Sunday, October 30, 2016

Fall 2016 Update

It's always a scary time from May to September in Phoenix, for all living critters who have to suffer outside temps.  This year was no exception, with February already in the 90's and we hit 118 by early June.  The high temps did not let up, and we nearly matched 2013's record for "Most Days Above 110 Degrees" - almost a full month in excess of 110.  (That's not counting all the 108's, 109's, etc. - of which there were plenty!)

The heat has NOT let up either - with record highs in October.  Breeding shut down, as all roos were rendered sterile.  I had a request for chicks in August, and I tried to incubate eggs.  Only 3 chicks hatched, out of 42 eggs.  Gave more eggs to a friend in September, and she had same results.  Gave up on hatching chicks after that, and for a while all my relatives were getting lots of free eggs from me.  Everything went on complete hold from mid July until mid October.

Finally, things are on the rebound, and I've got about 150+ fertile eggs developing right now in the cabinet incubator.  While days are hot, nights are finally in the 70's again.

This past summer, I did lose three of my best hens, a devastating loss.  Strangely, it appears not to heat, but to egg binding, and I've made changes to the diet that I hope will help in the future.  It may also have been genetic, as two of the hens were sisters and the other loss was their daughter.  They were laying very strangely HUGE eggs, and we even got one that was the mythical "egg inside another egg" which is crazy but really happens, there is a Youtube video of someone else getting one.
"Regular" Aloha egg next to a strangely huge egg.
Anyway, the best BIG hens were lost, and as is the typical case with Alohas, those teeny tiny not-quite-bantam sized 3 pound hens shrugged the heat off as they always do and sailed through the summer while some of the big spotty girls did not make it.   It felt like I was going backwards, not forwards, as the days wore on.  Every attempt to increase Aloha size is thwarted by the fact the little gals handle the heat in Phoenix so well.  (I suspect if I could just get some breeders in cooler areas this could be overcome so much more easily.)  

Remember this guy?  Son of the "white" rooster, he survived!
Remember last year my best rooster last season was a dud - basically infertile - and so most of the eggs hatched by those best hens were "blanks" and did not hatch.  So going into 2015's fall hatching season, it all seemed simple enough - just breed this great big nice roo to these fantastic hens and keep the babies to raise - it did not work out so well in reality.  I had to use the best formed boy who was also the wrong color, white with dun tail, and search for the few that were spotted.  Or use the more colorful small boys and cross with the bigger hens, which dragged the size of the chicks back down.

Now to some good news.  I finally have a rooster that I feel is "worthy" of those good hens.  (Only one of the four best of 2015 remains, but it's better than nothing.)  Here he is:

(if he is infertile I'm going to scream)
He is BIG.  Bigger than any of the other boys I have raised this year!

And - he is SPOTTY.  Way more white than any other boys that I raised.

The best out of probably 40-50 boys that I started - he stuck out as a great prospect from early on.

Only fault:  He needs yellow legs.  Otherwise, we're good!

(This is the Aloha rooster goal for maximum amount of acceptable white.)

And more good news, I did get a few hens that are pretty darn close to the quality of some that I lost.

Here are those yellow legs you wanted!
Also good news, is this little boy, who is darker than my favorite rooster but he's also showing a TON of white!  After last year, I realized the importance of keeping a "back up" rooster so I'm thrilled there is another promising one who is still growing out.  I am guessing it will be 6 to 8 weeks before he is mature enough to handle his own pen of ladies?  Still growing, he lacks confidence and I had a tough time even getting these photos as he's very shy:

Back up boy - already nice size.

Very faintly yellow legs.  Better than nothing.
Surprises for this summer:

*The BIG Sussex girls - a mix of Buff Sussex, Speckled Sussex, and Cinnamon Sussex - actually SURVIVED the heat!  I'm floored as they are massive gals and they are I think approaching 3 years old?  Surviving one summer in Phoenix is a hard task, much less multiples.

Laying is slow on these ladies, and the egg shells are showing abnormalities as they age, but I think I can get a few more babies out of them, hopefully with these bigger and super colorful boys.  Previously the only option was to cross them with small colorful boys or bigger more plain boys, as this season is the *first time* we have seen a rooster with tons of white along with absolute decent sizing.  I did not lose a single one of these large ladies, so I'm very grateful!

Also it appears we have two of their daughters, one from my flock and one borrowed back from a neighbor:

BIG BIG girl with great spotting - Buff Sussex lines.
Another survivor is the "original" hatchery Buff Turken hen who started my Aloha Turken line a few years ago!  At the time I only had one super colorful rooster - who was also a bit spindly - but now we have a few more options.  Here she is with the skinny boy a few years ago:

OLD PHOTO - showing Buff Turken w/ yellow legs + spindly roo.
I want to breed her to this colorful boy who is kind of smaller, but has perfect Aloha body form and color, including yellow legs, a long upright flowing tail, great spotting and a good comb.  He just needs a bit more size and hopefully that hen can provide it?

Very handsome, but small-ish Aloha roo for NN program.
This will create a new related line of Aloha Naked Necks to work with in the future.

This boy has also been penned with the Big Sussex Hens as he's got the flash, form and yellow legs.

All he needs is size - and he's not tiny mind you.  No where near Bantam, he's about Welsummer size.

The Turken hen is now probably 4+ years so along with my big Sussex girls, I'm running out of time to hatch their chicks.  Both the Turken and Sussex lines, while lacking on spots, have good size and body form to improve the Aloha flock in the future.

So my immediate plan:  Pen the fabulous big spotty new rooster with my best hens, and get those eggs in the incubator to raise ASAP.  It's already done - he is being kept with some lovely ladies right now - but it will still be another month before his DNA is "set".

Getting acquainted with his lovelies!
I will specifically be looking for good roosters from these new chicks, to use this Spring as there is a narrow shot to hatch in December and get a rooster that is of breeding age by May/June and slip one more generation of progress in Spring 2017 before the heat arrives.

Fighting the heat and keeping everyone alive was a battle but we have a LOT of survivors with the flock very full, in fact I've had to sell a ton of hens because I kept so many extras "just in case".  Enjoy some of the pics, there are probably 40-50 hens and 8 or so boys in the flock at the moment.

Many of these hens are showing better size and type, and while not HUGE like the Buff Sussex lines, they are what I would call "standard" size - similar to Welsummer or smaller hatchery Sussex.  In fact, I'd ordered some pure Sussex eggs and sold the chicks as they were *smaller* than these chicks raised with them!  So the Alohas are getting larger overall, it's just slow going.

And I still could use the boost of a large rooster with tons of white, which I finally have - in the past I had to choose either a small colorful boy, or a bigger plainer boy.  Although I've got only *one* boy like that for now - and he can't handle all 50 of my hens - so it's urgent that I cross him with my best big girls to get more good roosters ASAP.  That's my first order of business this Fall!

Congrats, Ladies!  You survived 118 degrees!  :)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Dun Project Update - Part 3

It's now mid April, and the Dun Project chicks hatched 11/17/15 are now right at 5 months old.

To refresh:  Dad was a gorgeous Light Sussex cross (carrying Dun) with beautiful body shape, early to mature, but totally wrong color.  Hens were big and spotted.  Most chicks were wrong color (white with dun or black markings) but a small number were Mottled.

Here is a photo of Dad - who is a Light Sussex cross.  Hens were spotty Alohas:

Beautiful white boy and my best girls.
Out of 27 chicks, I kept a handful of Mottled babies and one white hen because I liked her stout body form. The rest of the chicks were sold.

This pen was done for one main goal:

Get a rooster as nice as Dad, in quality, but without the white color.

While the rest of the world is hatching in hopes of a big batch of hens, I was hoping for roosters.

Hopefully, a rooster with spots.  Though honestly even just a nice, big, solid color carrying the gene for spots would have been a step in the right direction!

Luckily, it actually worked out, and we have this guy now:

Not done growing - one month to full maturity.
Good points:  Big size, broad chest, not a trace of "gamey" look.  Early maturity.

Needs work:  More spots, bigger comb, longer tail, brighter yellow legs

He's not super spotted - fairly minimal - but more white than the Big Orange Roo.

Big Orange Roo - beautiful but terrible breeder.
You may notice they look kind of similar in form.  That's because this orange guy is a pure Sussex and my young guy shown is probably 3/4 Sussex as well.  (They are, basically, the same breed but in different colors.)

Here is another shot of the new guy from the front so you can see that he has more white spangles:

Slightly more white on the new guy.
He will be a terrific cross with the smaller, colorful, more Leghorn-type Aloha hens, who are small but great layers.  I am hoping that he will bring size and depth to the lighter bodied hens.  Hopefully some of those hens will lend their bright spotting and jaunty tails and larger comb size to the babies.

He is maturing early like his Dad - who was trying to mount hens at 4 months.  American breeds are often early to mature.  I had a hatchery New Hampshire Red rooster who was breeding at 5 months old.  By contrast, my pure Swedish Flower rooster was clueless at 6 months, and it was about 9 months before he really figured things out.  Swedish boys are gorgeous but continue to grow for up to one year so need patience.

Here are some more photos of this new rooster:

New boy at 5 months.  Not 100% mature.
Remember how I say the roosters always seem to lose their white right around this age?  Let me go through a progression backwards so you can see how he  matured:

Five months old.
Four months - not a good age for him
Two to Three months old.
One to Two months.
Isn't it amazing how much white he had as a chick?  To have so little today?

Here are his siblings, the other four that I kept:

Brother - Carries Dun but smaller in size.
Above:  His brother - and that's not Blue, it's Dun!  Looks much like a Blue Mottled Swedish, but this guy is zero Swedish Flower - and that's not the color Blue.  (See previous blog post on Dun.)

His sisters:
Gorgeous big girl.
Smaller hen, carries Dun.
Wrong color, but note yellow legs and width.
The sisters will be penned with one of these boys:

The above boys are very tall and gangly.  Big roosters both of them, but not as wide or deep bodied as the Sussex bloodlines.  They have terrific white spotting, yellow leg gene, and nice big combs that make it easier to pick out boy at a young age.  (Important if you are hatching your own chicks so you can determine gender at earlier age.)

Interesting note on the Dun chicks from this Nov. 17 hatch. With the dad carrying Dun, statistically half the babies will carry dun and half will not.  Strangely both the Dun rooster and hen both  turned out smaller, though that is purely random chance.  Because of smaller size this boy may be re-homed in favor of the larger brother:

May be re-homed.
The hen carrying Dun is also smaller and does not have a great tail set and may also be re-homed, as I have several more hens carrying Dun so I can use those instead.

Younger hen also carrying Dun + Mottling.  
Another young boy carrying Dun.  Nice legs!
I even have a rooster - who carries Dun through his Mom and not this white rooster - who is a Naked Neck and shows great promise.  So strangely this older Dun gene rooster, son of the white rooster, may be replaced with a Naked Neck counterpart who despite the Naked Neck is looking more true to Aloha type, as the NN chick shows brighter legs, and a larger comb, and much more white!  He's just a baby though so will have to wait for him to mature:

Yellow legs and incredible white on chest.
Note bigger comb from Turken parentage.
The Turken bloodline has some big roosters with very pronounced combs.  Leg color can vary on Turkens but many have vibrant yellow legs.  And despite the "love it or hate it" neck that some people think is creepy, the gene that causes it is actually super easy to remove.  This boy's chicks would be half normal neck, half naked neck.  The "normal" feathered chicks would be just normal chicks - and would never have this happen again.  In other words, you can remove this trait in only one generation, and once it is gone - it's GONE.

So weirdly, the best looking Aloha rooster with the Dun gene so far, is part Turken, and from a less related blood line.  Meaning I can breed this Dun NN to the above hens by the white rooster because this boy got the color through his Mom, not his Dad.

Dad to the Dun Naked Neck is this handsome half Sussex half Naked Neck Aloha rooter:

Dad to Dun Naked Neck baby rooster.
Mom is half Buff Sussex half Aloha.
So you can see these guys are distantly related - but not directly so - and this baby Turken rooster (despite his naked neck gene) could be the more helpful to keep if he matures to a good size and has good spotting.  Hopefully we will find out in a few months.

There are many more hens not shown here who carry Dun plus a few more roosters with Dun, so we will see how those grow out.   I simply haven't taken photos yet.

At this point from the Dun experiment, with the white rooster over nice large spotted hens, it looks like a whopping 2 chickens (out of the original 27 chicks) will make the final cut to the permanent breeding flock.  The impressive rooster and his big beautiful sister.  The others I may hatch a few chicks from and re home as backyard layers to make room, as sadly I don't have room to keep them all.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Bielefelder Alohas?

Recently, one of my Facebook friends, (who also has a few Aloha hens that she picked from me last year) posted photos of a pair of gorgeous roosters she was looking to re-home.  The roosters were both half "Bielefelder" which is a rare German breed, unheard of in the U.S. until Greenfire Farms imported them.

Marketed as the "German Uber-Chicken" the Bielefelder chickens have sold very well here in the USA, with Greenfire selling newborn females for $29 and males for $19 each, currently, as baby chicks.  They are supposedly terrific for both food and eggs.  Since I'm looking to make Alohas good dual-purpose farm chickens, these traits are exactly what I need in Alohas as well.

One rooster is a mix between Bielefelder and Rhode Island Red.  What is good about that, for my program, is I know through tests that the red color picks up spots with no problem.  (Unlike solid buff with buff tail chickens which would not show spots no matter how hard I tried.)

The other rooster is - most likely - half Aloha!  How about that?

I put them in with a few hens with color that I love, but these girls really need a boost in size:

Now, the funny thing is, I've been avoiding Barred chickens, because I know that a Barred rooster can turn the whole flock Barred in one generation!  So it's not like I hate the color when Mottling is added, it's pretty, but it can "take over" a flock quickly, and soon that is the only color you will get, if you aren't careful.

I recently learned more about "auto sexing" breeds, however, and I think I know how to use these boys in the program effectively.  I will keep only the barred girls, who may or may not also have spots - it depends on which boy is the daddy, and whether he really is half Aloha and carries spotting?  Most likely the chicks will be solid red and barred, just like the Dads.

However, I have learned that if I keep only the Barred hens from this cross, and breed them to a rooster with no barring - let's say a Speckled Sussex rooster for example - the hens will not have barring, and the boys will all have barring.  At birth, the boys will have a light spot on the top of the heads and the girls will not.  In other words, if I keep the hens of this cross and pair them with the right boy, I could be able to sex the chicks at birth, and raise ONLY the hens!

Every hen from this next generation would have a 50/50 chance of being spotted if paired with a spotted Aloha rooster.  The result of that cross would be 1/4 Bielefelder hens, with spots.

The Bielefelder carries the gene for yellow legs, which makes them a great choice for pairing with the Aloha / Sussex crosses, to try and add the yellow leg gene.  The hens from this cross could go GREAT with roosters from "Big Orange Roo" or spotted sons from the Dun pen.

The size of these half Bielefelder boys?  HUGE.  I took my "Big Orange Rooster" over to their pen, to compare size.  I thought my Big Orange guy was big, but not compared to these new dudes.  These half Bielefelder boys are still at least two inches taller, and also carry more weight!

This guy has some serious drumsticks.
I have collected eggs, and unfortunately I'm short on breeder pens, so I loaned these guys to my neighbor.  So I'll only have a couple dozen eggs to hatch, right now, but all I need is about 4-6 hens from this cross.  Since I gave the boys to my neighbor, I should be able to borrow them back for future use.

I have only three breeder pens right now, which makes it difficult to work on all the projects that I need.  This was an unexpected diversion.  Eggs are sitting on my counter right now ready to go in the incubator.  Hopefully, we'll see how the chicks look in a few weeks?

The Bielefelder  breeder pen, February 2016.

Big Orange Roo

The rooster that I was MOST excited about this year, is this boy:

He's so big and beautiful!  Not an Aloha, he's actually a pure Sussex.  A mix of Buff Sussex and Speckled Sussex.  Technically, he is mottled.  He does have some spots.  However, they are very small dots of white.  Not the riot of crazy spots that I like to see on an Aloha!

What that means - genetically - is that if I put him with my spotted hens, every single chick of his will have spots.  Some will have less spotting, since Dad doesn't have a lot, but every chick will share some of his big size, so it's just a matter of hatching lots and lots and lots of chicks, looking for the biggest chicks with the most spots, and choosing those to keep.

It sounds so easy.

Unfortunately, my Big Orange Stud turned out to be a Big Orange Dud.  My rooster needs Viagra.  (So many jokes abound!)  After I took the Dun rooster out of the breeding pen, and replaced him with this big boy, the eggs slowly became . . . infertile.
Huge pile of infertile eggs, going into the trash.
The pen filled with my BEST girls!  All those eggs going to waste!

When you see the hens in there, you'll understand why I'm upset.  Here's a few:

Above and below:  Same hen.  Orange spotted.
This orange spotted hen is the best sized true Aloha to date.
Pure Sussex hen - Buff with Mottling.
Aren't they pretty girls?  I'd love to have about 10 of each!

All of these hens shown are FULL size.  Not the small-ish "banty" size of many Alohas.

Here's a comparison for you:

Above:  Aloha hen with a (BIG) Buff Sussex hen.

Large Aloha on left, with small "mini me" Aloha on right.
Different "full size" Aloha on right.  Small Aloha hen on left.
I only have a handful of these "full size" Aloha hens with the perfect combo of size and spots.

The majority of my flock is smaller.  Bigger than Bantam - more like Leghorn size.

Well, it hasn't been a total loss.  There are a few eggs that are fertile - maybe one in 6 - so he is doing something.  At least, once in a while?

Here are some chicks that were hatched from the Big Orange Roo breeder pen:

There are a few other ones in there, a Naked Neck Aloha, and a few stragglers that still have the Dun boy as their daddy.  (Previous rooster's DNA can stay stored in the hen for up to one month.)  I could tell because a few of the chicks had the Dun rooster's white body color and that can't come from the Big Orange Roo.  But I can already see the chicks changing. from the Dun boy to the Orange roo.

Most noticeable difference?  The chicks by the Dun rooster all had yellow legs, and every chick by the new rooster has pink legs.  The pink color is dominant, so that's normal.  The surprise was how strong the yellow leg gene was in the Dun boy, that rooster did a great job on adding yellow legs to his babies.  Also, lots of orange and peachy colors in these new chicks!

(Above and Below) This cute thing has both
yellow legs and Dun color - probably by Dun Roo.

This lovely chick could be by Dun roo.  Shows promise.
I have managed to hatch even more chicks from that Big Orange Roo pen - these younger chicks have some by him in here, but also some by the Dun rooster, still:

Still too early to tell colors, really?  A few show real promise.  A few are still by Dun rooster.

And then there is this batch, which also includes a lot of Naked Neck or Turken Alohas:

Plus, there are 25+ eggs that are still in development in the incubator, due on February 13th!

So it's not a complete disaster, just a minor setback.  The 25+ eggs should all be by Orange guy.

New plan:  Put this orange dude in with a FEW hens - small girls with lots of white - but keep the number to only 3 or 4 hens, tops.  Keep the hen chicks with the most white spotting.  Maybe the smaller hens will be less intimidating for him?

Put the big Dun rooster in with my biggest and best girls, and keep anything with spots.  In my test hatch, that was only about 1 in 5 chicks.  I'd pick my future boys from the Dun boy's pen - where my very few girls with both size AND color are kept.  That would give me the best odds of increasing size in the next generation.

I have a good amount of chicks to raise.  Will be exciting to see their colors!