Ever since I learned the story of Mrs. Nettie Metcalf I have dreamed of having my very own flock of Buckeye chickens. You see, I have a penchant for grrrrl power, and Mrs. Metcalf is the only woman to create an American breed of chicken entirely by herself. I believe that the Buckeye may also have the honor of being the only American breed descended entirely from other American breeds but you’ll want to check my facts on that before you start quoting me.
Aside from my feminist chicken musings, Buckeyes have a lot of great attributes for a homestead flock. Their pale, brown eggs are plain compared to the chocolate egg laying marans or the blue/green/pink egg laying Americaunas but Buckeyes were bred to be a hardy bird that thrives in cold winters (eggs all winter long! theoretically.) and forages like nobody’s business (lower feed bills! theoretically.). Mrs. Metcalf also bred her birds with a build like Cornish birds, so they are also good meat birds; they are even listed on the Slow Food US Ark of Taste. As a bonus, they are known for being good mousers (!) and the roosters apparently have a wide range of vocal abilities including something akin to a dinosaur roar (!!).
It’s hard to know exactly how popular these birds ever were. Mrs. Metcalf promoted her breed during her lifetime in both Ohio and California – she was born in the 1800’s and her birds gained popularity just after the turn of the century but never caught on commercially. The Buckeye was critically endangered but has apparently improved its status recently and been upgraded to “threatened” by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy. Over the years as I’ve searched for stock, I’ve noticed more and more breeders offering both hatching eggs and chicks – about a month ago I was finally able to purchase some of these elusive eggs from eBay after always finding the birds and eggs either sold out or out of my price range. Last Friday my dream came true when 7 Buckeye chicks were successfully hatched in my Little Giant Incubator. Not a great hatch rate, but not terrible for my low tech set up. My hope is that I end up with at least a few hens and perhaps one nice rooster worth keeping so that we can take advantage of having dual purpose birds and get a steady stream of eggs and meat out of the deal. Mr. Smith, unfortunately, is not convinced about another rooster on the homestead.
I helped some of the chicks out of their shells, including the one above that is pipping through the top of its shell. It’s not recommended to do this because it’s easy to cause bleeding and kill the chick anyway and because often a chick that can’t get itself out of its shell has not formed properly. I went ahead and took the chance because I had moved the eggs during the last 3 days of incubation which is a huge no-no as the chicks spend that time getting into position to use their little egg teeth to free themselves from their shells. It paid off for a couple of the birds I helped, but one seems to have a problem with her leg. She’s getting around fine though and doesn’t seem to be in any pain so she stays.
My eggs came from Cedar Creek Hatchery and I am very happy with what I got from that breeder. If my plan to allow my birds to procreate on their own works out I’d like to add another blood line from David Puthoff at BuckeyeChickens.com. His chickens are gorgeous and seem to fit the standard perfectly based on his pictures which are a ton of fun to look at. And! Check it out! There is the American Buckeye Club which has an actual picture of Mrs. Nettie Metcalf!