A week ago today our chicks arrived in the mail. Yes, I said the mail, to seasoned flocksters the mail is a normal way to get chicks, to newbies and non-flocksters, the typical response is “the mail?” One reason chicks can survive being shipped in the mail is that they have all the food and water they require for the first 72 hours from the nourishment of the egg itself, also the body heat from the chicks helps to keep them warm. In nature, the hen will sit with her eggs until all of them hatch. This means whoever hatches first has to wait the longest to have access to food and water. Once all the chicks hatch the mother hen takes all the chicks out to get food and water together. This doesn’t mean that shipping isn’t stressful, but it is tolerable. In the future we hope that our chickens will raise their chicks more independently, however we are just getting started and this was the best way to diversify our flock. By ordering through the mail we were also able to pick and choose our breed preferences as well as gender. For example, if we incubated the eggs we are getting now we would only have bantams, bantams, and more bantams, so as much as we love them it is time to switch up the genetic pool.
So what breed did we choose? Everyone’s breed choices are going to be different based on your needs, including your climate and the intended purpose for your chickens. Some breeds are better for meat, some for laying eggs, and some for both. There are many things to consider when it comes to breeds, each has their own unique characteristics. Our goals were to focus on heritage breeds and invest in a combination of layers and meat birds that are known to be good foragers. We selected Naked Necks, Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, and Buff Minorcas.
The Naked Necks are also known as “tukens” because they look like a cross between a chicken and a turkey, however they are not related to turkeys in any way. They were originally bred in Eastern Hungary and have no feathers around their necks, over their crop, or under their vent (where the egg/poop comes out). The French used Necked Necks as a culinary bird because they were a good yielding meat bird and due to the lack of neck feathers, therefore easier to pluck. This obscure feather pattern certainly makes for a very ugly bird, but helps them be heat tolerate (perfect for South Carolina), surprisingly they also do fine in the cold weather. We ordered 16 males, with the intention of keeping one as a rooster addition to work with Big Red (hopefully they can learn to love each other) and the other 15 will go in the freezer. We also ordered 5 females to add to our layer flock and hopefully produce more Naked Necks for us next year. They are intended to be a dual purpose breed, providing good meat and also laying decent eggs. Shaun’s uncle, who lives in New Hampshire, turned us on to them, his mostly free range and are laying through the winter.
Naked Neck Fun Fact: When breeding and hatching Naked Necks, only about 90% come “naked necked” and 10% come with feathers on their neck. If breed pure, they will have offspring that will be 10% feather necked. In our case, we will likely have a mix of who knows what because our breeding program probably won’t be very regimented. I need to do more research on chicken breeding.
Barred Rock, another dual purpose, is a chicken breed that originated in the United States, specifically New England (a place close to my heart). A hardy bird, with a meaty body, high egg production and docile personality. One of our farmer friends raises this breed and has good luck with them, so we decided to give them a try. They are cold hardy and will also tolerate our South Carolina heat. We ordered 5 females to add to our layer flock.
Barred Rock Fun Fact: The Plymouth Rock breed came from the original Barred Rocks breed. All varieties of Plymouth Rock were produced by crossing the Barred Rock breed with other chicken breeds. The Barred Rock is the first and oldest member of the Plymouth Rock family. This chicken breed carries a combination of some of the best farm chicken qualities.
The Orpington is a breed of chicken named after the town of Orpington, in south-east England. It was bred to be an excellent layer with good meat quality, again sticking with our dual purpose theme. The hens often become broody (meaning they sit on their eggs and hatch them) and are good mothers, which is specifically why be chose them. Our hope is that they will raise next year’s chicks. I have wanted this specific breed for a long time because they are known to be very friendly birds and have “fluffy butts” which I think is cute. Shaun took some convincing, I had to emphasize their winter laying abilities and excellent mothering skills. They come in many colors, we ordered the “Buff” version which stands for the fleshy, light brown color. We should also be able to “sneak” eggs from other breeds into her nest and she will hatch these as well.
Orpington Fun Fact: Some sources claim that at one time Orpingtons were capable of laying as many as 340 eggs per year. Their current decline in production was due to breeders selecting for looks over utility.
Minorcas were developed in the Mediterranean, where they take their name from an island off the coast of Spain. The hens are don’t typically go broody and lay large, white eggs. They are noisy, flighty, and prefer to free-range. We ordered the buffs, which again refers to the color. This is only breed that we ordered particularly for laying, more specifically early-laying as an added benefit. 5 females will be joining our flock.
Minorca Fun Fact: The breed produces a large carcass, but the meat tends to be dry. Historically Minorca chicken breasts were stuffed with lard, that is, “larded,” before roasting.
Our total came to 36 birds, and the hatchery threw in 2 freebies in case of losses, bringing the grand total to 38 birds! I think we may have gone a little chicken crazy! Even though we did order specific genders, the process of sexing chicks at a young age is not 100%, they claim 90-95%, so hopefully we will get what we wanted, but only time will tell.