Saturday, February 25, 2012

In the spring a middle-aged woman's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of ....chickens

And seeds, of course, but the true obsession is on the chickens.

We've had chickens since the spring of 2001, a few months after we moved here. We learned our lesson about going through the local feed stores, having ordered a specific breed and arriving to find out all they had were Black Sex-links (Black Stars). We took them, even though we intended to get something we'd want to keep breeding and would have broody hens, which never happens with Black Stars. What we ended up with was a couple of very nasty tempered roosters, we ate the others, and some good laying hens. One of which, went broody.

The Old Clucker brooded out a batch of eggs from this first flock, then later we got her to brood out some Silver Gray Dorking chicks when we decided we wanted something a bit different, with friendlier roosters and more hens who would brood. However, none of the Dorkings surpassed the Old Clucker as a mommy. She remained our go-to foster-mom through out her life (she died at 9).

We have suffered losses, disease, predators (and an improperly latched door). We got another batch of hybrid eggs for the Clucker, from a local...not a specific hybrid but a "I don't know who got with who" hybrid. We now have one hen from that batch. And we then returned to Dorkings two years ago.

We now have a few Dorkings, and the little red hen (who is actually big compared to the Dorking hens). We only had one chick make it last year, a male. *sigh* This year we hope to do better, letting hens brood and brood some eggs ourselves. But we were also going to buy another batch.

Thing is, it's already late to order Dorkings, because they are broody. Well, ours never seem to be as stubbornly broody as they describe, perhaps to balance out having a broody Black Star? But it seems the hatchery ones are. And I was considering perhaps we should splurge on another Dorking variety, especially as Aaron dislikes the big combs which are more prone to frost-bite (although this year we brought them into the heated shop). Sand Hill Preservation Center is far pricier, but is one of the few places that has other Dorking varieties. You need to order the standard 25 to keep them safe and warm on the trip, but you can't get one single variety in that number. Last time I checked I remembered it being about 6 per coloration, but now it's 15 or 10, which means we could get, say 15 black and 10 red rose-comb. The blacks have both rose and single combs. Other colorations are not available in our hoped for time frame, but this would be a good bet for us. But, yeah, pricey. $150 for 25.

We're still debating between us if we want to stick to the Dorkings, I wander up the chicken page on SHPC's site. My eye catches "Cuckoo Scots Dumpy." They appear to have started selling them just last year.

Due to how endangered this breed is, even compared to their other birds, they sell them differently than others. It's $150 for a set of 25 chicks of which at least 15 will be Scots Dumpies, more if they can do it, with the remainder being another breed of their choice. They're sold out until at least June, but on the surface it seems that other than waiting about a month longer than I might want to normally, there is no real difference to us as far as initial cost. Same price for 25 birds.

While I love the Dorkings, I admit that Scots Dumpies have fascinated me for years. I figured, however, that it would be impossible. But now that they are, I'm unsure about taking this step.

While Dorkings are not common, the Silver Greys that we have are no longer endangered. They are attainable from most hatcheries. Other varieties, which Sand Hill offer, are rarer. In NH there is Yellow House Farm in Barrington raising White Dorkings. They also have some great advice on heritage breeds.

That advice is truly needed as well. If we were to do this, or get into a rarer variety of Dorkings, we'll need to change our focus greatly. We'd need to get damn serious. Join associations! Sell breeding birds to others to get diversified local lines to later breed keep our flock diverse. We'd have to have space for a lot more breeding birds than we currently have been keeping in order to be a true preservation flock. We'd have to vaccinate as we'd have to take birds to swaps and shows.

It also thwarts Aaron's wish to have rose combs. However, despite the need to protect their combs from frostbite, Dumpies, like the Dorkings, are hardy in cold weather. To me that's more important. Of course, right now we have few enough birds that we have them in a small chicken house inside the heated shop, hence no comb freezing. If we end up with 60+ breeders we'll not really be able to fit them all in there. So different housing considerations must be made

Between all this, we're talking about a lot more than $150 investment.

Still, I am thinking this will be the future of our farm if the Zombie Apocalypse doesn't hit first. We probably won't do it this year, we'll breed the Dorkings we have and possibly get a few of something else, likely through someone local, to keep us in eggs and meat in the meantime. But eventually, yes, a preservation flock of Scots Dumpies...after all, how can I resist a breed reputed to have been "watch dogs" for the Picts against Roman's. (even if that is probably about as likely as woad, but, you know....)

Scots Dumpy photo totally stolen from the Scots Dumpy Club

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