Why do we need another chicken blog or forum?

Many chicken forums are moderated to sell commercial feed, chemicals and ideology.
I prefer to find my own balance between nature, welfare and cost in raising happy chickens.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Commercial meat hybrid on free range...

Here he is, Hugo, just coming up to 17 weeks. He's a ball of meat and around 7kg in weight, but unfortunately he can't get around all that well, and over the two weeks I had him cooped with the girls, he ate more than he should (because the layers were fed ad lib) and put on so much weight he could no longer mate. Thus while after 3 days some of the eggs were fertile, fertility peaked at day 5 and then began to decline.

There's no easy choice for a meat producer. The dual purpose and non commercial meat breeds have been bred away from their original characteristics. You can't get good growth rates in non commercial stock. But growth rates of the commercial hybrids are too high for their skeletal or cardiovascular systems, and even this fellow, who was fed reasonably carefully in his first 15 weeks, will probably not survive much into a second breeding season, if he makes it that far. :-(

However I'm currently using his weight as a means of helping to control his weight! My breeder shed has elevated hatches the chickens use to come and go. Since Hugo can't fly or jump he stays in the shed while the hens escape daily into the run. Every day Hugo gets to forage in the backyard away from the hens. I'm doing this to reduce his weight until he can mate again, then he'll be put back with the hens to obtain fertile eggs. I suspect that will be his one and only breeding season, though I do have 8 trial eggs under a broody (about half of which are probably fertile, based on tests).

The second generation birds (suppose I get any) should start to show moderated growth rates and better balance between health, vigour and muscle. Perhaps a third generation back to Malay game would help with that balance as well. But to be perfectly honest this is all experimental, and it may be that the offspring of the Hugo cross drop dead by twenty weeks of age, or show other problems that make them undesirable in the breeding pen.

My goal is to breed dual purpose birds that mature to 2.4kg at 16 weeks of age. Leghorn-malays can do that, but Malay game aren't easy to come by, and my cockerel died early in 2010 (the great mouldy wheat fiasco). Sometimes you just have to make the most of what's available, and in my area aside from commercial meat hybrids there are no table-oriented birds, not even the sussex. They've all been bred for show or eggs. So it's really a case of back to the drawing board and making my own.

Luckily it's all fun... Except watching a 17 week old cockerel struggle up a low step. But whatever happens to Hugo, he's already lived three times as long as most of his type... And I'll do what I can to make things the best they can be for him. :-)

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