Chicken Breed Considerations
The other day when I was at the library the librarian noticed the topic of my books and mentioned she always thought it would be nice to have a few free ranging chickens in her back yard. She was warned by a chicken raising friend that this would not be a great idea if she wanted to collect the eggs unless she wanted to do an egg hunt every day. When I was a kid we would let our chickens out to pasture every day and never had a problem with them laying eggs here, there and everywhere. They liked laying in the nest.
Every breed is different though. We raised mostly Rhode Island Red. They were docile, easy to handle, good layers and actually a good dual purpose bird. At a point when the chickens had gotten too old and tired to lay eggs we kept a few as pets. Our last one’s name was Amy who eventually turned Chickiana Jones when she hitched a ride on my dad’s Suburban and made it all the way to his office parking lot – 15 miles away! That was an interesting trip for my brother and I – wrangling a chicken in the landscape of our dad’s office building while all the engineers and other office workers watched through the front windows. When we finally cornered her we could hear their cheers through the windows. For an 11 and a 15 year old it was a little embarrassing 🙂 and an adventure.
If you are going to keep chickens you need to think about a few things first –
Size. What size chickens do you want to raise? Bantams are very small – about half the size of a regular chicken. There are also 4-5 lb, 5-6 lb and 6 lb and larger. The bigger the chicken the more square feet of coop, roost and scratching space it will need not to mention more food and water.
Eggs, Meat or Both? Egg layers raised from chicks will take at least 12 weeks before they start laying. Some may take 6 to 8 months before egg production begins. Chickens raised for meat will usually need to be butchered by 10 weeks. Dual purpose birds are a nice balance of egg laying and meat production. Either because of age or need you can butcher them. Though the younger the bird the better the meat, but not before 12 weeks.
Temperament. Do you want your chickens to double as pets or at least be easy to handle by children? Take temperament VERY seriously. My grandparents raised chickens for eggs and their roos and hens both were aggressive and not very social. Also, extremely shy or flighty birds would not be a good choice if you or your children want to handle them. How well a bird takes confinement needs also to be a consideration. For me I need to find breeds which do well in confinement since they will only be allowed to roam within the fence of the chicken tractor most of the time.
Egg laying rate & size. Not all layers are created equal. Some lay daily most of the year. Others lay only during certain seasons and not every day.
Heat/Cold Tolerance. Just like plants, and some people, not every chicken can withstand the same kind of weather. Living in the Midwest where winters can sometimes be harsh with temperatures falling below zero and biting winds I need to find chickens which are cold hardy.
Pullets or Roos. Buying from a local farm store or a straight run from a hatchery you get what you get. If you do some research and order online you can find poultry hatcheries with 90% to 95% gender selection accuracy. You may also be able to learn some tips online about determining chick gender – some breeds can be determined by sight alone based on markings. The tricks aren’t 100% accurate, but will give you a better chance of getting the right mix of roos and pullets in a batch of chicks.
Broodiness. Some chickens are more prone to want to sit on their eggs and rear chicks than others. They will sit on the nest without moving and stop laying more eggs. It is incredibly difficult to break a hen of broody behavior; you may just have to wait for her to get over it which could take months. If there are no roos – meaning no fertile eggs – you can buy fertilized eggs if you want to have chicks. Certain breeds are less prone to be broody.
These are my favorite breed selection tools – Not one of them has ALL the considerations I’ve talked about so I use them in tandem to help make the best decision.
BackyardChickens.com Chicken Breeds – make your selections on the right side of the screen
FarmCurious.com breed selection chart on Google Docs
Check out this chicken breed article from Kathy Shea Mormino from The Chicken Chick. It’s not a selector tool, but has very good and detailed information about what issues you may face when raising chickens. Plus, you get to see some really cool pictures of her flock.
I’m actually thinking about looking for someone who wants to reduce their flock and get rid of already laying hens. This way we can have eggs right away and benefit from the chicken’s natural habit of scratching and pecking. Of course, I’m still thinking about getting chicks too, because that was always fun when I was a kid.
If you were to get chickens what kinds would you get? Would you go for chicks or mature chickens?