We currently raise Buff Orpington chickens, which are a very good dual purpose heritage breed. Their sociable dispositions make them a favorite with friends and family alike. They provide sufficient eggs for family use and dress out as an excellent table bird.
The Buff Orpingtons are a breed developed by William Cook in Orpington, England in 1886. They reached America in 1891 and were recognized as a standard breed by the American Poultry Association in 1902. Facts about Buff Orpingtons:
We are not currently breeding Australorps, but we do have some of this heritage breed of chicken here on the ranch. The Australorps were developed in Australia in the late 1800s of Black Orpington stock from England, and were recognized as a standard breed by the American Poultry Association in 1929.
The Australian chicken farmers tended to breed for the laying capabilities of the Orpingtons as opposed to the dual purpose. Their resulting Orpingtons, known as Australorps, generally produce greater numbers of eggs, about 250 per year, as compared to standard Orpingtons, and the chickens themselves are a bit smaller with roosters weighing about 8.5lbs and hens about 6.5lbs.
Apart from the afore mentioned differences, Australorps retain many of the other Black Orpington characteristics. They are distinguished by their black glossy feathers with a beautiful green sheen. Although a few other colors are available in Australia, only one color, the black, is recognized here in the US.
Another kind of chicken we raise is the Silver Grey Dorking, an ancient breed first developed in the area of Kent, Sussex, and Surrey counties in England. This area was famous for producing high quality poultry for the table with the five-toed Dorking having been the most sought after of these chickens. It is the town of Dorking, once called Darking, for which the breed was named.
Some say that as a table fowl, the Dorking chicken is on par with the best of the best. They are excellently flavored, meaty birds. Early Dorking chicken breeders so valued the breed that it was only with great difficulty that any live chickens could be obtained at any price. At one time it was rumored that the town of Dorking had a law against selling the chickens alive.
The origins of the Silver-Gray Dorking chicken are shrouded in mystery. They have 5 toes, and there are writings about a highly prized 5-toed chicken in the Roman Empire in A.D. 43. Could it be possible that this breed was used to develop the Dorking?
Even when they arrived in America is a mystery; however, it is know that they were well distributed here in the 1840s. They were recognized as a standard breed by the American Poultry Association in 1874.
Facts about the Dorking:
Not much is known about the history of the Chocolate turkey, other than that they were common in France and in the southern U.S. before the Civil War. During the war breeding was reduced and many Chocolates were killed by the Union soldiers to feed their own ranks and as a tactic to starve out the Confederates. The war caused such a great decline in Chocolate turkeys that the breed was nearly lost. Only 12 birds remained when the effort to save the breed began. They havenever recovered their pre-war popularity.
The name Chocolate describes the color of their plumage, shanks, legs, and feet. The mature adult color should be a uniform creamy milk chocolate; any barred, patterned, cream or white colored feathers are a fault in this breed. These faults are common and are mainly due to cross breeding with Bronze, Narragansett, or Bourbon Butternut turkeys. Pure Chocolate turkeys are extremely rare and are listed as critically endangered by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy.
Having sweet, gentle dispositions makes Chocolate turkeys an excellent small farm bird that does well in mixed flocks. Chocolates are one of the largest heritage breeds with mature adult toms tipping the scales at 33lbs. and mature adult hens at 18lbs. The hens are excellent and devoted mothers. The adorable chicks hatch out sporting milk chocolate down with a vanilla head.
With adequate shelter and water, the heat doesn’t seem to bother our Chocolates. They have done well foraging when the weather is warm. However, they do not seem to appreciate cold wet weather and tend to hunker down during a cold snap as opposed to going out to forage.
We love our Bourbon Butternuts aka Bourbon Red, or Kentucky Red Turkeys. They are named for Bourbon County, Kentucky where they originated in the late 1800s. The original name, Bourbon Butternuts, was not popular, and was changed to “Reds” for the rich chestnut color of their plumage. We, however, like the original name. It seems to suit Bill and Tom, our big, sweet lugs very well. Both of them are very friendly and inquisitive. They constantly display to show us how dashingly handsome they are. Our hens are not quite as insisting of attention and are excellent seasonal layers and mothers.
The breed was recognized as a standard breed by the American Poultry Association in 1909. It was the breed of choice throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Their popularity declined with the commercial adoption of the broad breasted white turkey. The early breed standard was 33lbs for a mature (2 year old) tom, 18lbs for a mature hen, 23lbs for a young (28 week) tom and 14lbs for a young hen. However, these weights are from when the breed was in its prime and are not often seen today. The Butternuts are listed as “watch” by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy because there are fewer than 5,000 breeding birds in the States. They are also included in Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste catalog of heritage American foods in danger of extinction.
Here are a few facts about the Bourbon Butternuts:
Our Embden Geese are a popular heritage breed. The first Embden geese arrived in Boston in 1821 where they were originally referred to as “Bremens” after their port of departure, Bremen in Northwest Germany. They are one of the oldest domestic breeds with records dating back over 200 years.
They are raised for meat because of their fast growth rate and large size. Along with the Toulose, the Embden is the largest breed with ganders reaching up to 30lbs and geese reaching up to 24lbs and standing about 3.5 feet tall.
They are not prolific layers. They begin their breeding season in February here; usually laying 10 – 30 and occasionally up to 40 six ounce eggs a season and then sitting on them for 28-34 days. The females are very good mothers and both sexes will defend the nest.
Our Embden geese free range. They are absolutely amazing foragers and will only occasionally take a treat from us. They also shun any shelter, even in the worst weather, making them very easy keepers. However, for safety sake, we do override their decision to remain outside while nesting. They have never been aggressive towards us or any guests, but are no longer striving for affection with us after they reach a few months old. They will allow occasional petting but then walk away to their own business.