April 2009 Archives

Choosing Chicken Breeds For Backyard Flocks

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Choosing Chicken Breeds For The Back Yard Flock

Choosing what breed of chickens to get for your first flock can be confusing.  There are a lot of different kinds to choose from and how will you know which ones are going to be right for you?

Start off by answering the following questions:

How many chickens will you have?

Are you raising chickens for meat, eggs, or both?

Are you planning to butcher your hens when they stop laying?

How important is it that your hens be friendly?

The number of chickens you will have can influence your choice of breeds.  For example: if you are on a city lot that only allows three hens then you will want to make sure you get breeds that are known to be excellent layers.  If you are able to have more hens than you strictly need to keep your family in eggs you might want to choose a few excellent layers and also choose a couple of heirloom breeds for the enjoyment of variety.  In my own flock I have three excellent layers and one that isn't as prolific but is much prettier than the others to look at and this gives me pleasure every day.

It is important to know what your purpose in raising hens is.  If you plan to raise them just for butchering you will want to purchase only game breeds such as Old English Game or Cornish Game.  If you want to have hens that lay well but can be butchered after they slow down you will want to be sure to get a dual purpose breed because these are breeds that not only lay well but make good table birds.

Most people who are starting back yard flocks of chickens, especially in urban environments, are doing it for both eggs and family enjoyment, not usually for butchering.  If this is your purpose then it's important to choose poultry breeds that are known to be friendly.  I am going to make some personal reccommendations but it's really important that you understand that a breed description is only general and that hens, like people, can be highly individual.  I have heard stories of Rhode Island Reds being mean but the two I've had weren't at all mean, though they are both fairly shy.

The specific suggestions I'm going to make are suitable for families who are wanting great egg production from friendly birds.  If you need more information on game breeds or layer breeds I am going to include links at the bottom of this post to some great breed information sites that can help you pick what birds you want.

My favorite picks for small(ish) back yard flocks:

Buff Orpingtons- these are a golden colored dual purpose breed that lays well and has a sweet docile disposition.  Cora, our Buff Orpington, was so sweet you could pick her up and carry her around.  She was huge and funny and we loved her.  Lays large pinkish-brown eggs.

Ameraucanas*-this breed is an excellent layer of green eggs (only the purebred ones lay blue eggs) and is a very strong forager.  They are friendly and curious to people but bossy to other birds.  Our Easter Egger (see footnote), Claudine,  was great at foraging, leading the flock, and loved her sun baths.  Lays green medium sized eggs, often with double yolks.

Black Sex Links- this is a hybrid breed that is sexable at birth so you aren't at much risk of ending up with a rooster.  They lay incredibly well, are friendly, pretty, sturdy, and not skittish.  Lays large brown eggs.

Golden Sex Links- this is the same as the Black Sex Link but is golden in color.  Excellent layer of large brown eggs.  friendly, curious, loves kitchen scraps, not bossy.  Ours has been a great addition to our flock.

Plymouth Barred Rock- this black and white striped breed is very pretty.  They lay moderately well.  In general the breed is known to be docile, easy to handle, and friendly.  Ours (Flower-bud) is quite shy and skittish but we love how pretty she is and she lays medium sized pinkish-brown eggs so how can we really complain?  I love having at least one striped or dotted hen in the flock.

Rhode Island Reds- this is an excellent layer of large brown eggs.  They are active but generally docile, though the cocks in this breed are notorious for their aggressiveness.  Our own experience is that ours are a little shy but will not be mean if you are quick enough to pick them up and they will come around and be calm if you spend some time with them quietly.

Most of the breeds I've just mentioned are readily available in feed stores.  If you get confused when faced with choices at the feed store never hesitate to ask for advice from whoever is the chicken expert.  And be sure you already have their nursery set up before you bring them home!

Here are some fantastic on line resources for reading about poultry breeds:

Henderson's Chicken Breed Chart


Backyard Chickens

*Also known as Araucanas.  The truth is that mostly what you find in the feed stores are mixed breed versions of these birds, not purebreds.  Which is fine by me since I don't need papers on my chickens.  Just so you know, if you're buying a bird by either of these names, what you're really buying is what is known as an "Easter Egg" hen.

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