A chicken is a chicken
Turns out that is not the case – my word, it is easier to qualify for the Miss Australia pageant than to get on our chicken list! There are many, many breeds out there, each with its own characteristics. OK, so for this particular exercise we want large heavy scrubbing frequent and big egg laying family friendly docile hens that don’t mind a bit of “working holiday” confinement. That should refine it to one or two breeds, not so?
Well, not quite, because then you get into the debate about heritage breeds. We have some really amazing heritage fruits and vegetables, so surely we need to consider that responsibility with respect to our chickens and ducks too? So no boring ISA Browns here mate! No fluky cross breeds either. And then, we get side-tracked by our requirements for Dreamland – total free-rangers, visitor friendly, brooding caring mother hens, and so on…
So this all led us to the following evaluation, arranged in our eventual order of preference – well, for the Homeland timeshare facility anyway, well, sort-of. In any case, we worked through these criteria that are important for us:
Scots Greys are really hard to get. So, OK, so we will get Plymouth Rocks. Easy. Get a reputable breeder, fetch the pullets and we start our operation.
Not so easy mate! If you can find healthy Plymouth Rock pullets anywhere in Victoria, I’ll say you’re good. In fact, even finding them anywhere in Australia is a challenge, if you can ignore the logistical challenges.
So this is how it rolled. We find an advert for Plymouth Rock pullets. Wow, this lady has some other really scarce heritage breeds too! Oh but she’s in NSW. Ah, no worries, here on her website she explains how they do shipping. She can actually ship to Avalon airport which is 10 minutes from us. But now, do you think she answers emails or phone calls? Not within three weeks she doesn’t…
Then we find another advert for Plymouth Rocks and other pullets. Excited we trace the link to Craig’s farm. Oops, the business is for sale, they’re not selling pullets, or anything for that matter, it’s the whole business or nothing. Ah, here’s another one – Eggsellent Chickens in the Dandenongs (about 90 minutes one way). Oops:
Then I find one that advertises pullets on Gumtree, lots of different ones, including Plymouth Rocks. They’re only 2 hours away. And they’re open the next day and the weekend – I can make a day of it. We have the little collection cage and we even have some hemp bedding material. It will be a mellow trip for them, maybe I can even play them some French music on the way back… But then Patricia follows up on the seller’s reviews: “Supplied sick chicks…”, “Chicks started sneezing in the car, owner was rude and shouted at us…” and more comments about sick and unhealthy chicks. So, I don’t think we’ll be going there anytime soon!
And so the search continued… for days and weeks on end. Dead-end after dead-end. I started getting really demotivated. How are you supposed to get a good quality backyard flock going?
Cast the net wider
So I thought I’ll tap into the wider networks available around us.
First off I tried the Ballarat Permaculture Guild, because there are a number of chicken breeders out that way. I got referred to the Ballarat Poultry Buy Swop and Sell group. My request for Plymouth pullets got no response, but now I get a very interesting flood of posts of all things poultry-related that are for buying, swopping or selling in the wider area. Good to know these things you know…
Then I tried the Geelong Permaculture Group – I mean, that operates right here in my backyard. I was referred to the Geelong and District Poultry Club Inc. Sounds about right, eh? It was early one Saturday morning, before any Club Inc would answer a phone, so I fired off a Messenger message. It seems I had struck a goldmine! But unfortunately, they didn’t have any gold to go…
So at this stage – I guess it’s one step away before revisiting your breed selection strategy – we decide well, maybe we have to “DIY” the whole pullets thing. So we have two choices:
- Get healthy fertile Plymouth Rock eggs (from anywhere in Australia – what an interesting search that’s going to be) and incubate and brood them ourselves; or
- Get healthy fertile Plymouth eggs (same interesting search as above) and get a broody Silky hen (another interesting search, I guess) and get her to do the incubating and brooding. She can then move on to Dreamland and carry on her good work there to raise ducks, etc.
Yeah, let’s do it! Which approach? Any one! Only problem is, there are a couple of challenges with either approach:
- We’ve never ever done this – it is totally new ground. (but OK we are willing to learn)
- We do not have an incubator and a brooder; neither do we have a brooding-friendly setup for Mother Silky (and besides, where do we get a family friendly broody Silky? Isn’t the “family friendly” part exactly why we wanted to get young pullets?)
- What do we do with the chicks we don’t want, or do we go big now?
- More projects to get an incubator and a brooder ready? What about the spring vegetables that should have been planted already?
- We don’t want to spend a ton of money on incubators and brooders either…
So, some serious holistic decision-making was required. What shall it be? Swop breed allegiance, DIY (incubator and brooder) or get a broody Mother Silky, cross our fingers and hope for the best?
Choose your weapons
So to cut a very, very long story slightly shorter… we are now committed!
Well, first I didn’t get any response from the only listed “checked and approved” Plymouth Rock breeder that supplies eggs in Victoria (I guess they didn’t check and approve his phone/message answering skills, now did they?)
And so after all that – we switched breed alliance!
After some more web searching, as well as soul searching, debating, evaluating options, etc. (read many frustrating days rushing past), we discovered Victorian Vintage Earth Farm. They are focussed on organic principled alternative rare breed poultry and produce. They specialise in fertile rare pure breed heritage chickens, gourmet coloured eating eggs and fruits and veggies of yesteryear. (Copied from their Facebook page.) Now that rings some good bells with us – we like that heritage blurb! And do you know what’s even better? Peter, of Victorian Vintage Earth Farm, answers messages (quite promptly and informatively too!), takes an order, processes it and – now for the fun part – hopefully fulfils it.
So we ordered the following fertlised eggs:
- 12 Scots grey
- 6 mixed Sussex (Light, Coronation, Lavender) – I hope many are Lavender, they’re beautiful (yes some chickens are!)
- 6 mixed Wyandotte (Blue Laced Red, Blue Laced Splash, Gold Laced, Silver Laced) – mmmm, maybe we should have increased the number to increase the odds… this is a more interesting form of gambling than buying lotto tickets!
From Poultry Australia we also ordered:
- one Janoel Model 24 egg incubator
- one FRD-10 egg candler, and
- one 100 watt medium brooder shade package
And on a rainy Saturday, the brooder building was started. But more about that later…
Well, like it or not, Mr urban farmer – your foray into farming with animals is starting with a slightly bigger bang than you initially anticipated; and with much larger and further reaching longer term objectives!
Well I can start with a corny one: don’t count your chickens before they are hatched!
We have learnt so many lessons through this process, it would take another two pages to spell them out, so I will just summarise it here: If you are looking for eggs or really young pullets of any special or rare breed of poultry, be prepared for a long, hard search and be prepared that you will have to check and tick many boxes, and maybe even change your choices to match availability. You have to be a bit flexible, for sure. And there are a lot of outdated listings out there. Apparently, the chicken breeders are as notorious as the tradies at (not) returning messages and calls… and so on. That is how we found it works in Victoria, Australia anyway.
Hopefully there will soon be some interesting stories and photographs about hatching and brooding chicks, hand-raising chickens and what to do with the excess cocks of rare breeds… maybe one day even stories about keeping free-ranging rare breeds apart.
So what came first? Well, in our case, the eggs… The lotto ticks, I mean chicks, have been bought. Watch this space!