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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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MniSose Ranch
MniSose Ranch
Feb 15, 2021

hens - Black Sumatra ++, Black Breasted Red Cubalaya +, Fayoumi big eyes but didn't make winter, Red Sussex ++ (several years and a good mama, real nice), Single Comb Lt Brown Leghorn ++

cocks - Black Sumatra++, Buff Minorca++(or Leghorn maybe, but seemed bigger and not light), Golden Spangled Hamburg ++, maybe a black leghorn

white, exchequer, polish, and light colored birds late adolescent when came back from town all mid afternoon all disappeared, not a feather left, suspect two-leggeds. Bantams and a few polish drowned in a 4" summer thunderstorm.

Guineas great, proudly emerging with their dozen chicks a year later - some predator found them tasty, picked one off every night after started roosting on top of…


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If you have time I would love to hear more from you about hardiness. I'm in Michigan's upper peninsula and the winters are both frigid and long - we only got into the 70's in the last 2 weeks. I do not provide supplemental heat, my coop is not tightly sealed and always has a window at least cracked open a little for ventilation, and so far I've not experienced any cold loss over the last 8 years. Your feeding restrictions make sense for birds up here, stimulating earlier laying with supplemental light and higher nutritional plane just leads to lots of frozen eggs, as they would need to be collected 3-4 times a day and we are at work…

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I raise Iowa Blue, Chantecler, EEs, Isbars, and have a few Wyandottes, Leghorns, and Black Copper Marans in Mid MIchigan. We had the worst polar vortex weather, sometimes hitting actual temps of -20 for days in a row. I do not use supplemental heat or artificial light. We lost none from the winter, thank goodness. I am looking forward to receiving your Iowas Glenn! If you would like to see photos of our chicks, please email me and I will send one along. Candy

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Thanks for the info in this blog. I, for one, would very much like to read more about your findings keeping stats about the different breeds and their hardiness in different weather conditions, or their survival capabilities concerning pests, predators, or other stresses. You mentioned your Barred Hollands as being hardy. I had one of them in an assortment from you that I really loved! She laid very well for many years nice slightly tinted white eggs of not quite as large eggs as the leghorns. She was like a pet, along with her pal, a small Phoenix hen I got from Murray McMurray. When the Phoenix went broody every spring the Barred Holland would lay eggs in her nest!…

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