The 2017 Standard Breed has been selected! And boy, was it a tough decision! But, we feel we have made an excellent choice, and can not wait to get our chicks next Spring. In the mean time, you can read more about the winner of this campaign the Light Brahma, and the factors that helped sway this breed in our favor!
Standard Fowl vs Bantams:
In 2015, we decided that we wanted to bring a small flock of Standard fowl on board. Mostly due to the interest of other people in standard fowl, and our desire to have a good sized meat bird-- for us, larger fowl are too expensive to maintain, and our bantams have done a remarkable job at providing us with a bounty of eggs! But they are definitely lacking in the meat department..
In fact, up to this point, our bantams have been the envy (and inspiration) of most people we know to make the switch to these hardy little egg machines. Not because of their rarity, but because of their economics and homesteading capability. We have long appreciated our little flocks of bantams, and greatly appreciate all they have to offer to homesteaders in the country and city alike.
For starters, bantams take up far less space, are wonderful foragers, and a 50lb bag of feed will stretch 2 months for a flock of 16 birds! That's just plain SMART in our book! Especially since our flock is primarily for egg production. Why waste extra resources on a standard flock, when the 'cheaper' bantam can do the same job? Try as I may, I simply could never justify having large birds soaking up extra feed costs.
Feed cost is something that would have never crossed my mind before, because I was still tied into 'conventional living.' But when you are homesteading, LIVING off of your land and animals just as our pioneering forefathers once did,-- feed is 90% of the equation when you are deciding what animals to use/raise. The next 5% is figuring out what you are going to do with the extra animals produced through breeding? Do you sell them, eat them? If you are selling for breeding stock, Are you producing good useable bloodlines for other people? In other words, are you breeding to the breed standard to preserve those traits??
Then comes the next 5%; is there a 'market' for the breed you are raising? After all, having a rare breed is fun and amazing, but if there is no interest and you can not sell your animals at a price that best represents the quality you are producing to help off-set your feed cost what is the point? Raising animals shouldn't be a perpetual hole in the ground you throw your limited amounts of money into; NOT when you are truly homesteading!
Honestly, raising rare breeds can be to your detriment. As not too many people actually want to PAY the cost of owning a rare breed. Not, when they can go to the feed store and get any 'ole' chicken for $1.50 per unsexed chick. Sadly, the so-called 'rare' chicken breeds have sadly gone the way of 'skinny jeans;' falling in and out of style almost on a whim. Which is partly why we wanted a rare breed; not relying on consumer society to tell us the 'Marran' was a homesteading fowl because it lays dark eggs. Next year it will be the Olive Egger, then who knows!
The point is, we want utility that WORKS in a real world application; today! Not a fad that is going to fade like a water color in the rain. Finding true-to-type HISTORICAL breeds was the basis of our search for poultry, locating the breeds that still being bred to the standard that helped settle, develop, and feed an entire Nation. American breeds were one of the first on the scene that were created, bred, and required to produce high volumes of eggs and meat; no frills- no non-sense. My kind of birds!
Today, with the development of the monster sized Modern Cornish Rocks to thank, 99% of Americans stopped raising their own meat or stopped supporting the local families in their area that supplied meat for the towns/cities they lived nearest to. As a result, chickens are now a sort of 'hobby.' They are bred to be the idyllic looking chickens on an old-timey painting, produce eggs for two years, then move along for some more new chicks. It's a cute and fluffy fantasy--no grit.
Real homesteaders need a bird that is going to perform across the board. A hardy animal, disease resistant, thrifty forager, good egg layer, docile temperament, and able to raise its own young without human intervention. Most of the original farmstead breeds still around today have lost most if not all of these desired features (except the egg laying ability). Hence the need for people to get involved in the preservation of Historical poultry.
Many of the breeds falling into extinction have actually fallen out of favor due to superficial factors like 'egg color', 'feather pattern', or 'comb shape', and not because they are ineffective on a homestead! The real clicncher is that, for some of these endangered Heritage breeds, if they were to finally take a dirt nap, you would NEVER be able to re-create them. Nor, would you be able to re-create the more popular breeds they helped to develop if those popular breeds ever fell out of the spotlight. Preserving a 'rare' breed not only preserves genetic diversity within the gene pool, but it also preserves the FOUNDATION of modern chicken breeds that we enjoy today.
With this in mind, most breeds of chickens originated from a 'Standard sized' breed. There are actually only a few 'natural' bantam breeds (approximately only 8!) out of the 320 known/recorded standard chicken breeds world wide. Nankins, Pyncheons, American Vorwerks, Antwerps, Seabrights, and Mille Fleur D'uccles are all natural bantams. Other bantams were created uually through a process of cross-breeding the standard fowl with a smaller breed like an old English game bantam for example.. Then, by selectively breeding those hybrids together, they would work to breed back to the original 'look' or type as the standard breed they were bred from. While some bantams were created by simply selecting smaller, and smaller sized standard fowl.
A little miffed, knowing our search was going to be difficult, I decided that IF we were going to have standard sized poultry eating up the feed bill they had better be spectacular! And I was NOT going to pander to any of the popular "Trendy" breeds.
Again. If we are going to have chickens, they are not going to be a breed that anyone can go and pick up at a feed store. The breed we choose would have to be an older breed (dating back before 1950 when MOST of the more 'popular' American breeds were established), and of course take years to locate a breeder (not a real factor, but that seems to be the case with the breeds we choose!). I did some research, and found a few breeds that were in desperate need of breeders.
Here's the list of Candidates (click on the name of the breed to go to the ALBC web page for more info.)::
Red Cap (Or 'Derbyshire' is a very old British Breed, & Supreme Egg layer!)
Coronation Sussex (A very rare color variety of the Sussex breed, that is still a very popular dual purpose bird).
Dominique (As American as apple pie, beautiful, and great dual purpose ability)
Silver Laced Wynadotte (American breed, one of the very FIRST breeds to be developed in the US; the silver laced variety is in need of more breeders to focus on good color type.)
Java (A slower growing American Breed, & primer homesteading free range fowl)
New Hampshire Red ( American breed, most have lost their size that made them suited as meat birds; some strains lay superb dark brown eggs.)
Buckeye (Very deep mahogany bird, dark brown egg layer, and amazing Free-Range Homestead fowl.)
Cubalaya (Bred from imported stock in the 1930's, the Cubalaya is a very heat tolerant breed, that does well when allowed to forage/free range on grass and insects.)
La Fleche (An old French dual purpose breed, with striking V-comb. One of the very first breeds to be used for meat production in the US. And still prized in France for their tender carcass.)
American Barred Holland (American Breed that was bred and developed to abundantly produce crisp white eggs, and meat on family homesteads).
Deleware (Beautiful American fowl, was Americas FIRST 'modern' broiler breed. Today, most have lost their meat value do to poor breeding practices.)
I tossed and turned, and contemplated for several months... a year to be exact. After all, introducing a new breed was a big decision! And it all came down to three breeds: The La Fleche, Delaware, and Holland.
One of the BIGGEST deciding factors was the environment. We needed cold hardy birds. So that eliminated some of the other candidates right away. Second. We were already pouring tons of time and resources into breeding for correct color type as is the case of the bantams.. I really didn't need another project! And the third factor that eventually ruled out the Delaware-- no hybrids. Delawares were created through hybridization, and the breeds used in their creation are still in demand today. So re-creating the Delaware from scratch would be easy.
The deciding factor between the Holland and the La Fleche was appearance. I am totally in love with the La Fleche! A jet black bird, with beetle green feathering and a crown of "horns" or "rabbit ears" to me is breath taking. I love unusual combs, and the best part is that this breed is a valued meat/egg producer that dates past the 1800s!
The Holland, on the other hand, has the appearance that most people are comfortable with. And they are also (historically speaking) a very good egg/meat producer.. though after talking with other breeders/fanciers they have lost their dual purpose ability and have sadly been bred only for egg production. Not a huge problem, since most people only want eggs any way.
Then, we stumbled upon the Brahma. It had the 'look,' the mothering ability we want in our flock, the good egg size and production other people are looking for, and one other thing... SIZE. These birds are HUGE. Roosters weigh 12lbs while hens land between 9-9.5lbs! They are a little slower growing than the commercial Cornish-Rock, but butchering at 8 weeks really isn't really a concern of ours. For months the Barred Holland and the Brahma teetered and tottered back and forth in our minds.
But with the Barred Holland being bred more and more for eggs, and less and less for size and meat, the handsome Brahma won the race by a tail feather... although I may yet keep a trio of La Fleche for my own personal enjoyment some day!
Our Breeding Goals for the "Light Brahma"
Egg production, broodiness, setting ability, and foraging ability are already the strengths exhibited by the Brahma breed as a whole. And these factors we feel will make them an excellent candidate for our homestead.
However, there is no such thing as a perfect Dairy goat, and neither is there such thing as a 100% perfect chicken! So, we are going to focus more of our attention on the long-lost meat production ability of this historical breed. We will be selecting for size, growth, and ability to fatten on free-range forage; thus requiring less feed. We expect this project to take YEARS to develop good WORKING bloodlines, but in the end we should have an exceptional breed designed to meet the demands of homesteading families in and out of our state.
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