Choosing the Right Chicken
So the time has come and you are finally taking the plunge! Congratulations! Chicken farming can be very entertaining and rewarding. You may now be thinking, “Where do I start?” One of the first things you have to decide when heading down the chicken road is what you are breeding the chickens for. This decides everything from the breed of chicken all the way to how you plan your coop. For some (like myself) chickens are their pets. Feather babies, if you will. If that is you, then having laying hens might be what you’re looking for. For some who just want to raise chickens for meat, you would want to look into “heavy meat” broiler chickens. For everyone in between, there are dual-purpose breeds. These are chickens that are often kept for eggs for the first year, and then meat afterwards. Many large scale chicken farmers choose dual purpose breeds. Once you have decided on the purpose of your flock, its time to check out some breeds!
Meat chickens have been strategically bred to be fat and lazy to produce the most meat in the fastest time. The most common breed is the White Rock chicken. These chickens do not need a roost in their coop as they literally just sit around, eat like pigs, get fat and die. I don’t have much experience with this as I don’t eat chicken. But if this is your thing, these are your birds. They usually reach maturity in about 8 to 10 weeks. These birds are prone to sudden death, heart and respiratory diseases. This is due to the fact that they grow at such a rapid rate not natural for a chicken, and their hearts and lungs can’t keep up. They don’t possess natural chicken instincts. They don’t forage, dust bath, or scratch. They just lay there and turn feed into meat.
High Production Layers
The most common high production layers are the Red Sex Link, and the White Leghorn. They are hybrid chickens that have been specially bred to produce the highest amount of eggs most efficiently. They can also be used as meat birds, but primarily are for their insane egg production.
If you’re looking for chickens for meat and egg production, you’re looking for dual purpose. These hens are tried and true egg layers, that you can also use for meat. There are two main categories of dual purpose hens. You have your hybrids, and your heritage breeds. Hybrids, as noted before, have been specially bred be crossing different breeds, to produce chickens that make the most out of less feed. Most common are the Black Sex Link, New Hampshire X, Colombia Rock X, and the Red X. These are good, hearty, birds that lay prolific eggs.
Heritage breeds are where chicken farming gets really interesting. Most people picture the standard white leghorn when they think of chickens. But the reality is there is a whole plethora of chickens world wide that not many people know about. Most notably, the heritage breeds. These are breeds of chickens which have a lineage that predate the 20th century. Heritage breeds are pure bloodlines of naturally mated chickens, that are slow growing and have lived a long productive outdoor life. Back when our ancestors raised chickens, before industrialization became the norm, there was only heritage breeds. Now that these chickens have been brushed aside for the higher yielding, cross breed hybrids, many of them are in danger of becoming extinct. This is why I chose heritage breeds. Even though I do not intend on breeding (or eating) them myself, I feel it is important to support the farmers trying to help keep these breeds alive for generations to come. There is a HUGE amount of different heritage breeds (livestockconservancy.org has an amazing list), for the purpose of this article, I have pared it down to the more popular breeds.
Plymouth Barred Rock and Rhode Island Red -The most popular choices (and easiest to find) of the heritage breeds. These hearty birds are great dual purpose, kid friendly breeds. They are great foragers and egg layers.
“Easter egger varieties” (Araucana and Ameraucana) are more up and coming heritage breeds. These chickens produce lovely BLUE eggs! They are super friendly and very hearty.
Silikes are becoming more popular as well due to their hilarious, epically fluffy plumage. They are also great layers and generally kid friendly.
Brahmas, Wyndottes, and Opringtons are also very hearty breeds that are friendly and absolutely adorable. They are a bit harder to find than the others.
Chantecler- the only Canadian breed! On the conservancy’s list, it is under “Watch” of becoming endangered. This is a chicken bred for winter with almost no comb or wattle to be frost-bitten. A very hardy bird with a calm demeanour.
If you’re like me, it’s hard to pick just one. But that’s ok! If you’re not intending on breeding, mixed flocks are a great way to enjoy different breeds.
Whichever breed (or breeds) you choose, just be sure to make a selection that is suited best for your needs. Enjoy the often hilarious adventure of chicken keeping and all the many benefits those fluffy-butts provide