December’s Chicken

Hen with Solo Chick

One of our Americana hens has a chick that looks just like her. Since we have roosters of several breeds this is not generally a given. She had hatched three chicks in early December but only one has made it to this stage of being a poulette.

In nature a mother lays five, ten, a hundred, a thousand, a million eggs depending on the species. Only a tiny percentage of them will grow to adulthood and reproduce. The rest are food for predators in the great web of life.

A mother hen may easily lay 200 eggs in a year. If all of those came to fruition and produced fertile adults we would have the next generation in about five months time post hatching ready and rearing to begin reproducing all over again. Then there would (2+200)/2 of them producing 200 eggs each for a total of 20,200 new chicks who would in turn join their parents if there were no prey. (Note we’re pretty much ignoring the males.) In the third generation this would produce (1+100+10,100)x200 totaling 2,040,200 new chicks after two years to join the adults.

In the wild this doesn’t happen because predators eat over 99% of the offspring. In general that results in a stable population although it will have swings up and down. The result is the adults are replaced but the population is in balance – usually.

There is also disease, starvation and accidental death that cull some of those vast numbers off offspring. Winter kill culls many here in the north. Not everybody is born perfect so in reality some die young because they weren’t formed quite right and not all eggs hatch. Not all of them make the right choices: some fall off a cliff or drown in flash floods or just a pool of water.

Predators, disease, starvation, malformation, accidental death – All of this acts as selective pressure. Mother Nature culls hard so that only the best are likely to survive over time.

On the farm we are the predators. We work to keep starvation, accidents, disease and other predators at bay so that we can choose and cull the livestock. We breed the best of the best and eat the rest. I figure that about 95% of our gilts go to meat and 99.5% of our boars go to meat. The very top ones get a chance to test breed and show their stuff. The best of those get another chance. With each generation we improve our herd genetics, following the example of Mother.

Evolution works whether it is via the forces of Nature or my hand selecting each week. Cull hard, cull often.

Outdoors: 52°F/28°F Partially Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 67°F/57°F

Daily Spark:
A wonderful bird is the pelican.
His bill will hold more than his belican.
He can take in his beak Enough food for a week
But I’m damned if I see how the helican!

-Dixon Merrit

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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3 Responses to December’s Chicken

  1. Nance says:

    I enjoyed your daily spark : ) Also, I am the predator when it comes to future generations of chickens. I love my eggs! Could (and sometimes do) eat a dozen a week. On the other hand, I love watching the hens in the yard. Keep those chicken photos coming!

  2. Keith says:

    Hi Walter,
    Just wanted to make sure I was still on the email list . I haven’t gotten any farm updates in a while and miss them. I don’t know if you might have gotten stuck in the snow , kidnapped by Aliens or eaten by a Piggy. I need my piggy news !

    Thanks, Keith

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