Breed Preservation and Breed Improvement Are Mutually Exclusive

It’s always sad when well-meaning people embark on a doomed effort. Current attempts at breed preservation are a good example.

Breed preservation is a very simple task. The goal is to take the surviving remnant of an old breed and maintain it so that it retains whatever fraction of its genetic diversity still remains. This is fairly easy to do with chickens, which are reasonably inexpensive to keep in the required numbers. Basically, the technique is to keep several hundred individuals and do random matings, with no culling and no attempt at selective breeding. This can maintain the breed, unchanged, indefinitely. That’s what preservation is all about. read more...

Deep Litter for Healthier Chickens

The “deep litter method” was one of the most important poultry developments of the Twentieth Century. It resulted in a dramatic drop in disease and a reduction in the amount of labor it took to keep a flock of chickens. It also gave an early example of how biodiversity works to our advantage, even with confined livestock.

People these days think they know what “deep litter” is, but mostly they don’t. Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Deep litter is not about compost. It’s about healthier chickens. Do your serious composting on a compost pile.
  • More is better. It’s not deep litter unless it’s at least six inches deep.
  • Compost as a clean-up tool.If the top of the litter gets caked over with manure, skim off the caked part and toss it into a corner. Within a few days, natural composting will cause
    it to turn back into litter again.

  • Litter is a probiotic. Deep litter has anti-coccidiosis properties (it develops a population of microbes that eat coccidia), but only after it’s been around for a few months, so never remove it all. When you start bumping your head on the rafters, remove part of it, but not all.
  • Lime helps. Stirring in hydrated lime at about ten pounds per hundred square feet will keep the litter more friable.
  • Chickens don’t wear gas masks. If you can smell ammonia in the chicken house, you don’t have enough ventilation. Open the windows, even if it’s twenty below outside. Ammonia is a poison gas; cold weather is just a nuisance to grown chickens.
  • Don’t break a sweat. If you’re spending a significant amount of time messing with the litter, you’re doing it wrong.

Check out my Deep Litter FAQ for more information. read more...

Why We Don’t Eat Eggs at Thanksgiving

Chickens have a natural laying cycle that peaks in the spring and troughs in the fall. The typical flock is at its worst in November, and actually lays better in the depths of winter.

By early spring, long before the weather is nice or the supply of natural food has increased much, the hens start laying like crazy. It’s not about temperature and it’s not about food: it’s about natural cycles. The hens lay their eggs before the food supply is very good because it’s the growing chicks who need easy pickings, not the broody hen, who hardly eats anything when she’s incubating her eggs, anyway. So the natural egg-laying season has to happen before the time of plenty. read more...

Keep Your Chickens Healthy This Winter in a Fresh-Air Coop

Recently, I was shocked to learn that tightly closed, Nineteenth-century-style chicken coops are back in fashion, in spite of being unhealthy for your birds and foul-smelling, besides! I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, since there’s something about Nineteenth-century superstitions that makes them immortal, but this one is particularly bad for your chickens.

The fallacy goes like this: “Chickens are delicate, hothouse creatures who can’t stand the cold. So we will coop them up in tightly shut houses, so they won’t catch cold from drafts, and will stay warm. Maybe adding a lot of glass windows will help keep the house warmer.” read more...

Why There Aren’t Any “Real” Free-Range Eggs in the City

I’m sure you’ve noticed that real, grass-fed free-range eggs aren’t available in city supermarkets, and that they’re pretty rare even in the country. Not only that, but the few farmers who produce them rarely expand their operations. At best, they keep the same number of chickens every year.

This has been true for ages. Why?

The answer is that free-range eggs aren’t very profitable. Anyone who can make a buck from free-range eggs can make two bucks doing something else. If this weren’t true, the farmers would be expanding their flocks as fast as they could. read more...