Breed Focus: Cream Legbars!
Cream Legbars are a unique breed that offer much to the backyard enthusiast. They are sexable as day old chicks, and have the added advantage of laying beautiful blue eggs! Cockerel chicks are light in colour with a large white dot, while pullet chicks are darker with clearly defined lines and "eyeliner".
This is a breed that is relatively new, they were developed overseas after the second world war. They were developed by Dr. Punnet in Britain, and are a medium sized, crested breed. Cream Legbars are bred to be productive, medium sized birds. They should be calm, and lay lots of large blue eggs. They can be non-crested, though the breed standard calls for a small compact crest. They are a nice alternative to heavily crested breeds such as polish or silkies, as their crests aren't large enough to impede normal functioning.
As many breeds that became popular quickly, the cream legbars do face some struggles as a breed. They are often too gold in colour, where the standard calls for a cream or silver coloured hackles in both sexes. In North America, cockerels often have an abundance of chestnut in their wing and back area, and pullets are often golden in the hackles. We imported Cream Legbars from the Rees line in the UK (via Greenfire Farms) as they are more true to type then our original line that we are no longer working with. From a critical standpoint, our cockerels still have a little more chestnut then the standard calls for, and our pullets could have lighter crests.
We have found this line of Cream Legbars to be incredibly productive, they began laying at 19 weeks and continue to be strong layers of beautiful blue eggs. They have been hardy, strong, calm and inquisitive though not obtusely friendly in terms of wanting to jump on your shoulder.
They have been an excellent addition to our poultry lineup and we are looking forward to working with them in the future! We can't wait to get some eggs into the incubator from these beautiful birds.
Spring is coming, which means there's a whole new dilemma! Who makes it into the breeding pen? Which birds have qualities worth passing on to offspring? Most importantly, we consider what is it we are trying to achieve in this next generation? This one question can determine who stays, who goes.
For example, with our Silver Sussex flock we had been focusing on size and colour.
We have come great strides in improving their size. Colour is still a work in progress and this year we are working on leg colour as well! Unfortunately the Silver Sussex are still relatively rare, despite their excellent dual purpose qualities. Cockerels grow quickly and their carcass is beautiful when processed between 5-7 months using our method of pasture raising for the majority of their life, then grain finishing.
The biggest issue I see with these birds from a confirmation point of view, is that their colour still reverts back to generations ago when they were first imported and a Light Sussex was used in the breeding pen to improve genetic diversity. This has caused many generations of "gay colouring" or, over-white in the feathering. We are working to overcome this by not only carefully selecting appropriate coloured cockerels, but ALSO ensuring the hens are not over coloured with silver down into their breast area or down their back. The proper colouring should be considered Birchen. We are also working on leg colour. Unfortunately, the more white on the cockerel, the whiter his legs are! We are working on breeding better coloured legs, though it is a few generations of work, as with the body colour. Now, just because we are focusing on phenotype, or 'how they look', doesn't mean we've stopped breeding for how they preform, or their functionality! We are still monitoring for egg production and choosing the best coloured birds out of the best growing birds.
What next? Ok, let's talk about Black Copper Marans, just for fun. Marans are beautiful birds that are supposed to be dual purpose chickens that lay gorgeous dark brown eggs. They originated in France and have become very popular in North America for their chocolate brown eggs! Now, we see what happens when you have the flip side of a breed that's awesome but not very popular..... popular breeds can often be poorly bred because everyone wants them! It's easy enough to go buy 6 chicks from anywhere, breed them together and sell the resulting chicks as marans. But, it takes dedication, willingness to learn and ability to cull hard and chose GOOD stock to breed from, to do these breeds justice. Egg colour can be lost in one generation of poor breeding, and can take several generations to bring it back to where you started from.
So, where did we start? We started with some black copper marans from two different breeders on the island. We quickly decided we loved the eggs, liked the hens, and despised the rooster. The rooster we had was mean, and human aggressive, which is not something we tolerate. So - first mission, easy - breed for disposition! This meant that all the mean boys went in the pot, yesterday kinda thing. Then what? Well, we noticed that some of our offspring didn't have as much copper as their parents. Through further research and delving into the Marans of France standard (which can be hard to read!) we learned more about the colouring. Black Copper Marans cockerels should have 'parsimonous' colouring on their breast. This means, randomly placed splotches of copper. A fully coppered breast is not acceptable, nor is a solid black chest. And this goes for breeding blue or splash copper marans too! By choosing a better coloured rooster from a third line we brought in, we saw some great improvements in the offspring, though we still watch our pullets (because they are just as important in breeding as the cockerel!) to ensure they have a nice amount of beautiful, dark copper in their neck feathers. We try to avoid a 'brassy' copper colour, and instead choose those with darker copper.
Now let's talk about those eggs. Breeding marans can honestly be one of the most challenging to work with because not only do you have the normal challenges of confirmation, you have the additional challenge of egg colour! In order to increase darkness of eggs, you need to choose your darkest coloured eggs to hatch. Select the best cockerels and pullets and go from there. Although it's impossible to tell once grown, unless you've marked them, the roosters also carry genes for egg colour. The boys hatched from the darkest eggs, when crossed with hens who lay dark eggs, will produce dark eggs as well. There can be the odd occasion where, for some reason, egg colour is not as dark in the odd hen here and there. Unfortunately it's not predictable, just pops up on occasion.
At Briarwood Poultry we are working really hard with ALL of our marans to get the darkest eggs possible. One of the biggest challenges has been the Blue Marans. The black copper marans are fairly good, and the wheaten marans lay awesome eggs. Though on the flip side, the blue marans are incredible layers of nice big eggs, and for body size they are really suitable dual purpose boys while the wheaten marans eggs are a bit smaller and it does take them a full year to fill out. For this year, we will be working on egg colour and body colour (copper does still pop up in our offspring though we have been breeding copper free blue marans for 3 generations now!) with blue marans, body size with wheaten marans, and egg colour with those black copper marans.
Though this was a bit of a long winded blog, I hope that someone out there somewhere, took something away from it! If all you get from this post is "Breed with a goal in mind" that's ok! The only way to move forward it to set goals that you can achieve one step at a time. Don't expect to see 100% resolution in one generation. Hatch as many chicks as you can realistically take care of to be able to choose the BEST of your crop for breeding. If you can only get a small flock for the first year, that's ok too! Breed those, keep all you can, and cull hard next year.
Until next time :)
"Why don't you sell hatching eggs for pick up?"
We get that question pretty frequently. There are many breeders who refuse to sell hatching eggs altogether because of the high risks involved. The truth is, there is no short answer. We would love to be able to sell hatching eggs locally because it truly takes a lot less time and effort then either of the other options:
- shipping eggs, which requires about 30+ minutes per doz to package each egg individually then as a dozen, then into a box, then label the box, then drive it to the post office, come home and email out the tracking number and shipping cost
-selling chicks for pick up or shipping, which requires us to collect eggs, find space for them in the incubator, candle them at 10 days to remove the duds, not to mention estimate how many eggs we need to incubate to get the number of chicks you want, plus the cost to run and maintain the incubator, as well as disinfect it
Unfortunately, the past has taught us that many people expect the same number of chicks as the number of eggs they buy. For example - they buy a dozen eggs, they want a dozen chicks. We have had cases in the past where 5 chicks from 6 eggs, 20 chicks from 24 eggs, were not acceptable to our customers, which of course caused a lot of stress on our part due to the fact that we clearly state the risks of hatching egg purchases on our website and order form. We do our very best to provide the best customer care possible, but sometimes it's no easy task to keep people happy!
Because unfortunately, even when hatched at home with the best of incubators, all our experience, zero travel time, eggs still don't always hatch. When you buy hatching eggs, you are not paying for chicks, you are paying for eggs that are - to the best of our knowledge - fertile. We collect eggs frequently, we test hatch at home often to make sure that fertility is high, and we keep our nestboxes and pens as clean as possible so the eggs are clean. But, mother nature is what it is and not every single egg will hatch.
We do appreciate that it costs a lot of money to ship chicks, which is why we still make hatching eggs available by shipping. Not all of our breeds are available by shipping, sometimes because they are so rare and we only have a smaller number of birds. This means we would rather give each egg the best possible chance to hatch, by hatching it at home and taking limited number of chick orders for that breed. An example is - our chocolate cuckoo orpingtons. Another example of such is when we have advertised our mauve orpingtons, because they are in the same pen as our chocolate cochin project pullets and we would hate to send you the wrong eggs!
I hope that this post will help you to understand why we avoid selling hatching eggs locally. We are willing to do so if customers are willing to accept that we can not guarantee your success with hatching out chicks. We are ALWAYS happy to take a custom chick order if the eggs are available to do so, and are also happy to give you our tricks for successful incubation, but every incubator is different and no two hatches are the same.
As you can imagine, we often get request for point of lay pullets to sell. Usually - especially the beginning of spring - we don't have any available.
This is for a few reasons.
We are a small hobby farm and we breed to improve the breeds we work with. We also have a laying flock of our own to produce delicious eating eggs for us to consume and to sell the extra's.
What does this mean? Well for us it means that each spring, starting about March we begin to hatch chicks to keep at home. We hatch a lot of chicks of each breed, more of the breeds that need more work. For example, this past year we hatched over 50 silver sussex chicks to keep and raise at home in order to select the nicest for our breeding pen for next spring.
This fall we have some pullets for sale - not many but a few. This has brought about the question - why do we charge so much for point of lay pullets?
Well, raising heritage chicks from day old's to point of lay is expensive, simply put. The cost of raising them to the point of being off heat is roughly $4-6 per bird depending on the weather and how fast they feather in. That cost includes heat for their barn to keep the ambient temperature warm, a heat lamp or brinsea brooder, feed, shavings and any supplements for their water such as apple cider vinegar. Now, keep in mind that's $4-6 per bird, regardless of whether they are a pullet or a cockerel. So, say you started with a $10 chick (the $10 going towards feeding, housing, bedding and lighting for their parents who have these requirements year round not just during breeding season), add $4-6 for the cost of having them until they are outside off heat - you've got yourself a $14-16 bird and they are still months away from laying! The next 2-3 months they will continue to eat feed, require housing, water, bedding and attention. When selling a pullet for $30, that extra $14-16 will mainly cover their feed costs, and a little of the bedding costs.
Anyone looking at this from a business standpoint will say "Wait! What about profit? What about the roosters? What if they all turn out to be boys?"
Well that raises some good points too. We rarely make a profit from selling point of lay pullets. And, actually, when you figure in the cost of raising the roosters and the pullets to point of slaughter and lay, then figure that a rooster sells for $15-20 when processed (which is another $4/bird in costs for processing at a licensed and inspected facility), it's a bit dismal. Also consider that the batches of chicks will be roughly half pullets half cockerels - roughly - but not always. We have had 7 cockerels and 3 pullets out of 10 chicks. Similarly we have had 8 pullets out of 8 chicks, so it varies from hatch to hatch, and always seems to be that if you are wanting pullets you'll get cockerels and vice versa.
So, at the end of the day, selling point of lay pullets is a bit of an exercise in futility for us. We have do have some available right now (3 each of the coronation sussex and 3 black wyandottes) and hopefully this blog will help people to understand the cost of raising pullets to point of lay and why we sell them for the prices we do. It's important for consumers to continue to support sustainable farming, even though I know you can find POL ISA Brown hatchery birds for $12 each, the importance of supporting small farmers as well as preserving heritage breeds is paramount.
Well here we are, the end of spring has sprung and we are heading into summer. This year, summer is bringing us all sorts of change as we relocate a couple of our beloved flocks to new homes where they will continue to be bred, worked with and improved upon. Our Coronation Sussex flock is going to live on Small Beginnings Farm in Langley, and our Blue/Black/Splash Orpington flock is going to live in Saskatchewan. The decision to sell these flocks was extremely hard and it took a lot of contemplating to make the decision. Mainly we had to look at ways to reduce chores and our feed costs. The price of feed has increased by a few dollars per bag of chick starter and grower, so for large breed birds that consume a lot of feed to get to their substantial size it is quite costly. Here we like to grow out about 20-30 (sometimes more depending on what we are looking for) chicks of each breed to add the best 2-3 to our breeding flock for the following year. So, you can imagine the space, feed, and time requirements for that!
We have decided to pursue Orpingtons but via the bantam route instead. They are still great layers of only slightly smaller eggs then our standard flock, but can live happily in a smaller tractor rather then their own barn with huge run attached. We will have two colors of bantam orpingtons - blue/black/splash and CHOCOLATE! We are very excited about the chocolate orpingtons. They are friendly, beautiful and oh-so-fluffy! We just love them. We also have a growing flock of Crested Cream Legbars. These little beauties lay powder blue eggs, are sight sexable at hatch, and are really neat colored birds!
Anyways enough about the changes, looking forward to 2014!
What a whirlwind this spring has been! I can't believe we are nearly into summer already. The days are warming up, hens are molting or going broody, and I'm losing all desire to package eggs for shipping!
This year we have been very busy hatching chicks to fill orders, but also doing custom hatching for others. The size of our incubator has definitely been justified this year, and believe it or not I managed to FILL the both incubators, on more then one occasion! We have been blessed with good fertility and great customers, and are now starting to wind things down around the farm, so we can all enjoy summer. We have kept some of our own chicks to grow out for next year, and as they grow we will be moving them into the breeding pens, as we move breeding groups back to the laying flock to relax and stretch their wings.
In the next two weeks, we will be shipping our last hatching eggs until fall. We will have a few odds and ends of chicks available as day old's, and we hope to have some started adolescents available later this summer (please don't email us about these birds though - we have no idea what we will have at this point, and will post the birds on the website when we know).
Today I finally was able to sort out the rest of my breeding pens. Now everyone is sorted out and we are roughly three weeks from having pure coronation and blue wheaten ameraucana hatching eggs! The rest of the birds are in their flocks and I will be updating photos on the website as soon as I have the time and a half decent day to take photos! We have been busy shipping hatching eggs around Canada to various places, and we are really looking forward to being able to offer the sussex and ameraucana hatching eggs soon!
On another note...
I also fired up the medium sized incubator today! I have had the little brinsea running for a custom chick order for a few weeks now, but finally I turned on the Brinsea 190 and filled a tray and a half (just over 6 doz eggs) and put them in the incubator. In just 21 days I will likely be over run with chicks! I can't wait to hear the pitter patter of little chicky feet, and the soft peep peep peep!
Until next time!
This is my first year raising the wheaten/blue wheaten ameraucana. I have to say, I couldn't be more pleased with them! I think they have to be one of the most friendly purebred birds on our farm. These guys are happy to see you every day, and run right up to your boots or fly up onto your shoulder!
And, not only are they so very friendly, the are beautiful too! The blue wheatens are my favourite, they are so elegant and pretty. The wheatens are also very pretty, and the splash just look nuts! I have roosters and hens of each color, so I expect to see a mix of all three varieties in the offspring I hatch from them. The wheaten ameraucana are one of our favourite additions to the farm and they will definitely have a home here for years to come. They appear to be a nice size, and I have high hopes for the laying qualities of the hens.
Keep watch for updated photos of them! It is hard now with the rainy season finally upon us, but I will post photos when they are more mature and in their breeding groups. As you can imagine, I am very anxious to start hatching in 2012! I will be doing all of my hatching for myself early in the spring, as I have found that my later hatches (late July/August) don't thrive as well as the earlier hatched chicks with our setup. We are also hoping to utilize our broody hens to raise chicks rather then brood them separately - I think they grow up to be more wholesome and healthy, and seem to have better grazing/foraging instincts.
Hurry up, spring!
Briarwood Poultry's tech-savvy coop cleaner, Amanda, comments on life on the farm, breeding and keeping poultry.