As many experienced chicken keepers will know, the spring and summer times are extremely busy as we like to add chickens to our flock. This is also the time when beginners tend to start keeping chickens for the first time. With over 100 different breeds of chicken, choose the right one can be an overwhelming thought.
In this guide we will talk you through the key things you need to consider to make sure you pick the perfect chicken breed for your needs.
Step 1: Eggs, Meat or Both…
Generally speaking most breeds of chicken can be broadly split into either egg layers or meat birds. There are also combinations of both which are known as dual purpose chickens. So before you go any further you need to decide why you want chickens. By far the most common reason people want chickens is for the eggs, so generally I’d recommend beginners to get either an egg laying or dual purpose breed.
Step 2: Is Your Climate Suitable?
Next up is making sure the chicken breed you’re interested in can be kept in your climate.
Certain breeds of chicken, such as Minorcas, are known for being able to tolerant hot climates. Whereas other breeds, such as Plymouth Rocks, are known for being able to survive very cold climates; most breeds fit somewhere in the middle. With many being able to tolerate both mild and warm climates. Generally a good rule of thumb is if there are local breeders who sell that specific breed then it’s good to keep in that climate.
Step 3: Do You Have Enough Space?
Keeping chickens in cramped conditions is a surefire way to upset them and encourage unwanted behavior such as bullying and feather picking. If you’re planning to keep your chickens in a small pen then you should choose chickens that don’t requirement much roaming space, such as Polish. Likewise if you don’t want a particularly large coop you should choose small chickens that don’t need as much roosting space, such as Bantams. As a rule of thumb the average chicken needs 15 square foot of roaming space and 4 square foot of coop space; make sure you can provide enough for the chicken breed you’re interested in.
Step 4: What Temperament Do You Want?
More and more people are starting to get chickens as pets now, as opposed to purely ‘livestock’. More traditional breeds such as Rhode Island Reds and Leghorns will generally keep to themselves and be fairly timid around humans. Don’t get me wrong, they will perform their duty of egg laying but don’t expect them to come running over when you appear near their coop. Whereas Silkies will come and greet you. They are known as a lap chicken and as the name suggests they will happily sit in your lap whilst you stroke them and feed them treats. Suffice to say that, like humans, chickens have different temperaments and you should make sure the breed you’re interested in matches your expectations.
You don’t want to get a breed such as Marans, which are known for being incredibly skittish and then be upset that you can’t pick them up and stroke them.
Step 5: What Appearance Do You Want?
Similar to the section on temperament above, you need to consider the purpose of why you want chickens and what you want them to look like. If you want to keep ‘traditional’ looking hens then something like the Barnevelder will be perfect for you. However if you’re looking to be the envy of your neighbors and get compliments on your chickens then a ‘fancy’ breed such as the Sebright Chicken will do. Remember with the fancy looks comes maintenance. For instance with a Polish chicken (known for its fancy hair-do) you will need to groom them to stop their feathers covering their eyes.
Step 6: How Much Do You Want To Spend?
The final point of consideration is the cost of your chickens; both the purchase and running bills. Most common breeds are available to purchase for under $4 per chick. However, rarer breeds can command prices up to $150 per chick. Also you should consider the feed cost. Larger breeds such as Jersey Giants can eat up to three times the amount of a regular egg layer such as Rhode Islands. This should all be considered.
The key takeaway here is to remember that like humans, chickens are unique and each has their own care needs and requirements. Each breed can offer you something unique.
Are you looking for an affectionate chicken than stays indoors with you? Or are you looking for a hardy ‘working’ chicken that will lay plenty of eggs for you. One thing is for certain there is a breed for every circumstance. Best of luck on your chicken journey, and let us know in the comments which breed you decided to get.
David is an off grid enthusiast and when he isn’t building log homes he can be found tending to his homestead. He is a third generation chicken keeper and keeps a flock of over 20 chickens.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.