Delaware chickens are a heritage breed that is listed among the threatened status on the American Livestock Breed Conservancy website. The Delaware chicken is a dual purpose breed that lays brown eggs. Being dual purpose, means that they are also good meat producing chickens. Delaware chickens will grow at a moderate to good rate, yet not quite as fast as the commercial meat breeds of chickens. The mature males weigh around 8 pounds, while the females reach a mature weight nearing 6 pounds.
Delaware chickens have mainly white feathers, with black accents. These black accents are generally referred to as barring. The barring is mainly located around the neck of the males and females. The males feature long black and white tail feathers and a predominant red comb and wattle.
The skin on their legs are yellow.
Their bodies are long and broad. The legs of Delaware chickens are very large and muscular. Perhaps this makes them a hit with children who like to eat drumsticks.
As a general rule, Delaware peeps are quick to grow feathers. The Delaware breed tends to be cold tolerant. They are somewhat active birds, that seem to stay rather docile.
For more about the Delaware chicken breed, please click on the link below.
American Livestock Breeds Conservancy: Delaware Chicken.
The Challenge of Containing Chickens
Containing chickens is perhaps one of the biggest challenges to raising free range chickens. Our farm is a testimony to the wonderfully destructive nature of chickens. Chickens have a natural tendency to scratch as they forage. This behavior seems to give them a natural homing beacon for flower beds and the vegetable garden. The best time of the year for our ladies appears to be immediately following the distribution of mulch in our flowerbeds. It seems the the nice mulched look quickly gives way to the “mulch-all-over-the-yard” look. Or perhaps it is better known as “mulch-on-the-walkways” look.
There are many opinions on containing chickens. One opinion (which we have not tried partly due to cost) is that a six foot high fence system will keep the birds in their pens. I do think this will work well, however the cost of this fence structure is very prohibitive. The installation would likely need to be done by a professional. A downfall of this system would be removal once the metal finally degrades. I would suspect a 30 to 40 year lifespan, which would help to offset the cost or at least spread it out over the many years.
Another option for containing chickens is to put up woven wire fencing. This typically comes in 48 inch high rolls that are in 100 or 300 foot lengths. 8 foot wooden posts are usually placed very 10 feet adding to the cost of this system. I also believe that this system requires some poultry netting in addition to the woven wire, as the holes near the bottom are large enough for a hen to climb through. (I have witnessed this firsthand). Some people add a hot wire toward the bottom for both predator control and to encourage the chickens to stay contained within the fence.
Alternatively, people have used snow fencing. Snow fencing should have close enough slat to contain chickens and to keep predators out. Snow fencing would perhaps be a little unsightly. There are two types of fencing that I refer to as snow fence. The first is a combination of wire intertwined around one inch vertical slats. The second is an orange, grid-shaped/ diamond patterned roll of flexible plastic. Both would work well for chickens.
I suppose that some sort of high tensile could be used as well. The wires would have to be numerous and spaced every inch or so toward the bottom, gradually increasing the distance in between the wires as the fence is built higher. If electrified, this fencing system would perhaps keep chickens in and predators out. The big downfall to this system would be the need for frequent weed control to keep the grass and weeds from contacting the lowest electrified wire….resulting in a short.
A traditional approach is to mount hexagonal chicken wire onto posts. The posts can be either metal T-posts, or more permanent wooden posts. This chicken wire has very small, hexagonal-shaped holes. The holes are small enough to keep even the smallest peeps inside the pen. The problem with this fencing system is the weakness of the wire itself. If the posts are places close enough (6 to 8 feet apart) and the fencing is stretched fairly tight, the weakness may be overcome.
As seen in the picture above, we have elected to try a system called electric poultry netting. We purchased two, 110 foot long rolls can a charger to electrify the fence. We do have an occasional chicken that performs its own fly over, but the system has held up well so far. One nice feature is that the fence is easy to move. This allows us to change the range area that the chickens can access. This allows the grass to recover from being eaten and trampled. It also helps to spread the chicken manure around, thereby spreading out potential parasites and keeping the burden down in any one area. We have yet to attach the electric fence charger, due to lack of time (well actually simple laziness). Even without the charger, the chickens stay in for the most part thanks to wing clipping.
On a side note: We have likely had some coccidia, as we so not utilize coccidiostats. We feel that this allows for a natural immunity once the birds have been infected. By moving the pasture access. the coccidia does not concentrate in any one area.
Well, our flock is getting older and it is time to consider purchasing new hens. In general, A hen will have her best rate of laying eggs within her first cycle. Once she molts, the rate of egg lay declines. We have hens that have molted three times and are getting ready for their forth molt. Two of these hens have gone broody. This means that they are constantly sitting on the nest, in hopes of hatching a clutch of chicks.
English: A broody Rhode Island Red hen guarding her eggs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
So herein lies the dilemna, how do we go about repopulating our flock? There are several options. The first of which is to buy some fertile eggs and either place them in the incubator or place them under the hens to let them hatch the eggs. The second is to buy chicks from a hatchery and either ship them here or go pick them up (we have a hatchery that is about 45 minutes away from here). The final way to repopulate is to wait until the spring and then purchase chicks at the local farm supply store.
A chicken coop in a Seattle backyard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I am leaning toward a combination of options one and two. We may contact a local friend who has fertile eggs and place about 6 under each broody hen. This would hopefully allow us to get a few young chicken back into the flock and let us watch a hen actually rear a brood of chicks. I also think that we are likely to order a batch of chicks from a hatchery. This allows us to pick the specific breed, which will be a heritage breed, of course. We will likely go with Delawares, as they have been calm and have a good rate of lay. The males also grow fast, which allows for meat production.
One additional reason that we need to purchase a few more hens is that our customer base is growing. We have gone from 2 to 4 regular customers in the past year. Though this is not all that impressive, we have done this without advertising. Once a family member or friend purchases some eggs to try, they are hooked. There is no comparison between the size of our eggs and the ones labeled large at the grocery. Our eggs also have a very deep orange yolk, which is an indication of the nutrient content within the egg.
After about 10 days of having the site up and running, we are picking up some steam. Yesterday was a good day, with 40 views. That is close to what the maximum views were on the wordpress.com site. I still hope to capitalize on that traffic once I figure out how to simply transfer that traffic to this site. The wordpress.com site has more presence in the search engine world, as it has been up and running since February or lat January.
We picked up a few followers this week, so I would like to thank you for that. Please comment and let us know how we are doing. We are always taking ideas for post topics.
New calf (Photo credit: Sarah Elizabeth Simpson)
There seems to be some interest in heritage breeds of animals. People are searching for homesteading animals and these seem to fit the homestead best. In fact, that is why most were developed. As we trended toward larger and larger factory farms, certain breeds began to excel in those situations. Perhaps this was due to selection for those purposes. Meanwhile, the heritage animals fit best in low input production systems. We truly enjoy heritage animals, as we not only preserve the past, but look toward production to drive our model here. We currently have Delaware chickens and Red Poll Cattle. I am likely going to place an order for some Barred Holland chickens, as they are the rarest of rare when it comes to chicken breeds. At some point, we hope to have some rare sheep and goats. We are looking into Santa Cruz Sheep and San Clemente Island goats.
Until Next Time!
A picture of our first Delaware Rooster with a few Delaware hens, a Black Astraporpe hen and a Rhode Island Red Hen
The girls roaming the yard
Our Aracuana Peeps. Also known as Easter Egger Chickens. These lay green eggs for us.
See a nice green egg, our first ever!