Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Raising Heritage Birds and Establishing a Breeding Flock

One of our successful farm efforts is found in our hen house.  Over the last nine months we raised 100 meat birds and more than ten laying hens.  We harvested many of the birds, sold some and have some living happily in our hen house.  While learning about chickens and raising our meat birds, I learned about heritage breeds.  Did you know that farm animals face extinction just like wild animals?  With our food supply being mass produced, the animal breeds chosen must meet the standards for production.  The desirable qualities for animals of the past don't always translate to large scale food production.  As a result, breeds are being lost.  Last year, the idea of farm animals facing extinction was totally new to me.  I thought farm animals were farm animals; black and white cows, pink pigs, white hens, brown horses.  As you can tell, I had and still have a lot to learn.

If you are as new to this farm thing as I was, perhaps, you may be interested to learn about heritage breeds as well.  The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy does a great job on education.  Slow Food International is also an organization that does a great job on education.

As a result of learning about heritage breeds, one of our plans for this year is to start two breeding flocks.  It may be a lofty goal but we are doing our research and making our plans.  This spring we intend to start with a straight run (that means a mix of boy and girl) of Buckeyes, a heritage breed of chicken that is on the threatened list.  We will have to separate our mixed bag of hens and roosters from the new chickens.  We'll probably cull the older birds as the new Buckeyes begin to lay.  We plan to go into next winter with at least fifteen Buckeyes.  Next spring we hope to be enjoying a new flock of chicks from our own chickens.

In addition to the chickens, we also plan to purchase a straight run of Bourbon Red turkeys, another heritage breed. The Bourbon Red is on the ALBC watch list.  We are still deciding how many turkeys we need to start a flock.  We'd like to have a couple of birds for the table this year with at least two hens and a tom for breeding. 

Going to the grocery store and buying a couple dozen eggs and a five pound bag of frozen skinless, boneless chicken breasts would certainly be easier.  As we've discovered with our other endeavors, the start up costs are greater but the investment is worthwhile. I'm excited about the idea of preserving a breed.  I'm excited about linking our farm to history.  I'm excited about laying the foundation for birds that will be part of our farm for years to come. 

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