Last spring, I began my foray into poultry keeping by hatching my first batch of chicken eggs for an annual Easter Hatch-along on the Backyard Chickens Forum. The hatch-along was fantastic for me because I was able to get support and feedback throughout the hatch and as I began to brood my new chicks. (Last year, there were many contests, but this year there are even more contests and prizes! Consider joining us if you haven’t already!)
I am participating in the 3rd Annual Easter Hatch-a-long, linked above, and will be looking to add new breeds to my flock. We are setting March 17th in order to hatch the day before Easter, April 7th. (Here is a countdown until we set!) As you have read, I am very excited to be hatching Euskal Oiloa (Basque Hen) eggs from Skyline Poultry. Their stock originates in Canada, and they have done an excellent job maintaining and improving the birds entrusted to them.
I also want to add a bit of diversity to my laying flock, which is actually quite diverse already. I have Speckled Sussex, Welsummer hen, Golden Phoenix, Silver Ameraucana, and Easter Egger hens as well as a Speckled Sussex cockerel and a Silver Ameraucana cockerel. My flock currently lays brown, cream or “tinted,” blue, and green eggs. What is missing from my egg basket? Why, white and dark chocolate brown, of course!For this reason, I have also ordered Rose Comb Brown Leghorns and Wheaten Maranshatching eggs. The Leghorns will lay white eggs and the Marans dark brown. I will write a post on each breed to explain my choices in greater detail. In the meantime, you can check out the links above. Finally, I am also participating in an egg swap. My main motivation was to go through the process of selecting and shipping hatching eggs as a learning experience. Because my eggs will be mutts, I expect mutts in return – but I bet they will be cute mutts!
Adding more birds of course means that I will need to make more room. I currently have two coops, an 8’x8′ main coop and a 4’x4′. I intend to maintain only one coop through the winter, so I am limiting myself to no more than 16 birds overall. Each chicken needs at least 4 square feet of space in the coop. They should have more room if they will be inside the coop for extended periods of time such as when there is a heavy snowfall. I would rather keep the number lower, say 10-12. For that reason, I had only 11 birds overwinter in the coop this year.
While you cannot count your chickens before they hatch, you can make some educated guesses. The Euskal Oiloa are my priority. I ordered 15+ hatching eggs. Assuming there are perhaps 16 or more eggs in my shipment, I can expect approximately 8 birds if I have the 50% hatch rate typical for shipped eggs (although Skyline’s shipping methods seem to result in greater hatches.) Assuming that 50% of my 8 are male, I can approximate that I will have something like 4 pullets and 4 cockerels. (I had a 7:10 female/male ratio last year.) I will keep all pullets hatched (probably 3 to 6) and the best cockerel. So, there will be about 5 EOs.
I am most attached to my Speckled Sussex and Phoenix hens and will be keeping them. They lay tinted eggs, and I will need to keep a blue layer and a green layer to maintain my colorful egg basket. So, a Silver Ameraucana and an Easter Egger will also be staying. This makes an approximate total of 9.
Finally, I will want to keep at least one Marans (yes, “Marans” is the singular) and one Leghorn, bringing me back up to 11 for winter. It is possible that I will want to keep one or two other hens, but I will not overwinter two roosters again (the crowing!) when I know that I could obtain another rooster if something happened to mine.
This means I will have a bit of selling to do! I need to sell my SA cockerel and one pullet, my SS rooster, 2 or 3 Easter Egger hens, and my Welsummer hen. I will also need to sell a bunch of extra chicks and cockerels! My, oh my, this should be interesting, but I feel confident that, between the local poultry sale and Craigslist, I will be able to find a home for everybody.
And I am pumped about my upcoming hatch! If you are new to hatching, you could read my Guide to Incubation. It’s a free PDF book I wrote for fun. I am not an experienced expert, but I am good at synthesizing what I have read and researched. I can’t wait to pull out the incubator!