We eat quite a bit of chicken and one of the relatively few specific goals we have come up with since starting down our path to farming was to try and become self-sufficient in meat. So that means raising a lot of chickens. But we also want eggs, both for us and also to sell.

To begin with keeping several flocks of different breeds of chicken didn't seem like a viable option so we decided that we needed to look at dual purpose or utility strains. Combined with our desire to support rare and native breeds this narrowed the list further and we ultimately picked the Sussex.

The Sussex chicken comes in a number of colour strains but sourcing hatching eggs proved a challenge initially - perhaps because we were looking for them in October as we really wanted to get going as soon as we moved in. So we ended up with an incubator full of a mixture of Light Sussex, Buff Sussex and a few Rhode Island Reds to make up the numbers.

The flock begins

Our first ever experience of hatching went reasonably well and 15 eggs from the 27 we started with hatched.

The cockerels have since ended up in the pot proving that we really can hatch, raise, slaughter, pluck, hang, gut, cook and eat our own chickens. The eight hens began our laying flock and between them laid hundreds of eggs by the time they went into their first moult.

Subsequently we focused on the Buff Sussex as this is a rarer strain of the breed and after acquiring a cockerel we have incubated our own eggs and hatched several more groups since.

A couple of the resulting cockerels have been sold to other local keepers who were impressed with the quality of our birds. The rest have either joined the laying flock or been slaughtered for meat.

Introducing more variety

More recently we have started to diversify with the aim of running several mini-flocks of different breeds. This provides a succession of new layers as older birds head into moults so that we can maintain our egg supply to a growing number of customers. If the experiment works we should also be able to provide hatching eggs to other smallholders.

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