As the year of breeding Icelandic chickens comes to an end, I want to put my thoughts down as I make notes for next year.
I started the incubator much earlier than I usually do, unable to resist all the photos from everyone else hatching chicks early in the spring, so my first hatch was March 23, when our temps were still well below zero overnight. I was still finding frozen eggs in the baskets, but obviously managed to get enough for a decent hatch. But those birds had to be in the house to be brooded, and by the end of the season, I was very, very tired of chickens in the house, no matter how cute they were. Even happy baby noises started to drive me crazy after three months of it.
I sold 450 day-old chicks this year, most shipped away all over the country, but quite a few for local pick up to people who were either close by or willing to drive over in the early spring when it was still too cold to ship them.
We had quite a few repeat customers, which I like. Sometimes it was to replace birds taken by predators, though, which isn’t a happy reason at all. Often, though, it was because they liked the breed so much that they wanted to increase the size of their flock.
I kept many chicks myself, usually ones I’d hatched in order to make sure I had enough to ship. Sometimes they hatched either too early or too late to ship, and in a few occasions, someone backed out of their order just before their ship date. Stuff happens, and I try to just roll with it. We charged $6 per day-old chick, straight run.
Maggie’s done such a great job protecting them. We put up a paddock with four foot chicken wire all around the fence, and put them out much sooner than I normally would. Having a barn is such a luxury. I was able to have a nice safe and secure spot, out of the rain but with plenty of space to run around. They spent a lot of time outdoors, and I didn’t clip their wings, so they were soon over the fence, but come back to roost in the barn at night. A few of them have migrated to my main chicken coop, joining existing harems.
I went into the season wanting to double the size of my flock, and I wasn’t quite able to do that, mostly because I also sold 72 pullets. I charged $12 a pullet, which Frank tells me is too cheap, but whatever. I’m still learning, and I couldn’t resist it when someone would show up with cash. It takes me about six weeks to be pretty sure I can correctly pick out a girl from a boy. I haven’t yet shipped any birds older than day-old. I haven’t done the research on boxes, etc., and that’s something I want to do next year. I think there is a market for it.
I still might try for another batch or two in the incubator for fall shipping, but we are going through a molt right now and I have a lot of hens setting on their own eggs, all over the place. I also can’t stay awake late enough in the evening to close up the coops, so they are laying EVERYWHERE. I’m slowing getting a handle on it again, or at least finding most of the sneakier locations, and am starting to collect for the incubator again.
The new genes that we have in our flock are just starting to show up. We had one new rooster last fall from the first new import from Iceland, Forseti. This spring, we got eggs from Vala‘s second import, then eggs from Lyle‘s Sigrid import, then I got three hens and a cockerel from Berrytangle Farm that I found on craigslist here in Vermont. I think I should keep the babies I hatch this fall and raise them over the winter myself. They’ll all start producing early in the spring, so the new genes will all be spread out nicely.
We are already seeing all sorts of new patterns and colors. As I sit out with the birds every day and I think about selling these girls, I just can’t do it. Mine, mine, they are all mine! We have blues and reds that the 2003 import didn’t have, and are getting more and more crests.
Frank started doing the math, and the chickens are profitable. Not much for my time, but the ink is black not red. I really didn’t expect the local demand for pullets. Next year we’ll start the incubator as soon as the eggs are viable, and plan to sell the ones I can’t ship as pullets.
Or, you know, just keep them all. It’s an addiction! I just love my flock. I sit out with them all the time, admiring the diversity, the beauty, the friendliness, their bravery. Such a great breed, or land race. Whatever. I love them.