Thoughts on Chickens, Etc.

I saw a question earlier today where someone wondered if A. Multiple breeds of chickens can get along and B. What breeds are more docile and easy to handle.  I added a few answers to the thread and thought I would put them here too.  While I claim no real poultry expertise, I have noticed a few trends that seem to carry through no matter what the species:


1. Getting Along with Others
We have a mixed flock of 36 hens with 5 roosters right now—all different breeds, colors, sizes, feathering and ages. And we have never in all the years of owning poultry yet had a bird get “hen-pecked” and attacked by the others. Not one bird.

The reason for this, I believe, is that our birds have free range of the farm year-round.  They have a coop they share for night sleeping but during the day they can be found in every nook and cranny of our property—roaming everywhere in search of bugs and seeds.  They usually break into smaller groups, usually with one roo in charge, and those groups hardly associate with each other until it is time to go to bed at night.


I believe it is the opportunity to engage in natural behaviors—creating their own mini-flocks, ranging over a wide area and getting the full value of their ‘seeking” behavior all day, every day, that keeps us from having aggression issues.  Ditto for our pigs—pigs kept in confined spaces have to get their teeth and  tails clipped to keep them from mutilating each other. But we do neither and have always been able to group adult boars, juveniles and mamas with tiny babies in the space without incident….keeping in mind that instead of a small “pig pen”, they have full range of a pasture where again, they can engage in natural pig behavior and get away from each other when they wish.


I have a friend who retrains Thoroughbreds off the racetrack—horses that sometimes come with lots of behavioral ticks from being confined to a stall while at the track.  But after an intro period, he turns them out with a group of other horses in huge 100+ acre pastures and they absolutely thrive because, you guessed it, they get to “just be horses”. 


The bottomline is that the more natural environment and space you can give any animal, heck even humans, the better their behavior will be.   Imagine if we did this for our kids in schools, just sayin….


2. Docility by Breed

In my experience, it seems like no matter what the species (cows, horses, pigs, poultry) that the larger and more slow-growing a breed is, the calmer and more naturally docile they are.  And the smaller, leaner, faster metabolism the breed is, the more reactive to their environment they are, which can be construed as more "difficult" to deal with.


In horses, this is very evident between the lighter “hot” breeds (Arabians, Thoroughbreds , etc) and the heavier “cold blooded” breeds (draft horses like Belgians, etc)---The big-boned, slow-growing draft horses are slower to react to stimuli, which can make them easier to handle.  The “hot blooded” horses tend to be more reactive and can sometimes be harder for novices to get along with.  Each has its place in the world, but each takes a different training approach.


In pigs, it is well documented that the modern pig genetics used in confinement where the focus is on ultra-fast growing, super lean pigs is that they have become genetically super reactive and hard to handle---sometimes overreacting to basic stimuli like someone entering their pen and causing horrifying corner piles of pigs that smother the bottom pigs to death.  This is well documented scientifically because it is a genetic and management issue the hog industry is trying to solve.

On the flip side are the “heritage” breeds of pigs—slower growing, “bigger” in that they tend towards fat (they are mostly “lard” breeds after all!) and yes, generally quieter and easier to get along with.  We tried some “modern” genes on our farm, very briefly, and got out of that quick when those gilts acted bat-sh*t crazy compared to our other pigs.  Give me slow and fat any day!


In chickens, I see the same thing.  Our big breeds, the Brahmas, Orphingtons and Cochins, are quieter and often more “friendly” (in that they stop to see what you are up to first instead of running). They just don’t get worked up by much.  My contrast, my “light” breed chickens—Fayoumi, Legorn, etc are flightly and always on the lookout.  Each has a place on our farm—the Orphington hens are the ones our daughter can pick up and hug and the little Fayoumi hen is the first to see the hawk flying over and alert the rest.


So that's my experience with these things--what say the rest of you?

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