Sunday, January 1, 2017

Easter Eggers or Are They?

What went wrong or rather incredibly right? I'm confused. As I began planning the future for my chicken flock, I found out the  chickens who met all my criteria for the perfect flock are not what the breed standard says they are. How could this be? The packing slip clearly states Easter Egger. But look at Pearl here. Does she look like a small 4 or 5 pound chicken? We weighed her and she came in at 10.6 pounds, clearly not in the Easter Egger range.


Granted, the Easter Egger breed is rather a motley crew. They are basically any conglomerate of chickens that retains the colored egg gene. I'm not talking about brown but the ability to lay green, pink, or blue. Not one of my girls do this, just brown, brown, and brown eggs. That's okay because colored does not make the egg any better just different. Easter Eggers are related to Araucanas and Ameraucanas and that is where the colored egg gene originates. Beware some hatcheries are rather unscrupulous in their naming of their flocks calling their chickens by whatever name they please in the colored egg gene pool. 


I don't carec, I just want whatever these awesome chickens are. But what is that? I've no idea. What I can tell you is what they do.


1. They are calm and gentle. Sir Gallop is a sweetheart of a rooster. I'd guess he weighs in at around 13 pounds. That rivals with the largest chicken breeds in America, the Jersey Giants and the Brahma. He is also very protective of his flock of hens and runs to them if they squawk.

 Left to right - 2 hens hatched this past summer, Sir Gallop our rooster who's coming 2 this spring, an Australorp hen born in the spring of 2014. Note how much larger the summer hatched hens are to the older Austrolorp hen.
2. They have a good feed conversion and grow very quickly. These two hens in the picture are about 5 months old. Compare them with the black Australorp chicken coming 2 this spring. The Easter Eggers are far larger and meatier.



3. They mature quite quickly. They lay shortly after the Australorps, which mature very quickly and lay at around 4 months old.


4. They make great mothers and are broody. Their substantial size means they can set on a larger number of eggs.


5. Their egg production is good. I'd say in the Australorp range. I can't be certain as each chicken is not penned separately.


6. They are a wonderful butcher size. Their skin is loose and not attached tight to their backbone. I can name some chickens breeds whose skin is hard to remove and who have feathers attached with super glue or so it seems.


7. They don't range far, which in our area means they aren't easy bait for the fox and coyotes. They remain flocked together in which helps keep predators at bay who tend to remain on the edges of our property since we harass them if they enter our domain.


8. They do well in confinement. I would guess in part due to their quiet nature though they are pretty proud of their egg laying and will let you know about it. Their large size means the number of chickens in an enclosed area is fewer but my coop is plenty big enough for 22 chickens.


9. Their weight means they can't fly over the 7 foot garden fence and dig up the seeds I've just planted. In fact they are terrible fliers.

 So what am I to do? These chickens are clearly not the normal Easter Eggers. I've decided to breed my own motley crew. The mixture of chickens has already begun to make the transition. I started with five breeds in 2014 to try a couple new breeds and see what ones work best in our new location. Predators and I guess I'm in that category, have sorted part of them out. None of the roosters but Sir Gallop has made the cut. They have all been small and rather flighty. I need one like him next year as he turns 2 and his sperm count will drop significantly.


 The chicks who carry the gene for becoming large quickly remained in the flock this year. The ones who have the strong mothering instinct like a 5 month old hen, who I've been fighting for 2 weeks to convince her that she can’t set on eggs in a Siberian like winter, will remain. I leg banded last years hens that will remain and will begin to do so with the new crew. Left leg band is for setters and right for non-setters. With those bans I am going to keep records for each hen rating them on the above categories.


I have some Easter Egger and either Australorp or Asian Blue crosses which have made the first cut. Not so thrilled with the Asian Blue which I are really hard to tell from the Australorps that I've raised before and love. The problem is the Australorp are just a bit small in size. I do want to try some crosses though to see if I can get the early egg laying with the good setters and mother genes, plus the quiet disposition. I had four but the predators ate 2 or is it 3. As I said, I can't tell them from the Asian Blues unless I have them all together in one spot which rarely happens. Then I notice they stand a little differently. I think I will pick up a few more Australorps this next spring and cull most of the older hens. I'm going to keep 3. I think. We shall see come spring.

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