Sunday, August 19, 2012

The "Real Life" Aloha Chickens

Recently, I won a trip to Hawaii via an online sweepstakes.  (Really!  My cousin won a trip to the Bahamas years ago, too.  Many online sweepstakes are legit.)  I got to bring one person, and chose my sister.  I let her pick the island, and she chose Kauai, where I'd never been before.

Our stay was at the awesome Outrigger Kiahuna Plantation:

I'd stayed at their Keahou Beach Resort a few times in Kona, because that hotel is located next to BEST snorkel spot on the Big Island.  (And they give you a free full breakfast to boot.  This is major for Hawaii.  Food is pricey.  Unlimited bacon anywhere on the Big Island is a serious bonus.)

But that was on another island.  Like I said, this was my first visit to Kauai.  I didn't know what to expect.

Yes, this is the view from the room.
Our Kauai condo was gorgeous and overlooked a grassy lawn, dotted with palm trees.  Behind that was the ocean.  I'd read in the Kauai guidebook to expect lots of chickens, which had me kind of nervous because my sis is a VERY light sleeper.  While the sound of roosters is nothing but music to my ears, I understand that others may not share my affection.  Well, Outrigger must have a chicken-hunter on staff or something, because we only saw two chickens on the property the entire week.

Lots of flowers at the Outrigger Kiahuna, but no chickens.
Down the road a mile on Poipu Beach, it was another story.  Chickens everywhere!

A lovely dark hen and her chicks.  Poipu Beach, July 2012.
The funny thing is I gave my fledgling chicken breed the "Aloha" name because I thought their spotted coats in a rainbow of colors would (hopefully) look like the wildly colorful Aloha shirts worn in our lovely tropical state.

And yes, I had seen wild chickens, both on the Big Island and in Maui.  Here's a shot of some Maui beggars when I visited in 2011.   But none of these chickens were spotted or colorful, they were just the typical "wild" brown.  So it was chickens like these ones I'd seen before, that I thought of:

A proud mama hen in Maui, May 2011. 

Begging for treats at a Maui car rental outfit.

So imagine my surprise when I get to Kauai, and discover REAL Aloha chickens!  There was a variety of colors, and while most were solid, about one in ten was mottled.  Leg color varied, and was slate, pink/white, or yellow, often within the same flock.

Mottling on this hen is great camouflage.
This hen was in a nearby Botanical Garden.
Up in a tree in Poipu Beach - not the same hen.
My favorite hen was very bashful but you can really see the resemblance between her and my Ginger girls.  I would have snagged this little hen for my Aloha flock if I could!  Sorry for the poor photos, she wouldn't let me get too close.  But her color and level of mottling were just gorgeous:

Chosen by nature, these hardy chickens were tough, small, with upright fantails and excellent fliers.  Shockingly, they looked very much like the small Alohas running around my back yard!

A great vacation, and as a bonus, I ended up with lots of "chicken swag" because Kauai is very proud of their chickens.  I bought a chicken mug, chicken stickers for my car, and my boyfriend got a rooster t-shirt.  I also carried a bag of bread with me everywhere I went to feed the chickens.  (I especially loved the hens with tiny chicks in tow.)

So, unlike the mythical Chupacabra or Sasquatch, I now have proof that Aloha chickens are real.  There are colorful spotted chickens who live on a beautiful beach in Hawaii, where they frolic and play all day long. Who would have thought?

"KONA" - Foundation Aloha Hen, 2009.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Boring . . . And Interesting.

My flock is looking a bit boring right now!

For one, I didn't keep up with my usual hatching schedule last year.  I keep only the best few from every batch of chicks.  So out of one group of 25 chicks last fall, as an example, only 2 hens made the final cut!  With those kind of statistics, I have to hatch a LOT of chicks to fill the coop.

In addition to traveling so much last year, I had eye surgery in May.  All these things got in the way of hatching.  Luckily, we have a new breeder (Stephen) up north, who is currently raising two May batches of chicks (about 50 babies total) that should hopefully net us a nice breeder pen to work with.  I haven't seen photos but Stephen says they are "very colorful" and look good.

Another breeder in the East Valley hatched out TONS of chicks.  Which was, unfortunately, followed by tons of predator losses.  I did manage to snag this survivor from his pen.  She's very, very small with zero improvement in size, but we did get the yellow legs on her, so that's still some forward progress!  (They are very pale, but they are yellow.)

This small size issue is why I had to breed some of my colorful girls with a big, solid color rooster (Cheeto) to try and get some more genes for big size and yellow legs in there.  Predictably, the hens show little to no color, but there are clues that the Mottled gene is lurking, ready to burst out into spots in future offspring!

Behind her is a pure Buff Rock hen that is slightly younger.

Note white-tipped wing feathers.

White feather tips in tail, white feather tip on wing.
This one hen is a beauty, and she clearly carries Mottling.  Unfortunately, she did not inherit her dad's yellow legs, but she has the depth of body and overall "farmyard chicken" body shape I'm breeding for.  If she stays healthy, I can see her being a valuable asset to the flock for years to come.  I can't wait to cross her to the Swedish Flower Rooster.  My hope is that the chicks will come out looking like Mille Swedish in color, some with the yellow legs of the Swedish dad, but that perhaps some will show the upright tail set of this hen.

From this cross, I will pick out any hens with yellow legs, upright fan-tails, and spots.

Add yellow legs - add more spots - and this body type would make a great Aloha.

Size of this hen means the babies should be "pretty much" as large as a regular Swedish when crossed to a Swedish rooster.  That photo of her with the purebred Buff Rock hen show that she's not tiny.  Buff Rocks are big, meaty chickens!

Note white wing feather, and YELLOW legs!
She's a little bigger, but still pretty small.
Do I cross her to Spotty who is also small?  
I also have other hens from the Cheeto cross, about three or four, that have yellow legs and are shades of buff in color.  Many show a tiny white feather here or there, a little clue that spots are lurking.  I'm not sure what to do with them yet?

I held back a dark mahogany and white rooster from this same batch, because he had a fabulous long tail and TONS of spots.  He's the most Spotty rooster I've seen here!  Also, while his "base color" is the same deep Mahogany color of the Speckled Sussex, he lacks the black markings.  In other words, Speckled Sussex feathers go "mahogany/black stripe/white tip" on their feathers.   I'd rather see a lighter base color, but he does have an absence of black and great big blobs of white.  Those traits do make him unique - and something beyond a run of the mill Sussex rooster.

Did I mention he was small?  And so are the hens!  They are a bit better than the last generation, but only the hen with the pink legs really picked up serious size improvement.

Okay, so what I'm going to do with Spotty here, is cross him with those two pure Buff Rock hens.  I'll be looking for chicks with yellow legs, and hopefully I'll be able to identify some improved tail sets on some of the hens.

You see, one of the features I'd like to keep if at all possible, is the upright "fan tail" of the original Aloha stock.  To see what I mean, here's the foundation hen, Kona:

Fan-tail on Kona, foundation Aloha hen.
 I do like a happy upright tail on the hens and a long flowing tail on a rooster.  I'm glad that a few of my hens still carry this trait, but it's in danger of being lost as I introduce more Buff Rock and New Hampshire Red bloodlines into the mix.

I have been so focused on color that in the process I've often neglected type.  So my chickens this year are looking a bit plain, while I try to see what I can do to fix this.  Unfortunately, my breeding experiments are showing that the small chickens have been very reluctant to increase in size.  At this point, I fear that I may end up having to go as high as 75% "outside" blood to only 25% "foundation Aloha" before the mix shows any real size improvement.

I wonder if I can keep the cute tails while increasing size and adding spots?

I do love the colors on my small girls!  Check out the newly molted Confetti hen.  Her tail is still growing back in.

Four Ginger girls were also kept.  They're tiny, and they have gray legs.  But boy do they have pretty colors!  I kept two of Cheeto's sons, both are beefy guys with yellow legs.  Will attempt to improve their body type and remove the gray legs.  (And hopefully keep color?)  I'll also try them with the pure Swedish rooster.  I love the Gingers!

Pardon me, I'm still molting

This Ginger hen is molting, too.

In total, I have about 10 small but very colorful "older generation" Alohas to work with this year.  I also have two nice Sussex X Aloha hens, two pure Buff Rocks, and about four daughters of Cheeto with slightly larger body size, some with yellow legs, that will hopefully improve type.  I only wish it wasn't such a challenge to get these gorgeous small Alohas up to full size chickens!

Update on Swedish Flower X Chicks

Here's another update on the Swedish Flower X Aloha babies!

I'm so horrible with record keeping, I had to go back to emails sent to friends to figure out exactly when these chicks were born!  What I discovered was the Swedish X Aloha cross eggs were collected during a two week period, so our batch of babies were actually born over a period of 10 days, from June 4, 2012 - June 14, 2012.  This means a few of these babies who appear smaller may "even out" a bit as they near maturity.  I sure hope so, because right now there is a great range of body size.

The Keepers:  (At least, for now!)

Also,  because of my lack of breeder pens here, all the hens were in with the Swedish rooster, including the (one) full-blood Swedish Flower hen.  It looks like some of the chicks are beautiful purebred Swedish Flowers.  Three hens are very large and Mille in coloring, and are carbon-copies of the Swedish hen at the same age.  One of the trio is just a hair smaller than the rest, but even pure Swedish will show some variance in body size, so this does nothing to help us tell if she's a purebred or not.  Either way, these large Mille hens would go great with that Confetti, all-American (Aloha, Buff Rock, NHR) bloodline rooster next door.

That was the rooster who I mentioned was starting to wander to the front yard with his flock of ladies.  Luckily, the neighbors fixed a missing fence board, and this seems to have resolved the problem for now.  Although chickens are crafty creatures, and the neighbor has a very tempting luxurious green lawn that would tempt any chook.  I hope he survives long enough to be borrowed to use in a breeder pen, as I'd love to cross him with what now appears to be a small flock of golden Mille Fleur Swedish.

This is the non-Swedish rooster.
I'd like to cross with Mille Swedish.
That's the very definition of counting your chickens before they hatch, so back to the chickies!  Anyway, these babies are right around 10 weeks old now.  I've gone through and culled the top third to retain for the breeding program, and have culled many very nice babies from the group.  Will be sad to see them go, but the saying is "breed copiously and cull ruthlessly" so the culls are on Craigslist right now awaiting a new home.

Many of the culls are very attractive!
But a lot had gray legs, or less spotting.
Or showed a lot of black.

As for the "keepers" I was especially keeping an eye out for traits that are unique to my strain and not seen in pure Swedish Flowers.  A few that are feathering out look promising.
Red rooster to the right, with large upright comb.  Has yellow legs!
This red and white checked shade is not an existing Swedish color.
"Mystery Color" hen.  Not sure what color this is?

She is much smaller than the (likely purebred) Mille Swedish hen.

This interesting rooster has a lot more white than normal Swedish.
More red and less black feathering.

This hen has a total absence of black on her body mottling.
Similar to the Mille Swedes, but not quite?
Smaller, pink legs, more "messy" pattern.

Possible Confetti rooster?  Too bad the legs aren't yellow!
Their early to mid June birthday means that they could be ready to breed by mid to late December!  If all goes well, these cute new hens could be passing their genes to the next stage of my Aloha project, and chicks by these lovely girls could be shipping by Spring 2013!  Many color genes are recessive, which means as these are crossed together, we could see even more new features in their offspring.

Meanwhile, my boyfriend sounds ready and willing to help me build some new breeder pens, which are desperately needed.  Right now I only have one major "communal" pen plus a 10 X 10 dog kennel that can be used as a breeder pen for a small group.  Previously, one way I could use the communal pen would be to pen the other competing rooster (or roosters) and alternate boys over the same group of hens.  But I'm also dealing with growing out a teenage horde of roosters, plus this new group of babies.  Currently, the babies are in the breeder pen, and EVERYTHING else is in the communal pen (about 20 hens and five roos) so right now it's just a big mess in there.

I'd like to have four breeder/grower pens to start.  Likely two of the pens would be used from time to time for other purposes, perhaps housing youngsters in one pen, and maybe another "bachelor pen" for isolating the growing out roosters.  (Keeping those teen boys from acting like punks to the ladies!)

But I'm still confused about how big I can make each pen and still be able to afford the materials?  And if I use two of the pens for other purposes, is four pens enough?  The large communal pen does work really well in summer, when breeding is done for the year.  Do I really want to have to feed four individual pens year-round?  Makes it a hassle for any potential pet sitter, and I do like to travel a lot.

Argh, it all makes my brain hurt!  If I can just figure this out, my boyfriend is ready to help me forge ahead with the project, but only I can tell him what I want, and right now, I'm still brainstorming!

I'd better get it figured out soon, because we saw our first rays of hope arrived in the last couple of days as our furnace-like 115 temps plummeted all the way down to a balmy 101, which feels like HEAVEN in Phoenix right now!  A reminder that fall hatching season is right around the corner . . .