Homework for getting chickens


2009 09 chooks06.jpgThree small Barnevelder hens have moved in!

They came from a local breeder of rare chickens, Heidi Allison in Meredith.

I was looking for some hens to give me eggs, be a "chook tractor", and provide me with straw and chook manure to help improve the Buninyong Garden's soil.

They will lay brown eggs (in a few mothhs!).

My research had given me a list of possible breeds that would be ok for beginners, and some were on the list as much for how beautiful they were!

The List:

  • Australorps (black)
  • Barred Plymoth Rock (very stripy - black and white beauties)
  • Silver laced Wyandottes (beautiful)
  • Barnevelder (quite beautiful and brown)

I rang Heidi to see what kind of hens she had available - yes she had Barnevelder and recommended them because they were:

  • good layers,
  • good foragers,
  • not flighty,
  • not prone to going "broody".

Paul had joked that Barnevelders would continue our theme of brown pets!

Why buy these rare breeds when I could get cheep x-battery hens? Many reasons:

  • paying for the pure bred chickens allows the breeder to get rid of her non-breeding birds and make some return on her effort (ie keep the pure breeds going - not directly, but by encourgaing the breeder)
  • the attributes of the pure bred birds are good for a beginner
  • the cross breed layers are bred to lay lots of eggs then die (live fast, die early!)
  • the cross breeds can be agreesive to others in the flock - strong pecking order behaviour can = damaged chooks!
  • plenty of advice and assistance from the breder on rearing chooks vs "just buy another one" if a cheep chook dies

Good for Beginners

I read all this after I had got the hens!

From the "Practical Poultry" magazine:

The Barnevelder is a hardy breed; the type of bird that, assuming all the basic welfare requirements are met, can be left largely to its own devices.  It's not a 'high maintenance' breed to own and, thanks to is durable nature, resistance to chicken-related diseases tends to be high. ...

These aspects, and the fact that these birds havea very pleasant relaxed character, and are generally robust and resistant to all the common poultry-related complaints make the Barnevelder an excellent choice for a beginner.

They are easy to handle and straightforward to keep; who could ask for more than that?  Adverse weather isn't a particular problem and, being a relatively small winged, heavy breed, flying isn't an issue either - they can be effectively contained with little more thatn a four foot fence in the right environment.

Like most breeds, the Barnevelder enjoys a free range lifestyle given the chance.  But its placid nature means that if confinement is necessary, then this should't be a desperate problem either, assuming of course that the birds are not being overcrowded.  Another benefit of their calm nature is that 'Barnies' rarely seem prone to disruptive and destructive vices such as feather pecking or fighting.  This isn't to say, however, that these things can't be provoked by poor environment and/or stress, because they certainly can.

Breeding Barnevelders

Again from the "Practical Poultry" magazine:

If you intend to breeds with these birds then this should prove a  fairly uneventful process too. Fertilty levels are typically good, as are hatch rates.  Consequently, it is rare to hear stories of keepers encountering hatching or rearing problems with this breed.  Just about the only potential problem can occur if youngsters are moved out of the broder too soon, although this isn't a Barnevelder-specific danger.  As a guide, experienced breeders don't let their young stock out until about the 8 week old mark, at which point the youngsters should certainly be strong enough to grow-on healthily from there.

One final point, with regard to breeding, is that Barnie hens certainly don't make good broody mothers.  Of course, this shouldn't come as any great surprise given the breed's commercial utility roots. Most of this tendency will have been bred-out during the orriginal development process and, althouh you may find the odd hen displaying these broody tendancies, these birds can;t gereally be relied upon in this respect. So, anyone keen on the natural brooding route will need to bring in a reliable brody hen such as a Silkie, to incubate and hatch their eggs.

This lack of broodiness is potnetially just about the only downside of this much underrated Dutch breed, and even this won't be an issue for most domestic keepers who either arn't interested in  breeding, or use an incubator anyway.  Every other as[ect of the breed surely get a resounding thumbs-up.  Barnevelders are an attractive productive and family friendly breed and although they can't boast the history of some of our more established pure breeds, they are thoroughly deserviing of your support nonetheless.