Here we are, about six weeks into our chicken insanity, with four breeds (or colors) we never had before. So how’s it going? Well! These have been our observations so far:
We were so excited to get Brabanters. We had only read good things about them online – that they were curious, intelligent, exceptionally docile, honked like geese, and followed their owners around and also that they had extraordinarily long lifespans, sometimes laying eggs until they were 5 or 7 years old and eventually dying at 9 or 10! Sounded amazing…
With every day the Brabanters grow more beautiful – and with every day they also go a little bit more insane. When we got them I figured they were skittish because they’d just been mailed and arrived at some strangers house in a lot of 100. Just give them a few days and they’ll settle! HA! As they grew older they didn’t grow less flighty, in fact they grew more flighty. I thought maybe since they were in such a large group that one could panic them all. It seemed logical, but as I whittled the groups down, sold off some, and sent others to live in much smaller populations they did not trust me any more. Even as I spent 2 hours a day with them cleaning, feeding, watering they still acted as if I was down there to scoop them up and bite off their wee heads. It made no sense.
Maybe being so high energy they just needed some exercise… but alas no, instead of calming down when I put them into their grow out pen/horse stall they seem to just feed off each other and bounce off the walls more. Each day they come up with new and inventive ways to make me hate them. First it was jumping out of the brood box, repeatedly, seconds later screaming at the top of their lungs for rescue but oh wait! Once I was down there to rescue them they would run from me and wedge themselves under furniture. Once day I went down there six times in the span of four hours. I told them I was going to kill them all if they did it again. They didn’t listen so I got out the scissors and cut off their…. flight feathers. (Bet you thought I was going to write “heads” didn’t you? I sure felt like it that day!)
Now to add a cherry to the top of the cake they have decided not only to be flighty little whiners they are also genuine assholes towards all the other birds I have put them in with. Since releasing them into a grow-out pen (horse stall) with Welsummers and Cornish I have witnessed them bullying both these new varieties into their own perspective corners, driving them away from the feeders, and waiting until the Cornish are happily sleeping to run by them full speed while trying to pluck out their tail feathers! This drive-by tail plucking is a bad behavior I have never witnessed before!
I am frustrated, disappointed, and severely annoyed. If they don’t calm the fuck down I will be selling off the whole lot of them and pretending I never had this venture!
Silver Gray Dorkings:
We bought the Silver Gray Dorkings as a sort of one-off. We initially invested in them as meat birds, buying a lot of 50 and thinking, “Well that’s 25 delicious roosters.. and maybe some laying hens to cross with the Cornish for more meat chickens.” However eleven died in the first week and when I sexed them before putting them in the barn I was shocked to find I had only ten little cockerels and twenty nine little pullets! That’s normally a good thing and I am not complaining but wow… wasn’t expecting that! Besides this they have proven to be the calmest birds on the planet. I am a little ashamed to admit that I spent no time whatsoever handling them as I was focusing on the Brabanters but even so when I put them in the barn at 3 weeks of age they acted as if me picking them up the most mundane thing to ever happen to them. They are SO CALM. I spent a couple hours out there sitting with them making sure they got how the new feeder worked and where the heat lamp was… and I actually had some come up to investigate me and others cuddled in my lap!
Despite the fact we had no intentions of keeping the Dorkings we now have a permanent place for them. They are the calmest sweetest birds I have ever come across. There are conflicting reports on their egg laying prowess – some say it’s great, others merely say they are “fair” layers, seasonal and prone to broodiness. Either way I think I have a use for them… broodies are always welcome here as my natural incubators and layers are more than welcome! I can still cross them with Cornish for even better meat birds as well. I am so smitten by them that when I found a guy selling Red Dorking hatching eggs (something rumored not to exist in the US) I wanted to crawl through the screen to get them! Those are now on my list of future maybes!
I admit the only reason I got Welsummers was because they were Dutch and had really charismatic eggs – dark brown and often with speckles! How can you not love speckled eggs? I also thought they’d be great to create Olive Eggers with if crossed with a Cream Legbar. I could have green speckled eggs. I don’t know why this amused me so much but it did. That being said I can’t say there’s anything else about them that drew me to them. In fact when they were under three weeks of age I though they were mental like the Brabanters because they too freaked out every time they saw me…. but they did eventually figure out I wasn’t a monster and calmed down really quick after that. They seem super good at dealing with confinement. Although they had the smallest brooder none of them got plucked, not even a single feather. They’re calm and all but some of them also defend themselves against the annoyance of the Brabanters trying to pick fights with them. Some of them don’t even go that far. They survived the best of any of the chicks we bought only suffering from 2 losses in the group of 25. Of those only six turned out to be roosters! They seem to be good birds and the hens have very pretty coloring.
White Laced Red Cornish:
I’ve had Cornish before and I knew they were to be neurotic… but they are great foragers, great meat birds, and the two dark Cornish I had at the old place were my favorite hens. They were by no means cuddly but boy were they smart! And funny! Always up to something. I was hoping these fancier colored ones would be the same. However they were all so weak… Our first shipment of 25 had no survivors – maybe because the box was torn open in transit. Our replacement box of 25 fared little better! The chicks were tiny, frail, and weak. For a whole week I spent a lot of time trying to baby them and get them back to good health – I tried to get the heat lamp exactly at the right height, I showed them food and water repeatedly, I fed them all sorts of different food and put electrolytes in their water but every day more chicks would die… until eventually I had 6 left… living in a box in my livingroom, chick ICU if you will. They are exceptionally calm, very smart, and are bizarrely the most passive of chickens. They do not stand up for themselves at all against the Brabanters even though they are much heavier! Even set loose in the grow up pen they remain the chicks I know I can always catch because they don’t bother to run from me. The largest, which I believe is a rooster, has become my favorite little personality of the whole flock. I hope he stays calm because he’s a great little bird – but I know roosters of this breed tend to get very mean. I guess time will tell! For now he’s the only chicken to have a name for – Ragnarok.