If you are one of the many thousands of folks interested in owning your own chickens, there are a few things to consider in helping with your choices. Believe
it or not there are hundreds of different chicken breeds out there, and with each breed comes different varieties of characteristics and attributes. Some breeds are cold hardy more than others and some are more tolerant to heat. There are the breeds that are less flighty and some that love to own the position of being a pet. Some are better egg layers, and some are rare and going on the critical list for becoming an endangered breed. Some lay small eggs and some lay large eggs with a variety of colors: brown eggs that range from light beige to dark chocolate brown, white eggs, blue eggs, and olive eggs. Some breeds need more room than others and are better for interacting with children. There are some types of chickens that never seem to grow up called bantams and are mostly bred as pets and for showing. At last there are breeds best suited for community developments and some that make less noise than others. There are many things that can help you choose the breed that best suit your lifestyle.
One motivation to have your own chickens is to take a little control over what you eat, especially with all the bad things we hear about the food industries nowadays. The eggs sold at the grocery stores are not always fresh, and the living conditions of the hens that they come from are not always disposed to produce healthy eggs. Raising your chickens can bring fresh food to the table, and if you can manage free range the eggs will be even more tasty, and healthy. As will meat from meat birds be more tasty and healthy. You will know your chickens are healthy, thus so will be the eggs and meat, not to mention, the taste of farm fresh eggs is very much more delicious and different from store bought.
So, if you’re looking to feed your family farm fresh eggs or even both eggs and
meat, there are chicken breeds better suited for that. There are many breeds of
chickens that have dual purpose for both eggs and meat. Some chickens are not as meaty as others, so if you plan to consume your chickens you should do your research. Cornish Cross, Jersey Giants, Orpingtons, Freedom Rangers/Red Rangers are a few breeds that are bred as to be meat eating birds. If you plan to harvest your birds for meat, it’s a good idea to keep them on grass as much as possible and feed good quality feed to ensure a good healthy quality of meat. Giving your flocks a happy life has been proven to cause the meat to be juicy and tender, but a stress filled life yields less tasty and tougher meat.
If you’re planning to get started raising chickens for eggs or meat, there are a few basic things you will need to consider. Chickens need adequate space for healthy living; a draft free coop with ventilation, safety from predators, a place for their nest, and a roost to sleep. See the article on Coop Space for more information.
If you plan to keep chickens for other reasons such as egg layers, children’s pets and education, to exhibit at poultry shows, to preserve a breed, as ornamental, for manure to fertilize, to keep down bugs, for breeding to sell chicks, to sell fertilized eggs, or to sell eating eggs, or just for fun, I can offer a few recommendations of my own personal favorites.
I can only cover a couple of my personal favorite breeds because this article could quickly become a book. There are many breeds that are excellent egg layers. Leghorn, Rhodes Island Red, Jersey Giants, Australorp, Ameraucana, Delaware, Sussex, and Wyandotte. If you are looking for an egg layer that will also be a pet, I recommend Welsummers and Rhode Island Red. Welsummers are excellent egg layers of over 160 eggs per year of large beautiful terracotta colored eggs. The Rhode Island Red industrial breed can lay over 200 eggs a year of large brown eggs. Both these breeds among others are excellent layers and friendly birds. The Rhode Island Red birds have a friendly temperament, but are not prone to cuddles. The Welsummer on the other hand loves attention from people.
When choosing chicken breeds, I always recommend to people to choose some chickens that will lay eggs during the summer and a few that will lay eggs in the cooler months, so they will have a good steady supply of eggs most of the year. Keep in mind that all chickens will tend to slow or even stop their egg laying during the colder winter months due to less daylight hours.
The large breeds of chickens prefer the cooler months and the large breeds usually lay the most when the weather cools. The Orpington breeds and the Brahmas are a good choice if you want eggs during the cooler months. Both breeds are docile and friendly. Both these breeds lay large eggs with the Brahma laying a slightly larger egg. The Brahma breed have feathering and combs that make them a great breed for cooler climates, with one drawback. Their feathering on their legs and feet can cause frostbite if they become wet and then freeze on their feet.
Some people new to chicken keeping may wonder if these different breeds can be mixed in the coop, and the answer is yes. They get along just fine after they establish their pecking order. Chickens have sort of a government, and in this government the guys under the one at the top of the pecking order must wait until they have permission to eat at the same bowl, dust bath at the same place, or even loose it’s favorite nest to the ones that are over them. They don’t recognize color or breed, they do, however, recognize authority. If only people could learn from our chickens.
The chickens that are cold hardy birds usually have the small combs that lay
close to their heads, such as the pea comb, or rose comb. Those types of combs don’t get frostbite as easily as the single comb. Cold hardy breeds typically have smaller combs and wattles and thick, fluffy plumage. Other cold hardy breeds are Ameraucana, Barnevelder, Marans, Dominique, Rhode Island Red, and Easter Eggers. All of which are excellent egg layers.
The French Black Copper Maran lay deep dark brown egg that were made popular by fictional character of James Bond. The Ameraucana lays beautiful blue eggs. The Dominique breed is among the oldest and first breed of American history. They are cold hardy and lay medium sized light beige colored eggs. The Dominique have declined in number 3 times in our history and have at times being on the critical list of becoming endangered.