In the realm of talking about the Red Rangers yesterday, I thought I’d post “a few of my favorite things” in the chicken world. Because I am a Cackle Box addict verging on a crazy chicken lady, I’ve had probably more breeds of chickens in my coop than most so I thought I would share some of experiences.
I will start with a few general things when looking at breeds (because there are SO many!) and tomorrow post some of my favorite chicken breeds.
So here we go:
- Know what you want. Eggs? Meat? Dual Purpose? Cool colors? Good personality? There is no one chicken breed that checks on the boxes above perfectly but you can narrow things down a bit by knowing your goals. If you want a friendly, backyard pet to own for years, choose a heritage breed. If you need lots of eggs with less overhead for your business, choose a production breed. If you want to show chickens in 4-H, get in touch with an APA (American Poultry Association) breeder and buy quality stock.
- Understand Production vs. Heritage vs. Rare Breeds vs Hybrids.
–Production lines are what have been developed for the main egg and meat market—breed with very specific purposes in mind (lots of eggs fast or lots of meat fast). So if that is your goal–get some Leghorns or Cornish Cross and run with it. But understand that Production breeds aren’t the always best choice for backyard or barnyard flocks. Production egg lines are designed to start laying very young, lay tons of eggs and then be essentially tapped out by age 2—often dead of “old age” by age 3 or 4. If you want a long term layer that is also a pet, avoid them. Ditto for meat birds–Cornish are meant to gain very fast in confinement and be butchered by 6-8 weeks. They literally are not meant to live a long time and are not good candidates for free ranging and definitely not for long term pets.
–Heritage Breeds are usually your dual purpose (eggs and meat), hardy, “what your grandma” raised type breeds. Will they produce as many eggs or as much meat as a production bird? No. Is that ok? In most instances, yes. Most heritage breeds are meant more for eggs than meat, but some breeds produce decent size cockerals for meat production if you can wait long enough. What they do give you, typically, is longevity. While they won’t start laying as young or produce as many eggs a year, they usually lay over a longer period of time….laying eggs at age 7,8 or even older is not unheard of. A good choice if you don’t want to have to “cull” your pets every two years.
–Rare Breeds. These are rare because there just are not that many alive. And that means a smaller gene pool. Smaller gene pools often mean inbreeding and that inbreeding can produce a less hardy bird. We had coccidia come through our flock for the first time last summer and wow, did all my “rare breeds” fare super bad compared to the rest. Some incredible cool birds but beware of the potential risks (especially since the price tags are typically much higher!).
–Hybrid/Landrace/Barnyard Mix, not all the same but similar in that you typically get some good hybrid vigor from birds that aren’t bred just for a specific look or production quality. My strongest, hardiest, best laying birds are all mixes of some type or another. Don’t shy away from some cheap or free barnyard mix chicks–not only will you get a cool array of colors, chances are they will outperform the purebreds at the feed store.
- Explore your sources! Most folks start with chicks from the local feed store (and that’s just fine!) but ask around, there are lots of different ways to acquire new chickens! Hatchery catalogs are on par with seed catalogs for “winter entertainment” at my house and if you order at smart times of the year (not too cold or hot), shipping chicks via mail works just fine. Most areas have local show breeders who can source you some really cool breeds of high quality–a factor if you or your kids want to show. Just want some cool chicks at a cheap price? Well most of us with too many chickens will end up with a batch of barnyard mixes by June or so, so ask around and see what is available.
- Don’t be afraid to say “this isn’t a good fit”. Some breeds just are not suitable for your lifestyle, climate or overall farm goals and it is ok to downsize and adjust! Don’t be afraid to look critically at what is/isn’t working and change your plans from there. There is always someone who will buy what birds don’t work for you and it’s ok to take a hard left turn and work with something more suitable. Oh and jerk birds are JERK BIRDS–don’t ruin your day dealing with them and certainly don’t make more of them. That’s what stew pots are for. 😉
Anything else you would add?