For real, chicken people are crazy

Since we’ve thrown ourselves into our little barn project, with a dozen pretty blue eggs in the incubator and eight-week-olds outside, I’ve been doing a lot of research on the latest way to raise chickens and the best way to keep and breed them.

And holy samoleon, chicken breeders make dog breeders look measured, steady, and conservative.

Some of my surprise has an ethical edge to it – there’s no inkling of “it’s wrong to breed chickens with X,” so there are all kinds of lethal this and no-top-of-the-skull that, and bizarre and harmful mutations all over the place. Inbreeding – as in “I started with a brother and sister twenty years ago and have never brought in anything else, ever” is actually considered the RIGHT way to breed, despite the fact that everybody knows what it does. They are completely fine with most of the eggs dying, or tons of leg malformations, or strange digestive issues, as long as the line is pure. And here I don’t mean “breed,” I mean literally LINE. That one inbred pairing many years ago. I know there are some dog breeders who will accept a high level of inbreeding, but they at least acknowledge that routine litters where 90% of the puppies die might be a problem. Chicken people? Nope, happy to get that 10% and would never dream of bringing in anything else.

A lot of what makes me feel crazed, though, is husbandry. I don’t need chickens to have a shangri-la coop, though it sure would be nice to know that they’re not walking in ten inches of their own feces (which, based on a lot of pictures, is a point of pride for some breeders). But, honey, please – do some research. I’ve read about fifty recommendations now to dose chickens with injectable ivermectin in their water. Injectable ivermectin DOESN’T DISSOLVE IN WATER. About thirty more to use Eprinex – cattle pour-on – because there’s no egg withdrawal time and you can sell and eat the eggs after medicating. As far as I know that is complete fantasy; there aren’t even published dosages of eprinomectin for chickens, much less a withdrawal time. People using pounds of full-strength Sevin dust to create dust baths for their chickens to kill mites, and then selling the eggs later. People “curing” major infections with vaseline and then wondering why the bird died.

Is anyone interested in me writing up a short “best practices” ebook for family chickens? I’m not talking about big-time production, just about how to start with chickens, what kind of decisions you need to make, how to not kill your little hens in the backyard, and how to NOT dose your family or your neighbors with pesticides while doing it. If there’s nobody reading who has or is interested in chickens, I won’t do it, but since I’m kind of at a standstill with the dogs, no puppies in sight and the show season over for the winter, I’m actually doing more thinking and reading about birds than dogs right now. If it would help anyone, let me know and I’ll start releasing little chapters as I can.

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  • Reply Amy November 27, 2010 at 3:27 am

    No chicken here for the foreseeable future, but I’d love to learn!

  • Reply Micaela Torregrosa-Mahoney November 27, 2010 at 3:39 am

    yes please!

  • Reply Julia November 27, 2010 at 4:06 am

    I would love to learn. We want chickens at some point soon but even the hippy-woo chicken people around here are all about pesticides and such.
    Julia recently posted…ITS ALIVE!!!!!1!!11!!My Profile

  • Reply Julie November 27, 2010 at 4:06 am

    I’m not allowed chickens where I live, but I would be very interested in what you find out. My sister keeps chickens and I get to enjoy them vicariously.

  • Reply Amanda Jade November 27, 2010 at 8:54 am

    My tribe and I are planning to house chickens in a few years, mostly to supplement our own meat supply, but we are also working on raw feeding our animals, so it’s good all around. 🙂 Any knowledge you care to share would be super!

  • Reply Michy November 27, 2010 at 9:28 am

    I’d love to learn, even though I can’t have any where I’m at. But maybe later I’ll be able to move somewhere I CAN have them!
    Michy recently posted…Updated – URGENT – Momma dog and pups STOLEN!My Profile

  • Reply Patience November 27, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    I’d love to learn, we can have chickens and have been thinking about it for a while but have been to scared to take the leap, thinking they’d be too much work.

  • Reply souggy November 27, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    I am not surprised. I used to breed quails, and found the same thing. It seems like whenever people get their hands on animals, inbreeding is problematic until the animals start showing rampant disorders, then that is when people introduce new blood.

    I wouldn’t mind having my own diary goat, a flock of chickens and a yearly supply of pork for four people someday if I ever settle down with a spouse.

  • Reply Raegan November 27, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Wow, that is totally crazy. Can you define what a chicken breeder is? Are they commercial people or farmers? How in the world are they staying profitable with a 90% loss?
    Raegan recently posted…When I am a Dog TrainerMy Profile

  • Reply Laurel November 27, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    I would LOVE to have a quick and easy guide to backyard hens. We’ll probably get some within the next year or two. I’d be especially excited to have guides to feeding (should they get a commercial feed? oyster grit supplement?) and to less-toxic remedies and preventatives – we’d like to avoid most pesticides, but are not opposed to treating sick animals with whatever’s appropriate.

    BTW, I would totally be willing to pay a few dollars for something like this.
    Laurel recently posted…recent awesomenessMy Profile

  • Reply Kelsey November 27, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    I would love to learn about this for my future chickies, though I don’t have any now!

    And man, even leaving the ethical concerns aside (which are horrifying!), as a person who eats eggs, I am totally weirded out by the casual approach to toxins you’re seeing.

  • Reply claire November 27, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Yikes! I really had no idea, and we have about a dozen layers here! We’ve never bred our own birds (none of our girls get reliably broody- a couple do and then quit halfway through, or they get up to eat and sit back down on the wrong nest) and I didn’t know about the abuses in the industry- though it really doesn’t surprise me. Baby chicks are so cheap to produce on an industrial scale, so a 90% loss is acceptable. I’m guessing this mostly pertains to purebred show chickens, not the White Leghorn and Cornish Cross that produce our eggs and meat, respectively…
    There is a HUGE backyard chicken culture here in Portland, OR. There was a “Tour de Coops” last year of various backyard setups that was quite popular. Most people I know who have chickens treat them like pets with benefits (eggs) and they live quite cushy lives- nice clean coops, veggie trimmings to eat everyday, and no need for routine antibiotics or antiparasitics (thanks to proper sanitation!)
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  • Reply Andrea November 28, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    I’d love to hear what you have to say about chickens. We tried a backyard flock last year and were just devastated by predators. Naively we thought we didn’t really have to worry about that in suburbia. We’d love to try again, once we bring the coop up to par.

  • Reply Michael Comte December 1, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    First you should be able to compute inbreeding:
    Compute inbreeding

  • Reply jenniferrenton December 2, 2010 at 6:24 am

    I’m enthralled! I’m not crazy enough to add another species to the care list, but I’m always interested to read your take on things, Joanna.

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