Tuesday, February 21, 2017

February 2017 - Pen #1

Last fall, I set up a breeder pen with this guy:

My best rooster bred to date.  (Needs yellow legs.)
Not only was he the most white rooster of last year's hatch - he was also the largest.  Quite a turn around, as previously I could get color or size, but never both on the same rooster!
After last year's fiasco where my top rooster of 2015 / 2016 - a gorgeous Buff Sussex / Speckled Sussex mix - ended up infertile - I was really afraid of a repeat this year!  I penned this guy with hens in September, waited 30 days through October (it takes 30 days to guarantee the DNA is set) and put eggs in the incubator for a November hatch.

September breeding pen.
Thankfully, it was successful, and I'm happy to be raising about 18 of his chicks right now!

It wasn't without hiccup unfortunately.  Our heat was so brutal on the hens last year, they started to lay a bit in late October and into November, only to shut down due to lack of light.  Chickens naturally stop laying for the winter, based on the amount of daylight, despite the fact our temps were balmy and mild.  It wasn't their fault.  Temps stayed well into the 100's into October and everyone in the Valley was reporting the same issues in December - no eggs.

For my 10 or so hens in there I was getting maybe 2 or 3 eggs per day.  Some days, only one?

The rooster also lost interest in the hens around this same time, and eggs started turning up "blank" again, so I pulled many of the hens out and scaled the pen back down again.  Fertility on the next batch improved.  However in the meantime, dozens of eggs from my very best hens were tossed in the garbage - infertile.

Meanwhile, in the pen next door, it appeared my best rooster from the previous year had not recovered at all, and nearly every egg in his pen was a dud!

Between the two pens, I set 100+ more eggs in these months, but only about 40 hatched live chicks.

So there are issues - but I do have some chicks and we are back on track again!

I now have the pens sorted out and I have ambitiously put my favorite boy back in with a ton of hens, probably way too many, and will likely have to scale back again?  But now that the last batch tested nearly perfect fertility, I'm willing to give him a chance!

Right now I wanted to document this breeder pen, because it will be helpful later when I am growing out the chicks.  Often I will be able to tell who the Mom is based on certain features.  So here is who I put in the pen as of mid February which means any DNA in the hens will be his 100% by mid March.  (I am still keeping the hen's eggs to hatch as all will be nice chicks due to the mother.)

Mille Hens - of various sizes and shapes.
    Enjoy pictures of the lovely hens!

Terrible top line.  Can it be fixed in the offsping?
Great color..  Legs were yellow, now fading.
Hen in front: Best Color
Behind her:  Bold spots, good size
Last:  Best size, needs spotting. 

Mille hen, medium size, vivid color.
Dun Mille - from Light Sussex bloodlines. 
Light Sussex / Aloha mix - good size, needs more spots.
Needs yellow legs. Great size , bold spots.

Huge size - Buff Sussex / Speckled Sussex cross.
Best hen bred to date.  Needs yellow legs.  BIG.
Best hen bred to date.  Last year's stock.
Very pale cream background with vivid black marks.
GREAT color.  Needs size.  Otherwise fantastic.
I saw the rooster cover 3 hens while I was out taking pictures, though unfortunately I did not see him cover my two favorite girls.  So I may need to pull those girls out and pen him with just two.

Interestingly, a roo's DNA from just a single "encounter" may fertilize eggs for the next two weeks of a hen's laying cycle!  It was good to note that the longer days have kick started not just the laying of the hens, but the behavior of the rooster as well.  Both genders are affected by the increasing daylight.

Next post will cover some of this boy's babies, chicks which are now about 3 months old.

I set up a new pen, to replace the older rooster that was under- performing, and I'll share pictures and goals there later.  Hopefully I will have two functional breeder pens by the end of March?  I want to hatch as many chicks as I can before the heat turns up in May!

Monday, February 20, 2017

February Photo Dump

Lots of exciting stuff to report and tons of updates to come!

But for today, simply wanted to share some pretty photos of the Alohas.


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!  :)