Thursday, February 27, 2014

Chicken Breeds

It must be spring 'cause I'm starting to get emails asking which breed of chicken is best to buy. As with just about all advice when it comes to homesteading.....it depends. 

Years ago when I placed my first chicken order, I was looking for meat birds. So I ordered Cornish crosses. They are great little meat chicks, but require extra attention to rear them if you wish to give them quality life. I haven't raised them again only because I don't need plump little roaster chickens anymore. For the right people, they could be the right chicken. They are for meat only, not eggs. 

The following year I wanted to get into producing eggs. I wasn't sure which breed to get, so I ordered Rhode Island Reds because they were a traditional chicken.
Rhode Island Red hen     (Photo from bestofcluck.com)
I also ordered Black Australorps because someone told me that they were their favorite egg layer.
Black Australorp hen      (Photo from backyardchickens.com)
 I found the Rhode Islands to be pretty good birds and still like the breed to this day. They are pretty reliable although not the most productive layer of the biggest eggs. But they can forage on they own fairly well. They are friendly with people though a bit pushy with the other hens. The Black Australorps were great egg layers their first year. The second year they strongly became broody. I got very few eggs. But if I wanted to rear chicks using hens, this breed as older hens make very broody mothers. A fine choice. 
Buff Orpington hen         (Photo from thekuhnfamilyfarm.com)
The next year I tried ordering a Buff Orpingtons and Barred Rocks. Both breeds are fairly nice eggs layers, much like the Rhode Island Reds. The Buff Orpingtons were very docile and friendly. Not real good on self foraging because they didn't seem to realize that there dangerous things that go bump in the night. I eventually lost them all to the hawks. 
A Barred Rock pullet, a young hen. (Photo from mypetchicken.com)
The Barred Rocks were people-friendly but a bit more cautious of the hawks. A nice breed I'd rank right up there with the Rhodies. 

Next I tried White Leghorns and Aracaunas (Easter Eggers).
Typical white leghorn hen.     (Photo from blueribboneggs.com)
 The leghorns were flighty nervous nellies. But man could they produce eggs! One every day. And BIG! Scrawny looking hens that were quick to peck me, but I liked the egg production.
Aracauna pullet with egg. (photo from Flickr)
 The Aracaunas turned out to be good egg layers too,but not as many as the leghorns. I like Aracaunas so they will always be in my flocks. Good layers of nice sized eggs. Most of the eggs are greenish to some degree or other. Some are light blue. Some have more olive tones. 

Next I tried Red Sex Link (McMurray's variety is called Red Star), a red production mix. 
Red Star hen (photo from cacklehatchery.com)
And also the Black Sex Link (McMurray's variety is called Black Star), a black production bird. 

Now these two really can pump out the eggs! And big eggs too. But I find that by the third year they drop way back on egg production. So they are not long life egg layers. Two, maybe three years at most, then they need to be retired. But I don't think you can beat them for the first two years, great birds. 

Every time I order chicks I like to get some breeds I haven't had before. So this year I'm adding Cuckoo Marans and Delawares. I like variety. I have a friend who sticks with one breed and one breed only. Not my cup of tea. So this year's chick order will include a few replacement Leghorns, Barred Rocks, Red Stars, and Black Stars. Plus the new Cuckoo Marans and Delawares. 

So which breed should I tell people to get? Gee, I'm not a good one to ask because, as you can see, I go for variety. But it really depends upon what the person is looking for. What's the priority? A friendly hen? One that can survive by just foraging? Jumbo sized eggs? Lots of eggs but smaller? Brown eggs? White eggs? Green eggs? Broody hens to rear your own chicks? Non-broody hens so that they don't quit laying? Just meat birds? Or dual purpose giving you some eggs and some meat? 

2 comments:

  1. I guess I gotta ask - so, no roos? When the egg count drops, when do you cull and who gets to do the processing? Hey, I get the circle of life, it's not Disney, but lots of variability here...

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  2. No Roos because most of them crow in the middle of the night. Around here we don't have chicken coops to close up the chickens in at nighttime. Chickens either run free or are in pens without coops -- too warm here in most areas.

    Who gets to process the culls? The farmer! On my place, that means me. Hubby is no farmer. He won't eat anything that he knows who it was. No way would he voluntarily slaughter and butcher something. He hasn't progressed to that point yet. His reasoning, "That's what I've got a wife for!"

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