Chicken breeds are almost as vast as dog breeds (well maybe not quite, but there are a lot of them!). Just like dogs, different breeds of chickens serve different purposes and have different temperaments. Spring time is almost here and nothing says spring quite like a handful (or two) of baby chicks in the garage. But, before you start selecting your favorite pictures out of the hatchery catalog you need to ask yourself a few very important questions.
First – Why are you getting chickens? Are you looking for a steady supply of eggs, some beautiful garden ornaments, or some pets for your kids?
Second – Where do you intend to let your chickens sleep? Is your coop more like a chicken shack or a chicken resort? Either one is fine; you just need to know the difference.
Third – Where will your chickens spend their typical sunny days? Will they have a large yard to forage in, a field for ranging, or a small run attached to the coop?
Forth – Do you already have a flock of chickens? If so, what size are they and do you have room for more?
Fifth – Do you want a rooster or only hens? If you would like a rooster you should first check to see that your city ordinances are not opposed to you having a rooster. You should also understand WHY you want a rooster. Do you want to try breeding your hens to give you baby chicks? Or do you simply want a rooster for their pleasant singing and their beautiful plumage?
Having a solid answer and understanding to these questions will make your chicken breed choices much easier. I have raised a variety of different breeds, some very popular and some more exotic. First I will discuss the issue of owning a rooster (as this issue typically applies to ALL chickens, no matter what the breed) then I will give a quick rundown on the personalities and character traits of the different full sized chickens I have owned. Check back soon for a post on Bantam Chickens, my personal favorite!
The idea of a rooster always leaves me with very mixed emotions. Perhaps it is a good thing that I live in a town that does not allow roosters within the city limits because otherwise I would be really tempted to bring one home. The problem with roosters is that they cause a lot of problems! Some people hate their constant crowing (I happen to find it soothing) and yes, they do crow CONSTANTLY! A few years ago we ended up with 6 roosters out of our straight run chick order (straight run means the chicks are not sexed so you get whatever you get). They would typically start crowing at 5am and not stop until sundown. Of course all 6 weren’t hollering at the same time but one of the six was saying something throughout the majority of the day. Having only one or two roosters would not be as big of a nuisance but they are very vocal creatures.
Roosters can also cause a bit of hate and discontent among the hens of the coop. Any time you throw one beautiful man into a room full of broody ladies you are bound to have some bickering. Chickens, much like humans, can be pretty cruel to one another. Often times when a rooster is mating with a hen the hen will suffer some feather and skin damage to the upper part of her back. Her coop mates will often see this as an opportunity to pick an already exposed wound, causing her a great deal of pain, discomfort and even death.
If you would like a rooster for the purpose of breeding your hens you will most likely be better off having only one type of chicken breed within your flock. Unless of course you are very knowledgeable in the subject of chicken breeds and you are interested in cross breeding to see what kind of magical chicken will hatch from the egg!
I personally only want a rooster for their singing voice, their beautiful plumage, and their captivating mannerisms as they strut around the yard. Maybe one day…
Chicken Breed Review
Buff Orpingtons – My chicken owning days started with 8 of these beautiful gold colored ladies. They are large birds that are great for eating but are also fabulous layers, brooders, and mothers. My orpingtons lay eggs throughout the winter without a heat lamp! I can expect about 5 eggs per week year round. Orpingtons do well in cold weather because of their thick full feathers. These chickens are also one of the best selling backyard chickens because of their docile and even temperament. They act like a curious puppy dog when a human enters their territory. During the warm summer months while I am working in the garden I will often take a bag of rice krispies outside with me to throw at the orpingtons who are waiting patiently at my feet. They are also very comfortable with letting my kids hold them, dress them, and take them for wagon rides.
Silver-laced Wyandotte – A Wyandotte is similar in size and appearance to an Orpingon. Their heavy bodies and full feathers make them great cold weather birds for eggs and meat. Although their laying success doesn’t seem to be as consistent as an Orpington they are still great layers. Wyandottes, although not mean or aggressive are not outwardly friendly. I had two blue-laced Wyandotte roosters that were the most beautiful birds I ever owned.
Black Jersey Giants – As the name suggests, Jersey Giants are large birds making them great for cold weather and butchering. They are also good layers, sometimes producing VERY LARGE eggs! Their black feathers have a beautiful deep green sheen. Although Jersey Giant Roosters can be VERY big the hens are often only slightly larger than other large breed chickens (such as an Orpington or a Wyandotte).Their temperament is good, they function well in a flock of mixed breeds. Because of their size they do need a bit more room than their smaller friends.
White Crested Black Polish – Although Polish chickens are fair layers they are mostly just great for looking at. The large white pom-pom on the top of their head contrasts beautifully with their jet black bodies. Because they have such small bodies they are not good meat birds and may have a tendency to get a bit cold in the winter. They are much more skittish than less exotic chickens but over time will learn to adapt well within a large flock. One thing to consider: because a crested polish looks so much different from the more traditional farm chickens they may be at a higher risk of being pecked by the rest of the flock. I originally had 2 crested polish hens and the other hens never bothered them. One day a dog killed one leaving the second to live alone among more ‘normal’ looking birds. The pecking started and took months to overcome.
Leghorn – If you are looking for eggs and only eggs this is the bird for you! Leghorns are the egg laying machines that most commercial egg farms use. Their eggs are large and white, looking just like you picked them up from the store. Because all of their energy goes into producing eggs their bodies are small and rather unattractive making them poor meat birds. They also are not very friendly chickens and do not enjoy the companionship of humans, although they seem to do just fine in a flock of mixed breeds. I once had an old farmer tell me that his leghorn rooster was as good as a guard dog when it came to protecting the coop. His rooster wouldn’t let anyone or anything near the hens.
RHODE ISLAND RED
Rhode Island Red – As one of the all time most popular breeds of American chickens the Rhode Island Red is probably the best large breed chicken for egg production. They lay large brown eggs year round. Although not as friendly as their friends the Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds make good family chickens and are relatively comfortable with people and small children. The roosters are very beautiful ‘traditional’ looking roosters.
Dominique – Although these birds are classified as a ‘medium’ sized chicken they appear to be very close in size to the Rhode Island Red. Their egg production is good although not outstanding and they do manage cold weather well with their thick plumage and small combs. Their temperament and friendliness level is similar to that of the Rhode Island Red. Their markings are beautiful and they add great variety to the coop.
Americana –The Americana, often referred to as the “Easter Egg Chicken”, appeals to many chicken owners because of their colorful eggs. Egg colors range from turquoise to deep olive to various shades of brown. Kids love to look through a carton of eggs to find the green ones! However, Americana chickens may not be the best choice if you don’t have plenty of room for them to roam. Americana’s ‘fly’ much more than most other chicken breeds and are always looking for tall trees and high rafters to roost in. They are not friendly to humans and prefer not to be handled. Their egg production is fair and their medium sized bodies are not good for meat production. They are interesting looking birds that come in an endless variety of colors, they have thick necks and flippy feathers by their cheeks.
Red Star – Here is another great layer to add variety to your high production coop. The Red Star matures quickly so you will begin getting eggs from your chicks a bit sooner than with other breeds. They are hearty and steady layers through the heat and the cold. Although not entirely antisocial the Red Star is not as curious to check out the behavior of her human yard mates as others.Their red color is not as deep and distinct as the Rhode Island Red and they often have random white speckles on their backs.