Well it’s been quite some time since we last shared anything about our farm. Since the last update, we’ve harvested our walnuts, coming in slightly ahead of last year’s harvest. We’ve also made some hard decisions about the breeds we are planning to work with for at least the next year. When I think about all the breeds we’ve experimented with in the past, it’s truly amazing. Here’s a partial list of the last 2-3 years from memory: Buckeyes, German New Hampshires, White Jersey Giants, Rhode Island Reds, Dominiques, Bielefelders, Silver Sussex, Light Sussex, Speckled Sussex, Cream Legbars, Isbars, Rhodebars, Faverolles, Black Copper Marans, Birchen Marans, Cuckoo Marans, Partridge Penedesencas, White Bresse, Blue Bresse, Black Bresse, Lemon Orpingtons, Bantam Chocolate Orpingtons, White-Faced Black Spanish, Jubilee Orpingtons, Basque Hens, Altsteirers, Bredas, Marsh Daisies, Pita Pintas, Sulmtalers, Malines, Niederrheiners, Red Orpingtons, Partridge Rocks and an attempt at Houdans and Langshans. Whew… there were a few more odds and ends, including a couple of silkies we have for hatching eggs, and a Wyandotte or two we bought from a local farmer when we first started. If you would have told me eight years ago I would have raised over 30 different breeds of chicken by late 2014, I would have said you had the wrong guy. But here we are…
In truth, we are always chasing the elusive “perfect” chicken, and sometimes we’ve been guilty of believing the hype, only to find that the actual bird didn’t live up to our expectations, at least not in our climate. So today we continue to enjoy the “search” for the holy grail of poultry, and still let ourselves get caught up now and again, but we are older and wiser from the journey. To that end, we have largely moved away from decorative breeds (we loved our bantam chocolate orpingtons, but it takes quite a few eggs for an omelet, and they are much for the table), not because we didn’t enjoy them, but because they don’t really meet our needs. There’s no denying the quality of a good Sussex, but in the end we’ve decided just to keep a couple of light hens. Bielefelders held so much promise, and were absolutely beautiful, but they grew so slow and ate so much, that their lack of vigor didn’t live up to our hopes. We’ve raised Sulmtalers, sold them off, then got them back again. Something about those round bodies, poofy crests, and always-on-the-go attitude seems to make for a great free-range flock. Basque Hens are about the best free-range, dual purpose birds we’ve had, their eggs silky smooth…if you don’t consider that every Basque rooster we had was an absolute terror, attacking the ankles of all who came near. I miss those hens… Then there’s the White Bresse, about as close to perfect as you can get. Excellent meat, laying eggs early and often, and no aggression toward humans…but they don’t seem to age too well past the first year or two, likely a result of their high production. Arguably, they are the closest to our perfect bird.
So below is our plan for next year. It represents a lot of discernment, some hard thinking about what will be most productive in our climate, and a little whimsy. We are still raising Ark of Taste birds, as well as some even harder to find breeds, like the Pita Pinta. We’ve tried to break them into categories for evaluation, but as you’ll see their not perfect. Again, this is a plan…and plans are subject to change:
Sulmtaler- See above. We haven’t had a lot of year over year experience, but we really want to get this a “right go.” We have high hopes for this European legend.
Malines- It remains to be seen if they are as good at laying as some would suggest, but their’s no question about their meat quality…bigger and rounder than Bresse…enough said.
Bresse- We are sharing our White Bresse efforts with my brother at Valley Fog Farms, and will continue to develop and expand this project; it’s a proven winner.
Isbar- We have a small flock of the recent imports. The birds are thrifty, beautiful, and so are their eggs. While blue and brown eggs become even more common, the Isbar egg is still a rarity. Besides, the Mrs. loves they way they look. We’d be foolish not to have them.
Black/Blue Bresse- We are hopeful they will live up to the high standards of their white cousins, and have decided to take a chance with this duo. So far it is clear that they are smaller than the whites, but we are awaiting the chance to measure their laying prowess and their flavor quality.
Birchen Marans- We still love a dark egg, but we wanted to do something a little different than the FBCM. Regardless, they still seem to suffer from the tendency to “go dark,” halting their laying for much of the winter. If we can get our hands on some quality Penedesencas, we may retire this project, but eggs this dark don’t grow on trees (if they did, we’d plant them).
Pita Pintas (Asturian Hens)- Like a Basque Hen, but better. Great layers, beautiful mottled pattern, and the most easily handled of any Mediterranean breed, including the roosters. These excellent foragers may prove to be a premium option, reputed for delicious meat in their native country, a Spanish rarity.
Niederrheiner- A combination of some of our favorites, and some we only hoped to find: Malines, Flemish Cuckoos, Faverolles, Plymouth Rocks and Belgian gamefowl. These little beauties (10 weeks old at publishing) are like lemon bowling balls, active, friendly, and with an insatiable appetite. Can’t wait to see these modern mammoths at full size. Ladies and gentlemen, please meet “our whimsy.”