When my children were young two of them were totally mad about poultry. Rana and Taiamai..They home schooled so there was lots of time to follow their interests up, and we had flash chicken houses and incubators etc etc… and I loved learning with them., Taiamai went on to be a key part of saving a breed in NZ he still keeps. The Golden Legbars.
We had the privilege to get to know two key men in Northland who had been poultry judges and breeders most of their lives, and they taught us a lot. They also sold us breeding pens of some of their breeds.
Ken Vincent is one of those men, he still owns and operates Swan Lake Poultry with his wife out of Kaitaia, and he is an amazing person if you want to know anything about poultry. He has kept every breed over the years and for most of that time he kept them free range and he milked a cow to give them milk and whole grains. He bred them for egg production as well a meeting the poultry standards which is unusual today. Most breeders are not breeding for egg production, so even if you get a heritage breed that says they are good egg layers, check out if they are still being bred for egg production…..
My Brown Leghorns came from Ken 30 years ago, and we have kept them going ever since.
In order to keep a breed strong one must have a minimum of 2 roosters and 8-10 hens. Around 60 young birds must be hatched each season and the best 2 roosters chosen from the half that will ne roosters and the best 3-5 young pullets chosen from the half that will be hens.to bring into the flock as replacements each year. It is usual to replace 1/3 to half each year. 1/3 is a good figure because it leaves the best 3 year old hens to lay and produce large eggs for hatching each year. The older a hen gets the larger the eggs get. The larger the eggs the larger the chicken. This is called line breeding and was the way most old time poultry breeders operated. In the case of poultry it only works if you keep minimum numbers as above, or more.
We have taken our Brown Leghorns through a few years of getting off industrial grains. They now lay well on fermented home grown whole corn, soldier fly larvae in Summer, worms in winter plus minced goat with chicken mineral in it, if neither of the other options are available plus our own milk or kefir.
Leghorns are the best layers of al the old heritage breeds in my experience. I believe the White Leghorns lay the best but I didn’t want White birds because of hawk issues., so we have beautiful Brown Leghorns.
Our birds are hatched in Spring in time to begin laying before Winter usually beginning in May, and then lay for a year or 11 months before having a 3 month moulting break. All older birds begin laying in late July/August ready to go until the following April May if fed well. To have eggs year round it is critical to have young birds hatched each Spring as early as possible.
As the forest garden becomes more mature they are getting more and more food each day foraging and there is already a wide range of greens and bugs to be found and more and more seeds dropping. We have bantams to hatch the young as these Leghorns do not go clucky.
We find the young roosters that have not been chosen as the new breeding pair are excellent to eat as meat birds, along with the young pullets that do not meet our standards for becoming replacements for us or somebody else. Certainly their breasts are not as big as the Cobb meat birds used by the industry but still perfectly acceptable and delicious!.
We don’t have many for sale but will post all birds available as they come up when we we choose our replacements each year in March April. We’ll sell a few of the best young pullets and roosters after we choose our replacements. We do not sell fertile eggs..
My number one tip for large healthy birds, able to forage strongly for their food is to let them forage hard when very young and raise them on fresh air, free range, healthy soil plus curds and alfalfa with poultry minerals added.