  But, they are white....  She has a dairy farm in upstate New York, and her birds do forage, although she also feeds them.  Welp has red and black 'slow broilers' -- it might be worth trying them.  It would be worth some experimenting to find a really good dual-purpose bird that could free-range.  (I can't free-range because we have neighbors that are close -- I choose birds that will do well in confinement, as mine are in chicken tractors.) 

Kathleen
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15218
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Excellent link!

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15218
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Here is some excellent info on breeds that take only 15% longer to get to finish weight than cornish-rock-cross, but appear to be a better fit for foraging situations:  http://www.attra.org/attra-pub/poultry_genetics.html

Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
that is a great link paul! I knew there had to be more going on out there in the pasture poultry biz since it has been booming.
                              


Joined: Jun 08, 2008
Posts: 79
I'm interested in heritage breeds, not crosses. But at the same time, cost of checks needs to not be through the roof. And yes, they need to be good foragers.

Any advice?

Leigh
Emil Spoerri
pollinator

Joined: Oct 19, 2009
Posts: 415
    
    8
this coming season I am going to try buckeyes, they are good layers that are bred with similar figure to a cornish, big, friendly, pea combed dark red birds.
Jersey giants get really big and are really good layers for the heavy breeds.
Emil Spoerri
pollinator

Joined: Oct 19, 2009
Posts: 415
    
    8
Joel favors heavy breeds, the road island red because he feels it is a hardier more productive and higher quality producing bird than a white layer.

The catalogs describe brown leghorns as being good range birds.

I have been thinking about Jersey Giants, Buckeyes, Delawares and Aurukauna or Amerukauna

really though, i think i like waterfowl way more

i really can't stand turkeys or gueniea fowl... i might give them a chance too in time though once the other systems are better established

perhaps since i am just starting out it will be better for my system to use just bantams or even silkies and perhaps just a few large chooks?

I would really actually like to have some large roosters because of their aggressive tendencies, i have know people who claimed theirs killed and ate raccoons...

there is some semi wild range land with lots of wild fruit trees and bushes already there and i am planning on ordering

if you have any information on where to get either superior priced products or superior quality varieties would be very helpful : )

siberian pea shrub

sea buckthorn

cherry eleagnus

comfrey

jujube

Ecos Medlar (non-grafted variety from oikos)

a good rose hip variety?

a rampant variety of blackberry

couple honey locust trees

mullberries cut short

most of these are in the small tree/shrub category

this will start out with mostly geese and ducks, but in a couple years be overrun by chooks

after 5 years i will plant climax tree crops, chestnut, apple, pear, apricot, peach, more jujube, big mullberries...

in the long distant future, pigs, goats and cows...
Jennifer Smith


Joined: Jul 14, 2009
Posts: 669
Location: Zone 5
My chickens are crossbreds, easter eggers and cochens. 
They  reliably reliably raise chicks and I have not bought an egg in years, sell some sometimes even. 
I give them treats and throw handfulls of feed at them when iced in, but mostly they feed after the horses, their main job is to scatter manure for me.
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 977
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
It would depend partly on the climate where you are.  If your winters are really cold it would be best to select pea-combed breeds (such as the Buckeye or Chantecler, Easter Egger [which the hatcheries usually call Ameraucana], or in some situations the Brahma, although their feathered feet are not an asset when there is snow and ice on the ground).  Large bodies and fluffy feathering also are what you want in a cold climate.  If you lived where it was usually hot or warm, then you'd want smaller-bodied birds with large single combs to dump heat. 

I've never had OEG's, but a lot of people swear by them and their crosses for free-range birds.  They are good mothers and have a lot of wild behaviors to help keep them alive with few inputs.  I wouldn't recommend them if you are in a really cold location, but probably any place else they should do well.  I don't think they lay well enough as purebreds to be worthwhile, but I've been told that crossed with a good laying breed the offspring are excellent.  Since pea combs are dominant (OEG have single combs, though are usually dubbed), you could cross them with one of the pea-combed dual-purpose breeds if you are in a cold climate. 

Kathleen
Emil Spoerri
pollinator

Joined: Oct 19, 2009
Posts: 415
    
    8
i think buckeyes have quite a bit of english game blood in them no?

they might not lay quite enough eggs for my tastes though
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 977
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
If you go to the Backyard Chickens forum and do a search for Buckeyes, you will get all kinds of information.  I don't have them, but am very interested in them -- breeders say that they are actually pretty decent layers for a bird that is also a good meat bird.  With a little selection they can equal most of the other dual-purpose breeds, such as the New Hampshires, with better meat qualities.  It does also depend on where you get them -- some have been more carefully bred than others.

Kathleen
                              


Joined: May 03, 2009
Posts: 461
Location: Inland Central Florida, USA
It will also depend on what you want of the birds.  I know many people who know very little about chickens and they get the idea that they can keep hens for a few years for the eggs and then they could use them as meat after.  While this may be true, I usually have to let them know that usually people want to use young birds as roasters and if killing an old hen or rooster, they are really only good to make stock or stew.  So if the point is eggs, then choose good layers.  If you really will be breeding them and processing some for meat as well as eating eggs, then dual purpose birds are appropriate.

And of course, read up about breeds to see what is appropriate for the climate.

We keep chickens for the eggs.  I've been pretty happy with the Rode Island Reds and New Hampshire Reds.  They are good layers of really large eggs, at least on what they eat here.  Ours is a hot/humid climate most of the year and I try to give them fairly large paddock areas for ranging.  They love fresh ground/weeds and bugs.  I expect they would do fairly well ranging for most of their own food if I had the space to let them do it.  (Woodsy/forested area would be their choice.)


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Robert Ray
volunteer

Joined: Jul 06, 2009
Posts: 1327
Location: Cascades of Oregon
    
  12
I keep naked necks an ugly bird but has been reliable egg producer through the cold months.
I don't raise them for meat, they are so ugly their cute, but don't look very appetizing.
They'll hang out all day at an old stump with carpenter ants.
They free range only when someone is home though because of predators.


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Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 977
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
I don't like the looks of Naked Necks, either, but they are supposed to be a quite decent meat bird -- easier to pluck than most breeds, because their feathers are sparse all over, not just on the necks.  I suppose one might grow used to the looks eventually -- and they are a very old breed, not someone's new invention.

They are more cold-hardy than you might think, too -- my aunt, who lives in the Interior of Alaska, used to have some.  I don't think they were running around outdoors in the winter, but her chicken coop wasn't heated.

Kathleen
Robert Ray
volunteer

Joined: Jul 06, 2009
Posts: 1327
Location: Cascades of Oregon
    
  12
Even though my coop is heated I'll go out some evening and the naked necks will be on an outside roost with snow piling up on their heads happy as clams.
                          


Joined: Oct 31, 2009
Posts: 250
Location: Marrakai Northern Territory Australia

I've never seen or heard of naked neck chickens here in Aust, any chance of a photo>

Bird


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has never tried anything new
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Robert Ray
volunteer

Joined: Jul 06, 2009
Posts: 1327
Location: Cascades of Oregon
    
  12
Also called a turken.  www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/turken_naked_neck.html
Emil Spoerri
pollinator

Joined: Oct 19, 2009
Posts: 415
    
    8
hmmm well... thinking about bantams now since this is the 1st year... buckeyes and naked neck bantams sound good, but sandhill will only let you order 5 of each
                              


Joined: May 03, 2009
Posts: 461
Location: Inland Central Florida, USA
Not quite sure what the first year should have to do with bantams?  I would think that just means you need to size things different for the bantams and you get small eggs then when you get a larger breed you need to re-build certain things sized for them so it doesn't seem like that natural or efficient of a progression. 

It isn't really like an extra small chicken is really much easier to handle than the regular size ones is it?  You still need to catch them and the smaller ones are going to be at more risk from more predators.

Granted, I've only raised normal size birds and don't have any experience with bantams or even hand raising from chicks so my advise is from limited experience.
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 977
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
I agree that an extra small chicken isn't really any easier to deal with than a regular-sized one.  But I don't think you'd have to re-size anything.  I've got a couple of Silkie roosters running around with my large hens and they seem to manage just fine with stuff sized for the big hens.  Of course, Silkies are a little bigger than some of the really tiny bantams. 

I do think that in some situations bantams would be advantageous, mostly because if you have a limited amount of feed, but want to keep a breeding flock (which usually requires a minimum number of birds to keep genetic diversity -- I think around ten hens and three roosters is what the preservationists say), it may be easier to keep the necessary number of birds if they are smaller.  Some of the bantam breeds are very good layers, some lay well through the winter, and some have decent, although small, carcasses.  I'd recommend looking at the Buckeyes, Salmon Faverolles, and New Hampshires for good backyard bantam breeds.

Kathleen
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15218
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I would skip the bantams - I always thought of those as more decorative than anything else.

As for "free range" - ug.  Been there, done that.  Bought the hat and the t-shirt.  Scraped the poop off my porch too many times. 

On the other hand, getting a good forager breed is something I want too.  It seems I put a lot of effort into these thoughts a while back and came up with rhode island reds.

At the bottom of my article on raising chickens I mention a crazy way to come up with a super breed ....
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 977
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
Some of the bantams are actually pretty useful.  Some of them are very good layers, and a few breeds have enough meat on them for a meal.  Most still have some broody instinct (some are very good broodies). 

Just from what I've been reading, from people who are raising them.... A friend raises OEG bantams, and says that there is a surprising amount of meat on one of those little birds.  They are excellent broodies, and good for semi-wild situations. 

Bantam Buckeyes and Salmon Faverolles (I'm interested in the large fowl versions of both breeds so have been researching them) both lay well through the winter, even without supplemental lighting.  Both are usable for meat, too, and will go broody. 

Silkies, although excellent broodies, when they aren't broody or raising chicks, are pretty decent layers, and some lines seem to be fairly meaty, although the color of the skin and meat would put some people off (I hear they taste just fine, and that there may in truth be some health benefits to the melanized meat, though).

Bantam NH, RIR, and Leghorns are all supposed to be decent layers. 

I prefer large fowl, myself, but can see that in some situations bantams might make sense. 

Kathleen
 
 
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