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Raising Chickens 101: Choosing a Breed

February 13, 2012

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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.

See the first post: How to Get Started Raising Chickens

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.

Choosing a Chicken Breed Beginner's Guide to Raising Chickens
by blessed1indeed

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.
 

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Elizabeth Creith has fifteen years of experience keeping chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys on her farm in Northern Ontario. She currently dreams of a new flock of fancy chickens. Elizabeth and her husband also have six and a half years experience running a pet store. On top of that, she's kept more animals than you can imagine from cats to cockatoos!

Comments

I am wanting to buy some hens

By danaree on October 23

I am wanting to buy some hens for eggs. Don't know anything about raising chickens, all this is new to me, does anyone have any good starter pointers for me as to what kind of hens to start out with for eggs, I live in Kentucky and would like to have eggs this winter

We live in Northern

By Anna Rainey

We live in Northern Georgia.In July my husband bought a hen and a rooster and built a coop and a fence. On Aug. 2nd , 12 chicks were born. We lost two to chicken hawks. Six weeks ago one died in the pen and yesterday another was found dead. What could those two chicks have died from? They are almost 4 months old.

Your advise sounds quite

By Janice Worthey

Your advise sounds quite solid. I have 4 Marans that were laying, but have stopped. Live in Texas and weather is changing, but not that much. Have Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rock and Black Sex links, which roam our backyard, then placed back in pen for the night in their coop. Others are still laying, just the Marans have stopped. Please advise.
Janice

I only want to raise 3 or 4

By Jere

I only want to raise 3 or 4 barred rock hens. Where can I buy that few of chickens?

Find some one who has

By Mykel

Find some one who has them.farm stores.auction,flea mrkt.note you can get old ones that dont lay so well or egg eaters. As thosr are good places to get rid of trbl.ive had gd luck

My pet chicken website out of

By Grace Williams

My pet chicken website out of CT. can send as few as 3. But, it depends on where you are. In Texas they will send as few as 5. Hope this helps.

Hi :) I really want to get

By I Want A Pet Chicken

Hi :) I really want to get chickens and never have really gotten any "farm animals" before. I want a egg-laying chicken that would be good for starters....Any Ideas?
Thanks
-Anynmous

Hi :) I really want to get

By I Want A Pet Chicken

Hi :) I really want to get chickens and never have really gotten any "farm animals" before. I want a egg-laying chicken that would be good for starters....Any Ideas?
Thanks
-Anynmous

Im just starting to raise

By Connor56

Im just starting to raise chickens but i dont know what breed i should get. I want laying hens. And i live in canada so it can get to about -30 in the winters and it can be +15 to +30 in the summers. So id like to have medium to large egg layers that could tolerate the weather and i have a coop already too. I just need a bit of advice to get my decision on the breed.
Thanks!

I live very close to a

By Village Dweller

I live very close to a mainline railroad. I would love to have a small coop with 4 hens. I am concerned about the railroad noise they do blow their horns as there is a crossing nearby as well. Can they "get used" to this noise without it disturbing production of eggs? I don't want to invest in a coop if I will not have eggs.

We would imagine that the

By Almanac Staff

We would imagine that the chickens would get used to it after a while (just like people do) once they feel safe, but it's hard for us to say.

I would like to say, I am

By jacobs

I would like to say, I am having a great time raising my chicks. we ordered our eggs believe it or not from ebay. Thought I would have a small hatch rate and ended up with a 99% hatch rate. only one was not fertile. Hatching was a time because my incubator would not keep humidity up high enough and ended up helping about 1/2 of the chicks hatch. we live in town so no roosters, but we did acquire the cutest little shed in town for free, and then on a local rummage site got a huge kennel for a run. I have 2 buff orpingtons, 1 white leg horn, 2 red sex link and 2 black sex link. The feed you get sounds really high, it is about 15 dollars here for a 50# bag. but then I have a small flock. I just love my chickens. I have an incubator full again of silkies that I plan on putting in a different area. they are just the sweetest things!

My family and I are going to

By Jules123

My family and I are going to venture into raising chickens! I live in North Texas and would like advice on the best breeds for this area! HOT summers and COLD winters! Any advice would be much appreciated! Thanks!

For a hot climate, Leghorns

By Almanac Staff

For a hot climate, Leghorns do well. It's a lighter-weight chicken.
For a dual-purpose breed, try Rhode Island Reds. They can take the heat. All the same, make sure you have places for shade.

I am 14 and want to start

By Lizzy T

I am 14 and want to start raising chickens!
I am excited about it but have no idea where to really start.
I read an Article In "Hobby Farm Home" about this lady who got 5 chickens and did not want a rooster because of the stories she has heard.
then she found a rooster in her batch and kept it because it was such a help!
i am wondering what kind of breeds to have since i am just starting, also what are your rooster stories!
ALSO.
Do i need a rooster?
I didn't think i wanted to breed them right away but i want them protected.
Where i live it gets hot in summer and REALLY COLD in winter!
what kind of breed is ideal for egg laying in those weather conditions?

thanks so much for the help in this article!

Lizzy, If you read our

By Almanac Staff

Lizzy, If you read our "Raising Chickens 101" blog, it covers breeds and all the basics. Go here: http://www.almanac.com/home-pets-family/raising-chickens-blog
Good luck! --your OFA editors

My grandmother was a wise

By Melody Sanna

My grandmother was a wise woman in raising chickens to lay year round in very cold Nebraska winters... Every nite give your chickens warm soaked cradked corn with oats and barley if you want but make it mostly corn and only what your flock can clean up before roosting. Feed just before they go to roost. The corn is a hot grain, so when they roost and sit on thier feet they stay very warm. Also, NEVER let them out on the ground in winter. When their feet touch cold ground they stop laying. We sold cases of eggs all winter in town and never had chickens stop laying. They need to have good feed, Warm, soaked corn, and a thick, clean bedding on the floor to keep thier feet warm. It works, I had a wood burning stove that I would put the corn/Oats/scraps on every nite after feeding the Chickens it would swell and be really good. Just make sure it isn't HOT, just WARM when you feed it.

Thanks so much Alan for the

By HomeGrownGirl

Thanks so much Alan for the site link and I'm not a blog reader, but this one gets me excited and so looking forward to the next, thank you Elizabeth. Hopefully you'll do one on ducks and their eggs and raising them after this.

I live in north Texas where

By Lloyd

I live in north Texas where last year we had 70 days over 100 degrees. I've raised Rhode Island Reds and Leghorns and Plymouth Rock breeds before in North Dakota. What would survive 100 degree summers and 20 degree winters?

we hatched some eggs recently

By Judy in Florida

we hatched some eggs recently and one of the baby's had a crooked beak what would cause this? Also how do you tell which ones are roosters when babies? We are looking for a Orphington Rooster. Do you know where we can gt these?

Here's a great a place to buy

By Alan Henning

Here's a great a place to buy all types of chickens:

http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/index.html

the easter eggers you refer

By Herschel W Gibbs III

the easter eggers you refer to are the arucaunas , sounds like you have the americanas a cross breed. if you have the tru arucaunas you're lucky I can't find a hatchery that carries them. I'm 67 and have been raising fowl since I was 10

Thanks for this, Herschel! If

By Elizabeth Creith

Thanks for this, Herschel! If what you say is true then even americanas are hard to get. I've found only one hatchery near me that had them.

Easter Eggers and Auracaunas

By AmyK

Easter Eggers and Auracaunas or Ameraucanas are completely different. Easter Eggers are basically mutts that carry the blue egg gene but they are not a recognized breed.

We live in western

By DONNAe

We live in western Tennessee.I love banties but it does get cold here(20's).My concern is they are too small to fly up in the trees at night,and we don't have a barn.What can I do? Thank you

Donna, your chickens will be

By Elizabeth Creith

Donna, your chickens will be fine in the 20s. Feathers are great insulation. They do need shelter from predators, if not from weather. You can build them a small sleeping shed, something little with perches where they are shut up for the night.

Thank you for the help, and I

By DONNAe

Thank you for the help, and I am enjoying your blog on chickens. DE

Teresa, my Arucaunas calmed

By Elizabeth Creith

Teresa, my Arucaunas calmed down easily, but started out flighty. I'd recommend against keeping a light on 24/7 - everything needs a night time!

Gerald, a lot of brown egg-layers have speckling on the eggs, but I didn't find a speckled-egg-laying breed listed.

Which beed of chicken lays a

By Gerald Jordan

Which beed of chicken lays a speckled egg?

The Welsummer breed of

By dude trkath

The Welsummer breed of chickens lays a pretty medium brown egg with darker specks.

I would have to disagree with

By Teresa F

I would have to disagree with her statement on the Auracaunas temperment - I have had this breed for MANY years - they are very amicable and always come running when I call them - keep a light on them 24/7 and they lay great year around!!! NEVER had a mean rooster or anything - chickens have been in my husbands family for over 150 years in the state of Indiana!!

I live in Southeast Idaho...

By Dina Anonymous

I live in Southeast Idaho... summers can get super hot and winters can get super cold. I live in town with some county property attached. I am interested in hens that are considered dual breed but mostly interested in eggs. I am not able to free range. I don't have electric available to the area the chickens will be kept so I need a breed that does not require heat in the winter.

What would you suggest?

Thank you,

Dina

If you have an enclosed

By jack childers

If you have an enclosed area/building that isn't too large and draft free a kerosene lamp lit at night will put out enough heat to keep them happy. Of course you'll want a heavy cold hardy breed as well. just make sure the lamp is secured,perhaps from a wire hanging down and above chicken height and away from any thing that would burn or catch fire.

Dina, we didn't heat the

By Elizabeth Creith

Dina, we didn't heat the barn. Chickens are well-insulated with feathers, and if they have a draft-free place to roost, they can usually keep warm enough to be comfortable and healthy. Where we live, -20 is not unusual, and sometimes the temperature went to -40. Shade and lots of water in the hot summer will help them stay cool.

I live in Southeast Idaho...

By Dina Anonymous

I live in Southeast Idaho... summers can get super hot and winters can get super cold. I live in town with some county property attached. I am interested in hens that are considered dual breed but mostly interested in eggs. I am not able to free range. I don't have electric available to the area the chickens will be kept so I need a breed that does not require heat in the winter.

What would you suggest?

Thank you,

Dina

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