Located in Central Alberta, Canada
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~ PHILOSOPHY ~
The following articles are some I've written over the years, sometimes for publications and newsletters. I thought I'd share a few of them here.
On Being a Responsible Breeder
Being a breeder of birds or animals comes with responsibilities. The most important goal, I believe, is being committed to raising healthy, vigorous stock that is a true representation of the breed. I'm very selective about what leaves my farm and is branded as the "Hawthorn Hill" strain, so I don’t sell a lot of chickens. I don't sell chicks or hatching eggs, because to do so would remove the ability for me to select the best performers for reproductive purposes. Selling hatching eggs or chicks would be a lot less work and a lot more economical, but it's more important to me that customers are completely pleased with their purchase. My customers are also fellow poultry fanciers, and I want them to have a positive experience with heritage chickens. That starts with building a relationship of trust, honesty and integrity.
Breeding According to Standard
Breeding encompasses so much more than simply placing a rooster into a group of the same breed of hens and happily waiting for hatching day. Every time a hen and rooster are placed together for breeding I ask myself, “what do I hope to accomplish with this mating?”
The American Poultry Association publishes a Standard of Perfection which outlines the proper traits that breeds must adhere to such as size, leg color, comb type etc. By breeding according to the standard, we help ensure that our poultry is a true representation of the breed. Other considerations that are not part of the SOP includes traits such as egg production and fertility. Striking that delicate balance between breeding for correct phenotype while maintaining utility traits is perhaps the most difficult challenge of poultry fanciers. All of these factors are carefully considered when I am choosing which male and females to place together in a breeding pen. It is a long-term commitment to develop and maintain health, robustness and productivity in my flocks but I believe it is the key to successful and sustainable conservation.
Providing a Safe, Natural Environment
I embrace the philosophy that all animals should be raised in safe, natural conditions. Once the juveniles are old enough to start going outside, they have access to large outdoor runs where they can supplement their diet naturally, get plenty of excersize and dust bathe. Coops and pens are clean, spacious and comfortable.
Guarding Against Disease
Good health begins in the egg, or more correctly, even before the egg is laid. Adults and older juveniles are raised on a well-rounded diet of home grown grains, legumes, a poultry supplement and garden produce. Chicks are fed a good commercial chick starter for the first 8 weeks for complete nutrition. When they no longer need supplemental heat, youngsters are moved to large growing pens with access to the outdoors. They quickly learn to enjoy spending their time outside, and gradually introducing them to the natural environment is good for developing the immune system. However, at this point they are still kept separated from adult birds to avoid over loading their immune system.
When the chicks are young I am especially consciencious about keeping waterers, feeders and bedding clean. Dirty facilities can lead to disease and parasite infestations. Poultry diseases are very common and can be devastating to a backyard flock. As an extra preventative, I vaccinate all my birds against Infectious Laryngotracheitis (ILT). This is a severe respiratory disease that results in high mortality. I practice reasonable biosecurity precautions for the safety of my birds, but healthy birds with a strong immune system should not have to live their lives in a bubble. My approach to flock safety is to be educated and take appropriate preventative measures. The most important rule to remember is to ONLY buy birds from a well-known, trusted source. I have never experienced an outbreak of any serious disease.
Preserving Heritage Breeds
As the large scale, commercial egg and poultry meat industry continues to grow, the public is becoming more and more aware of the ethical issues and human health risks associated with factory-farms and the hybrid birds being produced for human consumption. Many of us have chosen to return to the traditional slow-growing breeds of chickens – not only because small backyard flocks provide eggs and meat that is so much healthier for us – but also because these breeds are a part of our heritage. Ensuring the survival of these very useful and often rare breeds is a very worthwhile endeavor. Each breed was developed over time through careful selection and has many excellent and unique characteristics to offer.
Maintaining healthy flocks of heritage poultry is equivalent to preserving heirloom plant varieties in a seed bank. Experts believe that preserving genetic diversity of livestock is a crucial strategy for meeting the challenge of adequate food supply in future decades. As diseases mutate and climates change, humanity will need to rely on the diverse genetic traits - like pathogen resistance - that will only be available if we protect our heritage breeds.
Since the 1940s and '50s, most heritage breeds of poultry have suffered a common fate. Hybridization and commercialization of the egg and broiler industries took the dual purpose breeds of chickens away from family farms and out of production.
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