Well, the tractor was getting a little crowded, and I wanted to begin watching the female birds' diet a bit more closely, so I've removed 10 pullets into a large pen and kept mainly cockerels in the tractor.
All are doing very well on about 80% home mix, 10% commercial grower and 10% scraps/mince/kefir/rolled oats or whatever else looks good. It's a bit ad hoc but growth is pretty even and more to the point the birds all look well.
To keep the pullets from developing leg problems, I've given them a shed with no roosts. However so they're not sitting on the litter I've added some log offcuts and a spare tyre. They can perch on these easily without being so high that getting up and down is difficult.
Eventually — here's hoping — they'll reach point of lay and deposit the odd egg in the middle of the spare tyre. I've kept 10 pullets but expect only half that number to reach laying age. If they all survive into lay (which would be great) I'll obviously need to add another couple of nests.
This pen abuts the one currently holding anconas and leghorn x chicks. As it happens they're the same age as the hybrids, but you wouldn't know it to look at them. When the hybrids reach sexual maturity I should be able to let an ancona rooster visit them through a little hatchway during the day. At night (due to noise/neighbours/cranky husband) I'll have to put the rooster back in the night-shed. But that won't be difficult.
It's the generation after that which I'll be most interested in. If I breed the hybrids to an ancona, I should get some black-speckled birds (not that I know or care about colour genetics) that lay reasonably well but more to the point aren't overweight at a young age. Perhaps rather than using the anconas I'll put a leghorn x cockerel over them instead. That would mean slightly better laying, as the leghorn x come from utility strains and are very productive. The males from that mating I would want to put with the ISA browns — that will keep egg laying utility high, but would add some colour so the birds are slightly less visible to goshawks. (That's another reason to use the anconas instead.)
All of this crossbreeding may end up in the wastebasket, or may end up producing long lived but productive dual purpose birds. If it ends up in the wastebasket I suspect it will be for reasons of ill health — meat hybrids are notoriously susceptible to Marek's. (Despite being vaccinated, one already had signs of some type of tumour disease — see one of my earlier posts.) But if I can maintain a balance between moderate weight gain (as I said earlier I just want a slightly weightier carcass at 16 weeks), good (not extreme) laying ability and hardiness, I'll be very happy indeed.
If not, of course it will be back to the drawing board, and I may go back to the malay-ISA or malay-leghorn. They were very nice birds and the malay-ISA I used as a broody has just gone back into lay despite it being mid winter. She's only been off the chicks for a couple of weeks, so that's pretty productive... If I could just have gotten those cockerels 400g heavier they would have been the perfect dual purpose bird!