For a household to raise poultry sustainably, several key elements must be in place. Here is a list of those elements plus a brief synopsis of our progress in each area.
1. First, we must start with the best birds available.
A few years ago, I began looking for such birds. I knew that I needed something different than what was commonly available. I needed the birds, the type of breeding stock, that were raised 50+ years ago, in my parents or even my grandparents’ generation, during a time when most poultry in this country was raised much more sustainably than it is today and on a much smaller and more local scale.
During that time period and prior, poultry standards were defined, such as the Standard of Perfection, that told and showed how vigorous, productive breeds should look. Those were the types of birds that I wanted to start with.
I researched various champion show birds, but I found at that some people (perhaps many) in today’s poultry shows are not concerned with how productive their birds are. Their primary concern is the bird’s appearance. I wanted birds that would both be productive and that would match the Standard of Perfection in regard to their appearance.
Continuing the search, I have found good breeding stock and we’ve started breeding flocks of Delawares, Barred Plymouth Rocks, New Hampshire Reds and Buff Orpingtons. We also have access to Black Australorps and Welsummers. In addition to the chickens, we now have several breeding flocks of turkeys: Bronze and Beltsville Whites. All of these flocks came from the best parent stock we could find.
2. The knowledge to maintain and improve the flock with each successive generation.
Having found very good starter stock, how do we keep them from genetically declining? Without proper breeding, each generation is liable to become inferior to the previous generation. So, we have begun learning how to breed — selectively. If we breed selectively and are successful with it, then each generation will be better than the preceding generation.
What does selective breeding entail? It involves choosing the best offspring, based on both type and production characteristics, then using them as parents for the next generation. It also necessitates careful record keeping and flock management to ensure that we know the ancestry of each bird in the flock.
The reward of selective breeding is that the flocks will continue to improve, both in their production traits, such as egg laying and growth rate, and in their appearance or exhibition traits. And, because we’re raising our birds in Central Texas using small scale production practices that are likely very similar to how you’ll be raising them, and because we’re selecting the birds that thrive in these conditions, our flocks are becoming adapted regionally and adapted toward the small scale producer.
3. The ability to hatch, brood and grow out the next generation of breeding stock.
Once we have selected our best birds as our breeders, we hatch, brood and grow out the next generation. Over the last four years, we’ve gained much experience with brooding and growing out. In the fall of 2014, we started hatching in order to gain the experience we needed with that. Now, we able to hatch all of our breeds from our own breeding stock.
4. Husbandry practices that support long term bird health and productivity.
Raising selectively bred poultry is an investment. For us, it has entailed an investment in breeding stock, housing and equipment and education. Having made this investment means that we are in this for the long haul. We are actively learning, and as we learn, you’ll reap the benefit through the quality of our flocks as you purchase birds from us. In addition, we hope to continue finding ways to make our growing knowledge and experience available to you.