Part I: Peeps or Pullets? Ways to Get Started in Chicken Keeping
Once I coerced Hubby Dear into the whole chicken keeping business and decided to start with chicks ordered through the mail, it was time to decide on a chicken breed. If you've never paid much attention to chickens before, it might surprise you to find out just how many breeds there are out there. The hatchery I settled on as the source for my chicks, Meyer Hatchery, carries literally dozens of breeds.
What should you buy? That depends on your answer to the following question: Why are you keeping chickens?
- Are you mostly interested in eggs? There are breeds out there that will reliably pump out 300 eggs a year.
- Do you envision your chickens mostly as a meat source? You'll want to raise chickens that dress out into plump carcasses and put on weight quickly.
- Would you like chickens for both their meat and eggs? There are breeds that are good for both, though they will not produce as many eggs as the best layers or put on weight as fast as the dedicated meat birds.
- Some breeds are better at foraging for their food than others. In the event that you have to completely free-range your chickens, it is important to select a breed that is active and does well outside of complete confinement.
- You'd want a breed that would go broody (attempt to hatch chicks on their own). We humans have removed broodiness from the genetic makeup of many poultry breeds. That's great if you want to create birds that lay continuously (broody birds stop laying and focus completely on their clutch of eggs), but that is not so good if you want to expand your flock naturally (ie. without an incubator or a hatchery order). It goes without saying that you'll need a rooster if you want fertile eggs. Chickens will lay eggs without a rooster, but it still takes a rooster strutting around the chicken yard to make babies.
- You would want a breed that agrees with your climate. Some chickens tolerate heat well; others are perky even in bitter cold. In a grid down situation, you're not going to be able to heat or cool your hen house artificially. And who wants to do that, anyway? Why not pick a breed that is suited to your climate and make it easy on everyone?
A last consideration has less to do with survival and more to do with you. What kind of personality do you feel comfortable working around? Some breeds are more flighty or have a history of aggression. Others are usually calm. Some breeds tend to be friendly and personable with their human caretakers while others couldn't care less about you.
After sifting through all these factors, we decided to select a dual-purpose breed that had known broody tendencies, does well free-ranging, handles cold weather and is generally docile. That still left me with many, many chicken breeds to pick from. In the end, I couldn't pick just one breed. I selected nine! We may decide later that a certain breed is our favorite and stick with it, but for now I can't help but smile in anticipation of the multi-colored display that will soon be pecking around my chicken moat.
These are the breeds we selected for our seventeen chickens:
Image from backyardchickens.com
Buff Orpington is the breed we ordered the most of. We want a rooster for our little flock and decided to purchase a Buff Orpington cockerel, too.
Image from backyardchickens.com
Image from http://chicksnchillens.blogspot.com
|Golden Laced Wyandotte. Could they be any more spectacular?|
Image from http://www.freewebs.com/djchooks/goldlacedwyandotte.htm
|Silver Laced Wyandotte - too pretty to resist!|
Image from mypetchicken.com
Image from redtractorranch.com
Easter Eggers are kind of an interesting breed. They are a bit of a mongrel breed that is kept primarily because they lay eggs in shades of green, blue, or pink. From what I've read, they vary on the outside just as much as the color of their eggs. Who knows if my girls will resemble the pullets pictured above?
|Delaware - The Thinker's pick for prettiest chicken|
Image from http://www.hobbyfarmliving.com/chicken-breeds-backyard-flock/
Image from washingtonfeatherfanciers.webs.com
|Barred Plymouth Rock|
Image from Wikipedia
Any good book about chickens will have charts detailing the attributes of the various breeds. My favorite chicken reference for this purpose is Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens. I found the hatchery websites to be very helpful, too.
If you raise chickens, what breeds do you have? Do you raise them primarily for eggs, meat, or both? If you don't have chickens but wish you did, what do you think you would do?