Excellent development and something I’ve been following and commenting on in Country Smallholding column for a couple of years.
Breed Name: Dorking
Profile: The Dorking is a very ancient British breed believed to have its ancestry rooted back in Roman Britain where five-toed Dorking like breeds were described in texts from AD 47. It is a very heavy breed but there is no evidence as yet to suggest that, as in the case of other giant chickens, it is in any way related to the huge breeds originating from Asia. Well established in the early nineteenth century it made a significant contribution to the development of other table breeds.
Behaviour and upkeep: Because of its huge size and its loose feathering, spacious housing is required if the birds are to maintain a good look. They do not need much in terms of outdoor space and are quite content within a fixed run however care must be taken to avoid them becoming fat through lack of exercise. They can become tame if handled calmly but their size should be considered carefully if thinking of having them as pets. The hens tend only to lay during the spring and summer and fertility can present a challenge for anyone wishing to breed from a flock.
Plumage/Colours: Silver grey, Red, White, Dark, Cuckoo
Eyes: Bright red
Comb: Single, large or Rose
Feet & legs: Featherless, five toes
Large Fowl 10-14lb (4.55-6.35kg)
Bantam 40-48oz (1130-1360g)
Large Fowl 8-10lb (3.60-4.55kg)
Bantam 32-40oz (910-1130g)
Egg production – Low to medium
Egg Colour – Tinted
Classification – Heavy; Soft Feather
Region of origin: France
Profile: The combination of the deep red horned comb, strong beak, cavernous nostrils and beetle black plumage coupled with the solid stature of this breed means it well suited to it nick name of “Satan’s Fowl”. It is quite a large chicken which makes a good layer but grows quickly making an excellent table bird well-known in its country of origin.
Behaviour and upkeep: These birds benefit from being able to free range as they are excellent foragers and will cover large distances in search of food. This makes them a very economical breed ideally suited to their dual purpose function. They are also capable of flying quite high despite their size so do need high fences or roofed areas if they are not to be found roosting in trees. Wary by nature they do not tame easily though they are not an aggressive breed.
Eyes: Black/Red, Comb: Double spike, Feet & legs: Clean, dark slate or black
Cock: Large Fowl 8-9lb (3.6 –4.1 kg) Bantam 36oz (1020g)
Hen: Large Fowl 6-7lb (2.7-3.2 kg) Bantam 28oz (800g)
Egg production: Medium to high
Egg Colour: White
Classification: Heavy; Rare
The eggs sit in a heated yellow box, the tops of their shells sliced off and replaced with cling film. Inside, translucent red bodies poke and press, alien-like, against the film. These are some of the rarest chicken embryos in the world, their DNA
“CAN you make sure these chickens do not fall foul of the slaughterhouse and give them a new home?”
Yep, yet another pile of misinformation with cracking quotes like “Legally hens cannot be kept on farms for longer than 78 weeks because the quality of the eggs fall and the shells become thinner” and yet rehoming the hen is legal and in it’s also legal to sell the eggs they produce “off gate” to any old Tom, Dick or Harry.
Can someone please show me the law that states a commercial laying hen is illegal and must be slaughtered at 78 weeks of age?
So what’s the truth?
One truth is that the consistency and quality of the eggs being produced will be reduced result in an impact on the profit so the industry regards the hens as ‘spent’ (read, not economically viable)
Another truth is that at 78 weeks of age the hens will be heading into their first full moult. During this period they will not lay and consequently they will cost money to feed whilst delivering no product. That’ll be not economically viable again then I guess.
And then there is the one massive elephant in the room… the very industry tugging your heart strings to rescue the hens from slaughter is the very same industry that consigns them to that fate from day one by the structure of its supply chain.
Oh, but let’s not forget the little bit of maths
9,000 ‘spent hens’ will at best attract 50p per bird when sent for slaughter so according to my maths that will bring in £4,500
If however 9,000 get rehomed at £3 a bird then that brings in £27,000. A tidy profit indeed.
I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about whether the story exhibits compassion and mercy or contradiction and money.
I’m quite vocal at times about the contrast between commercial poultry rearing and small scale or backyard keeping. I can be quite damning about some the legislation because I’m a great believer that in a large majority of cases one size doesn’t fit all. In fact the concept of one size fitting all seems to stem from the issue that pragmatism and scalability get side-lined. This is either because they are too expensive or are only relevant to ‘the little people’ who, by definition, are irrelevant in the grand scheme of the poultry world!
It follows on then that given my documented opinions I am sometimes challenged by people as to whether my attitude stems from a belief that small scale poultry keepers know better than the big boys and the authorities, or whether I’m just an outspoken idiot. I guess when I put these commentaries out there then it’s only to be expected that someone is going tackle me about them, I mean I’m hardly the Jeremy Clarkson of the poultry world (and have no intention of punching the Editor of Fancy Fowl) but I do realise that if you voice an opinion you are unlikely to find everyone is in agreement.
So. Do we know best? No, we don’t. I for one though do know that when it comes to livestock whatever you put into it needs to either come out again, or you better be very sure it has no consequences staying within the animal, and this is certainly one area where I think a number of small scale keepers and the Fancy can be found at fault.
It’s not so much the food stuffs used in this instance (although obviously there are issues that need to be addressed on that point) but the regime of chemicals and drugs that get administered and applied willy-nilly. There’s many a poultry keeper I’ve spoken to who decided to keep chickens because they had become concerned over the welfare of the livestock used to produce meat and eggs. Some were uneasy about the cocktail of antibiotics and vaccinations that were being administered to the chickens that supplied the high street, and this led them to rear some of their own birds. By the same measure I’ve spoken to and heard of many more backyard poultry keepers who seem to have forgotten that Betty the Hen is in fact ‘livestock’ and therefore falls under a different category to ‘pet’. Being blunt this means the stuff you squirt all over your cat to prevent biting insects can’t be applied to your chickens unless the label specifically says so. This is because ‘cat’ isn’t something you see on the supermarket shelf. By the same measure injecting your chicken with a ‘cure’ that keeps you dog fit and healthy is also a bad call, on account of the fact your dog doesn’t lay eggs for Sundays full cooked breakfast.
And then there are those I encounter within the Fancy who apply all manner of unlicensed products to their birds whilst spraying industrial insecticides throughout their sheds to minimise the risk of disease and pests burdening their show winning flock. When I challenge them a defence of “ah but these are show birds” is offered but this isn’t a defence unless you have no intention of either consuming or selling on stock or eggs. Ultimately if these people release either eggs or birds from their flock then they are running the risk of putting something into the food chain that shouldn’t be there.
As a Kansas State University pharmacologist recently said, “what you don’t know about your chickens could hurt you and others”. People who use, administer and apply ‘off-piste’, under the counter medications and chemicals need to be aware that there are potential drug residues that could sit within the eggs and meat of the bird for an indeterminate amount of time. These people do exist too because if I for one had a pound for every time I heard “I use XYZ and look, my birds are fine, and none of them have dropped dead” then I’d be able to afford a few rounds at the pub for sure.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I might be outspoken about what I consider to be daft when it comes to the application of legislation surrounding what can and cannot be fed to poultry, but this is because I’m trying to apply common sense, pragmatism and scalability. However, when it comes to the control of medications and chemical treatments then there are sound reasons why they should not be used around livestock. This is because of the risk to the food chain, so unless you can genuinely claim to “know best” then be aware you could well be inadvertently dosing our food chain with fluoroquinolones , phenylpyrazoles and all manner of lethal concoctions. Eat that.
This is a debate that I find interesting given a large proportion of our exports to the EU are to Ireland…. I guess though, the question is whether the UK takes more in subsidy from the EU that it does in supply. Answers on a postcard
UK – The UK could grow the rural economy, improve the environment and protect the country from plant and animal diseases if it was outside the European Union, according to the former environment secretary Owen Paterson.
Even if you only keep a few birds as pets or for an egg supply for the kitchen it is worth keeping up to speed on what is happening within the commercial side of our ‘hobby’
c/o The Poultry Site
CHRISTMAS SPECIAL – An editor’s selection box of some of this year’s news stories that have had the biggest impact on poultry production and trade around the world.
Occasionally I receive content for the blog from folks around the web and this time I’ve been sent some fencing information care of Liz Greene.
If you follow any of the columns I write for various magazines then you’ll be familiar of my encounters with predators here in the UK, namely the fox, badger and a one legged escapee Harris Hawk. On reading Liz’s advice I now consider myself lucky not having to worry about bears, snakes, bobcats and raccoons!
Have a read… it’s all sound advice and thanks Liz for sharing it!
Fencing Your Chickens: What You Need to Know
When it comes to chicken fencing, there are two objectives — keep predators out and keep your chickens in.The first objective is easily the most important, as chickens have little-to-no means of protecting themselves. However, trying to herd chickens isn’t always the easiest task, so keeping them contained is just as necessary.
So what options do you have for fencing your flock?
Hardware Cloth (Wire Mesh)
Hardware cloth is excellent fencing material for chicken runs, as it’s the best option to protect against a number of small and medium sized predators such as rats, snakes, minks, and raccoons. Available in different sizes, the half inch size is ideal for creating a protected outdoor pen. Use the quarter inch size to cover smaller areas, such as the coop windows or vents. Hardware cloth is galvanized to protect against rust and while it’s a bit stiff, it can easily be bent it by hand.
Although it’s cheap, easy to install, and has chicken in the name, chicken wire should be avoided if you’re looking to keep predators from decimating your flock. This lightweight, octagonal-shaped wire will keep your chickens in, but it won’t keep the predators out. Raccoons and other dexterous animals are infamous for reaching through chicken wire and tearing apart the chickens they can grab. Chicken wire should only be used in daytime runs where you have direct supervision over your flock.
There are a few different types of electric fencing that work for chickens — two and three wire systems, electric netting, and combination electric and standard fencing.
Two to three wire systems work well to deter medium to large predators — but snakes, rats, and mice can pass right through. Electric netting keeps the lion’s share of predators out, but tends to be more expensive and trickier to maintain.
Combination fencing is the best bet as it’s an easy way to deter predators and is fairly inexpensive. Simply add a ground wire four to six inches from the bottom of your current fence and another wire along the top to deter climbing predators. Connect wires to a 5,000 volt charger to both contain chickens and stop predators.
Whatever material you ultimately decide to build your fence out of, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind. Bobcats, coyotes, and foxes are fantastic jumpers and can easily clear four foot fences. Chicken fences should be at least five feet tall, though six feet is better in my opinion. Cover the chicken run with wire mesh fencing or game-bird netting to discourage hawks and owls from dropping in and grabbing one of your chickens.
Badgers, foxes, and raccoons will dig under a fence if the ground is soft enough. Bury wire mesh fencing 8-12 inches down into the ground and then 8-10 inches outward. Place bricks or gravel over the turned out wire before covering it back over with soil.
While solid fencing is a deterrent to predators, it isn’t always foolproof. It’s not enough to simply install a reliable fence, you also have to be vigilant about maintaining it. After all, your chickens are counting on you to keep them safe.