Between my daughter and myself, the gardening magazines had no chance once the chicken magazine showed up.
Since last spring we've been telling Hannah she could have chickens this year. Now that we have a neighbor who we buy eggs from (and who we could buy pastured poultry meat from), my husband who hates chickens sees no reason for us to get them. Luckily for my daughter, the poultry are my project, not his.
I pored over the magazine with her, separately from her, and she did the same separately from me. We both circled only one in common (she circled almost half the magazine - there are a lot of pretty chickens in there), and I think it's a good choice for her. It's called a Light Brahma.
Check it out here (ALBC page) or here (hatchery page). These are huge birds that lay well throughout cold winters (a must here) and are known to be "exceptionally quiet, gentle, and easy to handle", a good trait for birds destined to be cared for by a four year old. They're beautiful too, non?
I still haven't figured out which chickens I want to get - my main goal this year is turkeys.
The ones that I'm trying to choose between are the Dark Cornish (for the meat), Araucana (for the "Easter" eggs), the Cuckoo Maran (for their chocolate colored eggs - some of the darkest eggs laid by chickens), White Rocks (good layers in the winters), and the Buff Orpingtons (good winter layers). All of these are on the ALBC website ranging from "Watch" to "Study".
ALBC stands for American Livestock Breed Conservancy, a worthy group trying to stop breeds of livestock from going extinct. It seems to be a losing battle in our increasing mono-culture society. One breed of chickens for the huge chicken factories, one breed of turkey (that can no longer even breed without human help), one or two breeds of hogs, a few breeds of cattle. Sheep and goats are taking a hit but not nearly as critically as the hogs, poultry, and cattle.
If I were selling poultry meat, I might have to go with a more "standard" (quick growing) breed of chicken - though I have my doubts about that - but since I'm raising it for myself this year, I'm free to only choose breeds that need my dollars, and those breeds are, overwhelmingly, the "heritage" breeds.
A few breeds that I've been eyeing for a few years that I'd like to get some specimens of are the Delaware, Buttercup and Lakenvelder.
But the chicken that I really want to start a breeding flock of is a chicken that is on ALBC's "Critical" list (as are the Delaware and Buttercup). It's a chicken that calls out to me for several reasons. It's supposed to have amazing flavor, be good layers of brown eggs, be cold-weather hardy, do well under range conditions, be very friendly, be good mousers (go figure on that one), and make noises that chickens don't normally make (the males can roar...). But most of all? My prickly feminist heart won out - this breed is the only American breed known to have been developed solely by a woman. Since it's in the critical category, there are "fewer than 500 breeding birds in the United States, with five or fewer primary breeding flocks (50 birds or more), and globally endangered". I would love to add another breeding flock to the list. These birds aren't sold by any major hatchery, though, so I'd have to find one of those five or fewer breeders and get my birds through them. A project for next year...
On to the turkeys...
I've wanted to raise turkeys for a few years now, much to my husband's dismay. This is my year to start with poultry, so I've got to decide between the two heritage breeds Bourbon Red and Narragansett. Since I'm wanting to start a breeding flock, I need to make a good choice this year to get a jump on it.
I want to raise "pastured poultry", poultry that is kept on pasture for the majority of the year, which makes for a healthier, happier bird, healthier land, and meat that is healthier for us. Due to our high owl and hawk population, it will likely still be necessary to pen them, but I'd like to use movable pens so that they are on pasture for as much of the year as that is feasible.
The Narragansett is in a more critical position on the ALBC page. They are reputed to be amazing foragers - a necessary quality in the type of operation I would like to run. They are also known for the excellent flavor of their meat, meat that is said to make factory "white" chickens taste completely flavorless in comparison. Add in "calm disposition, good maternal abilities, early maturation, and egg production", and I would love to have a breeding flock of these beautiful birds.
The other breed up for consideration is the Bourbon Red, an absolutely gorgeous animal. Less is known about this breed even though it is considered to be less in danger than the more commonly known Narrangasett. It is said to have very tasty meat and be an active forager.
So what do you think? Which would you buy if you were in the market for a Thanksgiving turkey?
I don't even want to have these babies in my hands until probably mid-late May, so this planning is a bit premature, but it sure is fun.