Sunday, November 28, 2010

Boys to Men

Wheaten and Blue Wheaten Ameraucana "Ryder" and "River"

Wheaten Ameraucana "Riley"

Black Copper Marans "Milo"

Blue Laced Red Wyandotte "Wadley"

Splash Laced Red Wyandotte "Harley"

Welsummer "Jesse"

While they are still considered cockerels until they reach one year of age, when they are officially roosters, these April and May hatched boys are really starting to look like the real thing.
I love to watch them "strut their stuff".

Sunday, September 5, 2010

An Overdue Update

I have been so neglectful in updating this blog, it's been a crazy, busy last few months. It has been a long time goal of mine to have my art published as prints and licensed for kitchen and gift ware. Toward this aim, I quit doing art shows six years ago and concentrated on producing a portfolio of work to present to publishers. I am proud and delighted to say that I have signed a contract with one of the leading publishers in the field; Art in Motion.

They are a Canadian company, but have offices all over the world. Their products can be found at major retailers in the US, such as Kohl's and Michael's. They are a delight and pleasure to work with. I had my first deadline July 1rst, and spent every minute I could working toward this. In the months following I was busy attending to my house and gardens, which I neglected to make my deadline. Anyway, I am getting caught up and thought I'd post an update on what's been 
going on at the farm.

One of the art projects I'll be working on is a chicken series. My art director and her team love the idea. Apparently chickens are "hot" in home decor. It seems some of my major involvements are coming together.

I thought I'd post some adult pictures of the four breeds I'm raising, from the chicks I hatched last Fall and some of their offspring from this Spring's hatches. I'm not including my Buff Orp's here, as I'm not seriously breeding them. Although they are big, beautiful birds, they are feed store chicks and not breeder quality. The are however, my best egg producers and wonderful pets.

A few comments on these chosen breeds: All but the Welsummers are works in progress. Neither the Copper Marans nor the Blue Laced Red Wyandottes (hereafter referred to as BLRW) are recognized by the APA yet, and they need lots of people working on them to get them accepted. The Ameraucanas are accepted but the variety I'm breeding (Wheaten/Blue Wheaten) is fairly new and not widely raised. They need breeders working on better type and color. In addition, all my varieties and are multi-colored, not solid, and this adds an extra dimension in selecting the best stock to breed. Also with three of these breeds, the Ameraucanas, Welsummers, and Marans, egg color is as important as conformation and color.
Although I've hatched eggs from breeders across the country with beautiful examples of the breeds, I'm only using the very best examples of offspring to go forward with. The great thing about the breeds I have is that their egg colors are so distinctly different, that I can put my "cull" layers in other breeding pens and be able to separate their eggs from the purebreds. I have many challenges ahead, but I do love a challenge!

The Eggs
After an initial culling for egg color, I'm really pleased with the color my adults are laying, and I'll be looking forward to seeing the juvie's eggs in a few months.

The Ameraucanas above, are laying pure blue and slightly aqua or turquoise eggs. No khaki or white.   
I only kept for breeding one Blue Copper and one Black Copper who lay beautiful dark eggs. They have been amazing productive as well, for this breed, My Blue Copper has been laying 4-5 eggs a week since she started at the beginning of the year. My Black the same, although she recently took a month off for a mini-molt. Both girls started laying by 22 weeks, and egg color is holding up pretty well considering their productivity.

Although all seven of my Welsummer girls were beautiful, I've only kept the four laying the darkest, or dark speckled eggs. Some are as dark as Marans. They are my least productive layers, however, not beginning until 25-30 weeks and have taken the last two months off to molt. They also tend to drop them any old where in the coop or pen, despite the best efforts of their roo, who squats in the nest and scolds them and tries to show them the proper place to lay an egg.

I sold my Olive Eggers to make room for Spring chicks, but they laid  beautiful bronze green eggs,  shown above next to my Black Coppers. They are a cross between a breed that lays a dark egg and one that lays a blue or green one. I do miss this color in my egg basket, and will be mixing cull Ameraucanas and Marans together to make more Olive Eggers.

The Pens

I sold two paintings I sent off to a show in the Northeast, and used the proceeds for materials to build my breeder coops/ pens. Each run is over 100 sq feet, allowing me to stock ten per pen.

Bill and Adam did a fantastic job on these, and incorporated some nifty features, such as pull out coop floors for easy cleaning, 

There are six of these in a row, all with auto waterers, which really streamlines care time.


I think these birds are so beautiful, and their dark, terracotta eggs are a bonus. I got my original stock from breeders in New York and Virginia. 

While my boy Jax has some good points, and has nice size, I'll be rehoming him soon if all goes well, with one of his offspring who has a better comb and coloring, and looks as if he'll be larger than his dad.

I'll soon be adding two young pullets and this cockerel, Jesse, to the breeding pen.

Jesse at 20 weeks.

Blue Laced Red Wyandottes

Like the Marans and the Wheatens, the BLRW can hatch in three colors, black, blue and splash, depending on the colors of the parents. A Splash carries two copies of the blue gene, and will present white where the blue would be. They can be usefully as when bred to black, will produce 100% blue offspring.

This is Harley, a 20 week old splash BLRW. I have three cockerels growing out, and will likely keep two, but they are supposed to take longer to mature than some others, so will be holding on to all three for awhile. Both he and Wadley, below, came from a breeder in Georgia, and my six girls and other cockerel are from a breeder in New York, so I'll have some diversity at the start.

There are four cockerels in this grow out pen, and so far, they are existing peacefully.

A 14 week old pullet. The Wyandotte is known as "the bird of curves" and should be roundish, like a basketball. I'll be working on keeping good mahogany red and crisp lacing on these, as well as good type. At least egg color is not an issue with this breed.

 Copper Marans

I think the Marans are the most challenging of all these breeds. First you must have good dark egg color, to which the genes of both male and female contribute. Secondly, they have such a small gene pool in this country, and were in some cases bred with other breeds, that defects are common. Exacerbating this, they were bred by quite a few indiscriminate individuals, attempting to cash in on their popularity and egg prices, who did not attempt to weed out birds with undesirable traits.

I got hatching eggs from a breeder who had the most beautiful roo I've ever seen. I believe she had a great group of birds from her first source, but unfortunately she added a second line which had a lot of defects. I believe only the roo and hen I kept from this group were pure to the first line. I also had one Blue Copper pullet hatch out of Maryland's  Whitmore Farms. She doesn't have enough coppering, but is lovely in every other way, and has great egg color and productivity.

This is Beau, my roo at 8 months of age. I like his size, comb and coppering. Unfortunately, he lacks leg feathering which is the French Standard. Paired with my featherlegged girls, he's throwing 70% feathered chicks.

Beau watches Bleu dig in the dirt.

Beau and Camilla.

This beautiful girl, Claire, lives in the Ameraucana pen, as her egg color didn't make the cut,
further illustrating the difficulties of breeding for type, color AND egg color 

I'm growing out six pullets and two cockerels with leg feathering, now 14 weeks old.. One boy is from Black Copper x Black Copper, the other is a Black Copper as well, but is from Black Copper x Blue Copper. Both boys are coloring up at different rates, but look to have nice copper hackles like their daddy, and better tail set.

Of the six pullets, all are looking good for type. Two have nice coppering coming in, three have just a few glints coming in around the ears and tops of the heads, and one is still solid black. I'll be watching this, as well as eye color that should develop into the proper pumpkin orange soon. The last, but most important criteria is egg color.

One of two Blue Copper pullets showing off nice dark feather lacing, important in blue birds.
I should note here that blue, in poultry, is really gray, and can range in shade from light to very dark.

Wheaten/ Blue Wheaten Ameraucanas

Don't tell my Orpies, but these are my favorite breed. They are super friendly, talkative, and have loads of personality; too much at times. There is always a lot of drama in this pen, like watching a bunch of middle-schoolers makes for good chicken TV!

I was lucky enough to hatch out this one boy and two girls from my first hatch. Ranger was already showing nice type and size at 20 weeks (below).

At seven months his size and coloring were even better.

About two months after they started laying, the entire pen (three Blue Wheaten girls and BCM Claire) all went broody at nearly the same time. I decided to go against recommendations to separate them, and let them hatch and raise the chicks together.  With three nest boxes and four girls, they played musical nests for three weeks. Unfortunately, Mia (below) who had sat the longest was not on a nest at hatch time. She followed the hatch Mamas and chicks around longingly but distantly, as the Mom's would not let her near them until the third day, when they allowed her get close. By the end of the week, all the chicks were  co-mingling, and the adults were co-parenting. "Auntie Mia" ended up mothering them the longest, after the others grew tired of motherhood. Watching this "family" interact was an amazing experience.  

Mia (above) is of different parentage than my other girls. They have a bit more rounded bottomside, and fuller beards and should compliment each other. I'm hoping breeding the offspring of both, combined with Ranger's nice attributes, back to opposite hens will produce some awesome birds.

Above is a 10 week old Wheaten pullet. On the Wheatens girls, the tail color is black.

A Blue Wheaten, at the same age, showing blue (gray) tail coloring.

One of the challenges of this variety is getting good tail coloring in these birds, while not getting any dark ticking in the hackles of the male or female. I have several that are getting close to this, as shown in the 18 week old pullet above.

Gotta love those sweet, bearded, faces...

I'll be dedicating two of my six pens to this breed. For now I have the 14 week olds on the left, 21 week olds with the adults on the right, and 3 18 week old pullets in a grow out pen. Within a month, I'll be moving them around, hoping to get the best combination of breeders.

Gone, but not forgotten

Chickens, kept healthy and predator free, can live10-15 years or more. I've sadly lost just three, but they were my three favorites.

Violet was the smallest, yet sweetest of my Orpies. She was the one who followed me around, tugging at my pants leg, until I would pay attention to her. She developed egg laying issues early on, laying super huge eggs, softshelled eggs, and eggs with no shell or membrane at all. We took her the vet during her first hard time, as she would quit eating and drinking during this time. The vet confirmed no disease issues, hydrated her with a saline drip, and showed us how to tube feed her. We were able to keep her alive, until after several days of warm baths, she was able to pass what she needed to pass. She was alright for a month or so, and we were able to pull her through a second time....but another month later, the third bout was just too much for her.
Always a favorite, Violet became a house chicken during these events, we brought her in during her worst roost on a 2 x 4 over newspaper in the AC, so she would be more comfortable. Adam became quite attached to her as well, as he helped me with her care, and was much better at tube feeding than I. He took her to the vet once, for a saline drip, and since the pet carrier wouldn't fit in his truck; he placed her on a towel on the front seat, where she happily and proudly rode....and fetched some interesting looks at the drive in window at the bank. Violet fought the good fight for several months...we miss her everyday.

Rudy. He broke his neck flying into a fence. Anyone who has followed this blog knows how much I loved this proud, protective boy. He was always respectful of me, and in only his world, I was the alpha chick.

Ranger. My beautiful Wheaten Ameraucana boy, was standing with lowered tail about a week after I took the below picture below, with his wings protectively over his hen on the left, and his chicks on the right. I brought him inside over the weekend, he was not eating and got progressively worse. First thing Monday morning, I took him to the vet....he died before even getting through testing and treatment. I had the vet do a necropsy to rule out any disease issues. He found that Ranger had a plastic pull tab blocking passage in his intestine, causing a build up of e coli, and a massive infection. It was a devastating loss, tempered only by seeing him in his four sons and ten daughters. 

RIP...Violet, Rudy and Ranger