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Archive for April, 2015

Selective breeding of animals has been a powerful tool in humanity’s survival for thousands of years. It has given us the draft horse, the dairy cow, and the housecat. We transformed prehistoric wolves into domesticated¬†working dogs like the Malamute and the Akbash, and we developed feral rats into the Chihuahua and Chinese Crested. (Okay, that last one may be an exaggeration: ¬†the rats weren’t developed much at all.)

Until this year, though, I had naively supposed that all the hundreds of breeds of chickens were basically similar underneath the varieties of plumage and egg color. Sure, some breeds are more tolerant of cold weather, or tend to go broody more or less often, but they’re all basically the same, right?

We’ve had Brahmas, Barred Rocks, Australorps, a Buff Orpington, and an Americauna. The last breed definitely is more broody than the others, but all of those layer breeds behave more or less similarly in terms of growth, temperment, foraging ability and other traits. So, when we decided to get into meat birds for this year and ordered the popular meat breed Cornish Cross, we expected a basic chicken that maybe grew a bit bigger.

Not so! Here are a few of the major differences we’ve already noticed:

They grow insanely fast! They look like this when you buy them:

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And ELEVEN DAYS LATER, they look like this:

elevendays

Their bodies are bigger than my hand and they’re surprisingly heavy. They eat like crazy and grow at an incredible rate.

 

They’re incredibly stupid. And I don’t mean the normal, quirky silliness of all chickens…I mean total, box-of-rocks dumb. These guys literally cannot find their own coop! Every night, I come out and find them huddled together for warmth in a corner of their feed shelter, rather than snug in the straw-lined roosting box of the coop five feet away! I have to pick them up and put them in the box each night.

 

Athletes, they ain’t. I’ve never seen chickens sit around so much. My other ones are always on the move, except for the occasional dust bath, but these guys sit more often than they move around. And they tend to die for no real reason. So far, two of these chicks have just turned up dead for no explicable reaso, and research says it’s pretty common for this breed. If they live longer then than 8 or 9 weeks it takes to get them to butchering size, the problem gets even worse.

 

Owls find them tasty. This week, four of these pullets have disappeared, one or two each night. At first, I couldn’t figure out where they were going, since there have been no signs of predator entry, no feathers on the ground, nothing–just missing birds. I finally guessed owls might be taking them, so I covered the run with bird netting, and the disappearances seem to have stopped. I’m down to five birds in there now, but hopefully those will survive.

 

Besides those ten (five), I have another two dozen chicks in the barn, waiting to get their feathers before they transfer out to the outside run. At least it seems that the owl restaurant is closed for business.

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