Getting to Know our Chickens: Buff Orpington

When I was writing my last blog post, it occurred to me that I had not really gone into a whole lot of depth on the types of chickens we have decided to keep, and the reasoning for keeping each breed. Sure, I have talked about the breeds we have right now (Chicken Farmer) and I have talked about our Rhode Island Red babies. But I haven’t really taken the time to explain the specifics of each breed, and why these chickens are the best for OUR farm. After talking with B, we decided that a “mini series” about our chickens would be a good idea. Welcome to “Part One” of our series.

Buff Orpington chickens are an English bird, and were first bred in the late 1800’s. Orpington chickens were “created” by a man named William Cook. Cook was breeding several varieties of chicken to get desired traits that he wanted in a chicken. His first cross was the Black Orpington. The Buff orpington was released to the public by Cook sometime between 1887-1894.

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Bryan turning the Buff eggs in our incubator

The Orpington chicken was a popular breed, and was being exported from England within 10 years. They were so popular for their coloring, and they are short fluffy birds with pale orange/brown or “buff” feathers. Buff’s were a favorite breed of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. She had a flock that won several awards for their beauty and grace. However, by 2016, Orpington’s as a whole were on the endangered list. Thanks to small homesteaders with “back yard chickens,” the breed has been removed from the Conservancy list.

Buff Orpington chickens were the first breed that we really decided would be a good fit for us, as far as raising. There are several reasons that we considered the Buffs.

The first reason we decided the Buffs would be a good fit for us is that Buffs are a hardy breed of chicken, which means that they will withstand the harsh temperatures in our climate. This is important to us, as one of the big killers of our chickens this winter was the cold. Our Buffs that we got in late summer have withstood our cold and wet winter this year.

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Our Buff’s socializing with our other chickens

A second reason that we settled on Buff’s is that they are what is called a “dual purpose” breed. They were bred specifically for producing a higher quality of egg, while still maintaining good meat quality. Basically, when they are done laying they will be good for eating. On average, Buff’s lay between 200-280 eggs per year. Their eggs are a nice light brown color. This is important because if we sell these eggs to individuals, most will want a nice brown egg. Most people consider the brown eggs to be a “true” farm fresh egg, although there are chickens who lay white eggs.

A third reason that we settled on the Buff’s is their temperament. Buff’s are known for being good chickens to have as pets. While we don’t exactly intend to keep ours for pets, exactly, this is still a good feature that we want in our chickens. They are docile birds, and do not make or like a lot of noise. The hens are good for raising babies, and typically make good mothers. This is good because a lot of chickens actually DO NOT make good mothers, and will kill the babies when they hatch.

Overall, the Buff’s are a good addition to our farm. They will be a good bird that we can sell the eggs from, and still eat when they are done laying. We will also hatch and sell the babies from our Buff’s.

The choice of which chickens to keep is a tough one, but the Buff’s were a no brainer.

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Chicken Farmer

When we first started the adventure of having chickens, we never dreamed that it would be as in depth as it has grown to be, or rather that our interest in raising different chickens would become what it has become. Initially, we wanted chickens to eat the fresh eggs, and eat our own free range chickens as they stopped laying eggs. I am not sure, to be honest, where that stopped and our new adventure began, but here we are separating out our breeds and building new chicken coops.

When we got our first chickens back in late summer, we had a smattering of random chickens. We had Americeunas, Buff Orphingtons, Lavender Orphingtons, Rhode Island Red’s, and a smattering of others. From there, we have purchased some more chickens and traded for others. Over the winter, we had a massive decline in our chickens, as you may have read in our previous post, titled Rhode Island Red.

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Our newest rooster, a Lavender Orphington

Since the weather is starting to get nicer, we have gotten a little ummm… chicken crazy. After hatching our Red’s in the smaller incubator, B decided that we needed a bigger incubator. We had looked for several used ones and decided upon a good used one. The one we purchased is actually meant to be used as a hatcher, where you put the eggs to hatch after they have been in the incubator for the allotted amount of time. The chicks will hatch there, freeing up the incubator for more eggs. The hatcher we bought has 6 racks, and can hold up to 600 eggs for hatching. The nice thing about the machine that we purchased is that it can double as an incubator.

We purchased some hatching eggs from several different people. First we got 4 dozen Buff Orphington eggs, and we plan to keep around a dozen of the ones that hatch for our personal stock. We also purchased some pure Ameraucana eggs, which we will keep about half of. We have Lavender Orphington eggs in the incubator, along with a few mottled Orphington eggs. We recently put in some eggs from our new Polish chickens as well.

Over the last two weeks we have acquired several new breeds.

First, we got our trio of Polish chickens: one rooster and two hens. They are currently residing in the dog house and pen that we had set up when we first got our two Great Pyrenees. We love looking out at their weird hair, and they have obviously settled to contentedness as they are already laying daily.

Second, we got some  Black Astrolorp pullets. At least they were supposed to all be pullets. We are about 99% sure that one of them is a Roo, but that is not confirmed at this point. The Astrolorps are an Australian chicken, and are well known for laying brown eggs. They are basically an Australian Orphington. These guys are perfect for our flock as they are hardy in the winter, and lay dependably. They are also considered to be a rare breed.

The third big addition to our flock is the addition of a Copper Maran Rooster. The Copper is a great addition, and he will serve two purposes. With him, we will be able to keep our Ameraucana’s and our Copper hens all in the same pen with the Copper roo. Copper will be able to fertilize both breeds of hen and we will still be able to distinguish which egg is from which bird, which will tell us which babies are in the eggs. Copper’s lay dark eggs, and from them we will get full blooded Copper chicks, of course. The Ameraucana’s will lay the blue/green eggs, and from them we will get a breed called Olive eggers.

Overall, we are quite excited about our chickens. Although we haven’t resorted to naming them yet, that just MAY be the next step. We are learning as we go, and growing our flock. We can’t wait to share the next step with you!

Selling Our First Calves

As we are going in to spring, it is now time to begin thinking about selling our calves. This seems like quite the process to me, but B is a seasoned pro. Every year buying and selling calves is a risk. Last year was an especially hard year because SWMO was in a drought. Luckily, we had enough hay to feed our cows through the winter. That is not always the case, and wasn’t the case for many SWMO cattle farmers this past year.

The bottom line is we got lucky this year. We were in a position where we already had hay put up when we started buying our cows last summer. B had cut the spring hay, and we ended up with a substantial amount. This allowed us to figure out how many cows we could feed for a year with the hay we had on hand. We then proceeded to buy our cows, as a lot of people were selling their cows because they couldn’t feed them adequately through the winter.

Not all years are like this, however. Like I said before, we just got lucky. Even though I would say this year has been a good one for us, we have still lost a few cows. They always say, if you’re going to have cows you’re going to lose some. The loss has also rolled over to our chickens, as many of you may have read in a couple of my other posts. The calves we have lost this year have been to pneumonia. With the rainy and cold weather, the cows have had a hard time staying dry and warm which lead to pneumonia.

The loss has been hard for me to cope with. I wasn’t raised on a farm, and didn’t realize how much work comes along with taking care of the animals. I mean obviously I knew that it WAS work. However, it’s not work that I’ve ever experienced first hand. Losing the cows that we have lost can be stressful, as that is our source of income. The more we lose, the less of a paycheck we get when we do sell our cows.

As we are gearing up to sell our babies, we must decide when is actually the best time to sell them. As we get closer to spring, more people are buying cows and the price is up right now.

We are so glad to finally be seeing spring weather. The cold has really taken its toll on our animals. Even with the spring, we have some last minute complications. With the weather constantly changing, it’s hard to tell how the cows will respond, either with being perfectly fine or needing a dose of antibiotics for pneumonia.

Snow Day on the Farm

As a kid, we all loved getting snow days. School was canceled, and we all got to play in the snow: building snowmen, snowball fights, sledding, etc. As an adult, however, we don’t really get snow days. A few weeks ago we had some bad weather in our area, and I was called off work. My husband, however, was not called off work. On a farm, the work never ends and there is no such thing as a snow day. If anything, there is more work on a snow day.

During the winter, our daily chores include feeding hay and grain to the cows. With our snow days we do typically feed extra hay to the cows, as they can lay in the extra hay and have some kind of warmth and protection from the wet and frozen ground. We have to count and check our cows daily to make sure that none of them are sick or hurt. If a cow gets sick, they can go downhill quickly. It is really important to do the daily checks so we can catch illness immediately. Mineral tubs are important to check daily as well, and refill as needed.

When the temperatures are below freezing, we also have to add chopping water to our list of daily chores. The cows need water, and we usually take a couple of extra hours to chop the top of the water so the cows can get a drink.

Now that we have started adding smaller animals to our farm, there is extra work that comes with that as well. The ducks really like to make a huge mess in their environment. Our daily chores now include cleaning up their messes, and providing them with fresh food and water. We are ready for the ducks to be a little older, when they will be more free range. Even with them free ranging, our daily chores will include cleaning up their messes AND will eventually include roosting them at night.

Our baby chicks are quite the project, making sure they are fed and watered, warm and happy. We happen to have a perfect little place for them in the barn where they are pretty well protected from the outside weather and critters. This helps a lot. With hatching our own chicks it takes longer to get eggs from them since they do not start laying until 5-6 months. However, we are excited with our new adventure of hatching our own babies.

The incubator itself is a daily chore as well. We found a good deal on an incubator that is a manual turner. This means the machine does not turn the eggs for us, so we must check the eggs every 4-6 hours and turn them ourselves. We also check the water levels in the incubator to make sure there is enough humidity for our growing hatchlings. The batch we have in the manual turner right now will be the first batch hatched from this incubator. Up until now we have been using a smaller incubator that only holds 24 eggs. This first batch will basically be our trial and error run.

Our full grown chickens do require daily chores as well, even though they are free range. We have found that when we feed our puppies the chickens will swarm them and eat the dog food. We now feed the chickens at the same time in effort to avoid this. Their water freezes on the cold nights too, of course. Checking for eggs is a daily chore, although our stubborn chickens like to lay their eggs all over the place. Thankfully, we have got most of our chickens roosting in their coop at night instead of on the back porch! B is working on some new coops this week which will give them a lot of space to move around, but they will be more contained and protected from hawks, raccoons, and other predators… (I’m looking at you, neighbor’s dog!)

Even on snow days, a farmer’s chores never end. They are on call 24/7, and the work is always there waiting for the next day.

Chickens for the Freezer

One of our new projects that B and I had talked about is the act of buying chickens specifically for our freezer. Obviously we don’t want to butcher all of our laying hens, but we also wanted some chicken for the freezer.

Typically, any chicken that you buy in the store is going to be meat from a Cornish Cross chicken. These chickens are bred to grow really big, really fast. They are supposed to be ready for butchering within 8-12 weeks from hatching. They are such a hungry bird, eating all the time, that you cannot put wood chips or other means of bedding in with them. The chickens will eat the wood chips, and it will kill them. They will eat day and night. Usually after about 4 weeks of age, they will lose most of their feathers. Our chicks have already lost most of their feathers. This is most likely a result of the cross breeding.

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When we originally started our venture with the chickens, we had discussed butchering any freeloading chickens: ie any chicken that doesn’t earn its keep by producing eggs. However, with having such a rough winter and subsequently losing so many of our chickens, we have yet to butcher any of our chickens.

A few weeks ago we decided to go ahead and order some Cornish X chickens. We ordered 25, but they mailed us a few extras. Most of the time, when you order chicks, they will send you a couple of extra chicks because some are expected to die during transit and soon after delivery. We got our chickens, and got them set up in the chicken house with some food, water, and a heat lamp.

These chicks are hands off. We check them every day to make sure that they have ample food and water, but otherwise we leave them alone. Basically with these chickens, you just leave food out and they eat all day long. Currently, we have around 20. We have lost a couple, but that is to be expected.

We have had our chicks for about three weeks at this point. They will be ready for butchering in another 5-9 weeks, approximately.

Rhode Island Red

Since we got our first chickens, we have been a little obsessed with getting more chickens. An almost daily conversation we have is what we want for the future of our chickens. The chickens originally started out as an experiment that I wanted to do, it has quickly grown to a project that Bryan is more excited about as each day passes.

We have had mostly failures with our chickens thus far. We lost a lot of the first, second and third batches of chickens that we brought in. We have had issues with hawks carrying off the chickens, a neighbors dog killing our feathered babies, and the normal chicken illnesses that had taken some others. Mix this with extreme weather conditions, and chickens that are less than ideal for the wet and cold winter we have had, and we are down to about 15 chickens at the moment.

We have been talking about getting some more chickens, in the hopes that they will be laying eggs by mid to late summer. This led us to reach out to a local chicken raiser who happened to have 2 dozen Rhode Island Red eggs ready to go in an incubator. We purchased the eggs at a steal, $3 per dozen. On average, even the chicks go for about $3 per chick. So we are basically paying 25 cents per chicken and then hatching them ourselves. We brought our babies home and put them in the incubator.

The incubator is one that we found on Amazon, and we have used it before. We love it! It works well, and was reasonably priced. We have talked about getting a bigger incubator in the future, but for now this one suits our needs. The one we use is a JANOEL incubator. It holds 24 eggs at a time. Here is the link to the one we purchased://ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=wrinklefarms1-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B06XX5P6VX&asins=B06XX5P6VX&linkId=b517bb21585eef6e0c21f15906cd1f12&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff

The main features that we looked for when buying our incubator are: temperature regulation, automatic egg turning, and ability to see the eggs hatch. The one we picked met all of our expectations on this front. We LOVE that we can look in at the eggs at all times. When we hatched our last batch of chicks, we could also hear them inside of the shells before they hatched.

We are excited to see our Red’s grow. We are partial to the Red’s for our farm for several reasons. First of all, they are good about consistently laying eggs year round. Not all chickens do this, and many breeds stop laying eggs in the fall and winter. Second, Red’s lay brown eggs. This is important because many people feel that true farm fresh eggs should be brown, and not white. They aren’t wrong. Third, the Red’s are a good and hardy bird for our harsh winters. They do well in the cold.

Overall, we are very excited to start with our new batch of Red’s. There will be some changes coming to Wrinkle Farm, which will hopefully decrease the amount of chickens that we are losing.

The Slow Down

Winter brings a slow time of year. While there are animals to feed, and some chores outside to take care of, that typically only takes a few minutes of each day to complete. This leaves me with the task of trying to find other ways to occupy my time, including indoor chores.

In June, we are expecting our first child. With this adventure getting closer each day, I have been tasked with cleaning out our upstairs bedrooms to make space for the baby.

Over the years, the two upstairs rooms have become storage space for my grandparent’s collections. Both of them have several collections upstairs, and it has not been an easy task sorting through all of it. The main reason this is such a difficult task is because of the sheer amount of stuff that there is to go through. On top of Grandpa’s gun and fishing lure collections, there are also collections of antique dishes and other stuff that has been in boxes untouched for years. The task of going through all of these items has been especially hard on Grandma, as she has a hard time letting go of some of Grandpa’s things.

Despite the setbacks, we have made progress. One of the bedrooms is almost ready to go. That bedroom will become the office. We have successfully moved the roll top desk upstairs, and have a couple more things to move out before we get all the office space set up.

The other bedroom will, of course, be the baby’s bedroom. We have already started accumulating some of the bigger baby items needed. Tiffanie has also began collecting some of the smaller items, a pack of receiving blankets here, some bottles there. We are ready to have the room cleaned out so that we can start setting things up for the baby.

While it does make me sad to go through some of Grandpa’s things and ultimately throw it away, we are ready for this next chapter to begin.