Several people asked questions about chickens, eggs and roosters. You don’t have to have a rooster to get eggs. The rooster is only necessary if you want fertilized eggs for hatching. This picture is of our dominant New Hampshire Red rooster. He is of a breed which does well in our cold winters and is descended from the Rhode Island Reds. One other benefit of the rooster is he does provide some protection from predators for the hens out on pasture. Right now we have about ten roosters. Previously we had kept RI Reds and Barred Rocks. Two years ago we began trying out several other different breeds to see which will do the best in our climate on pasture. The gent you see here is now our prime rooster. The others we kept off in the south field until recently when I picked the winner (the NH Red). The losers are headed for the table.
We raise chickens for eggs to sell ($2/dozen), we sell young hens once they start laying for backyard flocks and we also eat chickens although we don’t sell butchered chickens at this time. We have Buff Orpington, White Orpington, Black Australorp, RI Red, NH Red and Araucanas. The Araucanas are fun because they lay colored eggs – blue, green, etc. Easter Egg chickens! The others are all brown egg layers.
Red Star is a meat bird we have tried which did quite well. If we were going to do meat birds again I might give them another shot. We have also have tried Cornish x Rock, a fast growing meat bird, three times but they just like to sit around and eat until they keel over – real couch potatoes. Another loser we tried early on was black sex link but all of them were very mean so they all went to the pot. We tried two batches of Speckled Sussex but they did not perform as well as the others and the rooster was mean, but delicious.
The reason the baby chicks in that photo the other day are so many different colors is they are actually not all from eggs of the “mother” who is a White Orpington. Chickens often lay eggs together in a communal clutch and then one hen sets on them. Sometimes several hens take turns setting. So not all of those chicks are actually genetically related to that hen. They follow her around, probably because they imprinted on her as the hen who was there when they hatched. Additionally, the rooster is a different breed than most of the hens so these chicks are crosses. We’ll see how they perform. Lastly, chicks change coloration as they mature so how they look now isn’t necessarily much like they’ll look like as adults.
As to duck eggs, their eggs are okay. I don’t personally like them for boiled or fried as they have a drier taste. But they are great scrambled, in baking and wonderful for making meringues and whipped egg whites. Duck eggs tend to be very large and one of our duck hens almost consistently lays double and even triple yokers making for enormous eggs! The down side is ducks only lay eggs for about five months a year unlike hens who lay about 11 months a year. On the plus side they are excellent slug and mosquito patrol and they forage very well on pasture. Ducks are also fun for their antics – they can be quite comical and they keep the pond stirred up and aerated.
Below is a great photo of Saddle Pig with her piglets nursing in the south field today. Often the sows nurse like this while standing up and grazing in the pasture. A walking milk-mobile! :-) She has two piglets with big black spots which we think comes from our boar’s side. He probably has a little something besides Yorkshire in his background making him a hybrid. This can be very good as it results in more vigorous animals – thus the term hybrid vigor.