Monday, March 28, 2011

Sue Weaver: Bring on the Buckeyes

Our own Buckeye chicks are thriving.

We’ve kept many kinds of chickens over the years, some of them mongrels, some purebreds, but always in small groups of pets and layers. Now, after a chicken-free hiatus of over a year and thanks to David Puthoff of Dayton, Ohio, we recently added a small brood of rare-breed Buckeye chicks to our animal family.

I first heard of Buckeyes while researching a chicken book for BowTie Press but didn’t really home in on them until I interviewed Don Schrider, then communication director for the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) prior to writing “Raising Rare Livestock Breeds” for the May/June 2007 issue of Hobby Farms magazine. I began thinking about raising heritage chickens, howbeit in a very small way, and started learning all I could about poultry breeds on the ALBC’s Conservation Priority List (CPL). These are worthy, heritage breeds all but forced out of existence by specialized layers and meatmakers during the mid-twentieth century.

When the ALBC conducted an extensive chicken census in 2004, it discovered that of 70 chicken breeds maintained in the United States, half were endangered and 20 were nearly extinct. Fortunately, we’ve made progress since then, and many historic breeds have been saved. There are still, however, 24 breeds listed in the Critical and Threatened categories of the ALBC CPL, and all need additional conservators if they’re to survive.

Fawkes exemplifies ideal Buckeye rooster conformation.

Originally, I thought I’d choose Russian Orloffs, partly for their rarity and fierce looks and partly due to a past, happy association with Orlov-Rostopchin horses, both breeds named for Count Alexey Grigoryevich Orlov, 18th-century commander of the Russian navy who upon retirement devoted himself to breeding livestock, including horses and fowl.

Then Don Schrider told me about Buckeyes. I didn’t act on the information, however, until I interviewed Buckeye breeder and promoter Dave Puthoff (“the chicken man”) for a sidebar for an article in the current May/June 2011 issue of Hobby Farms magazine. His passion and enthusiasm for Buckeyes was so contagious that I knew I’d found my breed!

Since then I’ve joined the American Buckeye Poultry Club’s online community as well as their e-mail group, where I met a host of friendly, enthusiastic Buckeye boosters, such as Laura Haggarty of Pathfinders Farm near Williamstown in northern Kentucky, who says of her favorite breed:

“I got into Buckeyes in part because of the sentimental link. I am originally from Ohio, and my grandparents have a buckeye tree in the front yard of their small country cottage. When my grandfather died, we found a buckeye seed in almost every pocket he had. As well, he was a great lover of poultry, and I like to think he's looking down from heaven with pleasure on my flock.

“I also love them because of their wonderful temperaments; they get along with each other and humans very well, don't fight, and the males are kind to their wives. Plus of course, the pea comb means no frostbite in winter, and the broad breast means extra males dress out very well. We've raised a lot of breeds of chickens in the past ten years, and these are our absolute favorites!”

Another avid booster is Brenae Hall of the Hall Family Poultry Farm in Monticello, Arkansas. President of the Drew County 4-H Poultry Club, Brenae shows Buckeyes in both 4-H and open competition. Big, gentle Buckeyes are ideal fowl for youthful poultry buffs to show and raise.

Brenae Hall poses with her Buckeye rooster, Buck. © Jim A. Hall

Buckeyes are, in fact, ideal fowl for small farm and backyard flocks of every sort. They were developed, beginning in 1896, by Nettie Metcalf of Warren, Ohio, and have the distinction of being the only all-American breed developed solely by a woman. Her intention was to develop a large, dual-purpose meat and egg breed that stands up to cold, harsh, northeastern Ohio winters — and this she did. She began by breeding a Buff Cochin male to Barred Plymouth Rock females, then a Black-Breasted Red Game male to the resulting pullets. This produced several red offspring, and from them she developed the breed.

Nettie Metcalf of Warren, Ohio, developed the Buckeye breed.

Buckeye roosters weigh about 9 pounds and hens, 6½ pounds. They have slanted, short but broad backs; very meaty thighs; powerful wings; and broad breasts. All are lustrous mahogany brown, the exact color of nuts from the Ohio buckeye tree, nicely set off with glossy black accents. Hens lay three or four medium-size brown eggs per week and are very happy to brood and raise their own chicks. Their meatiness makes cockerels and stewing hens fine eating. They are very active (as I write this, our chicks are popping around their brooder like red-and-yellow popcorn) but mellow and very friendly birds that do best in free-range conditions but adapt well to confinement if given enough room to move about. Small pea combs make them winter hardy, and tight feathering helps them adapt to summer heat. Two unique traits: They are very effective mousers (something we’ll appreciate on our little farm), and they make a unique range of sounds beyond everyday clucking and crowing (our chicks, for instance, trill like canaries).

Fortunately, Buckeyes have staged a partial comeback (they moved from the Critical to the Threatened category on the ALBC CPL just this year), so chicks are readily available from breeders and from a few commercial hatcheries. Check them out, and try Buckeyes. You’ll love them! And by choosing Buckeyes (or any other endangered breed on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy CPL), you can help a worthy old breed survive.

This box o' Buckeye chicks is ready for shipment
from Pathfinders Farm.
© Laura Haggarty

Sue Weaver sold her first freelance article in 1969. Since then her work has appeared in major horse periodicals, including The Western Horseman, Horse Illustrated, Chronicle of the Horse, Flying Changes, Horseman’s Market, Arabian Horse Times, The Appaloosa News, The Quarter Horse Journal, Horse’N Around, and The Brayer. She has written, among other books, Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock, The Donkey Companion, and The Backyard Goat. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.

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1 comment:

Jim A. Hall said...

Thanks Sue for such a nice article. The Buckeyes are not just Brenae's, but a family project. Our website is located at and we have a current listing for Buckeye eggs on eBay. Just look for Brenae and Buck.