We recently decided to try our hand at chicken-rearing on our farm. Our duck experiment went so well (translation – they have survived) that we thought chickens were the next logical step. I started researching breeds, feeling that I would like a heritage breed. We wanted something dual-purpose, hardy and docile. Kansas has some pretty big mood swings when it comes to weather, so something that could stand stifling rainforest-like humidity and heat in the summer, along with polar arctic bitterly cold winters was a must. In addition, I was hoping to find something that could pretty much take care of itself in that it would be good at foraging free-range and saving on my feed bill.
Enter the Buckeye. This dual-purpose breed is the only one entirely developed in America by a woman, Nettie Metcalf. She developed the breed using a combination of Buff Cochin, Barred Plymouth Rock, and a black-breasted red game bird. The breed was admitted into the American Poultry Association Standard in 1905. Buckeyes are very tolerant of heat as well as cold. They have a pea comb, dark rich mahogany coloring, good maternal instincts, good carcass quality, and excellent egg production. On top of that, they are great foragers, and they like to hunt mice! Bonus!
The breed is generally docile and easy to handle. The hens are good mothers and don’t tend to be broody. The roosters are large and protective of their hens, but aren’t known to be overly aggressive. We did have one rooster who turned out to be a little too “cocky.” He came after me a few times, garnering some kickboxing action (I don’t recommend kicking a rooster while wearing sandals). And, he went after Kate a few times, reducing the poor kid to tears. The last straw came when he chased her from the barn clear up to the house … a distance of about 25 yards. Then, he tried to come after me. That was it. He became soup.
On a side note about that mean rooster … Kate (who will be 7 years old on Thanksgiving this year!) was telling one of her little friends about this mean rooster and how he would chase and jump on her. Her friend listened, eyes big, as Kate told about how I had to kill the rooster because he was so mean, and that she helped me make homemade chicken noodle soup. She then said he had to die because “he was evil.” And then a pause as they pondered that mean rooster. Then Kate said, “I ATE evil.” They stopped and stared at me because I was laughing so hard.
But, back to the Buckeye breed. So far, the breed has been relatively easy to raise. Ours are truly free-range, having full access to our property. They have a barn and barnyard, but the gate is always open. Our fearless Anatolian Shepherd, Silas, is their personal bodyguard.
Early in our chicken experiment, Silas became suspect No. 1 in a short series of disappearing or dead chickens. I caught him with a hen in his mouth and scolded him thoroughly for it. It seemed uncharacteristic of him to kill chickens, as he has always been a stalwart sentinel for our livestock, including our ducks. But the suspicion was there. Then one day, he was in the yard lying next to a very dead raccoon. Silas was exonerated. He apparently had the chicken in his mouth because he wanted to cuddle with it. Silly dog.
As layers they produce a medium- to large-sized light brown shelled egg. They will produce an average of 200 eggs per year. They are also good for meat production. The hens weigh about 6 1/2 pounds and roosters about 9 pounds. They eat less than most other commercial breeds. In addition, there is a bantam variety that is great for smaller homesteaders or those who prefer a smaller bird.
So, if you are looking at heritage breed chickens, I highly recommend the Buckeye. They are beautiful birds, and have been very enjoyable for us to raise. We hope to have some chicks of our own next spring!