Poul­try Pen

In the first of a mini-se­ries, Andy Cawthray looks at the wide va­ri­ety of chicken that have been de­vel­oped to meet a range of needs. This time — the lay­ers

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

Dif­fer­ent breeds for dif­fer­ent needs — lay­ers — by Andy Cawthray

As the New Year ap­proaches, peo­ple start to plan for the sea­son ahead and for many folks this takes the guise of what to grow, but for some it could well in­volve a ven­ture into work­ing with live­stock. While chick­ens are per­haps not per­ceived in the same light as sheep, pigs or cat­tle, for ex­am­ple, they are still a form of live­stock and, in fact, one which is ac­ces­si­ble to the mi­cro-holder or the back gar­den en­thu­si­ast. They also come in a va­ri­ety of forms de­vel­oped in or­der to ad­dress a range of needs and, over the next few months, I will be tak­ing a closer look at how these dif­fer­ent breed types ap­peared, their char­ac­ter­is­tics and how their hus­bandry can vary.

The back story

Un­til re­cent times, al­most all do­mes­ti­cated chick­ens were viewed as egg lay­ers. The pri­mary pur­pose of the chicken was to lay eggs — and lots of them. This took pri­or­ity over the pro­vi­sion of meat for the ta­ble and only when the bird ceased be­ing pro­duc­tive would it be culled and used for food. Many coun­tries and re­gions care­fully de­vel­oped their own spe­cific breeds best suited to their lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment. Con­se­quently, there is a wide range of breeds with a long his­tory, some dat­ing back to the early 18th Cen­tury, such as the Lak­en­velder, and oth­ers, like the New Hamp­shire, only emerg­ing as a breed in the early 20th Cen­tury. Un­for­tu­nately, for the pure lay­ing breeds, it was dur­ing the first half of the 20th Cen­tury that the mod­ern hy­brid layer ap­peared in the poul­try world and went on to take com­mand of the commercial egg mar­ket as we see it to­day.

What are they like?

Chick­ens that fall within the egg lay­ing cat­e­gory are usu­ally smaller in size than those that are bred for meat or sit within the dual pur­pose cat­e­gory. The rea­son is sim­ple: they put their en­er­gies into lay­ing eggs and not into putting on body mass. They also tend to come into lay sooner than other types of chicken. The in­tent is to have them reach­ing ma­tu­rity by 20 weeks of age and to lay as many eggs as pos­si­ble within the first few years.

They are of­ten ex­cel­lent for­agers, too, scratch­ing and dig­ging in­dus­tri­ously for ad­di­tional tit­bits, a trait that con­trib­utes to­wards their ef­fi­ciency by min­imis­ing the feed costs for max­i­mum out­put. Their na­ture is sprightly though shy and they can be very wary of their keep­ers, who need to show a pa­tient and re­laxed ap­proach if they are to suc­cess­fully tame the birds.

These breeds also fall into the ‘non­sit­ting’ cat­e­gory, mean­ing that they scarcely go broody. This is a trait not favoured in lay­ing breeds and over the cen­turies brood­i­ness has been se­lected out through care­ful breed­ing. If the in­ten­tion is to raise lay­ing breeds from fer­tile eggs, al­ter­na­tive hatch­ing meth­ods will be needed, such as an ar­ti­fi­cial in­cu­ba­tor or a will­ing broody hen of a dif­fer­ent breed.

Lov­ing care

The lay­ing group of breeds tends to be lighter in the body, more ag­ile and, in most cases, quite ca­pa­ble of short flight. As such, high fences or roofed in runs are re­quired to stop them stray­ing too far if free rang­ing is not an op­tion. They are pre­dom­i­nantly clean legged and so cope well on wet­ter ground or more muddy con­di­tions than those with foot feath­er­ing. The breeds are de­signed to lay daily for as long as day­light hours al­low and this can equate to 280-plus eggs in the first year.

It is good man­age­ment prac­tice to weed out the poor per­form­ers if there is an in­ten­tion to breed re­place­ments. Birds that have good feath­er­ing to­wards the end of the sea­son, or ones still lay­ing eggs with heavy pig­men­ta­tion, are in­fre­quent lay­ers and should not be bred from.

With this in mind, it is im­por­tant to note that the out­put of a par­tic­u­lar chicken can also de­pend upon the blood­line it comes from. Many of the breeds or colours within a breed that were once ex­cel­lent lay­ers have changed over the years and, al­though the breed may re­main vis­ually the same, some are now de­vel­oped for ex­hibit­ing, so check be­fore you pur­chase stock.

NEXT MONTH: The back­ground, char­ac­ter­is­tics and gen­eral hus­bandry needed for the breeds clas­si­fied as dual pur­pose.

Chick­ens that fall within the egg lay­ing cat­e­gory are of­ten ex­cel­lent for­agers too

Un­til re­cent times, al­most all do­mes­ti­cated chick­ens were viewed as egg lay­ers

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