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Bye-Bye Buckeyes

Young rooster

The Buckeye Chicken is one of the many on the list of heritage breed chickens recognized by the Livestock Conservancy as in need of attention. They are celebrated as being the only heritage breed in the United States developed by a woman and praised for their intelligence, ability to survive on forage, predators avoidance and all-around ruggedness.

We tried them out this year as a replacement for our broiler meat birds and we - personally - were not impressed. This may have been due to the lines we purchased, but we had a great year with our Standard Cochins this year and none of the issues we had with the Buckeyes.

Incubated chicks

We started the year purchasing about 200 eggs over the space of two months. We used two incubators (with three hatches a piece) and a Standard Cochin hen for hatching in order to see what worked best. To be fair, the seller did tell us she wasn't happy with her hatch rate and priced the eggs with that in mind.

Oddly though, as of the first candling about 80% of the eggs were viable. While we were pleasantly surprised with, we were less happy when by the second candling it became apparently that many of the viable eggs has simply stopped developing partway through. This was true in both incubators, with the Cochin and was not an issue with the Favorelle or Cochin eggs we included in the same hatches. It was pretty clear that this was an issue with the Buckeye eggs themselves.

Favorelle Foster

In the end, only about half the eggs hatched - which was disappointing. Still, we had known that this was a possibility, and our compost pile was happy to have the unhatched eggs. What we didn't expect is that the mortality of chicks in the first week would be higher than we've ever seen with any breed. Again, this did not vary between the brooder, the Cochin or the Favorelle and Cochin mothers we fostered chicks with.

In every case we lost at least half the chicks that had successfully hatched.

Part of this was that, for us, these chicks were dumb. Really dumb. Even with the mother hens and us showing them, they seemed unable to figure out how to use the chick feeder and would only eat if we sprinkled the feed on the ground or in a tray. When it got cool and the mother hen tried to keep them warm, many would run away from her and get too cold. And some, for no apparent reason at all, just died.

Bird Pile!

They didn't get any smarter as they got older. In one case, five, ten-inch tall birds were found in the goat bucket, having drowned. While this has been a problem with our birds before, never in birds as old as these, and never when there was to little water in the bucket that they could have safely stood in it.

They also were far too assertive for their size, with even hens running at bigger birds, geese, guinea hens and even the goats. This resulted in a lot of beat downs that probably did not help with their survival rate.

As they approached adulthood, we moved them down back into the sheep field. We wanted to get them on pasture to test the claim of survival on forage, and to eat insects that might give our sheep parasites. We did not expect them to live completely off forage - despite the claim that they could - but they also had access to grain, water and occasional house scraps.

Pullet escaped to the goat yard

They did not do well. In the first month, one was killed by a raccoon after not going in to shelter at night. Several others were apparently injured by being stepped on by the sheep: despite having three acres to roam in they were regularly under the sheep's feet.

When I picked one up they seemed incredibly thin - despite the aforementioned regular access to food. I certainly wouldn't have been able to butcher any of them out.

Out of the 200 eggs we began with, we ended up with about a dozen full-grown birds. None of them were heavy enough for butchering and they continue to require far more food than our Cochins just to stay alive. Having paid the money for these eggs rather than buying broilers this year, this means that we are both out our chickens for this year and using up more food than normal - costing us even more money.

We did have the good luck of ending up with one lovely rooster and the rest hens but he has none of the behaviors of a good rooster. He does not call the hens to food, he does not stand guard while they eat and he rarely even keeps company with them. We can only hope he at least turns out to be exceptionally fertile in the springtime.

All in all, while I know others have had good luck with and enjoyed this breed, we have not and I would not recommend them to anyone.

Disapproving baby

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