We currently have three flocks of chickens at our farm.
First, we have the adult birds, which include one rooster and 16 hens. All but one of the hens are from the January chicks we got from the hatchery, so they are not very old adults, but they are mature and laying, so we refer to them as the adults. One of the hens, and the rooster, are both from the ragamuffin hens we got last fall, they are both a little over 1-year-old. This flock lives up in the upper coop and free-ranges in the barnyard.
Secondly, we have what we have been calling the adolescents. These are the 12-week-olds. There are 12 of them. One pullet is the only survivor of the first hatch, the rest are Brahmas and Silkies we bought to brood with that lone chick so she wouldn’t brood alone. We bought 5 Dark Brahma pullets, 1 Dark Brahma Cockerel, 1 Buff Brahma pullet, 1 Light Brahma pullet, and 3 straight-run Silkies. The Light Brahma turned out to be a cockerel, not a pullet. And we are pretty sure we have 2 cockerels and 1 pullet in the Silkies. We were fine having a second Brahma cockerel, until he became aggressive. The Dark Brahma is still docile and friendly, but the Light Brahma has become very aggressive. After the incident with Captain Cooke we are not taking any chances with the kids, so that guy’s destiny is already set. Once he reaches a good weight he is headed to the stew pot.
This flock was living in the smaller coop down in the back yard. They were quickly outgrowing the space, and we were ready to move them up to be with the adult birds this last weekend. We felt like it would probably cause fewer fights if we moved them before they reached maturity, because they would be less of a “threat” to the current birds. We decided to leave the mean cockerel and the two Silkie cockerels down in the smaller coop and just move the birds we knew we were keeping until November. To try to help the introductions be more peaceful, we used a couple of our livestock panels to make a little pen for the adolescents inside the barnyard. We put them in there for a couple of hours to meet the rest of the flock through the fence.
Then we opened it up and let them all free-range together. It worked well. There were a few minor fights, but nothing major at all. I think the younger being as young as they are helped. I was a bit nervous because we have never introduced to males, but the adult roo went over to the Dark Brahma cockerel and gave him a peck on the head. The cockerel submitted immediately and it was fine. We are very hopeful that the two of them will continue to do ok as the cockerel reaches maturity. I know many people who have more than one rooster living together fine.
The third flock we have are the 3-week-old chicks from our successful 3rd hatch. We have 22 chicks. They were in the brooder in the mud-room, but it was time for them to move to the growing out pen this last weekend.
My husband built a 2nd growing out pen in the space next to the sheep stall in the barn. This is exciting because now we have 2 spaces for growing out chickens and rabbits. With my son now owning 6 adult rabbits, and us only having 6 cages, we need somewhere to grow out the weanling rabbits. But we also need space to grow out chicks. So now, with 2 spaces we have more options of who to put where and when.
The chicks seem to like their new, bigger, lighter space. I do not like how the barn cats are looking at them through the wire, but it is a good, secure pen, so they should be fine.
It feels good to have everyone moved and settled in their new living places. And it is nice to know we wont have to do another integration for a couple of months.
The future plans for these flocks are:
In November, after the Brahmas start laying, we will do an evaluation of all the laying hens in the upper coop (including the newly laying Brahmas), choosing what we want to keep for the breeding program. We will either sell, or butcher, about 7-9 hens at that point. We will also evaluate the chicks, which at that point will be about 12 weeks old. We will probably put the cockerels down in the smaller coop to grow out for meat, maybe sell a few pullets, and we will integrate the rest of the pullets (and a cockerel that we pick for breeding) in with the adults in the upper coop and barnyard to live for the winter.
Once the chicks begin laying, probably in January or February, we will do another evaluation and get the flock cut down for the 2014 breeding year. Our aim will be to have about 18 females and 3 males total. Again, we will sell or butcher the females, and butcher the males. This will leave us with just one flock, of all mature birds, as we head into spring.
We are really looking forward to having the numbers cut down again right around 20 total birds. We are also looking forward to having a freezer full of our own home-grown chicken meat. Depending on how many we sell (which will be a nice financial boost for the chicken program as well), we should be putting up quite a few birds in the freezer. That is another benefit of our breeding program, not only are we working towards longer lasting, well-built laying hens that survive and lay well in our climate, we are also providing ourselves with meat along the way as we select and cull for breeders.