|These Delawares belong to Melissa Kirby|
Leslie Joyce of Oregon is working with birds from Kathy Hardisty Bonham in Missouri. The color is good, but the tail needs to be broader. “I LOVE my ‘Kathy's Line’ birds,” she said, “though they are still a work in progress.”
|Kim Consol's champion Delaware hen|
Ms. Joyce finds the males protective and good flock leaders. She watched her breeding cock go after and chase away a hawk that threatened the flock. Although they are brave and free range happily on her pasture, they don’t fly over the fence and leave home. And the chicks are the cutest ever.
“I like that big-headed bird,” she said. “Delaware chicks are tiny fat balls of fluff. They have a funny, serious look. They are classic chicks.”
Raising a breed that can reproduce itself appeals to Ms. Joyce. She considers the chicks the local feed store sells mutts because they don't conform to the written standard for their declared breed. So far they have performed well for her laying operation, 120 birds seasonally producing 30 dozen pretty eggs a week for a local buying club and the rest for a short list of customers who like her eggs.
The hatchery hens are good broody hens and mothers, raising their own interesting-looking chicks. They’ve happily hatched and raised the Delaware chicks for her breeding program. But they aren't the chickens she wants to breed seriously. Her goal is to get the Delawares to breed true, meaning all their offspring resemble their parents in predictable ways that increasingly match the breed Standard. She is looking forward to getting her first broody Delaware hen so she can compare their mothering ability to that of the hatchery hens.
The pale brown egg isn’t as eye-catching as the exotic blue and green that show up in her laying flock, but she detects a slightly better flavor in the Delaware eggs.
“I think their eggs are a little yummier,” she said. “It could be the way they process the fat that makes the yolk creamier.”
All those qualities make the Delaware the breed that best suits Ms. Joyce. “That’s the proof that your chicken can be a chicken,” she said. “That’s more important than cranking out a million chicks.”
“Good winter laying, good meat birds, sturdy and savvy out on pasture, pretty on pasture and in a show cage, calm, and a little bit goofy,” said Ms. Joyce.