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Choosing chooks - which chickens are best for you?

I had a question on the eight acres facebook page about what type of chickens I recommend (table and layers) and whether we keep them together. I thought it was a great question and I didn’t think I could answer that in one facebook comment, but it makes a great topic for a blog post....

 

Of course the actual ideal chicken for your situation is going to be different to my ideal chicken, but here’s some general points to consider:
  • If you are going to breed chickens, its much easier to have one breed or type of chicken to do everything you want chickens to do, then you don’t have to worry about keeping multiple roosters and keeping flocks separate. However, if you have the space to also consider multiple types of poultry, for example, keep a laying hen breed, and turkeys for meat. Or ducks for eggs and chickens for meat, that is another solution. Different poultry eat different bugs, weeds and cause varying damage to mulched gardens. One of the main ideas of permaculture is to have each element perform many functions and each function satisfied by many elements. It also aims to develop a system with minimal work, and keeping too many different types of special chickens is extra work!
  • If you are not intending to breed (and in my opinion, unless you live somewhere that you can’t keep a rooster, setting up to breed is the most self-sufficient option), then you can just buy whatever combination of breeds suits you, in that case there’s nothing wrong with just buying hybrid laying hens and meat chicks for maximum production (apart from the ethical issues of supporting this type of production model).
  • On the other hand, you could choose to support heritage pure breeds of chicken. The main problem with buying pure-bred hens is that most breeds have now been corrupted by the show chicken industry. They are bred for the way they look, not the way they lay, so you can’t believe any of the old statistics for egg-laying, although in general, the bigger the bird, the fewer eggs she will lay (and the better it will be as a table bird).
  • However, if you start with some pure-bred hens and start your own breeding program, you can start to select from the traits you want, and start to develop a breed that is best suited to your conditions. 
  • In that case, I would recommend a dual purpose bird that is also suited to your climate and predator conditions (for example, some birds naturally have more feathers for colder climates, and white birds are not ideal if you have a problem with airborne predators). Also consider if they will be free-ranging or kept in a coop, as some breeds have better temperaments for foraging and free-ranging.
When we first had hens, we just bought whatever mixed up hens were cheap at the market, we didn’t know what breed they were or anything. They laid well at first, and we bred a few chicks, and then laying decreased and the birds were quite small for meat. We started to learn more about different breeds and decided that we wanted to get Rhode Island Reds because they were supposed to be good layers and good table birds (for meat). We bought, at great expense (well it seemed expensive at the time), a quartet (a rooster and three hens) of Rhode Island Red chickens from a show breeder. Honestly, they didn’t lay any better than the mongrels, but they were bigger, so when we bred from them, the roosters were a decent size for eating.

Then we decided that we wanted hens that laid more eggs and our chicken-enthusiast friend bought us a trio of elderly White Leghorns as a wedding present, as they are a breed that has a reputation for laying eggs. The rooster, Ivan, was lovely, and they all had pearl earrings. We then travelled a ridiculous distance (one hour, one whole hour!) to buy four White Leghorn pullets to add some younger birds to the flock. They all looked nice, but they didn’t really lay any more eggs than the Rhode Island Reds.

some of the chicks we've hatched
Ivan did not get on with the Rhode Island Red rooster and to cut short a rather long story, we now have a mixture of Rhode Island Red, White Leghorn and crossed hens, most of which we hatched ourselves, as well as some commercial hybrids. We are trying to cover all our options here. We want to be able to breed our own chickens so that we can eat the roosters and keep the hens to lay more eggs. We want a breed that does lay more eggs and is adapted to our conditions, so we are hoping that hybrid vigour (mixing the two breeds) will help that, but in the meantime, a few commercial hybrids also maintain our egg production. 

What do you think?  What type of chickens do you raise and why?



By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at} gmail.com.




What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.


Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor



Comments

  1. Thanks so much for this advice. I am a complete newbie to this so any tips are good. I will be interested to see comments from your readers. Does diet vary much according to breed? (sorry if I posted this already - i'm not sure my first attempt worked).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. HI, you can feed them all the same, but the bigger breeds will eat more.

      Delete
  2. We have Isa Brown hens, used for laying. Absolutely love them. We free range these girls - very friendly and easy to handle, and they give us very big, brown eggs. No complaints!

    http://jbfamilyfarm.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  3. The best heritage breed layer I found was the New Hampshire. It's slightly smaller than a Rhode Island, so converts feed really well. I found they were more economical to feed than the larger breeds, and yet they still laid a sizable egg. I've never kept a rooster of this breed though, so don't know how good a table bird they make.

    If I were to start keeping a heritage breed again, I think it would be the New Hampshire. At the moment, we have some of our last hens we hatched, some pure Australorp, and some crossed with Isa brown.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. that's good to know Chris, its so hard to find information about pure breeds!

      Delete
  4. I've got some golden laced wyandotte. Terrible layers but pretty to sit and watch. I might check out some of them New Hampshire. And living in town I don't get to keep a rooster but I'd sure like to have a go at breeding my own chooks. I've also heard Black Australorp recommended as a good backyard chook for eggs.
    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. haha, they are all pretty though, but it is easy choose for looks rather than eggs :)

      Delete
  5. We had ISA browns, they were absolute work horses and layed just about every day, unfortunately we lost them both. We have a light sussex who is a consistent layer but gets broody too often. I have bought my first Barnevelder. They are supposed to be a good utility bird, but so far we have had exactly no eggs from her and she is getting close to 30 weeks old.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ah, I forgot to mention broodiness, can be something desirable if you want a mama hen, but otherwise, its just a pain when you miss out on eggs for a few weeks!

      Delete

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Thanks, I appreciate all your comments, suggestions and questions, but I don't always get time to reply right away. If you need me to reply personally to a question, please leave your email address in the comment or in your profile, or email me directly on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com

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