Having raised my current flock of Black Australorps for nearly 2 years, I’ve been very happy with them – both the breed and this particular strain.
They’re good layers. The males grow quickly to where I can process them for meat starting around 20 weeks. The hens will occasionally go broody and hatch their young. And they handle the Texas heat well.
They’re already a great bird for family homesteads, but I’ve also been looking at how I can take my breeding program to the next level and further improve the flock.
I’m finding that one of the key things in a breeding program is to have clear goals. The clearer the better. Every bird in the breeding flock is selected by hand, by comparing it with the others. And the standard of comparison is largely determined by the specific goals that you have for the flock.
When I started, my goals were fairly general, but as I continue to gain more experience with these particular birds, I’m getting a clearer idea both of what I’m looking for (the positive traits that I want to select for and maintain) and of what I want to prevent or breed out of the flock (the negative traits that I see in some birds).
Here is a list of many of the goals that I’ve set for my flocks. Some are traits that already exist that I don’t want to lose, or that I want to improve upon. Others are things where “we’re not there yet.” I’ll continue to further refine and clarify the goals from time to time, but this gives me a target to aim for:
- Size – Males (cockerels) should be a good size for table use when they reach 20-22 weeks of age. At maturity (when they reach 1 year or older) I want the roosters to be 8.5-9 pounds. This is a little on the heavy side of the APA Standard which specifies 8.5 pounds, but it’s still within range. This ties in with my desire to raise these for meat as well as eggs.
- Egg production – egg production should be 250+ eggs per year. This may turn out to be a bit of a challenge with the size/weight goal above because there is a balance between bird size and egg production.
- Fast-molting – hens should will finish their molt quickly, so they can get back to laying.
- Some broodiness – about 10-20% of the hens should go broody, and the broodies should be good mothers. Broodiness reduces egg production, so there’s a balance to maintain.
- Good disposition – Roosters should be “gentlemanly” toward younger birds and toward hens. Roosters and hens should never be aggressive toward humans. Hens should not be flighty. Australorps are calm, docile birds in general, particularly if they’re handled regularly, and I want to maintain that.
- Conformation – in regard to everything else, the Australorps should conform to the APA Standard of Perfection for Black Australorps.
I also have several goals that have more to do with flock management than actual breeding. These goals help to guide the approach and the scale of my breeding program.
- Meat production – Raise about 25 chickens a year for meat.
- Pasture Improvement – Continue to improve our pasture through rotational grazing of the birds. We share the pasture with larger livestock (horse, cows) and running the chickens on the pasture has really helped to boost the soil fertility and the quality and amount of forage for them. The key with this is moving them frequently enough that their manure and scratching will benefit the soil but not set the grass back too much.