Q is for Quality
An eclectic alphabet of chicken facts with a difference. Compiler: Andy Cawthray
BUYING LAYING STOCK
One of the best times to pick up new POL (point of lay) stock, both in terms of bird health and from a price perspective, is late summer onwards. This may seem an odd time to buy, with most people probably thinking spring would be the best, but a bird that is 20-25 weeks old in the summer will have been hatched early spring, and will hopefully have been allowed to grow on outdoors during the warm summer months. It’s also very possible that the bird will come into lay before the onset of winter, and subsequently lay throughout the winter when older birds are resting or moulting. In the spring any bird at 20-25 weeks of age will have spent significantly longer indoors and possibly under artificial heat/light for a larger part of its growing period.
From a price perspective, many breeders will have finished selecting their stock for the next season and exhibition breeders will have picked out their show team, so there will be a lot of surplus stock on the market from late summer onwards. A lot of the stock will be high quality, making the prices more competitive than earlier in the season. This provides the clever buyer a good chance of grabbing a bargain too.
BUYING BREEDING STOCK
Spring is a good time to purchase breeding stock. Ideally, the birds will be at least 1 year old, will have gone through a moult, and possibly even have had a short breeding season already. Purchasing in the spring will provide the longest breeding period, and should enable you to make an assessment of their quality and the quality of their progeny within the first 6-8 months of purchase, prior to the onset of winter. Under-performing
birds, or those that are not breeding correctly, can then be removed or sold on before the winter arrives, removing the cost of over wintering the stock.
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.
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
Whilst ‘Table’ or ‘Meat’ breeds are a defined group within pure breed chickens, it is possible to create a bird through crossing that, whilst not pure, still exhibits the required qualities of the breed type. Such characteristics are a broad breast, deep body, a wide flat back, and, ideally, a chicken that grows and feathers quickly. Many small-scale keepers have made crossings using breeds such as Indian Game in order to attain these qualities. The result won’t be a pure breed, and is unlikely to breed true, but it will produce something suitable for the table.
It is also possible to produce a bird that, through careful crossing, will produce offspring that match the characteristics of a layer type, but are not in fact a pure breed or capable of breeding true. The qualities of a layer type are the ability to lay over 200 eggs a year (ideally over 280 for the best individuals in a flock). They should also come into lay as early possible, at least by twenty-one to twenty-four weeks of age, and they should be light in frame and body mass.
Ixworth utility stock
Stock reared for autumn laying
ABOVE LEFT: Marans make excellent layers of brown eggs ABOVE RIGHT: An Ancona BELOW: Examining potential breeding stock
A Bresse 12-week-old utility breed
A spring breeding trio