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New broiler breeds available. (The henhouse).

Amid the worms, pigs, goats, cows, sheep, and ducks on our 20 acre homestead in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, chickens have been the center of our agricultural focus, specifically, broiler breeders. Three years and six generations of linebreeding finds us closing in on our goal of having a standardized breed of broiler chicken. We (my wife, Naomi, and three girls, Mary [5], Ruth [3], and Miriam [5 months], and I) are working to develop two strains of broiler chickens which will be able to reproduce true to type. We launched the breeding program in 2000 after discovering the process of linebreeding. Linebreeding is a mating program which mimics that which occurs in all of nature and has been used all through history by humans in the domestication of every animal species. We have closed the gene pool on our flocks and now have breeding stock to offer as well as chicks to grow for the table. Folks can now simply order our day old chicks and grow them out, saving the peak performers for breeding, eating the rest and continuing the process year by year. It is the same chick grown for food or for new flocks just the way every other farmstead breed is used.

Our two strains are: the "Corndel Cross," and, the "Pastured Peeper." The Corndel Cross is a Cornish Rock x Delaware cross, a broiler that grows out in nine weeks to a four pound average dress weight; a six pound dress weight in 12 weeks; and up to eight pounds in 15 weeks. The Pastured Peeper is a standardized, commercial, Cornish Rock Cross, growing to four pounds in eight weeks, six pounds in 10 weeks, and up to eight pounds in 12 weeks.

Why a new breed?

A multitude of standardized egg-laying breeds, such as Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshires, etc., are readily available. There exists no standardized broiler chicken genetic package that can be reproduced true to type, available to the homesteader. All of the broiler chicks bought and sold in the U.S. are generated from hybridized parent stock that are under the proprietary control of large multinational corporations. These companies will not do business with small folks, requiring orders to be in the thousands of chicks, costing from $2.60 (females)/ea. to $4 (males)/ea. Most "independent" hatcheries around the country simply order eggs to hatch or just broker the chicks from these larger companies. Almost none of the small hatcheries today own breeder flocks. We desire to develop (for the growing backyard poultry movement, otherwise described by terms such as "pastured poultry," or "chicken tractors"), a broiler genetic package from which anyone can retain breeding stock and propagate perpetually. This can help create independence from the industrial poultry production model so many of us deplore while enjoying the benefits of a true meat-type bird, and including the harvest of many surplus eggs as well.

The beauty of our alternative broilers is that you can feed the same chick three different, ways and get three different products: on full feed for maximum growth in limited time; on limited feed over a longer time period; or, on a restricted feeding program to create new breeding stock. One can feed much less feed per day over a longer period of time to encourage more natural scavenging by the birds themselves, yeilding the same dress weight at a later date with lower feed costs. You get a bigger carcass in less time than with layer breeds, without the high mortality rates of regular broiler chicks. Then you can feed a portion of the flock on restricted feed for breeding purposes.

Why two strains?

Our first thought was that by free ranging the parent stock on pasture we could get a hardier broiler chick. Growing modern Cornish Rock chicks is like growing plants in a green house, they are a "hot house" species that has to be gradually hardened off to the outdoor environment, just like a green house plant. This hardening off process yields up to 10% mortality in the shift from brooder to field conditions and up to another 5% in the field from heart attacks and ascites (chronic heart failure). Most folks are familiar with raising laying hens from day old stock and are disgusted with the fragility and laziness of the commercial Cornish Rock in comparison. Our Pastured Peepers show a 10-to-20% improvement over the commercial birds, which is good, but we were looking for an 80-to-90% improvement. The Pastured Peeper is a good bird for large pastured broiler operations, such as Joel Salatin's Polyface Inc., which uses them.

We initiated the Corndel Cross using the Delaware, a heritage breed used in the mid 1900s for broiler production. The Corndel Cross is a 25% Delaware x 75% Cornish Rock Cross. These chicks show a 40-to-60% improvement over the commercial birds but do take a week longer to grow out. The improvement is mainly seen in their ability to handle more weather-related stress in field conditions, such as extremes of cold, heat and moisture. The Corndel is a busier bird, a much better forager without the characteristic feet and leg trouble seen in the Cornish Cross. They tend to range further afield, covering more territory acquiring food. They still retain the Cornish Cross benefits of great feed conversion, the large, plump, double breast and the white feathering for a clean looking, dressed carcass. Flavor is much improved. These hyperactive, pasture-hardy chicks are much more fun to raise, especially for young children who can be so easily disillusioned with death among the flock. The Corndel performs well in pasture pens/chicken tractors but really shines in the "day range" model using electrified poultry netting, since they are Willing to move around much more.

How do you grow breeders?

Broiler breeders of any type must be grown out on a restricted feed progam. This program is designed to grow the chick slowly to maturity rather than as fast as possible. If a full feed program is used the hens will develop so much fat around the reproductive organs, especially the egg canal, that they will prolapse their rectum when attempting to lay their first egg. The males will be clumsy and heavy, struggling to mount and breed the hens, falling off when mounted, and producing excessive wear and stress on the hen and even lacerations of the saddle. Amazingly, on a properly controlled diet, instead of looking ridiculously obese, waddling like a duck, etc., these birds are just like a normal egg laying breed; agressive, lithe and agile, able to run, fly and roost in trees (or on your tractor seat), dig out your wife's flower bed, etc. Yes, the roosters can and will "flop" you. How funny trying to imagine a normal broiler doing that!

To grow breeders you need a feed chart which designates the appropriate amount of feed to be given for each week of age of the birds' life. It is a very challenging program to learn. Even though the birds on the program are in excellent health and act just like a normal chicken, they still have the ravenous appetite of a broiler. They truly believe they are starving. This can create a problem, being stampeded with hungry birds every day at feeding time, and preparations must be made in advance for correct housing and control of the birds. It is easy to overfeed them creating trouble later.

We have developed a model that gives optimum control using a permanent shelter and paddocks rotated around it made with electrified poultry netting. Thus it is now possible for anyone to maintain a breeding flock that has most of the advantages of a meat type bird and fewer of the drawbacks.

A broiler breeder hen will produce about 100 chicks over a 28 week period from March through September, with optimum management. Eggs can be set once a week. The birds need about 0.33-0.36 pounds of feed per day when laying, so they eat a little more than a regular layer but the eggs are very large, yielding large chicks. The stewing hens when finshed are enormous--over seven pounds dressed. The breeders can be used for two years, but it is more practical to renew them every year. To use them a second year a slim-down process must be enforced after the first cycle of laying to prevent overconditioning; this is difficult to do. It is 24 weeks from the time a baby broiler breeder hen hatches out to the laying of her first egg. Two generations can be produced in one year and a male can service about 10 to 12 hens. So, with a dozen birds you could produce up to 1,000 chicks in a season--about 30 to 35 a week. Or, you could set every other week, using eggs on odd weeks for table use if only 500 chicks are desired.

These dozen birds will produce at this rate on under five pounds of feed per day, or about 1,000 pounds for the production season. It takes about 20 pounds to get them from day-old to first egg, 240 pounds for the 12 bird flock. At $.13/1b. feed x 1,240 lb. = $161.20 or $.16/chick in feed costs. That leaves a lot of room to account for a return on labor. They will still be laying about 50% at the end of 28 weeks of chick production. The flock can be dressed for stewing or allowed to continue into winter, producing table eggs once the season for growing and processing broilers is over.

To determine matings, determine your most desirable characteristics. Simply harvest all birds with undesirable characteristics (color, small size, disease, etc.), and mate the best with the best. This will continue the standardizing process, allowing you to set your own criteria and generate a population whose performance is adapted to your specific production model and environment.
MT. SOLON, VA 22843
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Author:Shell, Timothy
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 2003
Previous Article:Dexter cattle: small size, big benefits. (The cow barn).
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