As spring makes its entry (with a bit of difficulty as winter refuses to exit), one of the things to do on our list is to add to our flock of chooks. You may be thinking of doing the same or you are going to start keeping backyard chicken for the first time.
We now have 2 that are not laying very well anymore and we’ve had a few different breeds over the years. So I thought I’d share our experience of the breeds we’ve had.
The first 2 we got were point of lay Isa Browns. They are a commercial breed which lays super well for the first year or so and then quickly taper off and die (or have serious health issues) not long after. They got on really well together but they could die a hole that could reach the other side of the Earth if you let them! Isa Browns are very curious and very friendly (at least to us who feed them!). You can pick them up easily and they will feed off your hand. They eat almost anything; mash, pellets, grains, scraps, greens, grass, worms, etc. So we have Chubby Cupcakes and Luke Skywalker…
After a year or so, we decided to add to our flock and got 2 more. One was black and one was white. They were not purebreds but I am guessing they were Black Australorp and White Leghorn respectively, crossed with Isa Browns. The black chook was the friendliest chook ever, even friendlier than the Isas. We thought she acted more like a dog, an obedient one that heeled. The white chook was totally opposite, a little flighty and very reserved so it was not easy to pet her. They both laid well, as well as the Isas. Now we have added Rainbow and Hedwig. Unfortunately, Rainbow was too friendly and got too close to some humans which broke her leg. We only realised that when she wasn’t running away when 2 Isas were pecking here.
That brings us to the pecking order. We weren’t prepared for what was to come when we introduced the 2 new chooks. The 2 Isas were vicious! Very soon, the new chooks’ combs were bleeding. During the day, we tried to separate them but at night, there was only one fox proofed house. So in the morning, if daylight beat us to letting them out, they would be attacked in the chook house. We resorted to putting pieces of foam in the chook house as the Isas loved pecking/eating that! We did a lot of other things and thankfully, we got over that period with all chooks alive.
But coming back to Rainbow, her leg was healed after we kept her away from the flock and in the laundry for a while. As I didn’t know better then, I didn’t put a splint on her leg and so she now has crooked legs (the other leg gave way after too much hopping around with one broken leg). And so she was ‘weaker’ than usual. Hedwig outlived her by at least a year.
Chubby Cupcakes was the first to go to chook heaven. Then Luke followed a few months after. Hence we decided to ‘top up’ our flock again. It was another 2 Isas. And then later, we got 2 creamy feathered ones, Oats and Barley. They had mostly white feathers but black feet. According to the breeder, they were black, white and brown crosses. We loved them. They had a temperament between Rainbow and Hedwig. They didn’t suffer as much in the pecking order as Hedwig was the oldest but the most gentle. The new chooks were also a majority as our friend got 2 at the same time and housed them with ours while they went on holiday. All the 8 chooks we’ve had so far were purchase when they were at the point of lay which I believe is between 20 – 25 weeks.
Then we got adventurous and decided to get purebred Black Australorps. We got 2 when they were 10 weeks old. As this breed is larger, at that age, they were just slightly smaller than our other chooks. They needed a special feed (medicated) for a few more weeks and we had to keep them separate from the older chooks for a while. After what seemed like a long time, they started laying. They laid well but they were not the efficient laying machines like the Isas. These Black Australorps eat a lot! And they were also not as friendly as Rainbow and very heavy to pick up as they are good layers as well as table chooks. It was also the first time we experienced a broody chook!
We have decided not to get Isa Browns anymore. We love the whites and creams but we might try a different breed this time. Maybe Araucana, Sussex or Wyandotte? Here’s a good informative site on the characteristics of the different breeds.