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.