Going For Gold

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After losing most of my Silkies in the great poultry slaughters of 2017, I was left with a pair of buff chicks. These are descended from the first buff hen I bred a few years earlier. Buffs have always been my favourite colour of Silkie, but I hadn’t been able to get very many, so I had previously concentrated on blacks and blues.

Most Silkies in Australia are not bantams at all, they are in fact a standard breed. Bantam Silkies are rare in Australia and you would know if you saw one because they are tiny.

In their pure state, all Silkies are white, and the best birds you will find are bred entirely from white stock. In order to introduce colour, white Silkies were bred with other breeds, mostly Pekins, to get the range of colours we are used to seeing in Silkies today. But since white is recessive, it will pop up in a population even after generations of breeding for colour.

Of course when you contaminate the gene pool by adding in colour, you then have to work hard to get the important Silkie characteristics back into your birds. Things like proper pillow or button combs, black or very dark faces, 5th toes and of course Silkie feathering. Silkie feathering is also recessive, so your first generation of crossbred birds will all have regular feathers, so to get the Silkie feathering back and retain the colour you have to breed first-cross birds together and from there start selecting for Silkie feathering and fancy colours.

In Australia we have been breeding coloured Silkies for many years, so there are a lot of birds to choose from with Silkie feathering, fun colours and varying degrees of authentic Silkie characteristics.

All of this makes them quite interesting and fun to breed.

I started working towards my ideal of buff Silkies with a clear gold colour, good Silkie characteristics including dark faces and five toes, good vision (eyes not obscured by their fluffy heads), with good fertility. Bonus traits will be maintenance of good body condition (Silkies tend to run a bit skinny), and laying for longer before going broody.

My foundation birds are Prince Harry the rooster and Citrine the hen. I also purchased Fanta, an unrelated hen.

harry

Prince Harry – a nice looking little bird with good colour and no breed faults, but he is kind of aggressive which is not ideal.

citrine and chicks

Citrine with her current chicks. Note the white chick – we have had one white chick in each of the three hatches this season. Citrine is a robust hen and good mother, with no breed faults.

fanta and chicks

Fanta with her current clutch. She has lovely feathering and a nice dark face, but I keep having to trim the feathers around her face so she can see. She is also quite flighty.

Too many feathers around the face can obscure a bird’s vision, and while this is not a problem in exhibition stock it is a definite handicap for farmyard birds in mixed flocks. The feathers make it difficult for them to find food, find each other, find safety and avoid bigger, bossy birds. Birds who are feather blind tend to be thinner because they are less efficient at free ranging. They run into things and freak out when anything touches them. It does make them easier to catch because they can’t see you sneaking up behind them, but this also means they are more likely to be taken by predators.

Our oldest chicks are almost mature and they show a good contrast of good and bad. Normally I might keep one chick from a clutch and either sell or eat the others (hence why I want birds who are easy to fatten).

Rose and Redboy are the two I’ll be retaining from this group.

rose full

Rose is a classic fluffball with excellent Silkie feathering.

rose face

She has a nice dark face and button comb and an upright pompom.

redboy full

Redboy has a bit of excess feathering in front of his eyes, but he has good feathering and a great deep red colour.

redboy face

He has a classic pillow comb and dark features.

redboy face side

Check out those excellent blue earlobes!

redboy foot

Nice neat 5th toe and lots of feathers on the middle toe. His toes are straight and his feet are strong.

The other real plus that Redboy has is a great temperament. He is not at all aggressive and he is relaxed to handle, making trimming his face feathers less of an issue.

The younger chicks are still to young to sex, but their other characteristics are becoming visible.

This little one has a nice flat comb, but a look at its feet shows an extra toe. Most chickens have four toes – three main ones at the front and a smaller one at the back. Silkies’ fifth toe is due to polydactyly, a genetic condition which gives extra digits. In line-bred birds you can get even more toes, and while some breeders don’t mind this, I prefer to select away from it.

silky chick face

This is a healthy six-week-old chick with a nice button comb. Still too young to tell the sex, but if it is a pullet she will make a nice little backyard bird.

silky chick toes

Note the extra toe visible, coming off to the right of what should be the last toe. This will not affect this bird adversely, but it’s not something I want to perpetuate in my flock.

If you want a bad example, check out this guy. He is from the same hatch as Rose and Redboy and shows how even full siblings whose parents are also full siblings can inherit very different genes.

This bird has excellent Silkie feathering, despite not being the colour I was after, and he is a good size, but look at that upright comb – a complete no-no in Silkie breeding.

white rooster

I’m always happy to rehome pullets with breed faults because at the end of the day a chicken is a chicken and no matter what colour she is she still lays eggs and can lead a productive life. I won’t pass on a faulty rooster, however, because I feel that I have some responsibility to the breed and I’m not keen to send faulty roosters out into the world to produce more faulty birds. Fortunately, Silkies taste like chicken, which is why birds that are easy to fatten are important to the process. I can’t keep them all, and I certainly won’t breed them all, but in the end they all contribute in one way or another.

 

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How I Make Passata

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This is going to be a pictorial post about how I make passata. There are probably more correct or more traditional methods, but with the resources I have available this is the way I do it.

As you will see, I peel my tomatoes, but that part is optional. I think it makes for a better texture to not have tomato peel in my cooking. You can also skip the reducing stage and process your jars straight from cold, but you will end up with a lot of water in your jars this way.

As well as plenty of ripe tomatoes  and some salt, you will need:

Two large saucepans

A couple of large bowls

Sharp knife

Cutting board

Food processor or blender

Slotted spoon

Wooden spoon

Ladle

Funnel – a regular funnel is fine, but a wide-mouthed canning funnel will make life a bit easier

Empty jars – about one per kg of unprocessed tomatoes, plus a spare just in case

Stovetop of countertop preserving unit

 

 

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Step 1 – Source your tomatoes. Bigger fruit are better as they are quicker and more efficient to skin. Saucing varieties with fewer seeds are ideal. I used a mix of Hungarian Heart and Amish Paste, with a couple of rogue San Marzanos.

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Step 2 – Slice their bottoms. This makes them easier to peel as the skin will split where the slice is.

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Step 3 – drop tomatoes a few at a time into boiling water. Leave them for a few seconds – the exact time depends on the size and variety of tomato, but about 10 seconds is a rough guide.

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Step 4 – scoop your tomatoes out of the boiling water and into a bowl of cold water.

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The skins should slide right off.

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This will leave you with a bowl of skinned tomatoes and a bowl of skins in water.

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Worms love tomato skins, so if you have a worm farm you can tip the skins, water and all, into your worm farm.

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Step 5 – chop your tomatoes into pieces if they are very big and discard any hard green cores. Put your chopped tomatoes into the blender.

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Chickens, ducks and geese love bits of tomato. Cats not so much.

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Step 6 – process the tomatoes until most of the lumps are gone. This may be the point at which you realise you have put too many tomatoes in the food processor, so make your next batch a little smaller if this is the case.

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Once processed the tomatoes will look pale and be thin and frothy.

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Step 7 – reduce the tomato puree. You may want to add salt at this stage, the information I was able to find said 1tsp of salt per kg of tomatoes.

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Simmer until the tomatoes have reduced in volume by about half and started to thicken.

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Taking a ‘before’ photo can help you know when you have got the level of the tomatoes in the pot down to about half. This takes about an hour, depending on how many tomatoes you are processing and the peculiarities of your stove.

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Step 8 – pour the passata into jars (recycled passata jars are ideal). There are a few ways to process from here, but I do a hot water bath because I need to keep my jars in the cupboard for up to several months.

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Follow the instructions on your preserving kit.

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Once the jars have cooled make sure that all the seals on the lids have popped down. If any have not store those jars in the fridge and use them first. The others can go into your storage space.