Chicken Breed Hardiness: 30 years of observation


The rooster from March 9 now 6 weeks later, healed and breeding again. You can look back at this rooster on the March 9 blog and see how he has made a complete recovery and is actively breeding and is fertile again. He no longer has his nice single comb with distinct points, but if it is cold next winter he will do better with less exposed tissue. We can get cold here in east central Iowa. I remember when I moved here they said it never got below -25. Well it has several times and again this winter we had several days colder than -30 . Our poultry are all housed in very simple pole building like structures with no insulation. If it is -30 outside it might be only a degree or two warmer in their house. I chuckle when people who live in warmer climates call and are afraid to try certain breeds we offer as they fear it will be too cold where they live. Over the past 30 years here on the farm I have learned a great deal about winter hardiness and summer heat and humidity as well ( a topic for a July blog). Everyone in cold climates always wants rose combs over single combs and yes many times single combs will freeze and look like our friend in the picture but I loose far more rose comb varieties to the cold. When their comb freezes there is a huge mess and many times they will die. Our last super cold spell a few years back I had two pens next to each other of Dorkings, one rose comb and one single comb and during the cold spell I lost 10 of the 15 rose comb birds and only 1 single comb bird. This past winter was very hard on certain breeds and many times it all depends on whether they are in full production or getting close when the cold hits. I try to feed a maintenance feed ( low in calcium and protein) up until early to mid January that keeps egg production to a minimum and this helps considerably. This year I had switched 2 weeks earlier to the breeder feed as our winter started out so mild. This brought the Marans into early production and I lost a number of Black Coppers. The Black and Blue Coppers suffered terribly from the cold, lost some and the rest are taking their time to recover. The pen that suffered a total loss from the cold was a group of show quality Silver Laced Wyandottes. The pens that came through with no losses or damage were: surprisingly the White Leghorns, Barred Hollands, all 3 breeds of the Shamos and Sumatras. Others with minimal damage were Chanteclers, Catalanas, Iowa Blues, Erminettes, Muffed Games, Orloffs and several breeds of the Sussex.


It is interesting how misinformation perpetuates. A few years back someone spread that Norwegian Jaerhons were best suited for interior Alaska as they were developed in Norway. We got lots of calls from Alaskans wanting them and had to convince them otherwise. Jaerhons are almost like a thermometer, they do fine at temperatures above 0, at -10 expect some losses, at -20 about 50% loss and at -30 it can be real bad. I have an emergency plan for them to take to temporary housing during severe cold spells. In the 1990's we sent samples of various breeds to several homesteaders in the interior of Alaska and surprisingly Sumatras take the cold well and the Shamos with their very tight feathering which would make one think they could not handle the cold do just fine as well. Chanteclers while they have little or no comb to freeze will frequently freeze their toes. I could go on with 30 years of data for pages but the point to get across is don't be easily persuaded by internet chatter and try a few different breeds and experience for yourself how genetic diversity expresses itself.

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