Speckled Sussex Chickens

The Sussex breed of chicken originated in England and comes in a variety of colors. The Sussex chickens are thought to have been bred as early as 43 AD, making them one of the oldest known  breeds of chicken.  They were originally bred as a meat bird but have been bred in more recent times as a dual purpose bird.  The Speckled Sussex is the most common variety of Sussex in the United States. 

  As with any dual purpose breed, they are not going to max out on egg production or on table weight as meat birds.  I have read egg production averages for the Sussex that range from 200-260 eggs a year. The eggs are cream to light brown in color. (For a comparison, the Rhode Island Reds are said to lay an average of 200 eggs a year and the Sex Link breeds ~ bred for strictly egg production ~ around 300 eggs per year.) They are also known to be decent layers even in the winter months. 

The Sussex are suppose to mature quickly, at least for a dual purpose/heavy breed.  Their  shape (a long deep body) makes them more suitable to fattening for the table. (One can't compare the Sussex to the commercial meat birds of today such as the Cornish X.)  It is to be noted that the speckled variety is said to be the slowest to mature in comparison to the other colors of Sussex birds.  The Sussex have been known for centuries as having exceptional taste as a dinner bird.  A mature Sussex Rooster will weigh nine pounds and a hen seven pounds.

The Sussex has a very mild temperament and  they do well in a variety of settings.  They do well in confinement but also do very well as free range birds for they tend to be good foragers.  The Speckled Sussex colors  help to camouflage them from predators. 

The Sussex are not excessively broody but the Speckled variety go broody on average more than the other varieties and are known to be good mothers. 

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy lists Sussex as being on the recovery list for endangered and rare poultry.  From their web site:

"By 1900 there were precious few flocks of the old Kentish, Sussex, and Surrey chickens that had not been contaminated by crossbreeding.

Speaking to a group of Sussex farmers in 1903, Edward Brown, a noted writer on the rural poultry industry, reminded them of their history and reputation for producing the finest poultry and berated them for being on the point of letting this breed die out. His speech moved many and in July of that same year E.J. Wadman took up the mantle and formed a club for Sussex chickens. Soon farmers networked to find relatively pure pockets of the breed and began its promotion. So it is that an ancient breed was brought back from the brink of extinction and became a “new’ player in the emerging poultry industry of the early 1900s.

Sussex chickens are a dual-purpose breed with a deep broad body, close fitting feathers, and white skin, shanks and feet. The breed will put on fat very easily, making it well suited for market poultry. The hens are fair to good layers of brown eggs, though they lay best if not allowed to get overly fat. This could be a wonderful breed for a small farm or homestead, being active and all-around an excellent breed for meat and eggs. Sussex chickens have a reputation, in some circles, of having flesh superior even to that of the Dorking and Old English Game chickens."

The Speckled Sussex lends itself to a variety of settings and is an all around efficient, dual purpose bird that we are happy to have as a part of our farm!

Photo Courtesy of McMurray Hatchery

. Note:  Information for this post taken from the following links:


Murray McMurray Hatchery

Pickin A Chicken

American Livestock Breeds Consesrvancy


Peep, Peep, Peep, Peeps!

They are here!  Those cute, little, fuzzy, chirping birds were shipped from McMurray Hatchery yesterday morning and in approximately 24 hours arrived at the Staunton post office. ( I had requested a phone call to alert me that the chicks were leaving Iowa and bound for Virginia.  McMurray efficiently called me at 5 am on Sunday morning to let me know my birds were in the mail! )

You would think that I would have my act together, knowing that the birds were on their way.  I mostly had my act together but needed the increased pressure of having chirping peeps in a cardboard box sitting in the sun in my milk kitchen waiting for me to get their "homes" ready for them, to encourage me to finish the final details.

I had two small tubs but decided I would go all out and buy two more (larger) tubs.  After spending as much money as I did on chicks, it only made sense to make sure they had plenty of room and safely housed in various large tubs rather than trying to come up with cardboard boxes or other means to make a temporary brooder for them.  Besides, I can wash the tubs, sterilize them and use them for watering troughs (their intended purpose) later and/or I can use them to start future batches of poultry.  I also opted to buy a couple of bags of the commercial wood shavings to use in the bottom of the tubs (thanks Tractor Supply for making  your birds always look so appealing.  I have given in to peer pressure and want my birds to look just as clean and nice, much to my husband's chagrin.)  This meant I had to make a mad dash to Tractor Supply when they opened this morning.  (Note to self:  One can get more help and personal attention when one is the only individual in the store early morning.)

Having not started any chicks in about three years (maybe longer), I needed various and sundry supplies such as feeders, waterers, and additional lights.  (Have I ever started this many birds at one time before?)  My husband is just happy that I am not starting them off in the bathtub in the house like I have done in years past! 

Notice:  Little, brown wagon again!

We ended up with a total of 105 live birds:  103 designated as pullets (three of them being the freebies), 26 roosters (one being a freebie) and one mystery sex and breed (rare breeds freebie).  I was hoping that the roosters would be in a separate section so that I would know them from the hens and could keep them apart, but they were not designated.  We will have to figure that out later.  The plan is to keep a few to mate with the hens and fatten the rest up and butcher them.  Raising the roosters for meat will be an experiment and I will document the process here on my blog.  I am hoping that with lots of clabbered milk along with their free range lifestyle, we can come up with a nice size bird for butchering.

We started the peeps out on newspaper so that they can find their food the first day.  Will use the paper for a couple of days and then switch over to wood shavings so that their legs will grow properly.  Newspaper can be too slick and cause leg problems if used too long. 

Red lights were used in the heat lamps to discourage the chicks from picking and pecking each other.

Information from McMurray on starting peeps can be found at this link

Wish us luck!


That Little Brown Wagon (Again) & Princess Update

Yes, that little, brown wagon is making trouble again!  Yesterday morning I did not take the wagon down and Midnight came in to be milked just as nice as can be (although she did glance around to see if there were any monsters lurking anywhere)! 

This morning, I used the wagon to haul some dirty bedding out of one of the stalls and pulled it around back where we have our manure pile.  (Mike periodically removes the pile of manure and straw and spreads it on the fields with the manure spreader.)  When I began pulling that wagon across the pasture all of the cows became quite animated!  Some of them ran in fear, other looked on with interest, and still others had to come and check it out.  The bull acted like he wanted to "take on" the little wagon so I kept my eye on him! 

When I left the pasture pulling the wagon behind me, Apple ran behind me kicking up her heels!

Crazy cows!

Princess is still a week and two days away from her due date and this photo was actually taken yesterday morning with my phone.  Today, her ligaments have started to relax and it looks like her pins may even be dropping.  I cleaned out the stall, put down fresh straw, and I am keeping an eye on her.  I am not getting worked up yet but just keeping a cautious eye on her.  She is still eating hay, cudding and although she appears somewhat uncomfortable, is not extremely so. 


The Little Brown Wagon Strikes Fear

If you saw my post from a couple days ago, you know that I put together a wagon for my own personal use on the farm.  Of course, I have gotten by for years without a wagon, but the child in me kept finding valid reasons why I should buy a wagon and since those reasons were so convincing, I did just that.  Rather than carry all my buckets, milker, hose, and other items  to the milking parlor, I can now put them all in my wagon and joyfully pull them up and down the hill. 

Feeling quite pleased with myself, I unloaded the wagon from it maiden voyage and set up the parlor for milking.  Mike was home early, as we were having guests for supper, and proceeded to help me move things along by bringing Midnight in to be milked. 

Or, shall I say, he attempted to bring Midnight in for milking.

Midnight came around the corner just as she always does, intent on reaching her goal of treats in the stanchion when all of a sudden she wheeled around and made a mad, frantic, fearful dash back from whence she came! 

"What the heck?  What's up with  Midnight?", I questioned Mike.

He thought that Lady, the big white dog must have scared her because he said he saw Lady jump up about the same time that Midnight became frightened.

We struggled for quite a while trying to get Midnight to come in but things just got progressively worse.  She tried to force herself through the latched gates.  She contemplated jumping over them.  She ran around with her ears indicating she was greatly distressed.  (Those of you with cattle know what I mean.)  Of course, all of this would happen on an evening when I needed to have supper on the table at a particular time. 

I remembered how cows do not like change, don't adapt well to new surroundings, and recalled the articles I had read by Temple Grandin.

"The single most important factor determining whether a new thing is more interesting than scary is whether the animal has control over whether to approach the object. Animals are terrified by forced novelty. They don't want new things shoved into their faces and people don't either. but if you give animals and people a new thing and let them voluntarily decide how to explore it, they will."  ANIMALS MAKE US HUMAN p. 147  (For more information see this previous post.)

 I suddenly decided that the little, brown wagon I was so proud of might just possible resemble a big, ugly monster to Midnight.  I quickly hid the "monster" out of site around the corner. 

Finally, we forced Midnight into a smaller area and managed to get the gate shut.  She hesitantly headed towards the stanchion but at the last minute bolted through un unsecure, human size gate that leads into a yard around the chicken pen.  (The chickens free range but the yard is to keep the calves out of the chicken's house.)  Now we have a huge Angus/Holstein cow who has gone wild running around in the chicken yard! 

By this time Mike and I have totally lost our cool, making things even worse.  (The best thing to do when you have a cow gone crazy, is to not go crazy yourself!)  Midnight jumped the electric netting fence around the chicken house and was now in the pasture with the last year's weaned calves.  The calves started going crazy feeding off of Midnight's energy and antics.  We got her separated from the calves and back into the original holding pen where once again we had to force her (with her having intent to kill at this point) back to the stanchion. 

Into the smaller area with the closed gate behind her, she finally fearfully walked past where the big, scary monster (little, brown wagon) had been sitting and made her way into the stanchion.  Once she was in the stanchion, she was fine. 

When she was realeased from the stanchion, she ran quickly past the gate where the little, brown wagon had once set. 

Fast forward to this morning.  I fill up my little, brown wagon and joyfully begin pulling it down the hill.  Midnight is standing at the gate waiting to be let into the holding area as she is ALWAYS the first to be milked now that Edy is not around.  She hears the wheels turning on the little, brown wagon.  She eyes the little, brown wagon making it's way down the hill.  Her ears start doing that "crazy cow thing" again.  Her eyes are wide.  She paces but doesn't leave the gate. 

This time, I decide to move the little, brown wagon before trying to get Midnight in.  I determine to remain calm no matter what.  I feed the goats and the calves and all is well.  Then, I let Midnight in the holding area.  All she has to do is walk through the holding area and past the gate where the little, brown wagon sat yeterday but no longer sits today.  I talk calmly to her and explain that "the big bad monster" is gone.  She is having none of it.

Again, she refuses to go in to be milked but this time Mike and I remain calm and I keep telling Mike I will be there as long as it takes because I don't want her to be frightened.  We went round and round a few times (nothing like last night) and she finally went into the stanchion.  We shall see what the evening milking brings.

Whoever knew that a little, brown wagon could cause so much trouble? 


Tuesday Review

Took this photo of Graham yesterday morning but most of our snow has melted now. 

Have decided to take a break from facebook for the Lenton Season and that means that I will strive harder to post regular updates here. 

I am trying to get my chick starting gear in order and make the necessary purchases of items I do not have so that when my peeps arrive I will be ready and not making a last minute scramble to get things together!  It has been several years since I have started chicks and I have always started them in my bathroom at first.  Since I am getting such a large number (100), I decided I better get with the program and get a place set up for them out in one of the shelters. 

We had two calves born today in the beef herd giving us a total of four for the year so far.  The tally so far is 3 heifers and one bull calf.  I am hoping for those odds in the dairy herd, but not expecting it! 


Princess' Second Pregnancy

Princess should be my first cow to calve this spring and her udder is starting to fill in.  She is due March the 8th.  Last year when she gave us a bull calf, she was completely miserable for the last four weeks of her pregnancy and carried the baby differently than she is carrying this calf.  Perhaps it is another bull calf only smaller this year or just maybe she will give us an  heifer!  (Once can always dream, right?)

Princess was the first heifer born here to our dairy herd after a run of six bulls in a row.  She has always been completely spoiled and doesn't realize that she is not at least part human.  I have plans to let her retire right here on the farm when she is too old to produce babies anymore.  She is registered as a Foundation Pure Miniature and is 40 inches tall. 



Reeses is 3/4 Mini Jersey (100% Jersey) and oh so cute!

Random information from a blogger who post randomly posts!  That pretty much describes my blog over the last year or more.  It's not that I don't love blogging because the truth is, I love to write.  I have just found myself either too busy or too tired in the past year to keep up with my blog as I would like.  I also find that since I am actively updating our farming Facebook page, to post the same information here seems redundant.  In addition, I have not bee able to give time to keeping up with the blogs of others and I think that this might be true for a lot of folks.  I sometimes wonder if blogging will go the way of the annual Christmas Letter.  There was a time when I looked forward to receiving Christmas Letters and sending one of my own.  Now I find that because of email, facebook and other means of instant communication, the Christmas Letter seems kind of archaic.  Yet, I feel drawn to continue on with the blog even though it might be sporadic and the topics might be so random that they discourage followers.  I enjoy looking back at the stats on my blog and seeing that many people are still discovering and using my Cottage Cheese recipe among others.  I also enjoy it when the stats show a high volume of traffic to one of my informational posts about the animals that we are raising.  If nothing else, I guess the blog will serve as some sort of journal for my daughter someday and she can look back and read about our farming and other ventures even after we are gone. 

Just a random update on what is going on here on the farm and in our lives:

The winter has been very mild and pleasant for the most part.  The warmer temps mean that we have had rain rather than snow and this had left us with a lot of mud to deal with.  For the first time ever, I have had to deal with chronic mastitis in a cow and that has not been fun.  I think the mud and the fact she insists on laying in the slop rather than the clean shelter has something to do with it.  We did everything we could think of to remedy the situation.  We had her milk cultured and it did not show anything terrible (like staph).  We changed inflations, changed vacuum pumps, made sure our equipment was thoroughly cleaned after each milking and began hand stripping.  We would get her cleared up and it would come back again.  Very frustrating and also meant that we were dumping milk making things tight around here on the milk supply.  Thankfully, she seems to be cleared up now and we are hoping she stays that way but are not holding our breath.  Should she come back with mastitis again, we are going to dry her off and put her in with the beef herd. 

In addition to the mastitis issues, we also had a cow that either has not bred back or slipped a calf.  Tori is a Mini Jersey and she slipped her first calf at seven months gestation.  We thought she was bred back and due in February only to find she is open.  I have had her vet checked and blood work run and there does not seem to be any known reason why she is not able to conceive/carry a calf.   We are going to give her about a year and if she doesn't conceive, then we will just have to butcher her.  It's heartbreaking and a big financial loss but it is part of farming. 

Upcoming news includes the fact that we should be receiving 100 Speckled Sussex chicks at the end of this coming week or beginning of next week.  After having a variety of birds over the years, I have finally settled on the Speckled Sussex as being my favorite.  I love their size, their productivity and their temperament.  I am ordering 25 roosters to fatten and butcher and the rest will be hens.  I need to totally replace my flock as all my other birds are between 2-5 years of age. 

It looks like all my goat does are bred to our new buck (who has a very nice temperament) and we should be having kids in May.  I know a lot of folks like to have their goats kid earlier but I am looking forward to having kids when the weather is warm and I don't have to worry about bringing them inside or keeping them warm. 

We had our very first beef calf of the year born today and should have many more in the coming weeks and months.  Four of our Jersey girls will be calving in March and I will have my hands full with new babies and mommas who will be back in production and need to be milked twice a day. 

Mike is gearing up to plant the garden and looking forward to that as gardening is his passion.  (I prefer to take care of the animals.)

I think that news pretty much gets us up to date and I would love to be able to promise that I will make frequent updates here to my blog, but as much as I want to do that, the truth is the posts will probably continue to be sporadic.............................and random. 

Rosie turned a year old this month.  I will be breeding her later in the summer.  She is a Foundation Pure Miniature and well under 40 inches. 


Project Guatemala

A mother and her children at Hope of Life feeding center near Zacapa, Guatemala.

Having been able to reach the goals of providing a deep water well to provide clean water for the village of Manzanotal in 2011 and money for cleft palate surgeries for Rosie in 2012 due to the generous support of so many, I don't feel that we can stop there.  After recently returning from my second trip to Guatemala, my heart burns with a desire to help these people further and I know that funding projects will become a life long venture for me.  I hope that others will share the passion to help the beautiful people of Guatemala and join me in these projects.  With or without the support of others, I will push forward to do what I can do.  In keeping with these broader  and long term goals, I have changed the name of my other blog to Joshua's Well & Project Guatemala.  Please join me on that blog where I will attempt to post a photo a day to share information about the people I came in contact with while visiting Guatemala.  I hope to share not only the needs but also the stories of success, life and hope. 

Helping does not necessarily mean that one has to provide money for projects.  There are many ways to help.  The most helpful act of all is to pray.  Maybe a photo will touch your heart and you will feel drawn to a particular baby, child, or adult.  Maybe an elderly person's photo will grab your heart.  You may not know their name, but you can pray for them just the same by thinking of them and asking God to somehow intervene in their lives.  You can also help by sharing the information that is presented on the blog and directing others to the site.  As we network, there are people who want to help but just need to know of the needs.  You never know what might happen when you share with a friend who shares with another.  Raising awareness is as important as actually donating money.  In addition to the revamped blog site, I have also changed my Rosie FaceBook page to make it Project Guatemala so that I can continue to share projects over time.  Please like this page and share it with your FaceBook friends!  Facebook can be a valuable tool for sharing information and reaching well beyond your scope of friends as people share the stories, photos and needs.    Keeping the people of Guatemala in your heart, thoughts and prayers and sharing the needs with others as well as donating to specific projects if you feel led and have the means are ways that we can make a difference in the lives of others. 

Thanks to all who have already made a difference.