September 13, 2018

Reconsidering Australorps

We've had a variety of chicken breeds since we started homesteading: Delawares, Welsummers, Ameraucanas, Barred Hollands, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Buff Orpingtons, Speckled Sussex, and Black Australorps. Our intention was to try out different dual-purpose breeds and eventually choose one as our permanent homestead breed. We wanted to stick with one breed because we raise our own replacements, and we want our replacements to be full breed chickens. Eventually we settled on the Australorps.

The Australorps have been excellent chickens. They provide lots of eggs and the oldest are still laying well in their third year. Besides good production in summer, they give us a small but steady supply of eggs all winter. They are good foragers, have been excellent with the compost, and produce good meat. Our Australorp rooster is an excellent fellow, everything one could want in a good rooster: keenly watchful and protective of his hens, yet respectful of the humans. His only fault is that he dislikes a couple of the youngest hens and is relentless in chasing them away. Other than that, he's perfect.

So why are we reconsidering the Australorps? For one reason and one reason only - hatch rate. Every year we have at least one broody hen, often two or three. The problem? They keep switching nest boxes. They'll set in one box for a week or two and then abandon it. Sometimes for a different nest box, sometimes they just give up being broody.

Last year was our best hatching, with four hens hatching nine chicks. I suspect this success was because all nest boxes were occupied by broody hens and there was no where else to go! The Australorps do make good mothers when they have chicks, it's just getting them to stay put until they hatch them.

We keep a small mixed-age flock, hatching a few new chicks every year to replace the oldest. We have fairly predictable egg production this way. This year, however, we've gotten no chicks but should be replacing our oldest hens. Dan has suggested perhaps we ought to consider a different breed, one that hopefully will be more consistent in brooding.

Some people do well in the hatching department with Australorps, so I can't say this is a breed trait. As with all animals there are breed tendencies, but there are individual tendencies as well. And sometimes those individuals have very different personalities!

Of all the hens we've had the Buff Orpingtons were the best at brooding and chick raising, so they're a consideration. Dan's favorite chicken was a Speckled Sussex named "Sister." At this point, though, I don't know what breed he'll want to go with. I think he's interested in trying a chicken tractor next year, so it looks like I'll have all kinds of upcoming chicken news. Stay tuned.

Reconsidering Australorps © Sept. 2018 by


Goatldi said...

Leigh so correct on the Buff Orpington . Flame's mama is a Buff and although I strongly suspect(since I have a mixed breed flock) that some of the 4 eggs that didn't hatch were not from her. Two of the eggs just flat out disappeared and I could not account for them. One was a bad egg (Willy Wonka) and the fourth was way past hatching date and after Mama left the next box she abandoned the egg . It was opened later and found to have an incompletely developed chick in it. But this girl is an amazing Mama. There were a few times I thought she was going to take my hand off but we finally developed a relationship of sorts and those milder temperament qualities the Buff is known for came out.
Our first chickens when we moved to the country were Rhode Island Red and they laid well as to be expected but we didn't hatch too many out. Then at one point we had Plymouth Barred Rock. They were better year round in the winter. But over all those years until now with the Buff girls my daughter's Belgian Bearded d'Uccle Mille Fleur Bantams were the very best for broodiness and mothering.

We could and did put anything under those hens and they accepted it. They were her show birds for 4H and as a rule we preferred a standard breed for our purposes. But I know of folks who keep a couple of hens that exhibit strong brooding and mothering tendencies with the breed of their choice that may not be as broody as they would like. Although with that said we could get into a conversation of strong breed traits that would be desirable if a breed of a species is to succeed.

Michelle said...

I don't raise replacement chicks and don't keep a rooster, so I PREFER hens that don't go broody; they just cut down on egg production! Seems to me that your experience last year suggests a solution. Since the Australorps are perfect in every other way, why not contain the broody girls with limited nesting space to force the issue next year?

Leigh said...

Goatldi, breed traits and their somewhat unpredictable appearance in individuals is indeed a fascinating subject! Our very first broody hen was a Welsummer, a breed which is said to not tend in that direction. But she was a fantastic Mama. But my best brooder was a Buff. She was our remaining Buff when we were transitioning to the Lorps. I might have kept her except hers and their eggs are the same color and I wasn't sure if I'd be able to tell hybrids. Maybe in the grand scheme of things that doesn't matter, but for some reason it did. That Buff, though, was a trooper. We had an accident with some hidden duck eggs, and it turned out that most of the ducklings were alive, but our mama duck wouldn't have anything to do with them. I popped them under the Buff during the night and she raised them just like they were chickens. She was very puzzled at their tendency to dive into the water dish, but she was an excellent mother to them.

Michelle, I've about come to the conclusion that broodies ought to be separated anyway, mostly because the other hens prefer to lay in a broodie's nest rather than the perfectly acceptable vacant nest next to her! That can create squabbles that don't help the situation. We did talk about doing just what you suggest, except that so many of them give up after about two weeks and abandon everything. It's possible a completely new batch of the same breed might make a difference.

Mark Shaw said...

Hi just started reading your blog, it’s full of useful and helpful tips. We are starting our new adventure in 12 weeks we have bought a house in Bulgaria and plan to work towards being as self sufficient as we can be growing our own fruit and veg, keeping chickens and possibly pigs. We have no idea what we’re doing so we have a massive learning curve coming up. What could possibly go wrong.
Mark and Julie

Jessie - Rabid Little Hippy said...

What about keeping a few silkies for brood Mummas? Their eggs are markedly smaller so you will never have an issue being able to identify them and pull them out so no cross bred birds and they are notorious for being broody and make great Mummas too. They are friendly and just plain adorable, except when it rains and those silkie feathers when wet turn them into tiny little punks with the best spikes you've ever seen! Getting silkies would also mean that you needn't ditch the birds you have to change breeds. :)

Jean Ellen said...

Leigh, I have been raising chickens for several years now, and I have kept my flock under control with just giving away chickens I no longer want. However, I have never raised chicks with their mama (incubator only). My question is, how do you mark your chickens to determine their age? I would like to get rid of some of my older hens, but I don't know how old each is.
Love reading your blog.

Ed said...

Back 40 odd years ago when we had chickens, they were just ones that we picked up from the local supply store every spring. They were white with red crests so I'm assuming they were perhaps Rhode Island Whites but they seemed to be prolific brooding hens. We always had a good supply of chicks for all the predators to eat. But I'm guessing their egg production isn't on par with more modern breeds because we always got far less eggs than hens even during the peak season for laying.

Chicken tractors are all the rage these days. We currently buy all our chickens from a local farmer that raises them in chicken tractors. Last year in a one time deal we bought some that were raised by another farmer on chicken feed. The taste of the chicken tractor chickens was better than those raised on chicken feed and both were far superior taste wise than any store bought chickens I have eaten.

Leah said...

I'm so excited for all sorts of chicken news! I am building a hen house this winter and have been debating what kind of chickens to get so I look forward to your results!!

Leigh said...

Mark welcome! And congratulations on your upcoming adventure. I imagine it feels pretty overwhelming right now, with so many ideas and things to try. It is a huge learning curve, but we've found it easier on our egos to think of everything as an experiment. After all, we all start at the same place - the beginning. What works for one person in one location, may or may not work for someone else, but it never hurts to try it and see. My best teachers have been my problems and mistakes. :)

Jessie, how lovely to hear from you! That's a very good idea about keeping a miniature breed to do the brooding. I'll suggest that to Dan, since the chickens are his domain.

Jean Ellen, thank you! Good question. We use leg bands; a different color each year, so I always know which are the oldest birds.

Ed, "we always had a good supply of chicks for all the predators to eat," I couldn't help but laugh at that! Not amusing for the chicks, but predation can be a real problem when raising livestock. Interesting observation about chicken taste and their feed. Really proves the point that "you are what you eat." Our chickens get to free range sometimes, always have access to the compost, have grazing beds and any weeds I gather for them. They always prefer those foods to the packaged chicken feed Dan keeps in their feeder in the coop.

Leah, that's great! Choosing a chicken breed is soooo hard. There are so many lovely breeds to choose from. Enjoy the process!

Renee Nefe said...

How frustrating that you can't keep a Mama down. ;) I hope you have better luck with your next batch.

Judy said...

My two cents worth - no one breed of chicken is going to be exactly what you want, because of the individuals within the breed. You have a decent rooster. Hang on to him for dear life, because the next one could be mean to the point of being dangerous. If you want broody hens, then any that aren't, go to the stew-pot. If Buff Orpingtons have been good broody hens for you, get some. What's wrong with crosses if you end up with chickens that have the characteristic you are looking for? That's how all the different breeds of domesticated animals came about.

As far as a chicken tractor goes, I had to eliminate the rooster because the hens did not have any place to go to get away from his attention. Their backs were tore up which lead to them picking at each other's open wounds.

Good luck in your chicken adventures!

Leigh said...

Renee, we'll see!

Judy, that's exactly right - there are breed tendencies and then there are individuals. I have nothing against the crosses, I just lean toward supporting heritage breed conservation. I did dabble with working toward my own breed of goat awhile back (my Kikobians) but I could see that with goats, at least, it would take a larger gene pool than what our land can support. Chickens would probably be easier in that regard.

I'll pass that on to Dan about the roosters in the chicken tractor. Even with free ranging we have some with bare backs, so I was wondering about that myself.

Devon said...

Now you're speaking my language.😊 I can't wait to read what you decide. I've never kept austrolorps, currently I have barred plymouth rocks and french black copper marans. I've had one broody marans this year though, but I use an incubator, so I'm fine with that. I agree that bantams might be the way to go for the BEST broodies. I have two cochin bantams that are about to start their second setting this year, though I don't know if I'll let them this late in the year.
As far as meat and eggs I like the barred plymouth rocks, but in reality for your purposes I think most all heavy breeds are about equal.
One thing I have found is that birds that come from breeders are more prone to broodiness than hatchery birds which have been bred over the years more for egg production.
Can't wait to see what you decide.

Chris said...

I think it works to have a set chicken breed for brooding only, and let them sit on the eggs of your dual purpose breed. In as much as, it's just as frustrating (if not more so) to have to get rid of a breed of chicken, because they go broody at the drop of a hat. You need that egg production, as well as the broody hens. My one experience with Wyandottes, were they were too broody.

I've had both Australorps and bantam Orpingtons - loved them both for different qualities. The best rooster we ever had, was an Australorp. Really protective of his ladies, buy oh so considerate of his masters. The bantam Orpington rooster, was a real doll too (we could pick him up, without him fussing) but less protective of his ladies.

I expect what you're experiencing with the Australorps is an issue with body temperature, for why they're jumping off the nests. Lorps can take a lot of heat, but they're also extremely sensitive in detecting, when there's too much. They will be the first to find a cool spot, if it's getting too hot. Which is why I'm guessing they're jumping off the nests, especially when there's a lot of hens around, increasing the heat in the nest. That's just my guess.

Leigh said...

Devon, Plymouths and Marans are two breeds we have yet to try. Maybe this will be the year, who knows! Your observation about broodiness from breeders versus hatchery birds is quite interesting. We've always been fortunate enough to have at least one broody each summer, and rarely more than that. We don't need them all broody, LOL.

Chris, that would make a good research topic! I think it was last year, I had one broody Lorp that must have stayed on the nest for about two months. That's the hen I need now, but I suspect she must have been one of the consequences of thinning our flock early this year. That's one problem with having chickens that all look alike.

Michelle said...

Sounds like you need to double-band a broody so you know which one(s) to keep!

Mama Pea said...

I think we've gone the exact same road over the years that you have, Leigh. Always trying dual breed varieties looking for the perfect (for us) breed. Our favorites as far as personality, foraging, etc. are the Speckled Sussex and the Black Australorps. Unfortunately, we've never found any of the hens to be as broody as we want. There are sources that say basic broodiness has been bred out of ALL varieties available today. And, sadly, I can see how that could be.

We just had a hatch yesterday of three little chicks. One of our Speckled Sussex hens sat on them most of the time, but then an Australorp joined her in the nest box. Speckled Sussex got mad and left. A week later, out pop two chicks that look like they are the Speckled Sussex variety and one little black one that must be a Black Australorps.

I'm sure the different varieties act differently in different climates, too. We want to be able to always reproduce our chickens, but thus far we haven't succeeded to any great extent. :o(

Fran in Aus said...

I love Australorps and they are my dominant breed but I do keep one Plymouth Rock especially as my brood mum. She is brilliant. Better than any other Plymouth Rock or Australorp or Barnevelder I've ever had. I suspect it's because she might have some bantam in her. You could try keeping a Silkie jsut as a brooder and slip the chicks under an Australorp at hatching or buy a small incubator and shove those hatched
chicks under a sitting Australorp - I've done that too.

Leigh said...

Michelle, that's a good idea!

Mama Pea, I suppose one has to be lucky to get a good setting hen. I'm sure there are a number of aspects to the dynamics of the whole thing, including the flock personality. Just keep trying, I say! We honestly don't need a lot of eggs, and so don't need a lot of chickens. But it would be nice to have some for the freezer. Dan really liked the speckled sussex, but we'll see what he picks when the time comes.

Fran, I've really liked the Lorps as well. It seems it all boils down to the individual. I've never been too keen on an incubator. If we can keep about half a dozen hens and get a couple of replacements every year, that would be fine with me.

Paula said...

From everything I've read, Australorps are the quintessential homestead birds, for all the reasons you've cited. If I were buying chicks, that's what I'd be getting. My chickens are leftovers from a friend, who gives me her 'bad' chickens, which are the ones that won't come in at night. That way, she doesn't lose them to coyotes (she loses them to me), and I get pullets for sure.

This same friend incubates all her chicken eggs under her muscovy ducks, which, if memory serves, you have. Or were thinking about getting. I forget. Anyway, they do a good job of hatching out the chicks.

Jason and Michelle said...

I now have 23 birds- 21 hens and 2 roosters. 2 of them are Australorps, 1 buff Orpington. The rest are tetras,road island reds and sex linked. My australorps and buff go broody every year. This year I let them hatch a clutch. Only one chick survived, all 3 were very attentive mamas. These 3 hens are 8+ years old, so I am rather fond of them. The 2 australorps were my first two hens.

Leigh said...

Paula, Lorps are indeed a very popular bird, and I won't say that mine are exhibiting a common behavior for the breed. It's just that you never know! Yes, we do have Muscovies, two hens, and they are almost annoyingly broody. We did kind of toy with the idea of giving them some chicken eggs to hatch, but they are extremely territorial of their nests. Still, might be worth a try!

Jason and Michelle, if I recall, the Australorps were developed from Buff Orpingtons with a few other breeds worked in as well. Does anybody know? I've always thought that was where they got their broody tendencies. Most of my home-hatched clutches have been small too, which is why I think some folks prefer incubators. Since I only want to replace a few birds each year, a low hatch rate is fine. And there is something to be said for letting them be chickens. If they want chicks, I think they should have them. :)