Monday, 5 May 2008

Aussie chooks

On a glorious autumn Sunday in early May, we drove up through the Adelaide Hills to Mount Pleasant at the top of the range, to the Lobethal Poultry Club's chook sale ('Chooks' in Australian English are equivalent to 'hens' in anybody else's!).
The place was packed, and all the good chooks had been sold off early, or so I was assured by wandering chook sellers.
But how does a backyarder like me know a good chook from a bad chook, let alone which chooks to buy?
So I did what I always do, and look around for some old bloke who looks like he knows what he's on about, and wade right in, asking for advice. The chap I bailed up was 84 years old and had raised chooks since he was 27. He claimed you didn't know anything about poultry until after at least a decade of keeping them.
I didn't actually want to buy any chooks, because I'd recently purchased half-a-dozen ISABrown hens at point-of-lay (4 months old) from the local grain store. These are hybrid chooks out of the Netherlands (the old guy told me) and are the best layers available to the backyarder. I'll vouch for that, as I've had a few down the years.
But I reckoned that if I was going to be serious about preserving heritage seeds, then I should also be serious about keeping heritage chooks, and so I was on the lookout for Australorps, which are a medium-heavy Australian breed that are well-behaved and good layers, as well as good in the pot.
The old codger was disparaging about all the 'culls' (as he called them) on display, and recommended me to his son Kym Hebberman down in Naracoorte (South Australia) if I wished to buy good stock. His view (as a poultry judge in all Australian capital cities over many years) was that the first outlay was the cheapest - you just needed to spend about $120 per bird and get good show-bird quality to begin with. (At that price, it really hurts if they die on you!)
Then he stated that you should forget all you know about the way humans breed, and do it backwards for chickens. That is, mate mother to son and father to daughter, and keep the breed running pure. Any chook born with bent toes or eyes under their beaks should have their heads chopped off.
Well, after all that advice, I needed to stagger out of there and find the food tent, before helping my old mate Ed load his purchases into his car. Here he is with a couple of black something-or-anothers, straight after I'd loaded his cock and hen set of Barnevelders into his car boot. He's no purist; he just likes the coloured ones decorating his yard! He eats all their eggs, so doesn't care what they get up to with their mothers or sons.

1 comment:

Kate said...

I admire you for wanting to help keep the australorps going, Andrew. I hope you can get some for less than $120 each!