Tips on Keeping Dual Purpose Chickens

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADual purpose chickens were selected and developed to be an efficient producer of both meat and eggs but they can do much more than that. If they are allowed in the barnyard during the day they help keep the insect population down as well as eliminate small rodents that are found.

Many people however misunderstand the function of these useful birds and seem to go to two extremes. This can mean total confinement, which they are less suited for than many commercial breeds, or total freedom which means they will feed something other than YOU! Anyone seeking to keep dual purpose birds needs to remember the principles they were developed for as well as the nature of predators to take an easy meal when they see one. For an owl seeing a dozen Plymouth White Rocks in an unenclosed pen it’s akin to hanging out the “Buffet here!” sign. The birds are not only unprotected but easy to see.

A fenced area of some sort is ideal to keep the birds safe from roaming dogs, coyotes, bobcats, foxes and a wide range of other animals looking for an easy meal. Even with this you can expect to lose an occasional bird to hawks, owls and other winged predators. Once a predator finds an easy meal source and many wild predators will return until the food source is gone.

In past and present chickens left to roam a barnyard have the relative protection of the buildings and people along with the bugs, weed seeds and other treasures that feed them as well as make them valuable to homesteaders! Use caution in letting them roam in your garden as they often will harvest as they roam!

Along with letting the birds out during the day it’s important to bring them into an enclosure at night. This habit can be taught early if you raise them because you bring the grain. As they mature simply bring the same bucket you feed with and call them, giving them a treat inside the pen in the evening an hour or so before dark. Normally whatever they don’t eat then they will in the morning when they wake before being turned out.

It takes little time before they begin automatically returning to their enclosure in the evenings, providing there’s shelter and plenty of roosting space. Nesting boxes should also be available as often hens will get into a routine of laying in the morning. This assures you don’t have to wander the barnyard searching for eggs and wondering how old they are, although you may find an occasional nest. It also keeps skunks and other creatures from dining on the eggs if your chicken coop is sound as it should be.

Another option is a portable pen which the chickens go into at night. The trick here is not to move it very far or they “get lost” and don’t recognize it as home. Still another option are portable pens the chickens are in all the time, typically with a shelter area and nest boxes, solid wire sides and top and often a bottom as well. With this option the birds can scratch and hunt for bugs and get forage then are moved down to fresh ground. This can be more time intensive but can be an option for the right area. If made on skids a good sized pen with shelter on one end can be moved with a garden tractor or four wheeler, while a pen for just a handful of birds is usually smaller and can be moved by hand.

Make sure while planning mobile shelters as well as free ranging to always have water available for the birds. Use caution and have a log or board secured over livestock tanks. Some hens perch on the sides to drink, get bumped or lose their balance and for lack of being able to get out of the tank due to the sides they drown. This is a tragic loss of good birds that can be prevented with a little thought.

Dual purpose birds were developed to be able to forage and work best in that capacity. They can be much lower from a care standpoint than confinement birds but still need some care and attention to detail to insure they have a long productive life.

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Good Choices for Homestead Chicken Flocks

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen selecting chickens for home food production it makes a difference if you are seeking eggs, meat or both. For most homesteaders and small farmers there is little more enjoyable than chickens that produce eggs for Sunday breakfast as well as growthy fryers for dinner. This leaves the choices mostly to the larger breeds developed for doing both.

Some people have a preference for white or brown eggs or for the skin color on meat. Here in the US it’s said yellow skinned birds are more favored than the white skinned “English” breeds. Another consideration if raising meat birds and hatching eggs to do so is the temperament of the roosters. There is no excuse for a mean rooster and those that are can easily become Sunday dinner themselves!

For the purposes of dual purpose with a focus on not only producing eggs and meat but also foraging for part or most of their food, these are the breeds I recommend and favor.

Sussex chickens are white skinned brown egg layers that are hardy. Difficult to find in the “light” or “red” colors here in the US they are more easily found in the speckled variety. These are unique and personable birds that have wonderful temperaments, straight combs and each one is unique due to the dots on their feathers, seen as they mature. Often young chicks can look as if “iced” with white drizzled on them. Eager foragers that were developed for the farm the darker colors help protect them from predators during the day as they seek food in the farmyard. They are a “threatened” breed with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

Plymouth Rocks come in several varieties that sometimes are represented as breeds including barred rocks or white rocks for example. Among the other varieties are buff, partridge, blue, Columbian and silver penciled rocks, each with distinctive and beautiful coloring. They are hardy birds that grow well and lay brown eggs. These are more numerous than many of the other breeds but many have been “industrialized” so the original farm type is less common. Large size is needed with many of the breed being used as a crossbred for “Cornish rock” or game hens.

Wyandottes are another breed that have a long history in the US as a medium weight bird with rose combs that are less susceptible to freezing then the Rocks. Occasionally a single combed bird is hatched from rose combed parents but these should not be kept as breeders. For those who like a rainbow of colors these come in white, buff, Columbian, golden laced, silver laced, blue, silver penciled, black and partridge. They’re fast growing normally docile birds.

Brahmas are a delightful large bird with hens up to 9-1/2 pounds. Brown eggs and a small comb with feathering in light, dark and buff this is a bird that photos just don’t do justice. They are feather footed, often not favored for farm settings, but their gentle nature allow withstanding cold weather well. They do mature somewhat slower as they are a large breed at maturity and often favored for heavy roasters for the table. Not quite as prolific in the egg laying department as the other breeds these are still a nice large breed to have even if just a few to enjoy in the flock!

New Hampshire is a somewhat new breed with a deep body that has room for meat production as well as brown eggs. They are red in color with a little black in the tail. Long a favorite on small farms these are lighter colored than the Rhode Island Red.

Rhode Island Reds and white offer two colors that may be single or rose combed and have long excelled as a good layer of eggs for a family. Some roosters can be aggressive but normally these are quiet birds that may show traces of black in the tail and occasionally on the wing or body. From a breeding standpoint these should be not used in a program.

Araucanas and americaunas are distinctive for their “ear muffs” and sometimes beards that are visible from a young age. Their appearance is not the only distinctive quality about these birds as they also lay colored eggs in green and blue shell colors! These are hardy birds in a rainbow of colors that are active foragers and quite willing to do for themselves.

Orpingtons are a white skinned brown egg layer that matures at larger weights, about 8 pounds for hens with roosters a couple pounds heavier. Available in black, blue, buff and white these excel as a meat bird and were brought from England over 100 years ago. There was a boom for the breed when the commercial broiler ad roaster market demanded the larger sized birds but when that tailed off so did the popularity of the Orpington. Chicks can be somewhat passive and if raised in a group with other breed care needs to be taken to insure they all eat.

Dominiques were the bird of choice 100 years ago for their ability to raise a good meat bird, forage for food instead of relying on expensive grains and lay enough brown shelled eggs for a family. They were also expected to set and raise their own chicks to insure a steady supply of young birds for the table as well as replacement layers for the following year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABuckeyes are an American breed that has been likened to feathered cats of the barnyard for their fondness of mice. This is a breed that is critically endangered according to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. This is a larger breed with a pea comb that leaves less to frostbite in cold weather climates. They are an active, free ranging breed with hens about 6 pounds and laying medium sized brown eggs. With a history dating back to Ohio in 1896 this breed has survived due to a handful of people who appreciate their hardy characteristics.

While many search for the dual purpose characteristics of meat and eggs it must be remembered too that these breeds serve another purpose as foragers. They help control bug populations as they seek morsels and should a mouse cross their path they will show you chickens are NOT vegetarians!

These are wonderful birds that can keep a family fed with basic care and TLC.

Keeping Drains Cleaner

Small differences can save big money when it comes to preventing repairs for clogged drains. Whether in the sink or shower, as well as drains in the rest of the home, it makes for less expense to use some simple daily routines.

Many people swear on baking soda to keep drains smelling fresh. However, it also pays to limit the amount of kitchen waste that goes down the drain. Grease, excessive food particles and many other items were not made to be in your drain system or the septic tank or sewer. The hamburger grease, bacon drippings and other greases and oils should be kept AWAY from your drain!

In the shower don’t allow clumps of hair to make it down the drain where it becomes a bigger drain that eventually can keep water from getting through effectively. Use caution in dropping small items down the drain such as the covers to disposable razors. Hair in the bathroom sink is another. A damp paper towel can pick up the hair dropped in the sink and on the counter and be composted.

Keep drain spouts and gutters clear of leaves and debris. This allows better water flow and prevents the down spouts from getting clogged with leaves. Like the hair these can be put into a compost area and turned into something good for your garaden.

For minor clogs many people use a plunger but take care that you aren’t compacting rather than eliminating the clog. This makes a long term difference! A small “snake” can be purchased inexpensively and often will break up small clogs.

Prevention is always better than curing a clog once it happens!

Safety Pays for Fall Trips in Rural Areas

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFall travel is a wonderful time to save a little money as well as see some spectacular sites. Many people enjoy trips to watch the fall leaves or see wildlife but remember that this also means safe travel, for both you and other motorists.

Pay attention to the road and what is going on around you. If you enjoy the country sights during the fall remember there are many who make their living in those country areas. Slow down and be aware of slow moving tractors, combines, grain trucks and other farm equipment that base their livelihood on what is harvested this time of year. If you are in too much of a hurry and your Toyota meets a combine you will lose.

Farming is among the most dangerous of professions anyway – give plenty of room to farm equipment. Don’t assume the farmer is going straight – or is doing it just to slow you down! They may have a field across the road with the only gate a half mile up the road.

Another possibility you may encounter is large livestock trailers, from stock trailers to semis. A trailer loaded with livestock is a lot of weight, and it’s weight that moves! Don’t pull out in front of them – what you think is a safe distance is not enough room for the loaded rig to stop if your vehicle should stall.

Another possibility in rural areas is that of meeting with livestock and/or wildlife. Again – slow down, take your time. A healthy travel vacation means enjoying what’s out there and that means even the unpredictability of farm life. Cows can give the impression of laziness when grazing in the field or laying in the shade, but a cow that gets out of the field and panics, or calves that break through a fence can move faster than you think. Horses, also, can change direction incredibly fast and too many people do not give them room. Many people are killed and injured every year because motorists drove up on a horse without caution. I’d had people that when the horse is spooking at something the motorist cannot see actually HONK at the horse – believe me that does NOT help the situation! Then there’s a spooked horse that now is afraid of the other thing,

Deer are a major hazard every year not only in urban areas but rural ones too. Some areas have wild hogs, elk and even turkey or coyotes can cause a problem if the motorist panics and swerves.

For many people safe travel comes to just watching speed, being aware and taking your time but vehicle maintenance makes a difference also. Before heading out on your fall travel make sure your vehicle has fall maintenance done. Byrne Automotive, a family owned service center in Gorham NH, has these tips for safety before you head out to view the beautiful fall foliage:

1.Check hoses and belts.

2. Check brake pads, replace if needed.

3.Check brake fluid

4. Check transmission fluid

5.Do a visual inspection of the car including tires. Insert a penny in the tread – if you see most of Lincoln’s head there’s not enough tread for safety.

Enjoy your fall travel – but do so safely! Proper vehicle maintenance and driving is important.

5 Top Rabbit Breeds for Homesteads

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen selecting rabbit breeds to feed a family the individual must always be considered. There is good and bad in many breeds or they would not still be in existence. The breeds for commercial raising are limited because of the demand for white fryers and a penalty for colored furs; this eliminates all but a very few breeds. However, as a homesteader you are not bound by this because it is you that will use the meat and, hopefully, make use of the pelt as well so as to not waste what is provided.

When you are looking for home food production these rabbits can also be good for showing as well as, for many, pets. Because for efficient production of meat they should be 5-6 pounds by 4-5 months it eliminates the small breeds. The dominance here is the larger 8 pound plus mature animals that have decent sized litters, raise them without a great deal of pampering and for those who are unsuited for show or breeding, provide a family with clean, low cost meat for the freezer. As long as there are hungry people there’s no reason for “overpopulation” of rabbits. Additionally, by using them for meat it guarantees they won’t be mistreated or turned loose to fend for themselves by placing in a poor pet home.

REX were developed for meat and fur production. They have a soft, plush fur that makes it ideal for crafts as well as for shawls or other products you can make at home. The Rex is typically 8-10 pounds at maturity and with good feed can produce a litter six times per year. This takes top management breeding her, when the kits are a month old rebreeding her. At 5-6 weeks she is removed from the litter so she has 2-3 weeks to rest before the next litter is due. A good homestead rabbit should be able to maintain this with a minimum of issues providing *good* management is given! Rex are normally easy going rabbits and come in a wide range of colors from the recently accepted amber to blue and broken (or spotted) patterns. More recently the otter has been expanded from just black to include blue, chocolate and lilac colors.

AMERICAN CHINCHILLA Developed in America for food and fur this normal’ furred rabbit has a deserved reputation as a good mother. With a 9-11 adult weight she can produce 5 pound fryer rabbits by the time they are just a few months old. The beautiful color of the chinchilla breeds is actually developed with rings of color on each hair, visible when you lightly blow into the fur. The disadvantage to this beautiful breed is they are critically rare so it can take some effort to find them. They still do well what they have done for nearly 100 years produce a family with food.

NEW ZEALAND Long considered THE meat rabbit the white variety is the most common rabbit in the 8-10 or so pound size. If you see a normal fur white rabbit chances are it’s New Zealand. Less common is the red and black New Zealand with blue and broken black being developed for those who aren’t commercial and want more than white fur. From a commercial standpoint the white fur takes dye the best, but from a home-raised standpoint artificial dyes don’t compete with natural colors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGIANT CHINCHILLA This is a large breed of up to 16 pounds with the chinchilla coloring, developed for the larger size that can carry more meat on a wide frame. The breed is American made with a docile temperament and good mothering abilities. Like the American Chinchilla they can be hard to find. Although more numerous they are still recovering from low numbers that threatened to make them extinct.

SATINS. My experience with Satins was less than satisfactory due to poor breeding ability on the stock, but it remains they’re a large, beautiful fur breed. Like the Rex, a recessive gene alters the coat and once you see a Satin in full bloom you won’t forget it! They have a beautiful natural sheen that sparkles with deep, rich colors to the fur. They are a good sized breed, many say a little more temperamental but this could be certain lines also.

Other breeds that can work include Californians, Americans, Beverens, Sables, Cinnamon, champagne de argent, palominos and many others. Look for those that mature over eight pounds.

Whichever breed you choose get from a good breeder, ideally one who keeps and selects for animals that exceed in situations you have. If you will be raising them in outdoor hutches it makes sense to select rabbits from parents who were raised in that environment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATell the seller what you are looking for if you want to show it’ll mean a little more expense sometimes especially with the more popular breeds. If you want strictly home meat production then seek one that is good for breeding with a family line of good conception, good mothers, 8-10 kits per litter and raising those kits to weaning. A doe that has 7 per litter is a better bet than one that kills every other litter.

With that in mind, you are time and money ahead to cull any animals with bad attitudes, poor mothers and bucks that consistently sire small litters when on a good program. There are some does that become hormonal and when they have babies get defensive. This is different from the animal that bites every time you reach in the cage.

Select and keep what you like. Even if you show, if you like the offspring of a certain rabbit don’t cull just because a couple judges don’t like her. YOU feed and care for her, you pay the feed bill and you have to look at her every day! At the same time give consideration to comments given if you show because this can also help your goal of meat production. While toenails and white spots don’t make a difference the strength of loin, width of shoulders and general width all the way down DO make a difference. If you think from a practical standpoint that is where your meat is the muscle.

Don’t think just because you’re raising for food you can feed low quality feed and get good production. Good quality care and feed is needed for production. Just because a litter is slated for food production doesn’t mean using cheap poor quality feed and little care if you do you may end up disillusioned and with nothing for the freezer. A bag of low quality feed can be $10-12 for 50 pounds; top quality is just a few dollars more.

Good care means good food. Don’t believe the claims rabbit tastes just like chicken either! You will be disappointed. Rabbits are leaner and need to be cooked differently than the higher fat foods we’re used to.

The rabbit is an amazing animal. A good doe on good management can produce over 200 pounds of meat per year in an area of a small storage shed. It’s best to have three or four does and at least two bucks. Focus on quality feed, quality care and production and a rabbit can produce more than you think for your freezer. Treasure them!

Selecting the Right Sheep Breed For You

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASelecting the right sheep breed starts with what do you want the sheep to do? With the answer to that question it directs your answer while eliminating those who don’t do so well at what you want.

For example if you’re looking at showing in open market lamb competition you might get away with a Hampshire or polled Dorset but your primary choice will be Suffolk. That is what excels in the show ring. However there may be some arguable exceptions. A small sized youth may be more comfortable and learn more with a cheviot or Texel which aren’t as tall but still make the muscle weight to show. True it would take an exceptional animal to win, but for many the WINNER is learning to make the most of choices and livestock husbandry, which they’re more likely to do hands on.

If you’re looking to raise lambs outside on pasture what kind of range do you have? How big are your pastures and are you interested in meat or wool? If the latter do you have a market or are you willing to work hard to develop one? Do you want to mess with wool at all? If you aren’t willing or able to shear the sheep and there isn’t someone to hire then don’t think about anything but hair sheep or maybe hair cross.

The fiber market is exacting – no weeds, seeds or “trash” in the fiber which weakens the fiber as well as takes more work to clean. This necessitates *GOOD* pasture that is clean to insure the fleeces aren’t contaminated.

For those without a great deal of room interested in wool the Shetland may be an option – maturing about 90-125 pounds with ewes slightly smaller, the Shetland has a Bradford count in up upper 50s or higher, with 2-4 pounds per shearing not uncommon. Several colors are available and they are considered a rare breed both in the UK and the US.

If you’re dedicated to conservation the Leicester Longwool may be of interest. This is an old breed once kept by George Washington now critically endangered. They have a heavy curly fleece that is commonly 11-15 pounds with some up to 20 pounds. Those with more room and a real dedication to wool may consider the world’s largest breed – the Lincoln. Adult ewes are often 200-250 with rams 250-350 pounds, with distinctive long fleece that is well wooled to the knees and hocks. The Cotswold is slightly smaller.

Another interesting breed for fleece is the Romney big enough for a good eating and with a low “grease” – or lanolin – content to the wool. While the lanolin can be a good product many correlate the amount of lanolin affects the taste of the lamb, which if affecting the fat makes sense.

If you’re not interested in fleeces as much consider the Barbados blackbelly, Wiltshire horn or possibly the California Red.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThose without a great deal of room may find the 160-200 pound size of the Cheviot (ewes to 160 pounds) easier to handle than the larger breeds. If volume is your interest Polypays can be the solution, with the ability to lamb more than once a year and breed early. Another option is the Southdown but these do have wooled faces and legs, an objectionable quality for some. For something the same size but completely different consider the ‘redheads’ – Tunis sheep have red heads and a reddish cast to the wool. They’re born red.

For something completely different there’s the Karakul, originally brought to the US for pelt production. They are a “fat tailed” breed with ewes 100-150 pounds and rams 175-225 pounds not uncommon. They may be several colors and are distinctive in the sheep world.

The Cheviot isn’t to be confused with the slightly larger North country Cheviot – similar but the latter is not uncommon for ewes to be 180 and rams 300 pounds. The North Country Cheviot is also known for being aggressive on dogs.

In the larger range size of Suffolks ewes are 180-250 pounds with rams 250-350 pounds. Hampshires are also black faced and ewes are minimum 200 pounds with rams 275 and up. In appearance the Hampshire has wool on top the head where the Suffolk does not. Another similarly sized breed is the Oxford which has a black face but more wool on the face, down to the nose.

Slightly smaller at maturity is the Dorset, with ewes 150-200 pounds and rams 225-275 pounds. These may be horned or polled. They have a white “open” face (no wool on face).

Remember these mature sizes when you get “cute little lambs” – don’t tease them or play with them in any way that they butt at you. A 200-300 pound ram can do a lot of damage – don’t fear them but do treat them with respect. If you’re not large enough to ‘tip’ them for trimming and shearing plan and train when they’re small enough to handle. With one Dorset ram I knew throwing him wasn’t going to happen (I’m 5’2″!) so from the time he was a few months old I picked up his feet. He learned much as a horse and as an adult he was very easy to do his feet. Often I could do all 4 faster than others could tip him!

Also research the grazing and finishing abilities of your chosen breed. These are just a few of the sheep breeds available, and there’s many who are in other countries but not here.

  • Breeds vary from adult weights of about 100 pounds to over 300 pounds.
  • Some are wool specialists while others are for meat
  • Consider the amount of pasture you have – don’t overgraze.

Did you know?While in the US we think of sheep for fleece or fiber, the Friesian breed was developed for milk. Dairy sheep, including cheese, is in the US but less common than the other uses.

Heating Without Gas

A while back I was reading a copy of “Out Here”, a magazine put out quarterly by Tractor Supply Co., and it mentioned more than 600,000 homes in North America use wood pellets for heat. I kept reading…then thought about that in perspective.

We have public complaining about reducing demand for gas. We want independence and no relying on gas from other countries. And yet most of the country completely disregards DOING something to actually reduce using gas. We have so many alternatives here – not only passive solar systems but other alternatives. Another issue is the amount of waste – landfills absorbing yard waste and other biodegradable byproducts. Those can be used to reduce fuel consumption.

A couple hundred dollars you can put a solar heating in which uses the sun – free. Even if it raises the temperature just 20 degrees – that’s 20 degrees heated without burning gas. This option is discussed in further detail in the current “Mother Earth News”.

But there’s other options also. Wood pellets are made from sawdust, a “waste” product which otherwise could go to landfills. The basic process is drying the sawdust then compressing it into a pellet at a rate of 21,000 pounds per square inch. The pellets then are bagged and can be used for heating – reducing waste and reducing gas consumption. Pellet stoves have advantages beyond this. There is little ash left because the pellets burn completely. They produce virtually no creosote which is the cause of many chimney fires and a 40 pound bag can heat a home for a day. Instead of a one month $500 bill for gas – this could be your total winter’s supply in pellets!

There are stoves available that have another option still – corn stoves. These can use not only the pellets but when pellets are harder to find you can burn corn. Corn we can produce here in the US on an annual basis…so it further helps farmers by creating a demand for their product, which sometimes is otherwise unused. There is in years of drought a problem with a fungus on corn which prevents it from being used for food or animal food – but doesn’t stop the use of it for fuel.

There are stoves which can burn not only corn and pellets but other “waste” – cherry pits for example. There’s a cost to purchase of the stoves, and it does require electric to run the auger that brings the fuel to the fire…but remember, this is all US GROWN. We can grow corn…we can use waste from flooring and furniture manufacturing (among others) to make wood pellets. We don’t need to buy gas from overseas markets.

Some states have tax incentives for adding alternative energy systems as well as federal incentives.

There is not just stoves available but furnaces that attach on to existing heating ductwork. http://www.ruralenergyproducts.com/ is one of many sites that have both of these options.

Inventive readers of Farm Show magazine – www.farmshow.com – have had featured in the magazine their LARGE heaters which burn as a source of fuel large bales of hay and corn stalks.

With any of these heating system there is some maintenance to do – removing a small amount of ash and the “clinker”. Is it worth cutting costs in half to do this? Is it worth giving a market to our farmers and taking it away from oil companies? If you have room to grow corn your costs are further reduced…most don’t have the capacity to refine oil. This could be a boon to the small farmers trying to compete against major companies…and a means of independence.

We have the technology to improve several issues in the US with one solution – alternative energy produced here at home to heat our homes.

<From the archives>

Did you know?

According to Plunkett Research 41% of the US energy consumption in 2004 was by Petroleum, with an additional 22% and 23% in coal and natural gas respectively. In contrast only 6% used renewable sources.