The Chicken Genetics Experiment

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I’ve had chickens on and off since I was 10 years old. I read about Maran chickens at an early age and became obsessed with having hens that lay chocolate brown eggs.

With Egg Colour It’s All About The Line

Time to review the chicken situation

It’s time to face facts, we have too many chickens.  They are costly to keep, time-consuming and too many can turn the land sour. We love collecting fresh laid eggs from the nest boxes and seeing the hens running around the orchard but there are simply too many.  Hens can live to about 6 years old but they lay most of their eggs in the first 2 years, they still lay eggs from year 3 onwards but just not as many.  We need to be realistic, as much as we like the idea of a chicken retirement home, 30 older hens that aren’t earning their keep need to be re-homed.  We think they are ideal in smaller quantities for families who don’t want 30 eggs a day and they make good pets.

A gardening list that is far too long

During the last four years we have been working very hard creating different areas of the garden, including a magnolia walk, a rose walk and a rose garden.  These are now starting to mature and they now need constant work to keep them looking at their best.  Every week we write a gardening to-do list and although we get lots of jobs done each day the list just seems to get longer and longer.  So we have to work faster and harder and we have to prioritise what needs doing.

So we have made the decision to reduce the chickens down from 50 to 16, which is a much more manageable number and this will give us more time to concentrate on keeping the garden in tip-top shape.

The Moosbach Garden Plant Shop

Added to our already busy schedule is the Moosbach Garden plant shop, we sold a few plants last year but this year we thought we would expand upon this and we started stocking David Austin roses.  In the last 3 months we have sold 50% of the roses that we initially brought in and now another batch of roses have been ordered to supplement what we have to offer.  So we have 17 different varieties of roses for sale, as well as, delphiniums, Acanthus, Lupins, Lavender, Salvia, Phlox, Cosmos and Day Lilies.

In the next couple of weeks the 8 new varieties of roses will go on to the Moosbach Website, along with the 9 varieties already on there.  We will add other plants to the online shop when they are available to buy.  In May there will be some fantastic delphiniums available, as well as Lavender and Salvia.  These combine perfectly with roses in a mixed border.  There is however, limited availability on all of the David Austin roses and we are already down to the last 2 or roses on some varieties.  If you visit us in June you will be able to see all of the roses in our rose garden, along with some stunningly beautiful delphiniums, which we grow from seed here in the Moosbach garden.

If you would like to see the roses that we have available then please click here and if you are interested in buying some chickens please email us.

June, July and August are the best times to visit the garden here, however, May can be good too depending upon the weather.

Peonies and Tree Peonies

We have been extending our range of peonies in the garden and have both the perennial variety and the tree form.  There are many different varieties of both perennial and tree peonies but they must be treated very differently.

Both types can be grown from seed or purchased as mature plants,  Perennial peonies can be treated like all other perennials and can be cut back in the autumn after the first frosts,  Tree Peonies on the other hand should never be cut back, they do not respond well to being pruned and in some instances will even die.  Tree peonies can grow to a height of about 2 metres and produce stunningly beautiful flowers, just be conscious of where you plant them as they need a bit of space to grow into.  If you want to grow new plants from seed you will need to hand pollinate them and then protect the pollinated flower insects and bees.

Pictured about a Tree Peony flower (Left) and Perennial Peony flower (right).

With both sorts you need to wait until the seeds have ripened and the seed pods are splitting and the seeds exposed.  Dry the seeds and store over winter, they need exposure to 3 months of cold temperatures either outside or in the fridge before sowing.  With a little luck seedlings should emerge either in spring or in summer, you will have to wait about 3 years for the first flowers but I think that it is definitely worth the wait.  Seeds that have been pollinated by insects will not be true to the parent plant but what is life without a little mystery?

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New buds on one of our Tree Peonies, each bud will produce its own set of flowers and the plants are very hardy.

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Perennial Peony shoots just emerging from the ground, this plant was in the ground for 2 years before it produced its first set of flowers.  Please remember that peonies do not like have their roots disturbed so moving them is not recommended.

After what seems like a very long and very snowy winter lets hope for a glorious summer, we wish you a very Happy Easter.

 

The benefits of keeping chickens

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Here at the Moosbach Garden we are not only crazy about plants , we are also crazy about chickens. We keep 2 breeds of chicken here, namely Marans which originate from France and Polands which originate from Holland.

I remember as a young child of 10 years old collecting eggs from the barns of the Herdman’s farm in Herefordshire. They had bantam chickens that seemed to lay eggs everywhere, I was awestruck and hooked on keeping chickens from that moment onwards.

Fortunately for me I had an understanding mother and we lived on a farm.  At that point I didn’t really care what breed the chickens were, I just wanted chickens.  We acquired a hen with small chicks from a school friend of mine called “Girlie”, here real name was Maria but she was a bit of a tomboy.  I lost half of the chicks to the old farm cat who was called “Mr Snodgrass”, we then erected a much safer run for the mother hen and her remaining chicks, and all was well.

Herefordshire in the 1980’s was still a very rural community and the farms in the foothills of the Black Mountains even more so. You weren’t a local unless you had at least 3 generations you could trace back but Herefordians are good people and they make the best cider ever.  I eventually progressed from my crossbred bantam chickens to Marans, you see I had become obsessed with these chickens that reputedly laid chocolate brown eggs.

Maran chickens originate from the town of Marans near La Rochelle in France.  They come in an assortment of colours but the most popular seem to be the Cuckoo, the Copper Black and the Wheaten Marans.  Of these I believe that the Copper Black Marans lay the darkest eggs.  With Marans the colour of the egg shell is passed on by the Cockerell, so if a cockerell is hatched from a dark brown egg then this colour is passed onto the offspring.  So breeders always hatch chicks from the darkest brown eggs in the hope of continously improving the colour of the eggs.

There are many benefits of keeping your own chickens, the eggs from truly free range chickens cannot be beaten for flavour.  Let me clarify, the egg is made up of 2 parts, the white and the yolk, the Yolk is absorbed into the stomach of the chick when it hatches and is a protein rich food supply that lasts the chick for the first 24 hours after hatching.  It is incredibly delicous but the flavour is vastly improved when the chickens have access to fresh grass and herbs, it makes sense when you think about it. Chickens tend to hatch chicks in the spring and early summer when there is a surplus of fresh grass and herbs so that the chicks get the best possible start in life.  So even if you can’t keep your own chickens, it makes sense to only by eggs laid by hens that have access outside to grass and herbs.

It is also worth considering the differences between pure breed chickens and the egg machine sort.  Most pure breed chickens lay around 200 to 220 eggs per year and this is a natural process.  Egg machines are bred to lay around 350 eggs per year.  You might think that 350 is better than 220 but I disagree and this is why.  It takes quite a lot of energy, calcium and water to produce an egg, an egg is 60% water.  Most proprietary feeds should contain some calcium but if they don’t the calcium can be taken from the bones of the chickens which is not sustainable.  I belive that it is better to have 220 good quality eggs a year rather than 350 OK eggs.  They will probably cost you a bit more to buy but it is definately worth it. Our customers agree and we have no problem selling the eggs produced by the Moosbach hens.

Here are some chicken facts for you :-

  • Young hens are born with all of the immature eggs cells of all the eggs that they will lay as an adult
  • It takes roughly 26 weeks from hatching to laying the first egg
  • Chickens need a minimum of 14 hours daylight to stimulate egg production
  • Chickens lay most of their eggs in their first 2 years
  • Chickens  eggs remain fertile for 10 days after mating
  • Chickens can live up to 6 years
  • Chickens will lay eggs with or without a cockerell

There are various clubs for Marans and it is best to join one and then contact reputable breeders that you can buy your hens from.  I would not recommend buying hatching eggs online or buying chickens from a market, you have no idea what you are really buying.  It is always best to visit a breeder so that you can judge the quality of the Chickens and the conditions that they are kept in.  Also if you already have chickens and buy additional ones always keep them seperate for 3 weeks to ensure that they do not pass any diseases that they may have onto your flock.

There are many different breeds of chicken and it is worth researching online the different breeds of chicken to find the one that’s just right for you.

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Above Copper Black Maran eggs and one Green Aracauna egg for comparison.

On the left, the Now famous Herr Huber and on the right freshly hatched chicks in our incubator.

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