Tuesday, 4 August 2015

'Eatwells'; Heritage tablebirds

'Eatwells' Heritage Style tablebirds
Well our new ‘Eatwells’ have arrived; the heritage style meat chickens I struggled to source. There are a few producers hat are developing lines such as these, however they are generally only available to free range farms that meet a set of criteria. Other than not being commercial, our biggest downfall to most of these is our regional location.

Anyway we did manage to source some and purchased them as part of a syndicate, and had them shipped up. They are not the common commercial broilers; big give away being their variety of colours. But are a cross of heritage breeds, that should reach table weight within 12-16 weeks (as opposed to the 5-8weeks of the commercial broilers) and should be better suited to free range conditions.
The syndicate purchase- all collected within a few days


You may wonder why we have gone to such lengths to source a ‘heritage style table bird’ when commercial broilers will be table ready in half the time. And the answer is simple. Today’s broilers have been selectively bred for the purpose of maximum productivity. And are significantly heavier than the original crosses from which they were developed.

We have raised broilers in the past, under what we consider free range conditions. And even with access to grass and daylight they would sit in their shelter (generally in their own mess) and eat constantly. We resorted to taking their food away. And would have to place them our doors to clean out their shelter.

We also had a few busy weekends, leaving the birds grow out a few extra weeks. To which it became a matter of we needed to cull them as their quality of life was suffering (they could barely walk) and before they died of other causes (heart attack etc).  I guess commercially they reach their target weight in 35-40 days. So 10 weeks would be quite old.


So we are hoping that raising these ‘heritage style’ birds should produce a reasonable table bird. Faster than a purebred (the Sussex or Indian Game’s we breed can take up to 12 months to reach a reasonable table weight), but with a better standard of life than our experience with the broilers. And part of this is that our purebred birds have access to grazing, so am hoping these will exhibit more natural instincts; scratching, grazing etc.

So far they are only a week or so old. They arrived ranging from day olds to possibly 3-4 days of age. Some had dramatically more feathers than others. But all appeared to understand where the food and water were when they were introduced to the brooder. They huddle together when colder and spread out and stretch their wings to cool off. And they are already displaying some promise in hunting, as they scratch and peck at the odd bug or marks on the side of the brooder.

They will need to stay in the brooder for a few weeks yet, until they are fully feathered. And even they, depending on how the season progresses they may be transferred outside during the day, but returned to their brooder with its toastie lamps at night until the temperatures pick up a little.

So I cleaned out their box over the weekend. Depending on the number and size of the birds we generally give them a quick scrape out and top up of fresh saw dust during the week, and then a thorough clean out once a week. Obviously the more and larger the birds, the greater and quicker the mess develops.

So I prepared the other side of the box and took the opportunity to weigh a couple of the birds, before I transferred them. Mostly out of curiosity, and given the variety of ages it is going to be difficult to track them accurately, or particularly scientifically. Though there are a few distinct ones that I am going to try and track as a comparison til the end.

We have also begun tracking the cost for rearing these birds. As we often get asked is it worth it? To which we always agree it is, but when people want to know figures we generally couldn’t say.  So we are hoping to have an accurate figure to table.

As we are also incubating some Sussex eggs, that should hopefully hatch in a week or so (ever count your chickens before they hatch). I guess we should be able to compare these ‘table birds’ to a heritage dual purpose bird and hopefully in the future to that of any Indian Game we may hatch.


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