Tuesday 27 August, 2013
One of my jobs for September is to review the health and welfare plan for our poultry. That, and an article in this month’s “Smallholder” magazine about selecting hens for culling before winter, has lead to a wider discussion about our poultry enterprises.
To recap, the plan is to run two flocks of forty layers under the orchard. Each house has three paddocks, each roughly 400 square metres, and the hens rotate round these on a monthly basis.
Although the physical set-up is quite new and only half the paddocks have been planted with trees, it seems to be working well.
However, we’re looking at the management of the hens now, mainly because my purchasing / replacement policy has been a bit ad hoc, and we haven’t routinely culled hens that are past their peak laying so we have a slightly different set-up in reality.
What we have NOW
We brought twenty seven birds with us when we moved here in May 2010, including our Copper Black Maran cock, Hector, some Black Rocks, a few Warrens, Minty (Hector’s sister} and a White Leghorn called Snowy.
In summer 2011, I bought some POL - ten Warrens, 2 Bluebelles, and 2 Speckledys. Added to the ones we brought from Alloa, this formed the first flock of forty.
Three of the Warrens, the two Bluebelles, a Speckledy and Minty are in the Scratchers (our semi-retired flock that free ranges in the paddocks) now, along with two Black Orpington hens, a Black Orpington cock and a Welsummer cock – these last four being part of our short-lived plan (2012) to breed purebred poultry.
The green hen house currently holds a flock of about 30 Black Rocks that I bought as day-olds in March 2011 (OMG is it that long ago!!!) plus five Crested Cream Legbars (including a cock), four Welsummers that were part of the “pure-breed plan” and two White Leghorns that were an impulse buy in 2011.
The brown hen house (Hector’s house :-) ) has about 15 Black Rocks that we brought up from Alloa - must be 2009 hatch - plus what remains of a batch of twenty POL Rhode Rocks that I bought this summer. Mixing the two groups has been a mistake as the young ones have been afflicted by a respiratory infection and we’ve lost about six in the last four weeks.
Oh, and we have D2, short for Dumpy Two, the second cockerel to be dumped over our fence. :-(
To add to the confusion, the leg rings that I put on the new hens have, by and large, fallen off – although I think I will be able to identify the young hens when I get in amongst them.
The hens are moulting, but even taking that into account, the egg yield from the brown house is pathetic. They’ve been getting a tonic and I’m just about to worm them so hopefully, they’ll pick up again soon – our path is well trodden with folk looking for eggs, which is great, but I hate letting folk down.
A friend suggested that we look at productivity as a means of selecting for culling. Fortunately, since February, I’ve been recording the number of eggs lifted daily from each house. I don’t record number of saleable eggs though so I’ll need to improve the record keeping. However, an initial look indicates that productivity in both houses is surprisingly similar, from which I conclude that we need to identify and remove the old hens from the Brown House.
Our dilemma is that we haven’t had to consider culling because an animal is unproductive, until now. We’ve culled sick animals and we’ve killed healthy animals to eat but somehow, this feels different.
Our breeding cattle and sheep are still young enough to be productive, so it hasn’t been an issue, although, if we were truly commercial, a couple of our ewes that consistently lamb singles would have been sold on or culled by now.
So, what to do?
First of all, we’re going to move the odds and sods out of the laying flocks – that includes the Crested Cream Legbars, White Leghorns and Welsummers.
The CCLs can run as a separate small flock for the time being – unless we find someone who wants them for breeding; the Leghorns and the Welsummers can go in with the Scratchers. We’ll need to give them a second ark and probably cull some of the ancient ones. :-(
D2 can take over as “flock cock” in the Green House.
Then I need to identify, as best I can, the new hens in the Brown House and then looks at their condition and decide which to keep and which to cull.
And the future
The plan is that we’ll move to an all-in – all-out policy for the Green House, with timing based on productivity. I think I will restock it next Spring, moving the existing flock down into the Brown House with the best of those already there to take the numbers to forty. Any excess birds will either go into the Scratchers or be culled, along with any excess Scratchers.
Carcase disposal has been an issue for us but I’ve just spoken to the local knackery and they uplift a 25kg bag for £4.50, so that solves that problem.
I’m also going to work a bit harder to source POL. Because we only take small numbers, I’ve always secretly felt that suppliers are doing us a favour, but I need to ditch that feeling ASAP.
So now I have a plan – and that always makes me happy! Roll on sunset, when I can get in aboot these chooks. :-)