Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Delaware Project update

If you have followed this blog for a while, you probably know that I have been almost obsessed with Delaware chickens for quite a while. Delawares are a critically endangered domestic breed chicken that was the most popular fowl in America for a while in the 1940's.

Being critically endangered means that there are 5 or fewer breeding flocks (or 500 breeding birds worldwide) being managed and that the fowl is in danger of being lost. Same as with species in the wild...extinction of domestic livestock is something that many people don't ever think about. I think that losing these breeds loses some of our history and, as with our comittment to preservation of historical heirloom food plants, I am determined to do my part for this chicken breed.

Back in April, after searching nationwide for a source to obtain some of these chickens, luck smiled upon me and I contacted someone in my own backyard who had some. I guess my passion for this project (I want to establish a breeding flock of Delawares) must have touched him because after a few conversations, he offered to sell me his entire flock from adult birds to
day old hatched chicks (he had them in the incubator at the time) so I jumped at the chance. Needless to say, I was thrilled because I had called all the way to Montana to try to find these
rare birds in quantity and then they just fell into my lap.

The original group consisted of 14 mature hens, 5 roosters (I only took 2...they are HUGE) and about 80 chicks ranging in age from 3-4 weeks down to the day olds that hatched the morning of the day when I picked them up. The chicks were the progeny of these 14 hens and the roosters so it really is a big ole family. (We have other chicken breeds, too but not quite as many as the Dels.)

That was back in April and now the chicks that survived are almost as big as their parents. Of the 80, we lost about 10 to predatation and accidents. All of the original adults survive. There are just about the same number of roosters as there are hens now. The young hens are almost at the proper age to start laying themselves. At the present time, the chickens have total free range of the entire farm, if they want it, but stay pretty close to the henhouse, where they are housed at night to keep predators from them and where they are .

While predation of your livestock is usually not funny, there are situations than can be. We have a couple of Cooper's Hawks that live in our area. These are the true chicken hawks, not the Red Tail Hawk, which is commonly thought to be the culprit. Cooper's are bird predators, while Red Tails are rat/mouse predators. Anyway, these chickens are so big that the Coop's just sit in the trees and scream down at them because they know they are way too big for them to even try to prey on and so the chickens just turn their heads and look up at them and don't even try to get under any cover. Our game chickens run for the hills when anything crosses the sky, even a plane, but the Delawares just kinda of get an attitude like, "Yeah, right..... ".

Some of our hens probably weigh in at about 6 lbs and the two mature roosters, Spartacus and Hercules, go about 8-9 lbs. each. And they are gentle giants. No squabbling among them like some of the other chicken breeds we have. The roosters actually seem to cooperate to keep the hens safe and satisfied. Of course, they have about 100 ladies to share between the two of them and they take their responsibilities very seriously. Some of the young roosters are getting a little "cocky" and they are quickly dispatched but the hens, not the roosters. Totally funny!!

I hope to have Delaware chicks and pullets for sale by next year but for now, I am keeping all of them safe and healthy, which is very satisfying for me. After this post, there are some pictures of the gang, so take a look if you are interested!