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Wise Choices in Chicken Breeds

| 10/17/2017 10:33:00 AM


Once prospective chicken owners decide on setting up their own coop, the next question is usually, Which breed should we choose? The variety of chicken breeds offered by hatcheries is dazzling, and it’s often difficult to make a decision. So, which breed?

The answer, like with so many other things, is it depends - on what you want to get out of chicken-keeping, your local climate, how much space you have available, and your budget. The most popular reason for keeping chickens is eggs, but some people raise their own meat birds, and other focus on heritage breeds and hatching chicks for sale.

For eggs, I always recommend sturdy reliable egg-layers such as Rhode Islands, Plymouth Rocks or Sussex. These are actually dual-purpose breeds which won’t put on weight as quickly as commercial-raised meat crosses, or lay eggs as soon as commercial layers, but will have a longer and more productive life on the homestead or small traditional farm where the same flock often provides both eggs for breakfast and chicken for the crockpot.

White Leghorns are generally considered to be the champions of egg-laying, and indeed, they lay remarkably well and their eggs are large – however, one must also take into consideration that they eat a lot. Right now I have two White Leghorns and five other adult chickens (plus a number of younger birds), and the Leghorns, as far as I can estimate, eat (and poop!) as much as all the other chickens combined. I also find their eggs a little bland-tasting, and have observed that they are prone to have thinner, easier to crack shells (even with a calcium-rich diet). However, if you just want to have plenty of eggs and don’t mind chickens that are champions at gobbling up feed, Leghorns might very well be the breed for you.

Climate is yet another important consideration. We adore Brahmas for their docile temper, gorgeous plumage and impressive size, but this cold-hardy breed, unfortunately, doesn’t do very well in our hot climate, and is susceptible to heat stroke, especially in young birds. On the other hand, Brahmas may be the very thing for people who live in cold climates – while Leghorns and other Mediterranean breeds, with their large combs that are prone to frostbite, will probably do better in milder weather.

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