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.

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