One of the hardest problems in successful poultry keeping is to maintain the vigor and health of the flock. Housing has particular bearing on this problem. If the laying-house is poorly lighted, has insufficient ventilation, or is overcrowded, the health of the fowls will be affected. The purpose of housing is to increase productiveness. In order to accomplish this the fowls must be comfortable.
“Yes, with this approach to farming we make decisions and put our hands to some small manipulations but the very breadth of mixed crop and livestock systems often quickly leave us behind and spread out to do their own work of symbiotic osmosis and complementary relations.”
While the heritage breeds overcome the shortfalls of the Cornish-Rock Cross (CRX) and similar modern hybrids, they come with their own drawbacks. They do not approach the rapid growth rate, low feed conversion rates, and low production costs of the CRX, but there is a lack of information as to which breed or breeds might serve as a potential alternative for niche markets. Thus, our proposed solution was to raise a variety of heritage breed chickens on pasture, to gain a sort of foothold regarding expected growth considerations and production costs.
The question of why one ought to consider raising heritage meat chickens can be approached, I think, from two different angles: farm-based reasons for the actual raising of heritage birds, and the marketing advantages that heritage birds offer for the small farmer. Heritage chickens are a distinctly niche product, and niche production is a boon to the small farm. To be sure, pastured poultry generally is a niche product, but one that is becoming more and more common in many local markets. By opting specifically for heritage birds we further differentiate ourselves and our farm.
Java temperaments, laying abilities, and meat quality have been a tremendous help for us in interesting potential new breeders. These birds are very calm and easily handled while still being a very active breed. They are excellent foragers and do well in the barnyard. Hens lay large rich brown eggs and many are good mothers. Young cockerels make excellent table fare. The size of Javas also makes them a very desirable bird. Roosters average about nine and a half pounds while hens tend to be about six and a half.
Mayfield Farm is a small family owned and operated mixed farm situated at 1150 m above sea level on the eastern edge of the Great Dividing Range in northern New South Wales, Australia. Siblings, Sandra and Ian Bannerman, purchased the 350 acre property in October, 2013, and have converted it from a conventionally operated farm to one that is run on organic principles. Additional workers on the farm include Janette, Ian’s wife, and Jessica, Ian’s daughter.
When I was a boy in the mountains of East Tennessee, we didn’t know anything about ordering baby chicks or even gave it a thought. With the help of a nesting box, or boxes, a household with fifteen or twenty hens could hatch out 300 to 500 chicks each year. We would let the hens go broody by leaving the eggs in the nest until a hen laid 15 eggs, (plus or minus 1 or 2) and the hen would go to setting on them. Often times we would put boiled eggs in place of the fresh eggs under a sitting hen until we had 4 or 5 hens setting at one time.
One of the things that has been bred out of today’s chicken is the ability to go “broody” and hatch out a clutch of chicks. Chickens nowadays will go broody, but will abandon the eggs after a few days – the brooding instinct has been bred out of them. It takes 21 days of continuously setting on the eggs by a nice warm hen for the chicks to hatch out. None of the common domestic breeds available will sit the eggs long enough to hatch them out.
Outside my kitchen window, falling leaves gather over the crude nest claimed by a chicken last June. I can no longer see the soft white under-feathers she left behind. I imagine this wouldn’t have seemed at all remarkable to the woman who stood here, at the sink, in the 1930s when this simple home was the heart of the Central Egg Company in Petaluma, California. A rusted remnant of that sign still clings to the main warehouse building. The last of the chicken houses dropped to its knees long ago.
Little need be said about the first principles in poultry raising, but a few introductory remarks about comfortable quarters for the flock may pave the way for the description of the straw-loft poultry house illustrated in sketches shown. It goes without saying that the laying hen must have comfortable quarters if she is to be expected to produce her maximum yield. Warmth, dryness and protection from preying animals are the prerequisites to comfort. The poultry house sketched here is a practical starting unit embodying all of the protection features so essential in poultry raising.
The importance of poultry-house ventilation is generally conceded, but just what is meant by ventilation and how it may be accomplished is not so well known. It is becoming increasingly evident that adequate ventilation cannot be accomplished merely by throwing doors and windows wide open to let the wind blow into the house; the air conditions within the pen must be so controlled that weather has only a secondary effect.
Warm barns make for cheery farmers but they are not so good for the animals. Furry farm creatures, especially ruminants, are suited by their natures for temperatures far lower than man finds comfortable. As has been observed widely, farm animals, given the choice, will often spend their time out of doors even at very low temperatures in winter. Animal shelters need only prevent the occupants from being exposed to draft and humidity, for it is these and not the cold, that lead to winter diseases in bird and beast.