Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chick Choices

Our feed store gets its chicks from Frey's Hatchery in St. Jacob's.  Which is kind of funny, because it's the same place we used to get our chicks from when we lived down south.  Last year I started with an order of 50 Hatch Day Choice chicks, and later ordered 30 White Rocks, since the hatch day choice were awfully small when I attempted to butcher them.

I don't like White Rocks.  Frey's has a whole page explaining why they get harder to raise each year, and the issues with their organs not developing at the same speed as their bodies.  Yes, economically they may make sense to a lot of people.  From egg to freezer in 8 weeks.  But I have issues with time restraints.  Under no circumstances do I want to HAVE to butcher all of them on the same day.  I much prefer to do a few here and a few there.  Easier on my back, and allows me to work on different projects according to the weather.  I'm also not a fan of white meat.  Nor my husband, nor my boys.  We all fight over the legs and thighs, and then use up the breast and ribs over the next few days.  The white rocks were 'manufactured' to grow big fast, as well as to grow bigger breasts- the preferred choice amongst the majority of the population.  I want a chicken with big healthy legs.

An interesting side note- those puny little hatch day choice birds, I'm quite certain were black sex links.  The hens are all black, and the roosters all looked like barred rocks- thus my initial confusion.  They're supposed to finish at 5.5 lbs at the end of lay, and 7 lbs for the roosters.  The roosters did turn out a nice size, though I didn't weigh them, and the hens are looking really good now.
Red hen on the water trough, black hen behind.
I've picked up my price list from the feed store.  Deliveries start April 13th. I need to choose. 

At maturity/after lay, Frey's gives live weights as follows:  (and prices)
Red Sex-Link                       4.5 lbs                                             1.25 (Non sexed)     1.06 (Cockerels)
Black Sex-Link                     5.5lbs     7lbs cockerels                 1.25                          1.06
Barred Plymouth Rock          5-6lbs     6-7.5 lbs                          1.58                          1.20
Columbian Rock X Red          6 lbs        7.5 lbs                             1.34                          1.06
Red X Columbian Rock          6 lbs        7 lbs                                1.34                          1.06
New Hamp X Barred Rock   6 lbs        7.5 lbs                             1.34                          1.06
Rhode Island Reds                'comparable'                                  1.58                          1.20
Hatch Day Choice                                                                         1.03                           .86
Frey's Special                      6 lbs        8 lbs (15 weeks)             1.33                          1.25

I've eaten a lot of Rhode Island Reds over the years.  They were our preferred breed.  If you buy the same type of chickens year after year, it can get difficult to tell who is in their prime.  I don't want to be putting my best egg layers in the freezer.    So if I buy 100 non sexed of a different breed each year, I'd have the roosters to put in the freezer in the fall, and then I could alternate the hens by colour.  This year the Black Sex-Links would be in their prime, so all of the other hens could go in the freezer with the roosters.  Next fall I'd be able to identify all those black hens as freezer meat, while this year's hens, say barred rocks, were in their prime, and bringing in a new batch of, say Rhode Island Reds.  Thus keeping my hens young & fresh, and in peak production, while filling my freezer annually.  Sounds good in theory.

On the downside, I'd be putting a lot more feed into those hens, raising them longer.  Last year's batch was about 4 to 1 hens to roosters.  Not great odds for freezer meat for immediate use.  And the majority of the birds going in the freezer would only be in the 5-6 lb range.  I really like my 8 lb and up birds.  Which leads me to think that maybe I should order 50 'hens' non-sexed, and 50 specials, just cockerels.  The prices I listed there are by the 100.  Ordering 50 raises the price per bird.  For example, 50 specials would be 1.37 each ($68.50)(400lbs @ .17/lb), and 50 non-sexed barred rocks would be 1.70 each ($85)(6lbs/bird 300lbs @ .28/lb), for a total of $153.50.   Which is actually cheaper than $158 for 100 non-sexed barred rocks, but also lowers the odds of replacing my flock of hens annually, if by chance the odds flip 4 to 1 cockerels to hens.  Buying hens raises the price again.  50 Barred Rock hens would be $116 (@ 2.32 each) plus the specials is $184.50.  And I really don't need that many hens.  30 is nice, but lowering the numbers again raises the prices again, and lowers the accuracy of sexing.  Such is the dilemma.

And then there are the foxes.  Our first year here with chickens we ended up with very few birds in the freezer, even fewer hens, and lots of well fed foxes.  They were so well fed and brazen, that once we started putting the chickens in earlier in the day, they came to pick up their dinner earlier in the day- in broad day light, through the pasture, past the dogs!  While our security has gotten better, the threat is still out there.  The plan would be out the window if we had another year like that.

 So, amongst all of this, why not throw some turkeys into the mix?  The foxes took all but 2 turkeys the first year.  The second year they spilled their water dish on themselves and froze their little feathers off.  Last year we skipped the turkeys.  I was planning to skip the turkeys again this year, and until I get a proper shelter and security site designed for them.  But this year, Frey's has introduced Orlopp Bronze turkeys into their flocks.  I'm happy to see it.  I want to support the option of non white market turkeys.  To do that I have to buy some.  They're almost double the price of the whites, at $6.61 each for day olds.  If I buy turkeys, and all goes well, I don't need as many chickens.  I don't need as big of chickens.  25 turkeys would be $165.25(@25lbs/bird 625lbs @ .26/lb).  I could skip the specials, buy 50 non-sexed, and end up with almost 3 times as much meat in the freezer, with leftovers pretty much guaranteed at every meal.  I love leftovers.  If all goes well.  If not, I could end up with very expensive foxes.  And it puts me in a time crunch to get that turkey pen built. 

Of course, none of these prices takes the cost of feed into consideration, or materials for the turkey pen, or losses that are likely to occur.  It assumes maximum weight per bird.  It's all a gamble.  The end results could vary drastically.

What to do, what to do...  Sleep on it.  Hubby says just do it.  lol.  He's helpful.


  1. Don't the dogs understand the dilemma? That would really make me angry, losing birds to foxes! What kind of fence keeps them out? Of course, these raccoons can go over and under. Someone said there are foxes here in the city, so I need to prepare to keep foxes out. I love the breast and cannot stand the leg and thigh. If we could only swap....

  2. Foxes can climb, dig, crawl under, and jump over 8 feet high. About the only way to fox proof the chicken yard is to put them in a dog kennel type run, with a top and a bottom. That might work for a few hens, but not for a large number. That's one reason why industrial farmers tend to raise them indoors.

    We used to free range, and you have to expect some losses, but it was ridiculous here. Well over half our flock. Since we live in the woods, we are in a battle zone. There are two scenarios to watch for. One is when there isn't enough food, hungry animals will be more brazen. That can be caused by a reduction in their natural prey- other predators, hard winters, dry summers, forest fires. The other situation- what we're dealing with, is the path of least resistance. Kind of like humans stopping for fast food on the way home because we're too lazy to cook, the foxes will happily stop by my farm for dinner as long as it's easier than hunting other prey. So we have dogs. And fences. Overnight sealed shelters. We're working on it.

    Swapping would be good if we weren't so far apart! :-)