Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Color in Buckeyes

The proper color for Buckeyes has been a bone of contention between breeders for a number of years now. A lot of people think that the Standard of Perfection for Buckeyes, as it is written today, is wrong, and hearken back to the words of the founder of the breed, Nettie Metcalf.

In an article she wrote for Poultry Success Magazine in 1917, Nettie stated "The Buckeye should be as much darker in color than the accepted Rhode Island Red as the Rhode Island Red is darker than the Buff breeds. Their plumage should be so dark as to male as to look almost black in some lights, garnet red being as near a description as I can give."

And until now, I had never had any images from that era to go by, to determine the actual color of the RIR's she was comparing them to. But I found one! This plate is from a book from 1912*, by F.E. Wright, and shows a number of different breeds of the time, including the RIRs at the middle right.
(Note this image has not been color corrected in any way, what you see is what was scanned. Just a small amount of retouching was done to remove extraneous dirt.)

It's fascinating to compare the color of those birds with that of the other Buff birds on the page, as they really aren't that much darker!

But then when we look at the BB Red Game bird (yes, in that picture it's a bantam, but shows the accepted color for what were then called "Indian Game" birds, which she says she used to create the Buckeye.)

That color is a darker, glossier red than the Rhode Island Red of the day. And that may be where Nettie got the color she was looking for at the time for her Buckeyes, that "garnet red" color she loved.

Currently, some folks are, in my opinion, going off the deep end when it comes to color. They have pushed their Buckeyes to get so dark that they lose that lovely glow, and turn a muddy brown.

Yes, in some light, properly colored Buckeyes look almost black. The photo at the left (not the best focus, because I took it with my phone) shows a cockerel of mine at a show this past fall. He looks "almost black" in that light. But in daylight he is a lovely, glowing red, just like the garnet Nettie was striving for.

It's also important to note that the Standard of Perfection of today calls for a color that is "rich mahogany bay." Certainly, the old RIR's were nowhere near that color. They were much lighter than the "garnet red" Nettie bred for. And just because RIR's have gotten darker over the years, doesn't mean the Buckeye should go any darker than what the Standard calls for now, despite what some folks say is "Nettie's vision." We can see illustrated above what she was striving for, although bear in mind there are different colors of garnets out there too, all you have to do is Google "garnet red" and click the Images tab to see the different shades available that all fall under "red."

But I think it's important for folks not to get lost in what they think Nettie wanted, after all, no one has a Ouiji Board they can use to talk to her and get a photo of an exact bird she'd like. But we can use illustrations from the time she was creating and breeding the birds to guide us, so we don't lose our way.

*Note, the original of this image is no longer under copyright, but my retouched version now is under my copyright. Please do not right-click or otherwise "share" this image. Thanks.

Friday, November 1, 2013

What it really costs to hatch chicks

I was in an online forum today, responding to a comment someone posted about thinking she might start hatching chicks to make some income.

It reminded me of my grandmother, who quipped about the "$10,000 eggs" my grandfather produced (based on the actual costs of getting those eggs into his hands.)

So I ran some numbers, and came up with some interesting info, which I am re-posting here in my blog.

I don't know that I would consider hatching as a source of income, per se. Unless you can sell all the chicks you hatch right as day-olds, you're going to have to put feed into them. And most people aren't generally going to want mixed-breed chicks (just because you see ads for same on Craigslist doesn't mean those folks have run the numbers and are actually making money hatching.) So you need to start with some purebred birds of good quality, which will cost anywhere from $20 to $50 per bird.

I hatch between 400 and 500 chicks per year, all one breed (large fowl Buckeyes) and I ship most of them. I charge $6 per chick, which includes the cost of the shipping materials and the postage (Express Mail.) And a bunch of other stuff.

I have seen a number of different figures on the amount of electricity needed to run an incubator for a hatch, of course, which one you use will have a bearing on that. I've seen figures that run between $5 per hatch to $15 per hatch. So assuming you have a smaller incubator (I have a cabinet, so I can hatch more than the smaller ones), and you can hatch out 25 chicks each time, that's 40 cents per chick.

That doesn't take into account the feed costs for the hens who lay the eggs, oyster shell, or other supplements. Those are other figures we could calculate to determine the cost to produce each egg.

An average hen eats about 1/4 lb of feed per day. The feed I use costs me $19.99 per 50 pound bag (I'm going to call it $20 to make the math easier on myself, because I have dyscalculia and numbers give me fits sometimes.) That breaks down to (if I am doing the math right) $36.50 per hen for feed each year.

The average Buckeye lays between 150 and 200 large eggs per year. I'm going to call it 200 (again, to make the math easier.) So each egg costs me roughly 18 cents to produce. I'm going to add in about another 2 cents for things like oyster shell, probiotics and so on.

Then there's the cost of de-wormers. Let's pull a number out of our hat (based on what I just paid to de-worm the whole flock) and call it 63 cents per bird, x twice a year (at least) for $1.26.

Then you have to consider mite treatments. Not going to get specific, let's just say my numbers are 83 cents per bird, twice a year, give or take, to make $1.67.

That doesn't include things like bedding, hay, and labor! You have to pay yourself, you really do. If you don't factor that in, there's no point in doing it to "make money."

So without even including those three things, it will cost you $3.51 per chick to produce each one.

That's $3.51 per chick to produce them, without including your labor.

Now, if you're shipping chicks, you have to add the following costs in:

You have to use a special box, which costs $3.59 each.
I use a heater pad when shipping, those cost $3.34 each
Then put in some Grow Gel Plus, that costs only about 10 cents per batch.
Postage for shipping across the US can run between $45 to $65, let's call it an average of $55
Gas into town (one gallon there and back for me, I am in a very rural area) we'll call $3.35 (which is what it was yesterday.)
Total just to ship those chicks: $65.38

Divided by 26 (I always put in at least one extra) and that works out that it costs me $2.51 to ship each chick. Add in the cost to produce and hatch the chick, and that comes out to $6.02 per chick. Oops. I'm losing money shipping chicks to people. But I'm ok with that (I do this for the love of the breed, not to make money. But don't show my husband these numbers!)

Obviously, selling locally and being able to sell chicks for $5 each means you will make some money.

But none of this takes into account the initial investment to purchase all the equipment needed (feeders, waterers, brooders, grow-out pens and so on. And the depreciation of said equipment. And the cost of the incubator! (Please, don't buy one of the cheapest ones, they really aren't worth it and you'll just get frustrated. Buy a Hovabator at least.)

So. Still want to do it? Go for it! I personally find it lovely work, very satisfying and good for my soul to raise chickens. But I, and my accountant are here to tell you, you're not going to get rich doing it unless you do it on a huge scale, which then would (IMO) take all the fun out of it.

Just some thoughts...