This summer we’re taking a break from raising pastured meat birds and lambs and instead, we’re devoting all our coochiecooing attentions to our laying flock. We have Ameraucanas, Black Australorps and one sweet Dominique (barred bird in photo above). The Ameraucanas lay blue-green eggs, the Australorps and Dominique lay various shades of brown eggs.
In the past, we’ve ordered straight-runs of chicks as mixed grab-bags of heritage breeds from Sand Hill Preservation Center. We’ve had great luck with their chicks and through these birds we learned a lot about different types of chickens, good layers, not so good layers, growth rates, behavior, egg color, broodiness, comb-size and frost bite susceptibility, etc. And we enjoyed the variations in egg color. However, in replacing old layers, we found it hard to distinguish between the newer layers and old hens. With the cost of feed, our profit margins on eggs are such that we can not afford to feed good sweet birds who are not laying eggs. Finally, after 4 years, egg production had become an economic folly and we decided to refresh the whole lot. Instead of ordering the mixed bag of heritage breeds again, we took a cue from our friend Julie at the James Ranch in Durango and decided to select birds by breed, such that we can establish an easier flock rotation. New layers this year are distinct (the Australorps are solid black, the Ameracaunas are either brown or white with mutton chops), the next chicks we get may be white or barred birds so we can tell the difference in age.
Our 43 hens spend the day patrolling for bugs, grubs and tender green things through our back grapevines. They dust bathe and rest in the shade of the spruce trees. We lug weeds out of the field by the bucket-load for them to manage. Periodically throughout the summer, we’ll let the open ditch run to water the trees; the birds always seem to enjoy an afternoon of puddle jumping and muddy worm gobbling. They eat things all day, lay eggs, and make great noises. And then they pick on each other and get broody and make even better noises. Currently we are ordering in feed from Buckwheat Growers, an organic feed mill in Minnesota. We order whole grains and use a small mill to grind grains, then mix the feed ourselves. The mill allows us to grind feed weekly, ensuring freshness and high nutrition. We are trying to find a more local source for these grains and ideally reduce our shipping costs as well as carbon footprint.
We’re grateful for these feathered ladies, for eggs, nutrient cycling, and entertainment value.