Stock Types

Like most livestock or pure breeds of animal, they are frequent sold according to a level of criteria they meet, and in this respect chickens are no different.

 

Show Quality Stock

By definition, an example of a breed that is deemed as being of show or exhibition quality is a bird that exhibits all the visual appearances required for the standard of that particular breed and plumage type that, at the right time of year, and when prepared for an exhibition, would stand a chance of being placed and receiving a rosette. The key points here are “visual appearance” and “standards”. Show quality birds meet the requirements of the show bench, even if they do not necessarily meet the original requirements or intentions in the development of the breed. For example, an Orpington was originally an excellent laying bird with good table qualities. It is now predominantly a profusely feathered ornament, whose utility value has long since been lost in the drive for excellence on the show bench.

This is a point worth bearing in mind when setting out to purchase a pure breed, as show quality birds may serve you well in a show but not in the kitchen.

 

Breeder Quality Stock

This is stock that will have some defect within its features that would prohibit it from taking any honours at a show, but does have the genetic makeup and potential to be used to breed a showing winning bird. It is a common misconception that two show winners, when bred together, will automatically produce many more show winners. They don’t, and, in fact, they rarely will.

 

Pet Quality Stock

There is nothing wrong with this level of quality if all you are looking for are chickens that provide a bit of interaction and perhaps lay a few eggs into the deal along the way. Usually, these are pure breed chickens that are sub-show-standard, and shouldn’t be used as part of a pure breed breeding programme. It doesn’t make them any less of a chicken, but it also doesn’t mean they are necessarily pet-like in their behaviour, or docile in their temperament. You still need to make sure you select the right sort of breed if that is what you are looking for from your stock.

 

Utility Stock

This is almost synonymous with the term ‘dual purpose’, as it refers to chickens that will serve the keeper well both in terms of eggs and meat. It is worth mentioning here as ‘utility’ is a function that is increasingly becoming recognised within the show circuit. The Sussex breed, for example, enjoys a buoyant show presence when plumage etc., are judged, but increasingly,the utility value of the bird is being considered and favoured above its look. If purchasing pure breed chickens with their practical livestock aspects in mind, as opposed to showing, then seeking out a good utility line is important (just as looking for good layer or table lines are, if those are the requirements you have). There is many a show winning Leghorn, a breed renown for laying huge numbers of eggs, that has had that characteristic lost through breeding purely for show qualities .

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Egg producers urged to be ready to protect from ‘year round’ bird flu threat – Farming UK News

Last year I predicted this threat could well become a reality in terms of keeping birds indoors and under cover for 6 months of the year. I didn’t want to imagine it could become a year round issue. There will be some tough decisions and tough times ahead for backyarders, the Fancy and poultry shows if this is what the future holds.

Source: Egg producers urged to be ready to protect from ‘year round’ bird flu threat – Farming UK News

Free ranging and the fox calendar

A free ranging poultry flock foraging for itself is a wonderful sight to see. By this I don’t mean the mega flocks of the commercial egg production units, but the smaller flocks you find on small holdings and larger gardens. Granted not everyone has the space to free range, or others find the conflict between the garden plants and the attention of the poultry difficult to manage, which results in birds kept within an enclosure but even then it needs to be secure because they too can be struck by probably the biggest risk for the free rangers, namely the fox.

I’ve written in this blog before about my concerns over the fox populations and then need for some sense and science to prevail through action research so we can understand better the dynamics of this incredibly adaptable creature. I won’t rattle on about it again as nothing is likely to happen that will have an immediate impact on the free ranging dilemma; better still to try and understand a little more about how to minimise the risks of a fox attack by understanding the ecology and behaviours of the British fox.

Firstly, not all gardens or small holdings are the same; in the main foxes tend to be active dusk and dawn but when they are active during the day they will visit when the site is quiet. Consequently the risk of a day time attack will be linked to some extent to the levels of disturbance around the poultry. I live in a rural location and a lot of the time I’m out and around my poultry with my trusty hound padding around the place. I keep my birds inside until dawn is well passed and somebody is always there to lock up at dusk. The heart though is in the mouth on those days when I’m off site for any duration when I know it is a busy period for the foxes in my vicinity, but when in this?

January sees the peak of the fox breeding season. The result is a lot of active foxes seeking new territory or mates, this can result in day time movement and so there is an increased probability of chicken and fox encounters. February tends to be post breeding season and this can be completely the opposite to January with very few day time sightings.

March is when the denned down vixen is being fed by the dog fox so he’ll do what he needs in terms of keep her fed and that will include grabbing a chicken during the day if food is short especially if those the chickens present easy pickings.

April and May are when the vixen needs to feed herself so she can produce milk for the cubs but the risks she takes tend to be less than in June and July when the cubs become much more active and are growing fast. Fully weaned they will be dependent upon the food she can catch, so again this increases the possibility of day time sightings. In fact I lost an entire flock of Indian Runner ducks last year at this stage with one being picked off every other day over a three week period. This I found out later to be a vixen feeding young cubs about half a mile away from my poultry paddock.

August again can be demanding for the vixen however the cubs tend to join her on foraging missions which in the main tend to be dusk to dawn adventures again. By September the cubs are beginning to become too big for the vixen and so by October the young begin to disperse bringing another period of day time sightings and possible day time strikes on vulnerable poultry flocks.

As the year draws to a close and the days become shorter it tends to be quiet for day time sightings. As such November and early December tends to be relatively quiet before ramping up again towards the end of the year as they head into the breeding season again.

Obviously this is not an exact science and much will depend upon the populations of foxes and poultry in your area, and ultimately the individual animals themselves, but I find this does make for a useful guide if I’m quantifying the risk and the probability of losing a few of my flock to foxes.

 

A Brief Appearance on BBC Midlands Today talking about Avian Flu

In case you don’t live in the Midlands area or didn’t get to see me pointing out of the anomalies in one country applying HRAs (High Risk Areas) and the neighbouring country not following suit.

 

My thanks to David for picking up on the story, it ran for most of the day and gave the issue and avian flu some much needed coverage

(it even fulfilled a life time ambition of mine by making it on to Farming Today on Radio 4)

A Critical Incident Reflection from the Chicken Coop

Critical incidents are occurrences that let us see, with new eyes, some aspect of what we do. The critical incident in question is the outbreak of bird flu this winter, and whilst at time of writing we seem to be emerging, to some degree, from the strict prevention orders, it has given me a little time to reflect on what has just happened.

Reflection is something I’ve been taught and encouraged to do whilst studying for a Masters however I’ve recently found it useful to apply to the poultry breeding part of my life.

You simply ask yourself three questions, what happened, so what and now what.

What happened? – Europe, including the UK, was hit by bird flu over the winter of 2016/17

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So what? – It resulted in a prevention order being implemented in December 2016, extended, and then extended with modification possibly until April 2017. This required enhanced biosecurity measures to be applied and birds to be kept indoors or in covered runs to minimise the risk of contact with infected wild birds. Not a simple task for a poultry keeping regime that relies on a free range, outdoor livestock.20170221_084210

 

The winters also seem to be increasingly wild and unpredictable in terms of their weather and it is safe to say that a husbandry technique that is built around free range and pastured rearing of poultry doesn’t work in gale force weather.

 

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Now what? – In the short term my breeding programme is at best delayed, at worst abandoned for the 2017 season. My maintenance costs for the winter have escalated and I have limited stock available for the markets and auctions; not that there have been any to sell through due to restrictions on poultry gatherings, consequently my income from poultry for the year will be hit.

In the longer term is this really a one off. or will next winter result in the same problem or possibly the arrival of H5N9? I will assume that prevention orders will the occur in future years, and as it seems that “lock downs” are the easiest way for the authorities to minimise the risk of bird flu impacting poultry, then I will spend the summer months adjusting my husbandry regime such that I can fully free range in the summer (should there be no prevention orders in place), and I can contain the stock under cover during the winter months, should bird flu and the associated prevention orders reoccur.

It will be a different way of working and I suspect there will be more to consider than just the housing, however I’m not convinced that this is the last we will see of these types of prevention measures that we backyarders and smallholders have had to implement, so I encourage you all to look back and reflect in readiness for the next time it happens.