I started breeding and keeping rare-breed Ixworth chickens over a year ago as I wanted to try and find a way to be completely self-sufficient in eggs. I don’t mean not having to buy eggs from the shop – that hasn’t happened for a long time – I mean not having to buy young pullet hybrid hens to lay eggs for us.
As the chicken hatch rate tends to be a 50-50 split between hens and cockerels, for every young point-of-lay hen you buy, a cockerel must have been killed just after he hatched. Hybrid cockerels are not bred for meat and so are not worth keeping, hence they are killed straight away.
I was also worried about the conditions that the hens who lay the eggs that become the pullets that people buy live in – are they caged or free-range? I have never been able to find an answer.
This is where the Ixworths come in. They are a dual-purpose breed. This means they lay a reasonable amount of eggs (not the same as a hybrid breed, but …) and more importantly the cockerels can be raised for 5-6 months and then eaten. They get a few months over the summer of free-ranging on the smallholding and then a quiet, calm death. We get dinner and there is no waste.
So I started with my first batch of Ixworth eggs over a year ago – see here. Then in the spring this year my silkie hens acted as surrogates and hatched out some fertile Ixworth eggs laid and fertilised by the Ixworths that we had hatched out the previous year – see here.
So now I have a little flock of Ixworths that were laid, hatched and raised here. We raised all the chicks that hatched and then killed all, but one of the cockerels at around 7 months old.
The Ixworths were previously living with the ducks in the Pear Garden, but it was getting too muddy. So last Sunday we moved them to the pig field.
They are living in an old Eglu Cube that we bought before James started making everything. It took a lot of effort to move this thing across the smallholding I can tell you. I kept them in for a few days so they could get used to their surroundings and know where to roost and lay their eggs.
So far from 12 hens (3 were hatched in 2014 and the other 9 were hatched this April) I am getting 4 eggs a day which is very good for young birds and for this late in December.
They might not lay the most eggs, and the cockerels might not be the heaviest meat birds but I really do think that these eggs are the most ethical eggs we can produce in terms of animal welfare and our no-waste, organic, green, hippy-kind of happy animals, happy land policy.
N.B. The Ixworths also, like all our animals eat organic food. It costs more, but it is better for the planet … so there.
N.B. the cockerel can’t believe his luck. He wasn’t the dominant cockerel in the Pear Garden – the Ixworth/Naked Neck cross was and then as if by magic over-night he became the last cockerel standing and has 12 lovely girls to look after. He is taking his job very seriously!
N.B. The Ixworth girls have insisted that they will only give their eggs away – however I think they will be for sale from January 2016 onwards although we are still negotiating …..