Friday, January 3, 2014

How to Pick A Chicken Breed

If you are getting chickens for the first time this year, or adding some new girls to your flock, this article will help you to choose the breed, or breeds, that are best for your family.

Online Breed Selector

To assist you in this process, consider using the Breed Selector Calculator we created and posted to our web site. Just choose the criteria you want and the Breed Selector will show you the breeds that match your selection criteria. You can also view photos of many of these breeds at our Breed Photo Library. 
Image of the Breed Selector Calculator

Factors To Consider

1) Breed Type - Chickens are classified into three broad categories based on what owners want to do with their flock:
  • Egg Layers - These breeds lay white or cream colored eggs. Egg layers don't put on much muscle mass and are, therefore, poor choices if you intend to put them into the stew pot one day. While some egg layers can produce truly enormous quantities of eggs, others are more modest producers.   If you plan on getting chickens in order to consume their eggs, you may also want to also consider breeds that are classified as "dual purpose." 
    • Notable egg laying breeds include: Leghorns, Minorcas, Araucanas, and Anconas.
Leghorns Are Prolific Layers of White Eggs
  • Dual Purpose - The vast majority of chicken breeds are dual purpose. These breeds can be used for both meat and eggs. However, unlike "Egg Layers" they lay eggs with shells that range in color from light to dark brown and a few breeds will even lay eggs that are light blue or light green. If you don't care if your eggs are white, then dual purpose breeds are often an excellent choice for folks interested in keeping chickens even if their only interest is having chickens for eggs.  However, as the name implies, dual purpose breeds are also large enough to eat if you choose to do so.  
    • Good dual breed choices include: Australorps, Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks, and Stars.
Australorps
  • Meat Birds - As their name implies, these birds pack on lots of muscle mass and are intended for those who plan to use their chickens as a source of meat. Meat breeds will lay eggs, but generally in very small numbers and most birds are sent to the stew pot before they are old enough to lay eggs anyway (Under 6 months old). 
    • Cornish and Cochin breeds are notable meat breeds.
Cornish Chicken
2) Egg Laying Ability - As mentioned above, all chicken breed can produce eggs for your family, but there's a very wide range in the productive capability. On the low end, some breeds like a Yokohama will lay 60 eggs or less each year, while a champion egg laying breed such as a Leghorn will produce as many as 300 eggs a year.  There's a natural tendency to think that breeds that lay more eggs are better but this really isn't the case. If your family only eats a dozen eggs a week and and you're planning to keep 6 chickens, you don't need to select breeds that produce the most eggs.  We recommend that you first ask yourself how many eggs you really need each week and then work backwards to the number and breeds you need.  It is also important to remember that chickens will lay the most eggs in their first year of laying. As they age, egg production declines. To help understand how egg production will vary over time, we've created an Egg Calculator. Enter the breed and the age and it will give you an estimate of how many eggs you can expect over time. 




Phoenix Chickens Are Lovely To Look At But Aren't Great Layers.

3) Egg Shell Color - Chickens lay eggs in various colors including white, cream, light brown, dark brown, light blue and light green.  For many backyard flock keepers take joy in having eggs of various colors and choose breeds to give them this variety. Please note,  please note that the taste and nutritional content of eggs are not effected by shell color. 

  • If you like white eggs consider Leghorns or Minorcas. 
  • If you want light blue eggs Ameraucana or Araucanas . 
  • A breed called the Easter Egger lays a range of egg colors including light blue, light green and sometimes even pink.
Light Green Eggs From An Easter Egger Chicken - Photo by Andstobax

4) Weight - If you are planning your flock for meat or for a combination of meat and eggs, then the weight of a particular breed may also be important. Standard sized chickens range in weight from 1 pound for the diminutive Sebright to over 12 pounds for the Jersey Giant. Hens for most breeds weight between 5 and 6 pounds, with roosters weighing about 30% more. Naturally, breeds considered "meat breeds" weigh the most -- usually over 6.5 pounds.

5) Appearance (Standard versus Ornamental Breeds) - While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, some breeds are generally considered to have very attractive features. These can range from beautiful plumage to interesting combs or even feathers on their feet. 


The Phoenix Is A Lovely Ornamental Breed

Other Factors

Here are three other factors that you might want to consider but we believe these will be less important to most chicken owners. Use the Breed Calculator to make basic selections and then refine them by looking at the Breed Photo Library which also lists how each breed stakes up on the following:

1) Climate Considerations - chickens are remarkably adaptable and most will do just fine in any almost any location in the U.S.  However, some breeds are noted for their ability to do better in either hot or cold climates or both. We've noted this in our description of each breed in our breed photo gallery.

2) Temperament - Iowa Blue and Cubalayas tend to be aggressive and are probably not good choices if you are new to chickens or if you intend to have a mixed flock.  Almost any other breed chicken breed will work well for most owners. Most other breeds are very docile but some breeds tend to be more high strung and skittish, a characteristic chicken owners refer to as "flighty." 

  • Flighty breeds include:  Anconas, Appenzeller Spitzhaubens, Buttercups, Catalanas, Chanteclers, Hamburgs, Leghorns, Lakenvelders, Marans, Minorcas, Redcaps, and Spanish,.

We don't view flightiness as a serious issue for most owners but if you or your kids want to pick them up the birds or if you think that you live in an environment that is more subject to unexpected noise or visitors then you might opt for breeds that are considered "docile." 

3) Broodiness - broody chickens are ones that tend to want to hatch eggs. They are more likely to sit on the nest trying to incubate eggs even though they are not fertilized and may stop laying when they do. They also may complain or peck at you if you reach under them to retrieve eggs.  Broodiness varies by breed, individual and even over time.  If you are particularly concerned about this, choose a breed that is known to be less broody: 

  • Anconas, Barnevelders, Buckeyes, Campines, Easter Eggers, Hambugs, ISA Browns, Minorcas, Sussex and Wyandottes are non-broody breeds.

Comments & Suggestions

Have a comment or suggestion? Leave a comment or email us at Contact@ChickenWaterer.com.


"Fluffy" our Rhode Island Red Drinking From The BriteTap Chicken Waterer
Posting sponsored by ChickenWaterer.com, makers of the BriteTap poultry nipple waterer. The BriteTap chicken waterer shields water from dirt and poop. The water stays clean and there are no messy pans for you to wash out. 


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