Choosing a chicken breed is important. Here's the second post in a beginner's guide series to finding the right chicken breed for you.
When it comes to choosing your chickens, there are more breeds than you can shake an eggbeater at. One of the delights of this step is learning some of the breed names: Silkie, Showgirl, Silver-Laced Wyandotte, Rosecomb, Redcap, and Russian Orloff, to name a few.
Some things that you’ll want to consider include the number and color of eggs produced, the breed’s temperament, its noise level, and its adaptability to confinement. If you can’t let your chickens range free, the confinement factor is important for a happy, healthy flock. Noise level really matters if you do not reside in the country. Some sources advise against mixing ages, but I’ve never had trouble with older birds picking on younger ones.
Most varieties thrive in all climates, although some have special needs: Phoenix and Minorcas need heat, for example, and Brahmas and Chanteclers prefer cool conditions. Every breed produces eggs, even the so-called ornamental breeds, but egg size and production vary. Medium-production layers are plenty for a family. Bantam eggs are small; to complement their yolks, you’ll need more whites than most angel food cake recipes call for.
I kept Rhode Island Reds and Barred Plymouth Rocks, both of which are usually available from a local hatchery. These are docile, not particularly noisy, high-laying, dual-purpose breeds that take confinement well. They gave me 75 percent egg production—that is, a dozen chickens produced nine eggs a day while they were laying.
Another favorite of mine is the Jersey Giant. It is black or white, and large. (My black Jersey Giant rooster was 16 inches at the saddle!) The hens are medium- rather than high-laying chickens, but the eggs are larger than those of the Plymouth Rock or Rhode Island Red. This breed is calm and docile but needs more room because of its size.
Araucanas are flighty (not docile), but they thrive in almost any climate, take confinement well, and are quiet. Plus, the green-shelled eggs are a novelty. (One of my Rhode Island Red hens mated with an Araucana cock and gave me a hen that laid olive eggs!)
My dream team would include Easter Eggers. (Yes, that’s really the breed name!) They’re similar in temperament to Araucanas and lay blue or green eggs. It may take me a while to track them down, but—hey!—the dream team is worth it.
Next, we’ll address the nuts and bolts of building a backyard chicken coop.