Since education and outreach are a big part of our theme, we've decided to devote an entire page to passing along tidbits about a variety of topics. This is a precursor to those Lessons. Each lesson will then be archived so you can "catch up".

If needed, pictures or diagrams will be added as part of knowledge based lessons. We hope you enjoy! I will add a new lesson twice a month or so and look for comments or likes in the blog.  Feel free to ask questions.

I gave you a bit of a warning that I am a practical farmer.... I typically don't name farm animals or even my hens in the hen house. I reserve that for pets. I have Grand kiddos and I know they want to name a few, but I think you might be setting yourself up for broken hearts when a predator attacks or if an animal reaches old age. Obviously, it's your choice.

LESSON 1 ~ Understanding the word digestion. 5/1/2018

A practical farmer is actually a "producer". He or she manages animals with something in mind. Maybe it's a cow or goat for milk or cheese. Maybe it's sheep for wool or a hen house full of laying hens for eggs. The point is, farming is an operation that is managed with animal health, well being and comfort in mind. The healthier livestock remains, the more valued and/or nutritious will be the edible product or fiber. I understand some of the need for large corporate farms with animals in some kind of confinement, but ... I firmly believe "excessive" confinement should be avoided if at all possible. Here at Clawfoot, we strongly believe all animals were meant to live on the surface of the earth, with fresh air and natural sunlight, free to pick and choose the foods that the earth supplies.  OKAY, with that in mind,  here goes.

Terms, ......  I'm not going to look these up, but you can for yourself. Instead I'll explain each in layman's terms as best I can.

G.I. tract (Gastrointestinal tract) AKA Alimentary Canal ~ All mammals (milk producing species) and avians (birds) have a tube which begins with some kind of lips or beak and extends through the body cavity. That tube sets in motion a series of changes to food that is swallowed before it is expelled at the opposite end of the tube with a terminal opening typically called simply the vent. (the nice term). This tube is the G.I. tract. The rest of these terms are in a logical order.

Mastication ~ This is the act of chewing or grinding food into smaller particles and at the same time adding some lubricating saliva to the food mass. Some animals like chickens or other birds eat food whole and grinding occurs in the gizzard further down the G.I. tract. Saliva actually contains amylase (enzyme) which begins the breakdown of carbohydrates. More on that in another lesson.

Ingestion ~ This simply means swallowing. Dogs and sometimes kids are often known to swallow something that isn't even close to food. Such as, "My dog ingested a plastic bottle". Yikes! Animals known as ruminants are also capable of bringing previously ingested food back to the mouth so they can chew it again. (cud chewing) I'll talk more on that later as well.

Digestion ~ Thanks to enzymes, and probiotics (live microbes) that live in the animal's G.I. tract ingested food is "broken down" to minute particles or sometimes ions that can then be absorbed into the blood stream. Digestion is the breaking down of food. That brings us to Absorption.

Absorption ~ Food that is sufficiently digested is now small enough to pass through the lining of the G.I. tract. As food leaves the stomach it enters the small intestine. The small intestine is covered on the inside with finger like projections that increase the surface area. These "villi" also allow the tiniest of nutrients to pass into the blood stream to be carried where they might be needed.

Assimilation ~ When a nutrient becomes part of the animal's body it is said to be  "assimilated". Not everything that is ingested is converted to muscle, bone, hair or some organ. Some of the food is burned as energy (metabolism), Some becomes an end product like milk or eggs, and some is expelled from the body at the vent. It's the challenge to the farmer to supply adequate complete rations so the animal stays healthy and yet productive.

Defecation ~ Any food or indigestible material that is not absorbed or burned for fuel will eventually pass from the body. That does not mean that there are no nutrients left in the droppings. Most manure smells because of the continuing decomposition of the ingesta. Properly handled manure can be a valuable soil amendment and promoting a sustainable growth cycle.

Urination ~ I guess we should also add urination to our glossary. Excess water from the G.I. tract is removed by the kidneys and stored in the bladder until enough accumulates that the animal feels mild discomfort and the desire to expel the liquid. Both urine and manure contain soil building products. ALWAYS have free choice clean and cool water in front of your animals. By the way, birds do not store up water, but instead eliminate the excess with their manure.

SUMMARY ~ Read this over a few times, and you should have a basic understanding about what we typically call digestion. Food is handled much differently by different species. I'll provide some of that information in a later lesson. Click on the blog if you have comments.

LESSON 2 ~ Characteristics of livestock and pets.  6/5/2018

For this lesson, we're going to look at some characteristics of several species of animals that normally fall under the care of humans. The trouble, is the topic is so wide open. Not only are there a huge variety of animals that have been domesticated, but the reasons that we "keep" animals is just a varied as the number of species that we maintain. I guess that's a good place to start.

So, why do you keep animals? Is it because they're a pet, or for the food they might provide? I realize this potentially opens a whole discussion that some might find controversial, but people are omnivorous and as such, we do consume meat. I'll let that settle for a second and I'll list the usual reasons that we normally keep domestic animals. Clawfoot is a working farm in that we keep animals for both fun and profit. I hope that sets okay with most. I assure you we love and respect our animals.

1.   PETS ~ Companion species, like: Reptiles, Birds, Dogs, Cats, and you name it.

2.   LIVESTOCK for meat production: Beef, Lamb, Pork, Chicken and others

3.   LIVESTOCK for milk, butter, ice cream, gelato, cheese or other procuction

4.   LIVESTOCK for Eggs, fiber, leather or other by-products

5.   ANIMALS for labor or service work ~ This would include horses, and service dogs.

Those of us that love our animals often find it paradoxical that we can also consume meat and animal by-products. Never the less,  as a culture that's exactly what we do. Children and the young especially find it problematic when their "farm" animal is sold at auction.

Right now there is a cultural rediscovering of our food. By that I mean our food safety, sources and nutritional value. The topic of farm to fork food, will be another whole discussion, for now let's get back to animal characteristics. We can complete our species breakdown by tying the topic of digestion from lesson one to the topic of animal characteristics. Animals prefer different feeds based on food habits. This is just the basics: Notice each group ends with the suffix VORE.....

1.   HERBIVORES ~ Animal species that eat a plant based diet. This would include all the cud chewing, ruminant species like cattle, sheep and goats. Other non-ruminant herbivores would include horses and rabbits. They do just fine with what are called roughages. All species need adequate water and will consume more and grow faster and more healthy, when given plenty of water with their feed. Ideal food for herbivores would include pasture that is both grass and broad leaf in nature. All the grasses and broadleafed plants like the clovers or alfalfa. Free ranging livestock will pick and choose their feed as they graze. Over grazing will eventually result in less desirable plants taking over the pasture, so pasture reseeding, irrigation and rotational use is ideal. If pasture is properly maintained however, soil will actually improve when used by livestock.

2.   CARNIVORES ~ These are animals that eat primarily a meat style diet. Dogs and cats will eat fish, poultry, and other forms of meat. When given too much grain in the diet they may develop diabetes or other problems.  They can and do enjoy some plant protein when mixed in their feed, but plant protein should not be the mainstay of their diet.

3.   OMNIVORES ~ These animals eat a varied diet. They can and do enjoy both plants and animals as food sources. Swine and poultry are both good examples of animals that will eat plants like grasses and grains, but will also consume insects or flesh if it's available. Commercial swine and poultry production these days usually means confinement. I think this is probably not ideal but can be safe and humane if the cages or building are not too confining. It's a matter of how much confinement and I should emphasize we prefer little or no confinement. Animals are meant to have their feet on the ground with sun, shade and water nearby.

By the way, people are also classified as omnivores. I know all about the vegan movement, but animal protein is also healthy and safe. You can decide for yourself. I just don't appreciate someone preaching to me about how their lifestyle is better and more humane.

At Clawfoot, we believe "IT'S A PERSONAL CHOICE"!!  As long as animals are treated as humanely as possible through their entire life, there's nothing wrong with using animals as a food source. If you disagree.... at least try to respect other people's viewpoints, their lifestyle, and their right to choose. Also... if you disagree, you will likely be turned off by our "practical" approach to keeping animals. Keep an open mind and try to be tolerant of others lifestyles and food choices. Some will try to tell you that consumption of animal protein is not safe. At Clawfoot we believe that over consumption is the issue. The truth is, we need 6 types of nutrients. Specifically they are: Water, Protein, Vitamins, Minerals, Carbohydrates and Fats. Trying to get these nutrients from a single source is not healthy for the human body. We are omnivores. Try to source your nutrients from a variety and try to minimize your intake of food that might be over processed, contaminated, or not organic in nature. Again it's your choice! The purpose of this website is to educate, not to stir controversy. We'd like to have all our followers, healthy, happy and content! We're hoping our readers are also individuals most likely to spread the word about seeking health giving knowledge about diet and animal care. If you're not a subscriber please consider CLAWFOOT FARMS.

Have a good one, Uncle Bill

LESSON 3 ~ West Nile Virus 9/3/2018

Perhaps you live in an area that has seen an increase in the disease known as West Nile Virus. The virus is carried by mosquitoes and transmitted to humans that are bitten. Symptoms can vary a great deal and begin with flu like symptoms. Most adults show no symptoms at all and are basically unaffected by the virus. However, some experience dramatic symptoms and a very few individuals can die from WNV. The best precaution of course is to eliminate breeding spots like ponds, fountains and of course water troughs. I watch for the wiggler larvae in my animal water sources and dump out the water every few days if possible. Try not to let it go for a week or longer.

As far as the animals themselves are concerned, most breeds including sheep and chickens are asymptomatic. In other words the virus is in their blood but they do not show any signs of WNV. Here's the big question... Can you eat the meat from stock, chicken or eggs? The answer is there is no evidence that consumption is harmful to humans. Most of us may have already done so.

Several Universities Extension services have conducted studies on WNV and  livestock. The following is information from the University of Kansas:

Although chickens may become infected by the virus,they show few or no signs of the infection. The virus can be isolated for eight days from infected chickens. However, the level of virus in chicken blood is low and is probably not high enough to infect other mosquitos. Chickens develop antibodies to the virus within five to seven days. Thus, chickens are unlikely to amplify the WNV infection in mosquitoes. There is no evidence of animal-to-animal or animal-to-person transmission of WNV. People can only become infected through the bite of an infected mosquito, and only a small number of mosquitoes carry the virus.

LESSON 4 ~ Livestock Behavior

In my animal science classes, I frequently get questions about animal behavior. Actually, each species behaves quite differently. Most livestock species are prey species. Examples are sheep, goats, chickens, cattle and to a lesser extent swine. Most pet species are by nature carnivores and therefore hunting species like dogs and cats. If you check back earlier on this page, (LESSON 2) you can check out the differences between herbivores, carnivores and omnivores, but let’s get back to behavior.

The general public has little understanding of where their food comes from or how it is raised. This is true not only of the vegetable isle but especially the meat, dairy and egg sections of the grocery store. Of course, I can’t speak for every producer or operation out there, but I can pretty much assure my readers that the folks that homestead and raise animals for consumption love being around animals and love the country life. Many if not most, were raised in a rural atmosphere and have been around animals since they were young. That’s certainly true for me. Let me share just a part about what I have learned about animals.

Four legged prey species and poultry tend to be a pretty suspicious of their surroundings. They possess eyes located laterally on the sides of their heads which allow them to see about 270 degrees around them. This type of eye placement makes it much more difficult for predators to approach. During their waking hours most of their time is spent searching for food, caring for young and socializing. Many also spend time relaxing and chewing their cud. Almost all prey species develop the tendency to form groups. The ruminant animals that chew their cuds, live and socialize in herds of various sizes. Poultry also group together in flocks. This behavior is not only social but for protection. All these species will be much happier in a group, so don’t keep just one sheep, one chicken or one donkey. Keep a small herd, at least two or three. Never crowd animals, but keep them together if you have the space and can properly care for them.

Because of this tendency to live as a group,  predator species must try to sneak up on the flock which is now being protected by many eyes. Because of their suspicious nature, prey species are often curious or even fearful of the unknown. For instance, a paper bag that blows across a pasture full of sheep may send them scattering. Actually scattering in the case of sheep, is the wrong word, because flock animals tend to move as a group.

Ok, I could write a chapter, if not a book on how different animals behave. The idea is to learn all you can about the species that reside on your farm plot and use their behavior to your advantage. Use best housing and fencing to protect them from predators.

I am adding a story about the completed roof on the sheep pen and I added a photo illustrating the curious nature of my sheep. The photos are on the "Projects" page, under a section about finishing the roof. Send any questions you may have through the blog page or "Projects on the farm".

Talk to you soon, Uncle Bill

LESSON 5 ~ Kids and Critters

First off, Let me say that my two girls are grown up and have kids of their own, so my experience is a bit rusty with raising kids in this troubled world. I suspect kids now days have very different concerns and desires.

When I was a lad, I was raised around animals. My parents lived in town and my Mother's dad, (my grandpa) had a large poultry farm. We had dogs and cats at my folks house in town, but at the farm we had chickens, geese, sheep, hogs every year, and a horse named "Patches".

For the record, I deeply miss not getting to know my other Grandpa. He lived on the east coast, and I only saw him on a few occasions.

Having animals teaches young kids that life comes with responsibilities. I have found that kids have a natural love for animals. They WANT to be around them. It's our job (as parents) to nurture that love and desire. They will want to participate! That love of animals never goes away. Remember the old saying, "You can take the boy out of the farm, but you can't take the farm out of the boy".

I am not a young guy anymore, and right now it's Christmas morning (2018), but I still had to feed my cat and all the chickens this morning. By the way, I'm taking care of quite a few extra chickens because of the CAMP FIRE. These so called "responsibilities" are something I have done most of my life. And after all these years, I still love having animals around. Blessings from your Uncle Bill

Barred Rock

In keeping with our education theme, I have decided to be a little more systematic with my lessons. I will break my bimonthly lessons into groups of five to make editing simple. Lesson six will be about getting started with chickens and we'll see where we go from there.


LESSON 6 ~ Best poultry breeds for the beginner. 1/1/2019

Happy New Year! It's a brand new year and time for resolutions and life style changes. Perhaps you're thinking about losing weight. Or?? Maybe it's just to be happier.... BEST ADVICE?.. Keep it simple and keep it general. The reason many fail at resolutions is because their resolution is too specific! For instance, if you commit a resolution by saying "I'm going to lose 10 pounds in January." You'll likely be discouraged if you haven't lost 5 pounds in the first week. Once you're discouraged, you will lose motivation and simply give up on the whole notion. Anyway, just being happier is a much better choice.

If you want to be happier in 2019, the possibilities are endless and each day presents a new possible decision day. Having animals in your life will automatically add to your life. Critters can add to your stress, but in general they are far more rewarding than they are problematic.

OK, to my point....

I'm hoping by now you have at least considered a small flock of birds in your backyard. Besides the simple pleasure in just watching the antics of  flock of hens there's the obvious benefit of having the most nutritious eggs you can imagine.

Step one is to make sure you can keep chickens in your area. If so, how many? Can you have a rooster? And most importantly, how many is too many and which breeds should you select. Check with you local city by phone, but you will find most cities will allow small flocks. Very few will allow a rooster within the city limits. The point is, be sure to check.

If chickens are a possibility in your area, decide how many. I would recommend at least three and as many as five or six for the average household. No need to have more than that until you're sure you love keeping fowl and have a market for the eggs. Remember, you are committed to buying feed, and feed costs can add up unless you are selling a few eggs. Chickens also mean a certain amount of work and responsibility. Next time, I'll discuss housing, but for now I'll recommend a few breeds.

I have a few favorites for newbies. Here's my favorites for a first time flock;

  1. Plymouth Rock (or Barred Rocks) See photo above
  2. Speckled Sussex or other color variation
  3. Orpingtons (Buff color is easiest to find)

The reasons I like these breeds and will always have a few of each in my own flock, is because they are mild tempered and they are consistent layers. All three are good around children if handled and all lay various degrees of a brown colored large to extra large egg. The Barred Rock is probably the best layer. You may have noticed I did NOT recommend the ever popular Rhode Island Red. RIR's are a great breed but I prefer a calmer atmosphere in my coop and the Rhode Island breeds tend to get pretty caught up in the pecking order thing.... if you know what I mean.

By the way, at this is January 1st of 2019. Since it is the dead of winter finding baby chicks will be next to impossible! Hens will begin to lay again sometime in February, so take the time to get started on your coop plans. Watch for baby chicks in the feed stores in a couple months, but be sure you're ready when chicks arrive! You can also order direct from hatcheries, but most have minimum orders and other restrictions. Chicks will come next day mail and must be picked up at the post office.

LESSON 7 ~ Getting started with Livestock (Chickens)

At the end of 2018 (if you read lesson 5) I boldly declared to be a bit more systematic when writing my lesson series. I then went on to state (lesson 6) that I would cheerfully write a lesson on poultry housing. To write a lesson on poultry housing seems a bit out of order and therefore NOT systematic. Here's the deal: I need to share with my followers, my direction.

So here it is!

I want to put down my thoughts in a systematic order, so that those thoughts may eventually find their way to book form. Hopefully, you are reading a book in its infancy!

For that reason, you can see the need for chronological or at least some kind of logical order. I have read nearly every type of livestock based book you might think of... Still there are dozens more. Writing something new will be a true challenge, but most are written in a matter of fact style with similar traits and lacking "flare". The facts still need to be there, but style may be just as important. OK let's get started!

I think my series might logically be called: "Getting started with livestock" (Chicken Series). Raising chickens is easy, can usually be done within the city limits with some restrictions and its fun for anyone with that type of desire.       Uh-oh, there's a roadblock already! "That type of desire". What does that mean?

Something made you open this website or book as the case may be. I contend that you are either interested in animals, or have the desire to learn about something new or both. Chances are, it's something in your background or you've been talking with a friend and now you want to explore the possibilities. When it comes to a new adventure with chickens or other livestock, that's exactly what it is, "a possibility". You are pretty sharp to study the topic before jumping in with both boots. Yes, boots may be required!

In my effort to stay systematic I started with "getting started". Seems logical, if not chronological. Getting started implies getting ready. I suggest you DO NOT run to the local feed store today and buy a fist full of baby chicks. I do suggest you study the topic a bit, talk to people who might already have chickens of other livestock or even visit a neighbor with an appropriate size flock.

Have you ever heard the phrase "Gateway Drug"? Chickens are the gateway livestock species. Warning! Getting started with chickens may lead to sheep, goats, donkeys or llamas. If you have the room, it frequently happens.

I'm gonna let that settle in and start lesson 8 in a few days. In lesson 8, I'll get specific about how I get started each spring with baby chicks or other critters.  Thanks for sharing your time, this is Uncle Bill.

LESSON 8 ~ Spring Forward

Maybe you've made a New Year's resolution. Maybe you've made many. I can bet almost every one of us has! Usually they're about taking better care of ourselves or getting more exercise. It could be, your past resolutions have been about better nutrition too.

Keeping chickens can fulfill some of those resolutions. I'm sorry if you're a smoker, because chickens or other livestock can't help with that.

Concerning livestock, you better think it through. Keeping any livestock involves commitment. Nevertheless, having any animal for any reason provides reward. Critters give you companionship, humor, animal by-products and of course commitment.

If you don't have the stamina to take care of your animals please don't take them home in the first place. Before I get into setting up a brooder in lesson 9, let me restate the obvious. Animals need feed, water, shelter, medical attention and even human interaction. These things all take a little time and some even take a little money. The money can be offset by selling nutritious products or fiber or even meat. Nothing can offset the time. What actually DOES offset the time may be the joy the animals provide and the fun derived from the interaction. I don't know if I've talked you in to keeping animals or if I've discouraged you. I just want you to be aware, it's reward with a little cost.

In the beginning of this lesson I mentioned the health benefits. Don't let anyone tell you that eggs are bad for you.

There is scientific proof that the human body is omnivorous. We were at one time, hunter gatherers. The fact is that our bodies thrive on a variety of nutrients and may suffer subclinical symptoms without them. Eggs, dairy and meat are probably best eaten in moderation, but when they are fresh, they are definitely healthy and should be at least part of our diet. Problems are more likely to come from foods that are refined, preserved, artificially colored and poorly packaged.

The vegetarian and especially the vegan movement are not wise choices for many and those that want to eliminate meat to save the planet are not researching all the facts. At one time, millions of bison roamed the plains. Deer, elk and moose were also more prevalent. These species are all cud chewing ruminants that eat plant cellulose and produce stomach gases. They survived thousands of years with minimal or no impact on the weather. Not every square foot of any land mass is usable. Some is too steep, some too rocky, some is too cold, some too hot, some is poorly drained, and some is too wet. Land that cannot be cultivated, may still be suitable for raising livestock. This land would then be producing protein where it might not otherwise be possible. Mankind may indeed be reaching a critical mass. Anyone that truly explores the science, however, would conclude that adding some animal protein is part of the solution to our dietary needs. The “holier than thou” no meat bunch are brainwashed into believing they can solve our global problems by simply eliminating meat from the diet. Critical thinkers and researchers know better. Back to the subject at hand.

Even store purchased eggs are safe and healthy. However, if you keep your own chickens (or ducks for that matter) you will enjoy some of the finest eggs available. The truth is... store purchased eggs are usually from hens that are kept indoors and only have one food source. Even egg cartons that say "free range" only means that the hens must have "access" to the outdoors. A tiny access door to a tiny outdoor area is simply not adequate for large commercial flocks. The so-called access door simply meets the regulatory requirements. It would be as if your exposure to the outdoors was only to a small patio through a very tiny opening. It does not mean that the hens are in an open pasture most of the day. Please understand, I am not condemning large producers. Their birds are healthy and usually well cared for. Commercial producers are necessary to feed the masses. I just prefer more natural and more nutritious food in my diet. The commercial guys, do not produce the tastiest and healthiest eggs! Their hens  are fed a steady diet of bulk feed that meets, but does not surpass the needs of the flock.

Chickens need the things I mentioned above. Namely: Water, feed, and shelter. But they also need growing greens, bugs, fresh air and sunlight. Chickens are omnivores. That means they thrive on both plant and animal tissues in their diet. Commercially raised hens don't receive that variety in their rations. The nutritional quality of their eggs suffer as a result.

So the bottom line is, keep a few hens at the homestead and enjoy the benefits. They will provide you with entertainment, some exercise and some super nutritious eggs. The time to get started is now, before spriing really happens and before chicks are even available. I'll bet you're looking forward to lesson 9 about how to get prepared for those new chicks.  I'll be publishing that next. Signing off, I'm your Uncle Bill

LESSON 9 ~ The brooder

Okay before we get too far along I'm thinking subscribers might be getting a little anxious. For that reason, I'm going to give a basic lesson about what a brooder box is, and what it must accomplish. HOWEVER, building a brooder may morph into a longer lesson. I will edit and extend this lesson over the next week or so. DON'T BUY CHICKS UNTIL YOU READ THE NEXT FEW LESSONS!

All animals whether they are born or hatched have specific needs. In addition to feed, water and shelter, baby chicks need predator protection and warmth. The brooder nursery box must supply all their needs. I have been raising baby chicks since I was in grammar school. I also grew up working on a poultry farm with 20,000 hens! Needless to say, I can tell you how to raise baby chicks.

So let's start with the brooder structure itself.

First of all, consider how many and how long. If you're only going to have a small flock of birds (say under 10), you can easily get by with keeping the chicks in a good size cardboard box or large plastic storage container. For 6 to 10 chicks I would use a box approximately 2 feet by 3 feet. It's nice to have a rectangular shape so that the heat lamp can be on only one end. The chicks may want to escape the heat at times.

Usually plastic storage containers aren't quite that big and they still work until the birds outgrow the space. The more space the better, just be aware you must cover the space with some kind of secure wire and it should be deep enough that the chicks can't jump out. Jumping out will occur way sooner than you might think, even if it is pretty deep. I also like to raise the brooder off the floor somewhere between 2 and 2 & 1/2 feet. Raising the brooder means you won't have to bend over to add feed, water or bedding material.

If you have never seen a brooder, I would suggest you call various feed stores that sell chicks. Once you have them on the phone, make an inquiry to see if they have chicks in stock.  Any feed store of reputation will be keeping and selling baby chicks for their customers. Starting in the spring, they will have crowded little brooders with all the things the baby chicks need. Don't go to buy, go to look and learn. Remember these brooder boxes are going to be pretty crowded. Probably about 1/2 the floor of the brooder will be covered with baby chicks. Feed stores can crowd the birds tight like that because from the day they arrive the birds will begin to disappear as they are sold.

What you should look for is this. Check out their heat lamps and check out the bedding on the floor of the brooder. Ask yourself a few questions like: How is the heat lamp being hung above the brooder? Is the brooder fire safe? What type of watering system is in use? Could a chick drown in the waterer? Lastly, What feeder is being used and what kind of feed is it?

Okay, I'm going to come back and add to this very important section. There's much more to learn about the first few weeks of life and what the chicks need to survive. Remember, if you head to the feed store you'll learn just the basics. Don't buy your chicks yet... I have some key terms that you'll need know. Besides, if you buy chicks now, you may end up with breeds you would not choose later.

Thanks for your patience! This is Uncle Bill .... signing off.


The photo above shows newly hatched chicks just days old and huddled under a heat lamp in my plastic brooder box.

The Brooder cont.

I suppose any lesson should include some explanation and it occurs to me that the reader may get lost in some of the terms. For that reason let's start with the basics and breakdown some terms.

1. Brood ~ A brood is a family of offspring that were all born or hatched together. It usually applies to birds but could also be used for hogs. The term is the equivalent to a litter, but used for birds. It may also be used as a verb, as when a hen broods over a clutch of eggs. That hen is said to be broody when she is "insistent" about setting on eggs.

2. Brooder ~ This term can be used two ways. Sometimes it refers to a person who  "stews" over a situation or worries. That old term is rarely used in today's language. Much more common is that a brooder is any enclosure that is used to raise or house a brood. It could be a brooder box or a brooder house in the case of a large operation. Baby pigs may also be raised in a brooder house, but for pigs it is more typical to refer to their house as a farrowing barn and they stay with the sow until weaning.

3. Brooder Box ~ A brooder box then is any smaller enclosure for a small number of any type of poultry including ducks or turkeys. The key here is that its a smaller space than a brooder house and must be kept indoors out of the elements and with some kind of heat source.

A brooder box can be constructed of most any material. I have seen round or oval metal horse troughs used in many feed stores with a few hundred chicks. I have also seen smallish cardboard boxes with as few as three little peepers. You may also decide to use a plastic tub or build something more permanent out of wood.

The brooder box must have a heat source. It must have solid enough sides that chicks cannot escape and that a cat cannot simply reach in and snag a chick.  I like sides that are solid up at least 16 to 18 inches. I personally use a very large plastic tote that once held fertilizer. If you use a plastic container just be sure what ever it held previously was non-toxic. If you plan to raise a brood every year like I do, you will probably want to use something that you can use each year and then store away.

The brooder box must also have a wire breathing lid. The lid protects the chicks from intruders and prevents them from hoping out when they reach that age. Young chicks can and do escape when they are quite small. I also like my heat source to be used in only one section of the brooder box. Chicks may need the heat, but in the daytime hours they will choose to come and go under the heat as they need.

In the photo above you will notice pine shavings on the floor of my brooder. Pine is a fine material and although it absorbs manure it must be kept away from your heat source. My heat lamp is simply a 100 watt bulb in a lamp with a protected cover. The lamp has a base clamp, but I also wire it in place. If you don't have a protected cover you could simply lay the heat lamp flat on your non flammable wire cover.

I can't put the subject of the brooder box to rest until we learn the little details. For instance, in the cute little photo above, you will notice the baby chicks sleeping near exposed plastic. The truth is, the shavings should be much thicker than what you see there. I like a couple inches of shavings and then I sprinkle in a little more every few days. I mentioned that shavings absorb manure. Shavings and other forms of "bedding" also store heat and thus help to keep the chicks warm. Change out the shavings every week, perhaps more often as they get older. Chicks hatch in the warmth of spring because they would not survive the chill of winter. Because of the cold, a brooder box alone is not the whole answer.

Brooder boxes must also be kept indoors. A garage, mud room, shop or an enclosed hen house will work. Chicks obviously can't take cold wind or rain, so keep the little peepers inside where you can keep and eye on the situation. If you have questions about brooder boxes you can post them here, or on my blog page. Here's my homework assignment to go with your lesson. First decide how many chicks you would like to have in your flock and then think about how much space they will need when they're about the size of a burrito. That's how big they will be when they're about 5 weeks old. If the brooder box is large enough you could even keep them in there for about two months. I never go past two months, by then they deserve to see the whole world and join the rest of the flock. Just make sure you have your brooder box all set up before dragging home the peepers. The brooder box will buy you some time to get the hen house ready, but you can't procrastinate... They grow pretty fast! Have fun with it and I'll be writing about how to pick chicks in the next lesson. Actually, the next lesson could either be a discussion of feeders and waterers or chicken breeds. I'm going to decide in the next few days but I would love to hear your thoughts. If I were writing an actual book manuscript, I would probably stay on preparation and talk about breeds later. Hmmm. Well I hope to hear from you... Talk to you later, this is Uncle Bill signing off (2/17/19)

LESSON 10 ~ Chicken Breeds

Well the decision has been made.

As I concluded my study of brooder boxes for small flocks, I was undecided as to where to go next. I thought about it and knew it had to include the accessories and fixtures that are inclusive to a brooder box. What else to put in the brooder box, other than the CHICKS THEMSELVES? So I will discuss chicken breeds first and go from there.

First of all, let me state that like the previous lesson, this lesson may be lengthy and edited on the fly. Entire books have been written on the subject of chicken breeds alone! Just to give you an idea of the scope of the topic, there are over 500 named breeds of chicken, although many are not "recognized". At this writing, the American Poultry Association recognizes 65 breeds. For this text, I'll try to include the most popular breeds and some of the reasons you may want to either choose them for your flock or not give them a second glance. At this point, I must admit I do have some favorites, but I'll do my best to simply state the facts as I know them and not be biased, either for or against any particular breed.

By the way, it's okay to disagree with my determinations a tiny bit. Also, you have to think that who ever may have developed a specific breed may have written evaluations that depict their chickens as very desirable. You are likely to find slight variations between individuals as well.

Anytime there's a topic with such huge scope, it's at least possible to throw things into categories. For sure that's the case when considering chickens and other livestock species. There are meat birds, laying breeds and dual-purpose birds. Meat birds will be discussed last since most of my readers may not have the desire to dispatch and harvest chickens for their meat. Just be aware that all chickens produce both eggs and meat. Therefore the term "dual-purpose" can be a bit misleading. Look at it this way, its a matter of efficiency. Some breeds are better producers of meaty bodies and some are proficient egg layers. The developers of the specific breeds used cross breeding and other techniques to save certain characteristics.

I am going to breakdown the dual-purpose breeds into four groups based on their origins. This would be the place where early breeders worked to establish the breed and its specific characteristics. When a breed receives recognition, it must have repeatable traits such as body size, shape of comb and wattles, color of the feet scales, bare or feathered legs and feet or perhaps feather color and pattern. Any characteristic you might think of could be written in to the "breed standards". Even egg size and egg color may be a consideration.

The four groups of origin are;

  1.  Asian
  2. American (developed in the U.S.)
  3. European (Mediterranean)
  4. British (developed in the U.K.)
  5. Others (not often included by other writers)

ALL chickens are of one species. That simply means they are capable of breeding each other and producing fertile viable offspring. There may be different breeds, but all will interbreed and can produce hybrid chicks. ALL chickens are the result of a common progenitor that still exists in South East Asia. ALL chickens originated from Jungle Fowl. They exist is color variations but they are all known as Jungle Fowl and still exist in the wilds of Asia. It should pointed out that in the recent past century many different breeds have been developed all over the world, not just in the regions I'll discuss in this text.

I will start with the most popular Asian birds, but not for any reason. I will also go in alphabetical order, not in order of popularity. Just remember the following breeds were developed in Asia and have made their way to the Americas.

          LESSON 10 continued~ Asian Breeds

Several breeds were refined in Asia during the 1800's, but their roosts go back much farther. Most were developed much earlier. Many believe the Silkie to be domesticated and refined centuries ago. Refinement of many breeds continue to this day. The following is a list of the most popular breeds and thus they might be easier to find and add to your backyard flock. Of the five listed below, the Cochin and Silkie are currently the most common. The Asian Black has been developed as a separate breed only recently and is currently NOT recognized, but is gaining popularity.

1. Asian Black ~ This particular breed was nearly not included in my listing because it is currently not a recognized breed by the APA (American Poultry Association). I Did include the breed because it provides an opportunity to discuss a "developing" breed and comments made by the developers. By the way, one should not confuse this new production breed with the Black Sumatra which is distinctly smaller and was originally a fighting breed, now recognized as a show breed.

Researchers, hobbyists or whomever might be developing a new breed tend to do their best to select for specific desirable characteristics. However, they may also exaggerate their desirable traits in writing. A true Asian Black is an ALL black bird. Black legs, black Comb, black beak, black skin and even black meat are characteristics of the AYAM CEMANI which is the name for a true asian black originally from Indonesia. A plucked carcass of this chicken looks so black that it appears to have been burned on the grill! Because they are rare, these would be quite expensive if you could find them. I have not seen a live specimen.

Importing birds from China or other parts of the world can be problematic, so chickens often find their way here after some breeding in Europe or the U.K. Whenever this occurs some interbreeding and so called refinement occurs. I am currently seeing chicks sold at U.S. hatcheries that are named Asian Black, but they have red combs as a feature. They may also have a green tint to an otherwise dark leg. This can easily occur when a breed is not yet recognized and "standards" have not yet been written.

Anyway, even as refined in American and Europe these birds are black, or blue black and may or may not have a red comb. They are considered a dual purpose bird with all dark meat. Asian blacks are medium sized and slightly less bulky than most layer chickens. They are said to be mild mannered and only slightly skittish. They adapt well to both confinement and pasture situations, getting along well with other chickens. Being a dual purpose bird means they will provide a decent number of eggs annually and also work well as meat for the table. A decent number of eggs means between 200 and 250 eggs per year. The eggs are a medium brown in color with some slight variations between individuals. The black meat individuals may end up as a specialty item at high end restaurants. I have no knowledge if the dark to blackish flesh tastes much different than regular chicken meat. The meat is simply a novelty at this point and would be more expensive because of availability and costs involved in getting a bird to market weight.

I suspect these Asian Blacks or variations will begin to be displayed as show birds at county fairs and may eventually become standardized and recognized by the APA. I must conclude by letting my readers know that I am only relying on what has been written by others concerning the Asian Black. Additionally, Asian Blacks should not be confused with Black sex-links, which is an American Hybrid cross. Most, if not all, the breeds I discuss will be APA recognized breeds and their traits well established.

2. Cochin The Cochin is one of our very large size breeds of domestic chicken. Unlike the Asian black, the Cochin has heavily feathered-legs. The blacks, on the other hand, possess scaled featherless legs. The Cochin was brought from China to Europe and North America in the 1840s and 1850s.

Since the breed does not grow fast enough to economically produce as a meat bird and Cochins are not prolific egg layers, they are reared principally for exhibition or for pets. The breed was formerly known as Cochin-China.

Some producers keep Cochins as an "ornamental" in their flocks. Egg production is a modest 160 or so annually, but they make great mothers. This breed typically lays a very large light brown colored egg. Cochins may actually be used as surrogate mothers for other breeds including ducks or turkeys.

Cochins come in a variety of colors including Buff, Red, Brown Red, Bluish Gray or a Color called Partridge. They are a quiet and friendly calm bird which is why they have found success as pets. Even the roosters are especially calm. Since Cochins are large and heavily feathered they can be a problem in a muddy pen. If a producer is seeking a calm large and friendly addition to the flock or a hen to raise other birds, the Cochin might be a smart choice. Be aware the hens are likely to go broody more often than other breeds. Cochins are so large and friendly they can be kept indoors easily or even in a low fenced yard. They are unlikely to jump over a fence that's only a few feet tall! Caution however, a short fence will not keep out predators.

The word broody means they are showing a strong desire to "set" on eggs. They are very likely to set even longer than the normal 21 hatching days required by chicken eggs. Turkey eggs and duck eggs might take longer to hatch, but your Cochin hen is likely to hang in there until they hatch. I will discuss incubation and the entire process in a future chapter.

3. Langshan There's no good place to start when considering a discussion of Langshan chickens. Nevertheless, here we go.

The previous is an observation or statement of fact concerning their complicated history. Langshans originated from China to be sure. They are named for the Langshan district of China about 100 miles from Shanghai. Historically, we know that the first Langshans to make their way to western Europe were imported by Major A. C. Croad into England in the mid 1870's. There seems to be some confusion from that point on.

Europeans not familiar with the breed, noticed a large long-legged chicken with partially feathered feet. Since they knew the birds were from China, many breeders believed the chickens to be Cochins and began to make selective changes that ended up taking the breed into four distinct directions.

  1. The original Langshan is a long-legged, fairly large and calm bird with some feathing on the legs and feet. Early chicken enthusiasts mistakenly thought their individuals shouldn't have the long legs and began create a strain with shorter legs. That influence carried through to another English (very calm) breed known as the Orpington. The Orpington is extremely popular and will be discussed in detail.
  2. The breeders in Germany that acquired some Langshans began to emphasize the long legs. The Germans however, bred for legs free of feathering. This German Langshan eventually became known as the “Deutchman”Langshan.
  3. Another group of breeder in England,  also emphasized the long legs.  This group of breeders however, chose to lose the large breast and created a body style more akin to that of the Modern Game. These are now known as the “Modern Langshan”.
  4. Finally,  we must consider the most popular, which is the the original Langshan. These birds are still fairly long legged, possess great depth of body, and a full, large breast. In the U.K. these became known as the “Croad Langshan” in honor of Major Croad and his niece. Croad's niece carried on promotion of the breed long after her uncle's passing. I still consider the Croad Langshan as an Asian breed and descriptions written from this point apply to the Croad Langshan.

Langshans are not nearly as popular as the Cochin or Silkie. It's a shame too, because they are potentially a great little dual purpose breed. They are a tall standard size breed capable of decent egg production and abundant white breast meat. The legs and feet are partially feathered. The eggs are a rich dark brown and average "large" in size. Langshans also lay a large number of eggs and some producers claim the eggs will distinctly show a purplish tint. This is entirely possible, as I have noticed a slight pinkish tint to eggs from other breeds, that would normally be called light brown.

Most Langshans are very calm like the cochins and weigh around 6 pounds and up. Hens may easily reach to 8 pounds. Hens are not as prone to a broody nature as the cochin, but like the cochins, they do make good mothers. APA recognized colors available are; black, white and blue.

4. Pekin The little Peking chicken is only included in this text to introduce the first timer to the term "bantam". The Peking chicken is a true bantam or miniature breed. Bantams have the appearance of the full size bird in all regards, other than size. Many breeds, but not all, are available as both standard size or a bantam version. Eggs from the bantams will also be correspondingly small and buyer will find it impossible to purchase sexed chicks. Pekin chickens are quite rare although there is also a Pekin duck which is popular. 

The Peking chicken comes in a huge variety of colors and like many of the asiatic breeds has heavily feathered feet and legs. Because of their small size they do not tend to tolerate cold weather. They are very docile and calm, making them ideal pets for children. The roosters however, can be and frequently are, somewhat aggressive even when handled as chicks.

As a side note, the term sexed was used in paragraph one. At any commercial hatchery, when chicken eggs reach the 21st day and begin to hatch, technicians will exam the chicks and squeeze the vent or "cloaca". This gentle process exposes internal sex organs and the technician should be able to determine the sex of the chick. Chicks can then be sold as hens (called pullets when young) or as roosters (called cockerels when young).

All bantam chicks, regardless of breed, are so small that determining the sex would be time consuming, if even possible. Bantams are therefore sold as "free run". Free run means that the sex of the chick is undetermined. In other words, when purchasing Bantam chicks expect that about half the chicks are likely to grow up as roosters. Even when purchasing sexed full size breeds (as chicks) you are likely to find that 5% or so may be roosters. Evidently no technician is perfect.

5. Silkie ~ Silkies are very popular with poultry advocates. Their novelty appearance and excellent personalities make them a perfect keeper for anyone who loves chickens. Typical of many of the Asian birds, the Silkie tends to be a great mother, has the feathered feet and the docile attitude. In addition to the feathered feet, Silkies have a heavily tufted head. If raised with other breeds just be careful of other bullies. Silkies are pretty meek. 

The feathers on the Silkies lack the barbicels that lock feather strands together along the long feather shaft. The result is that the feathers separate and seem to be like fine hair. So fine in fact, that in the 1800's some of the ill informed tried to spread the rumor that Silkies were the result of crossing a chicken with a bunny. Ahh, I don't think so! Silkies are also similar to the Asian Black because they have a black skin. The feathers may be white, but they'll still have the black skin underneath.

APA accepted colors are: blue, black, white, grey, buff, splash and partridge. There are several other colors available such as lavender, cuckoo and red, but they are not yet recognized. Silkies are poor egg producers, so if egg production is your goal, you would want to stay away from this breed. The eggs like the adults also tend to be quite small. They do lay eggs that are a tinted brown to cream color. Silkies are slow to mature and determining sex is almost impossible until the birds reach about 6 or 7 months and begin to crow.

Silkies do make decent table fare although small and slow maturing. Sadly, they are consumed heavily in the far east because of the black skin and tasty meat.

LESSON 10 Continued ~ American Breeds

America has only been a nation for about 250 years and at first, exploration and simple survival was the task at hand. Nevertheless, by the mid 19th century, east coast settlers were beginning to breed all types of livestock including poultry. The colonists began early and the results of their efforts were breeds like Delawares, Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshire Reds and Buckeyes. Of those, all but the Buckeye are very popular to this day. The newly established United States also traded and imported many British breeds. In this text section, we'll look at nine of the breeds that we can truly call "American".

Three of the breeds are basically Red and are at least similar in that regard. Three more are barred and carry a pattern called cuckoo which was also very popular in the mid 1800's.  Examples of the cuckoo pattern would be the Barred Rock, the Dominique and the Holland. The remaining three are unique in color or may be found in numerous colors like the Ameraucana.

Later, and as a matter of progression, we will also look into some other breeds that are hybrids or crosses that are indeed American, but are new to the poultry scene and are not listed in this section.  Those will be listed last, but just before we look at the meat breed(s). They can be found in the section with the heading "OTHERS"

1. Ameraucana Way back in lesson 6, I mentioned my three favorite chicken breeds. In case you missed it, they were: Barred Rocks (A.K.A. Plymouths Rocks), Orpingtons, and Speckled Sussex. All three are decent egg laying hens with great temperament. Those two traits, temperament and egg production meet my needs. Other chicken keepers may have different criteria. My birds may be considered dual purpose, but I keep them for the eggs. Even though the bulk of my egg producing flock will always be made up of those three, I insist on having a few Ameraucanas in the mob.

The reason is simple. Ameraucanas lay blue green colored eggs. My other favorite hens lay standard shade brown eggs. Since I sell my eggs, customers always seem to get a thrill out of seeing a couple of greenish or bluish eggs in their carton. I don't make a living by selling eggs, but I do enjoy providing a healthy product for those that want quality eggs. I also enjoy the eggs myself. Selling a few eggs provides enough cash to feed my flock plus a little extra. The Ameraucanas provide some novelty in the carton. The color of the shell has no bearing on the nutritive value, but consumers don't know that, and it doesn't seem to matter. The eggs from pasture raised chickens are nutritious for other reasons. Not for the color of the shell. The average consumer in a supermarket has almost zero knowledge concerning the food they put in their basket. Eggs are no exception. By the way, that spelling is correct. It's spelled Ameraucana, with a "u".

Hmmm, I guess you could say Ameraucanas might be my 4th favorite! The temperament of the Ameraucanas is nearly as docile as the other three. I have seen some hens turn a bit aggressive to others in the flock, but its a minor tendency and establishing a pecking order is normal.

Ameraucanas are truly unique chickens. They have some traits that set them apart from other chickens and they have been  recognized by the American poultry Association (APA) since 1984.

They were almost certainly bred from South American blue egg laying breeds but were further developed in the United States. Thus after standardizing the breed, they earned the name Ameraucana from the American influence. Ameraucanas are also unique because of the feather colors you may find. These birds can be found in basically any color or combination of colors. White, Black, Rusty colored, speckled, or blends of any color you might imagine.

When Ameraucanas develop a comb, it is quite small. Their small pea like combs and wattles are nearly lacking because they possess a cheek muff with beard like feathering. The cheek muff is obvious, even on day old chicks. If the muff is not there, you're not looking at an Ameraucana. Adults have bluish tinted legs, lacking feathers. (scales are not yellow) The bottom of their feet are extremely light colored. The hens should lay a bluish hue or partially green egg to meet the breed standards set by the APA. The APA stipulates the egg should be blue, but evidently blue and green can vary. I have seen bluish green eggs many times from birds sold as Ameraucanas.

Ameraucanas also have a tail. While that may seem obvious, some of the South American birds lack tails. Their Chilean counterpart is the Araucana which lacks a tail bone completely. If there's no tail, it is not an Ameraucana. The tailless individuals are more likely to be an Araucana or a so-called "Easter Egger" which is a mongrel cross yet to be recognized by the APA. All three lay colored eggs.

Annual egg production of the Ameraucana hen is a respectable 250 eggs per year, if the necessary nutrients are supplied. Hens begin to lay eggs at about 5 and 1/2 months, some hens a bit later. The blue-green eggs are medium to large, only rarely reaching extra large. Hens tend to go broody a tad more frequently than some breeds, but the tendency is usually not problematic. In a later section we will consider how to break any chicken that may want to set on eggs. Both male and female Ameraucanas tend to be small. The standard size rooster may only weigh 6 and 1/2 pounds and even at that small size, there are small bantams available as well. All things considered, it's a great breed to include in any backyard flock. For sure your customers are not going to find bluish green eggs at the supermarket.

Personally, I keep my flock at about 24 laying hens total. I like about 4 Ameraucanas as members of that group.

2. Buckeye I have studied the Buckeye for quite some time even though I have never owned a Buckeye Hen. The Buckeye is considered a "Heritage" breed and are somewhat rare. Probably the coolest fact about the Buckeye is that the breed was completely bred and refined by a woman. Nettie Metcalf established the Buckeye in Ohio in the late 1800's. She introduced her birds at the state fair and unfortunately two other red breeds were also making their debut. The other two American breeds were the Rhode Island Red and the New Hampshire Red. The Buckeye has never received the popularity that it deserves. Nettie originally named her breed the Buckeye Red. The name, at one point was changed to the "Pea Combed Rhode Island Red". The thinking was that the name might help promote the breed's standing. Nettie began to realize that even though her breed had some standout features, it was best not to confuse other breeders with a complicated name. The name Buckeye came back and has stood ever since.

Actually, the name Buckeye makes a lot of sense for two reasons. First, because the Buckeye State of Ohio is the the place of origin. Secondly, it is also said that the bird's deep red is exactly like the so-called "horse chestnuts" from the buckeye tree. Near the end of the nineteenth century, Nettie Metcalf was the first president of the newly formed Buckeye Club.

Even though this breed is not extremely popular and commercial egg producers may not give the Buckeye any chance at all, this little hen deserves some time in the spotlight. I would hate to see the breed vanish and that's why I have included the Buckeye here. There are a few breeders and hatcheries that carry the Buckeye, so they are available. It would be unlikely however, to see a Buckeye in your local feed store.

Standout features of the Buckeye are the deep red color with blackish tail and other tips. The Buckeye also has a reputation as a voracious mouser, some even rivaling domestic cats in this regard. Egg production is not their strong point. They average about 150 medium sized brown eggs per year. Another standout feature is the Pea Comb and very tight feathering. Both features make the Buckeye a suitable breed for very cold climates. They do fine in warm weather sections of the country as well.

Buckeyes are great foragers. They need space if you can provide it, but are surprisingly friendly around people. They have yellow legs and skin. If you eventually become a breeder, I hope you might consider the Buckeye so the breed survives its tough times. A true American breed, the Buckeye was recognized under that name in 1904. The Buckeye is a great little chicken and I would hate to see it pass into obscurity.

3. Delaware The Delaware was developed some 80 years ago from a cross of Barred Plymouth Rock roosters and New Hampshire Red hens. George Ellis of Delaware was the breeder. Through some careful selection the breed has primarily evolved to a white chicken with black barring on the neck hackles. They also show black wing tip primaries and black tipped tails. This color pattern has been named "Columbian".

For many years this Barred Rock/New Hampshire cross was the accepted superior meat bird of the time. In the late 1950's the Cornish was crossed with a White Plymouth Rock (not barred). This newer crossing has become the standard for the chickens found in the meat departments across the U.S. Even though the Delaware produces an excellent meat carcass, they are still considered a dual purpose breed and egg production is quite good at around 4 eggs per week.

Delawares have a mild temperament and lay large brown eggs. Some eggs may even reach "jumbo" proportions. They have a large bright single red comb which serves them well to dissipate heat on warm summer days. They tolerate cold weather as well but a keeper might be smart to apply some petroleum jelly to that comb if frost threatens. Sadly, Delawares are less popular now than when they were first developed and finding chicks at the feed store may become more problematic.

The legs are free of feathers and yellowish in color. The white feathering and light colored skin leads to a clean light pink tone to the carcass when the bird is plucked. The same is true of the Cornish Cross, which has completely taken over the meat market. The Cornish Cross is somewhat easier to pluck and grows much faster.

I have only one word of caution concerning the Delawares. They are a large breed and if they should accidentally break an egg in the nest, they may turn into an egg eater. The habit of eating eggs is extremely difficult to stop once it gets started in any flock, regardless of breed.

4. Dominique ~ For this breed, I should point out that at first glance you would think you were looking at a Barred Rock breed. They both have the same barred black and white pattern than is known as the "cuckoo" pattern. They are of similar size and color, but the Dominique has a distinct flattened rose comb often turned up at the back of the head. The Dominique is far less common than the Barred Rock or Plymouth as the later is also called.

Although considered America's oldest breed, it's very likely that the Dominique originated from Haiti when it was an early French Colony. Haiti was once called Saint-Domingue. Still Haiti is part of the "Americas" after all. This brown egg laying chicken has been recognized by the APA since 1874.

5. Holland ~

You would probably assume that the Holland chicken is a European or Scandinavian breed, but the truth is, the breed was developed here in the U.S.A. from stock originally from Holland. That is to say, early Nordic breeds were imported, refined and finally recognized in America. Crossing was primarily with White Leghorns, Australorps and Plymouth Rocks. The crossings took place at a breeding farm in Rutgers, New Jersey. So they truly are American.

Hollands are available in both standard and bantam strains. They have a large single comb and have the “cuckoo” pattern common to the dominique and barred rock. They are presently somewhat rare and can be distinguished as a separate breed because they lay white eggs. At one time, there was a white feathered version of the Holland, but they may all be extinct at this point. For sure, the whites are far rarer than the barred versions. Concerning the barred Hollands, the hens are usually darker than the roosters. This characteristic is consistent with many barred breeds. Availability of the Holland chicken is not at all good. The Holland was bred to be a docile and large breed. Over time, cross breeding has resulted in slightly smaller birds with some slight tinting in the so-called white eggs. At least the docile personality has remained.

Hollands were becoming a popular backyard breed in the 1930’s when white eggs were all the passion. They were originally brought to the public eye in 1934 and recognized by the APA in 1949. In the early days of the 20th century, consumers were convinced that white eggs had a more delicate flavor. Conversely, consumers now, think brown eggs are richer and more nutritious. Supermarket shoppers today will often pay more for brown eggs. Of course, neither concept is actually true. Egg flavor, yolk color and nutrition are largely a result of each chicken’s diet and access to pasture.

6. Jersey Giant ~

The Jersey Giant chicken was developed between 1870 and 1890 by John and Thomas Black in Burlington County, New Jersey. A suitable second name for the Jersey Giant would have been the “Gentle Giant” as these birds are not only large, but extremely mellow. Most Jerseys are likely to follow behind their keepers like a pet would. Mature hens usually weigh in at 10 pounds, making them as large as the roosters of most standard size breeds. It is said that the Black brothers were selecting to create a chicken breed that would rival the turkey as table fare.

Originally the breed was known as “Black Giants”. The name did not come from the fact that the breed is black, which many are, but from the name of the two brothers that were the original breeders. Dexter P. Upham of Belmar, New Jersey, is credited with changing the name in honor of the state of origin. Mr. Upham was also an early breeder interested in improving Black Giants. The  American Association of Jersey Black Giant Breeders Clubs was created in 1921 and the shortened name “Jersey Giant” was officially adopted.

APA written standards for the birds include a gigantic frame, single comb, yellow skin color, relatively rapid maturity, good vigor, and fine foraging ability. Jersey Giants typically have a black or mostly black eye. They were recognized by the American Poultry Association (APA) in 1922. Today, Jersey Giants are accepted in the APA Standard of Perfection in three color varieties – black, white, or blue. The term blue is a gray lavender, similar to colors seen on the Lavender Orpington, which will be discussed later,

Jerseys are excellent meat birds with their great body size, but also lay a fair amount of eggs and are today considered a dual-purpose breed. Young birds grow relatively quickly but compared to modern “meat birds”, Jerseys don’t make sense commercially. Most take up to 8–9 months to reach a harvestable size with good body proportions.

Their eggs are extra-large in size with a brown color leaning to a light cream. Eggs tend to be large or extra-large, but not the Jumbo size that you might expect. Since Jersey Giants are usually 30 percent larger than other standard chickens, you might expect the eggs would be also. Such is not the case. It is interesting that when incubating a Jersey Giant egg, one may notice the egg takes one or two days beyond the normal 21 for the egg to hatch. Most poultry keepers will find they love the Jersey Giant. Friendly, large, great eating and decent layers are adjectives to describe the “giants”. Sadly, because they do often consume more feed than other breeds and may need more space, they have fallen out of popularity.

7. New Hampshire Red 

New Hampshire Reds were developed on the East Coast of the U.S. toward the end of the nineteenth century. Early breeders were attempting to improve growth rates and meatiness of existing breeds without sacrificing egg production. These new “Reds” were derived from Rhode Island Reds and crosses, breeds which will be discussed later in the text. New Hampshires lay a decent number of large brown eggs and the feathering is somewhat lighter in color than the more chestnut Rhode Island strains. The two are recognized separately by the American Poultry Association.

New Hampshire Reds have yellowish legs and skin. They have modest single combs making the breed tolerant to cold weather. Their feet and legs lack feathers.

Concerning behavior, I have found the breed to be slightly more docile than the Rhode Island hens but, perhaps a bit noisier, especially when young. The differences mentioned could just be individuals in my personal flock and some keepers may come to slightly different conclusions.

8. Plymouth Rock/Barred Rock ~

This American breed found it beginnings along coastal Massachusetts where mid-nineteenth settlers began by trying to establish a barred feathering and clean legged dual-purpose breed. The original name was drawn from the location of the landing point of the original British settlers. Plymouth Rock chickens appeared in substantial numbers around 1849 making it one of our earliest American Breeds. The black and white bars are of equal size on the Males and the black portion is slightly larger on the hens. Hens therefore, may appear darker in color than the roosters. There is also a white version of the Plymouth Rocks. Of course, for the white birds, the name “Barred Rock” would be inappropriate. Currently, Barred Rocks are arguably one of the most popular breeds seen in backyard flocks.

Plymouth Rocks are available in both Standard size and Bantam versions. The full-size Plymouths are slightly larger or at least appear fuller than some other breeds.

Barred Rocks are a meaty and hearty breed. They are docile and very good egg layers. This breed is one of my personal favorites for both their personalities and their production potential. At the present, I have 7 Barred Rocks in my flock. The barred color pattern is not uncommon to other breeds and is most frequently called the “cuckoo” pattern by chicken folks. The pattern of random barring of two colors is typical of the common Cuckoo bird. Dominiques, Hollands, and Cuckoo Marans share this pattern but may have a different comb or lay a distinctly different egg. Plymouth Rocks have a large single comb that may need some protection during extremely cold frosty weather. That said, these chickens are fairly tolerant of both extremes of hot or cold. Barred Rocks are a breed that I would strongly recommend for first time chicken keepers, especially if egg production with minimal worry is the goal. Barred Rocks forage well and mix well with other docile breeds.

9. Rhode Island Red ~

This particular breed is perhaps the all time favorite of backyard chicken keepers, although I’m sure that would fire up arguments across the country, Nevertheless, I prefer a very docile flock and I’m willing to sacrifice a bit of production to maintain the calm. Make no mistake, the Rhode Island hens are very productive. Production in most cases will match or exceed almost all breeds except Minorcas and Leghorns. My preference is to keep Plymouth Rocks instead, which usually equal the production levels of the Rhode Island red without all the pecking order shenanigans.

I know a lot of people who keep backyard flocks and almost all of them have at least a few Rhode Island Reds. Rhode Island chicks will almost always be among the first to appear in the local feed stores. Here in California, they usually show up by the end of February, incubation may be much later in colder climates. I certainly don’t mean to be too critical of the breed. They truly are, pretty wonderful and you may find some individuals that are not quite as aggressive to other hens. Bantam Rhode Island chickens are available as well. There is also a chicken called the Rhode Island “White” but they are unrelated and currently quite rare.

Rhode Island Reds are a dark chestnut red, often with black tail tips and other blackish features. When Rhode Island hens and lighter colored New Hampshire hens are side by side, it’s easy to make the color distinction. These hens do not tend to go broody, just sticking to the business of laying large to extra large brown eggs. Rhode Islands also possess clean yellow legs, yellowish skin and a single comb or rose comb. If some  readers have picked the Rhode Island as their favorite breed, I would not blame them. Certainly, they lay a few more eggs than the New Hampshire reds.

Because of their tendency for bravado, Rhode Island hens may fall prey to predators. Roosters especially tend to think they’re pretty tough. Sometimes a rooster of any breed may out bluff a dog, but sooner or later, up against the wrong dog, that’s a battle the chicken will lose.

If you happen to have a Rhode Island rooster, I would keep small children away. Not to  pick on the Rhode Island breed exclusively, common sense should tell you that a mean rooster can make kids hate chickens and literally terrorize them. Sometimes that hatred will carry on into adulthood. Keeping Rhode Island Reds can also be very rewarding. Rhode Island Reds living alone exclusively with other Reds do better than mixing with more docile chickens. It’s always a good idea to provide enough space for any breed, it may be especially true for the “pushy” Rhode Island Reds. I will also be discussing the ritual of pecking order in a later lesson called “Chicken behavior”. I started this Rhode Island commentary stating that Rhode Island Reds may be among our most popular breed. I hope I haven’t totally destroyed that image.

Okay I'm gonna take a break here and gather my data. I'm signing off for now. My discussion will continue next, starting with the Mediterranean breeds.

 Your Uncle Bill signing off.

4 thoughts on “Rural Life Lessons”

  1. Nice work Bill. I particularly like the lesson section. It is nice to have an overview of points to talk about when sharing information about animals and the various ways they are in our lives.

  2. Hi there! I know this is kinda off topic but I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest writing a blog post or vice-versa? My website addresses a lot of the same topics as yours and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other. If you’re interested feel free to shoot me an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Fantastic blog by the way!

    1. Hmmmm…Not sure what you have in mind. Let me check out your web-site/blog or whatever and we might be able to collaborate?? I’m pretty busy as I am a contributing writer for a couple of farm magazines and a college professor. We’ll see … Regards, Bill

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