Sunday, January 24, 2010

Heritage Chickens: Buckeyes

Over the last four years or so, we've grown to just adore Buckeye chickens, for a variety of reasons. There is the emotional connection: I am from Ohio, and on my grandparent's farm in front of their house is a large Buckeye tree. My grandfather used to carry Buckeye seeds with him always, when my mom and aunt were sorting through his clothes after his death, they found a Buckeye in almost every pocket of every jacket and coat. So the idea of a chicken called a Buckeye was immediately appealing to me.

We got our first Buckeyes from my friend Matt John of Shady Lane Poultry, back in '06. Getting them was actually a mistake, they had slipped in with a batch of chicks Matt had hatched for our 4-H group, and when he saw them and mentioned it, I snatched them up for us and took them home. We started out with only four birds, one cockerel and three pullets. We liked them from the start, they grew fast and were very vigorous.

The following year we got some more chicks from Matt, as I wasn't set up to hatch eggs from that pen at that time. I had a couple of different breeds in it, all of which day-ranged together, so had no way to ensure the eggs would be purebred. But as time went on, we grew to like the breed more and more. And last year we decided they would be the only large fowl breed we'd work with, as they had everything we liked: gentle temperament, healthy, pea comb (which prevents frostbite), good dual-purpose qualities, good layers of eggs, and the extra cockerels dress out well for meat.

So last year we hatched a bunch of chicks, and the response has been astounding. This year I have a ton of orders for chicks, and have been shipping a boatload of hatching eggs. I am even about to order a new digital incubator and setter, to ensure I can get really good hatches from everything I set.

Of course, there's also the breed club we started for the Buckeyes. In the fall of '07, we took Buckeyes to the Ohio National poultry show (our very favorite show.) Colleen and Allie won BB with their cock bird, (James says they did even better, I need to go back and check the coop tags to be sure.) Colleen asked me if she'd get points for the win (breed clubs award points to their members for show results, and at the end of the year the person with the most points is awarded a prize of some sort.)

However, at that time there was no breed club for Buckeyes. When I told Colleen that, she insisted we start one, so the following March I started a Yahoo Group for Buckeyes, to gauge the level of interest in the breed, and was surprised at how quickly it took off! I knew I wanted to make it a real club; with elected officers and bylaws and the like. At as of the summer of '09, we're all set. The American Buckeye Poultry Club was officially registered as a 501(c)3 non-profit, and has grown quickly.

We've been lucky to have the support of Jeannette Beranger of the ALBC, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy:
and some of the top/longtime breeders of Buckeyes: Duane Urch, John Brown, and Bob Rhodes are all members and support the club. The increase in interest in the breed has been helped along by a wonderful article written by Christine Heinrichs in BackYard Poultry Magazine, which can be seen here.

But even without the rise in popularity of this bird, we'd still love them. They're friendly, personable birds. They get along with each other and humans well, and we think are just the best all-around farmstead bird there is. The ability to show them and market them is just the icing on the cake. And at the end of the day, I know my grandfather would be pleased as punch at the whole idea of his granddaughter raising birds named after his favorite tree.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Slogging through the mud

Winter in Kentucky is very different from most of the winters I've known in my life. I grew up in the North: born and raised in Cleveland, have lived as far north as Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Duluth, MN. I don't mind snow, I really don't. When you have horses, snow in the pasture actually packs down and is relatively easy for them to walk on. It certainly beats the mud wallows we get here in KY.

Winter in the Bluegrass region of KY where we live means cold rain and mud. Not attractive, not pleasant, and certainly harder to deal with than snow. The horse pastures turn into boot-sucking swamps, and don't even think about going out there without high rubber boots! Even the lawn gets squishy, some days when I walk outside the soil is so saturated it's like walking on a sponge, even to the sound.

Mud is pervasive in the winter. It's tracked into the house by the humans and the dogs. Because our soil here is mostly clay, it's big sticky clumps of mud; on feet, on paws, everywhere it seems. I despair over keeping it out of the house, I've given up on the living room carpet, at some point we'll just rip it out and put in hardwood. And not being a Martha Stewart even on my best days, it quite overtakes me at times. I'd far rather be cleaning chicken pens than vacuuming.

The worst by far is the freezing rain. When it comes, I know a power outage is not far off. Some years it's not so bad, only a few hours. Others, the power can be off for days or a week at a time. We have heaters and a generator, but it's still an annoyance. It makes me put off setting eggs for chicks, as I worry the power will go out and I'll lose an entire incubator of eggs to cold. Last year we had a huge ice storm in early February, I guess if we make it to Valentine's Day I'll feel better about things. But for now such storms loom over my mental state, and make me put off hatching when I really should get on with it already.

Ah winter. Wish we had more snow here, certainly. It would be so much better than the all-pervasive goo.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Snow storm in KY

I'm a bad blogger. I've been so busy with the farm and work that I haven't posted here in months! But today is a slower day, due mostly to the big snowstorm (bearing in mind that "big" is a relative term.)

Here in KY a "big" snowstorm is anything over two inches. Now, I've lived in the north most of my adult life. I grew up in Cleveland (noted for its lake effect snow); went to college in Syracuse, NY; lived for five years in New Hampshire; then six years in Sasaktoon, Sask. (western Canada); two years in Janesville, WI; then five years in Duluth, MN before moving here. So I will admit to being a snow snob.

The real problem with snow in rural northern KY is that there just isn't the snow removal equipment to deal with it. So roads get slick and icy, people aren't used to driving in it, and accidents happen.

So my general plan during snowstorms here is to hunker down and ride it out. We have a cistern, so should the power go out (which it has done in previous years), we can always haul water to the animals from it. We don't have a wood stove yet, it's on our list of Things To Get Someday, but we have a good kerosene heater and a big generator, and between those and a lot of oil lamps we make it through.

Normally it's not snowstorms but ice storms that are the worst for this area. Last Feb we had a horrid ice storm which took power out for some folks for as long as ten days. We were very lucky and only lost power for about four hours at the very end (I figure they took the grid down to fix it.) Ice does terrible damage to trees and plants, snow is not so hard on things.

As I look out the window of my office I can see the horses out in the south pasture with their butts to the wind, snow accumulating on their backs. They won't go into shelter in this sort of weather, it's freezing rain that is hard on them. As long as they have plenty of hay (we feed round bales in the pastures) they are fine in the snow. And it's easier to walk on than mud, that's for sure!

Frankly, I'd rather have two feet of snow than an inch of ice any day. Snow will pack down and the horses and people can walk through it pretty easily, and it actually insulates the chicken hoop houses to keep them warm. And being a northerner at heart, I love a pretty white snow field, makes me feel content.

Stay warm and safe out there everyone...