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.
Most breeds will tend to begin laying eggs between 5 to 7 months of age. If chickens are cared for they can live from 8 to 12 years. The first 3 years of their adult life is their most productive and decreases as each year goes by. I’ve had some 8-year-old hens that still laid eggs, but it was only about once a week and sometime once every 2 weeks. They were old, and they gave us plenty of eggs, so to show our appreciation we allowed them to live out their lives here.
No rooster is needed for a hen to lay eggs. But you cannot do without a rooster, if you want to incubate your fertile eggs or have your hens to hatch them out. And in that case, you will need to choose a breed of hens that tend to go broody.
When a hen goes broody she will sit on her eggs and not want to leave the nest.
You can tell when she’s broody because she turns into this crazy creature that seems she wants to chew your hand off if you come near her and her body flattens out to cover the eggs. It takes 21 days for a hen to hatch out her chicks and during this time up until her chicks are approximately 6 weeks old she will no longer lay eggs.
Not all breeds of chickens tend to go broody, but there are some that live for it. Our Silver Laced Cochins are among the breed that tend to go broody and hatch chicks very frequently. This past summer we had 4 hens that took turns staying on their eggs to hatch. One of our hens went broody 3 times in the same summer and hatched 3 brood of chicks.
Roosters can be valuable to the dynamics of a flock. Most roosters will fight a predator if invaded to try to protect his girls. When free ranging with his girls he will send out an alert for them to run and take cover should he see a threat. He will herd his flock back to safety at night and the government of the flock is overseen by his presence.
Some roosters crow more than others, so again you need to do research if the crowing should bother a neighbor. Generally, they can make a lot of noise, and may not be allowed to be kept in certain locations. You should check your county's ordinances and regulations. Especially be sure to check restrictions and zoning in your neighborhood to be sure you are allowed a flock. This is a great article for added information: Chickens Laws and Ordinances from Backyard chicken
Chickens will need to be safeguarded from predators. Predators come from the air and on the ground of which, many can dig their way under a fence, so both those areas should be addressed when providing a home for your flock. We use avian netting over our chicken’s lots and every night our flocks are securely locked inside a wooden coop that has a floor. It's a good idea to have a safe run or outdoor lot where they can stay until you're around to supervise outings.
When considering chicken breeds keep in mind the space you have available for a good healthy environment. Chickens are extremely tolerant of cold temperatures, but they’re very vulnerable to drafts. It is necessary your chickens have fresh air to stop respiratory diseases. So, when providing a home, you’ll need to consider not only space for them to walk around in and roost, but head space for ventilation. The biggest problem with coops is the moisture and ammonia build up from manure. For this reason, the moisture needs to escape above their heads, but not right at their heads which can cause frostbite to their combs.
Bantam breed of chickens can be very enjoyable and make great pets that are good with children, but the best thing is that they take up very little space. We have a couple of bantam breeds that quickly became everyone's favorites here on our farm: Plymouth Buff Rock and the Silver Sebright Bantams. They are not only sweet little pets, but very entertaining. If you are looking for something cute and sweet that is also fun make sure to keep the bantams in mind. Bantams can live right along beside the large breeds and will get along fine. The only drawback are the size of the eggs are extra small. Even though you would need more eggs to make an omelet they are still just as delicious as the large breeds.
It may be that you want chickens to keep down insects and while there are other
birds for this purpose, they don’t provide eggs. Chickens eat insects, smallish rodents and perhaps even little snakes. While they can help with the bugs, take
special care around the garden area because they also love most things green and have the capacity to eat your entire garden, so you should keep that in consideration as well.
If you are interested in preserving endangered breeds, a good place to check is the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy list. Keep in mind that when you see a breed on this list, it is referring to chicken breeds from breeders not hatcheries. Many of the hatchery/feed store chicks don’t aspire to keep the standards which are set up for specific breeds and some may have had other breeds mixed in to increase their laying. There are standards by which each breed is measured by to keep a breed true to its heritage. You can find the standards in the American Standard of Perfections.
Most of our breeds that we sell at Egg Well Farm are either on the watch list or are rare breeds. We only have Heritage breeds with the exception of the Easter Eggers. The preservation of chicken breeds is a worthy cause. How sad it would be if no one tried to save the Dominique breed, by 1970 only 4 known flocks remained, we would have never came to take such delight in these adorable friendly social creatures.
You may be interested in chickens for the shows. The poultry shows have grow to be very popular. There are prizes and money to be won and great fun in the breeding of the perfect breed. There are no limits to the different types of breeds for the poultry shows. The breeders goes through great lengths to present the best in the breeds according to the American Standard of Perfection. These chickens get the best of care. They get bathed, groomed, handled, and they travel. A couple of good breeds I would take to the shows would be the Ameraucana and the Barnevelder for the large fowl. For the bantam I would definitely take the Silver Sebright and Plymouth Buff Rock Bantams. These are my personal favorites and trust me there are many many more you could choose.
There are other ways chickens can give back to your family than eggs, through sells. If you have the space to breed, there is a market for purebred chicks and fertile eggs. With many of our breeds going on the watch or critical list of going extinct selling hatching eggs can be a valuable service to others and put a little money in your pocket as well. With many opportunities to use the internet it's easier to sell hatching eggs nowadays. With a little research to find the breed that best fit your situation you can get back some money spent on the care of your flocks.
Chickens can be amazing addition to your family and they make a contribution in many ways, eggs, bug control, fertilizer contribution, pets, entertainment, hobby for farming and show, and companionship. If you treat them like pets, they will act like pets. Everything longs to be accepted, loved and protected. Of course there will always be exceptions, but if given a place in your life they may surprise you.