Sonali Chickens

I was checking the breeds of the chickens in my mixed flock against a hybrid list. We have a big Rhode Island Red Rooster of local stock named Big Red Oed and a smattering of different breeds selected for egg laying ability and heat tolerance making up his flock of hens. When you live in a place that will be regularly above 100°F for 6 months or longer, you have to be mindful that, even though the books all tell you that a breed is heat hardy, you must always account for extremes. So, it helps to start off with one or two each of a few different breeds that have your preferred traits. This way, if you miscalculated or received faulty information, one or two of your birds will fall over dead from heat stroke instead of 50.

I bought a few specific breeds as they came into my local feed store, as well as a few non-breed-specific chickens hatched locally to compare them to. We even got a local mutant one… 9 toes, naked neck with a mohawk, but more about her later…

I discovered that I was creating a hybrid known as a Sonali (♂ Rhode Island Red × ♀ Fayoumi). This was one of the breeds that, in 2007, they ran disease resistance tests on in the poorest neighborhood in Bangladesh: regional Fayoumis, Sonali and ‘Mixed.’ Most of the real information was locked, but since I was putting very little of my own effort into making them (and Big Red Oed wasn’t complaining), so I would just keep my eye out for them.

Fayoumi eggs are on the smaller side, so the chicks come out quite tiny. Their chick down is this weird red/grey that looks like Oxblood Dr. Martins. Their feet are a slate color and their beaks are black. They are also very tiny, and the longest I have kept one alive was 3 days. I cannot even get them to hatch in the incubator, and when they do, there is blood. A pretty fair amount, too. I’ve never even heard of such a thing before, and I couldn’t find anyone on the internet who had had this problem.

One possible issue could be that our seasons here have changed. Southern Arizona is a sub-Tropical desert, and when you were dealing with snow at the end of winter, I was getting the cooler fixed because it was already in the mid 90’s. The cooler is a telling sign itself. Using technology originally developed by the Ancient Egyptians, an evaporative cooler (or Swamp Cooler, as it is known) cools the room by blowing damp air at you. That’s it… and it works.

Our seasons here have just changed, just like yours, but ours has just changed to the blistering hot that you think of when you think of the desert. The air gets so dry that people develop seasonal asthma because their lungs get too dry to breathe.

That’s the kind of dry that a wet sponge in the incubator isn’t going to help much, and that might be the same problem that the broody hens are having outside.

So, for now, I suppose I’ll be eating a lot of scrambled eggs and we’ll wait for the monsoons. Maybe then, I’ll be able to get some of these Oxblood chicks to grow.

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… and so we begin.

At the insistence of a friend of mine whose opinion I value greatly, I have decided to start a blog about our adventures in poultry farming. At face value, this would lump us in with nearly every other two-bit wanna-be farmer with a computer, an opinion and a few scraggly livestock, but we do bring a bit of uniqueness to the table.

Number one, we are attempting to live sustainably in the desert of Southern Arizona. I had a local farmer last week lamenting that we are exercising futility in that all the water has to be piped in, shade created, etc., etc., and that sustainability is a pipe dream here but they had forgotten a few key points of this place we have chosen for home. Namely, that we are just north of Tohono O’odham land, where the People have lived continually since before the Spanish came. So, sustainability is possible… it is just going to take some work.

Another thing that might make our experience a little more unique is that our main aggressor, currently, is the Javelina. It’s not a pig… it’s a peccary, but more on that later.

Finally, the thing I hope that will separate our blog from every other farming blog out there is that, despite the quasi religious overtones of our name, this blog is not the extension of some religious mission. We have our beliefs, ones that we don’t even agree on with each other, and we have no interest in convincing anyone else that our beliefs are superior in some way… well, except for Agrarianism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agrarianism). You might get an earful of that one, but considering that we will be talking about agricultural interests, like growing things and raising livestock, should come to be expected. Beyond that, it is live and let live, believe and let believe.

So, we’ll keep you posted. It is not always exciting but it has a nasty proclivity for getting interesting around here. ~Grimm

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