Picking the right chickens is the most important part of developing your flock. Different chickens offer different things and with the wide variety in personalities, patterns, sizes and styles it can be difficult to pick which are best for you. It is best to begin by analyzing why you want your flock and then going from there.
Layers are hens. End of story. A hen will lay an egg nearly everyday without any help from a rooster. In other words, you do not need to have roosters to have eggs a hen will lay regardless. Prolific layers and breeds specifically meant for laying are your best options. Many also have calm and gentle personalities that make them fun to have around children.
If you live in a colder climate with more mild summers, your best bets are Ameraucana, Leghorn (White), and Rhode Islands. These are all common and easy to get ahold of in many hatcheries. Rhode Islands and Leghorns also do well in hotter climates.
These birds tend to be larger than dual-purpose birds or layers and are designated meat birds because of the meat they provide. Both hens and roosters can be meat birds, but most people prefer to keep their hens and only eat their roosters. Some may choose to keep hens till the molt, a period in which new feathers come in and laying stops, and then harvest them.
Excellent meat and game birds are Cornish or Indian Game birds. They are fairly uncommon, but not so much that it should be a struggle to get them. They are on average 8 lbs., and tend to be slow moving and unable to defend themselves.
Dual purpose birds are for those that want a good layer and a good meat bird. Many were formerly sought for the meat, but it was discovered that they were also good, if not excellent, layers and changed into dual-purpose birds. These birds also tend to be the most common on the market and easily accessed for the small farmer. Our household currently has two Orpingtons, two Rhode Island Reds, and two Barred Rocks, as well as two uncommon Maran chicks.
Common dual-purpose chickens include: Australorps, New Hampshires, Orpingtons, Plymouth Rock, Rhode Islands, and Wyandottes. Most of these breeds do excellent in all types of weather, are known for being hardy and robust and will lay right through the winter without being bothered by the cold.
I am also going to include the somewhat uncommon Jersey Giant. I had the pleasure of seeing one of these birds at the local county fair last year and was astonished not only by its size, but by the calm demeanor and temperament that it displayed. The owner was even comfortable opening the cage and allowing me to pet the bird in the middle of the fair ground. They generally weigh about ten pounds and grow to be quite tall. They are a very sweet natured and enjoyable bird to have around the home.
A “pet” chicken is not always the same as a well-mannered or gentle chicken. In some cases, people consider the flashy and out there silkies and bantams to be pets as they are stunning and beautiful yet serve no other purpose really than to simply look impressive in the yard. Some of the larger breeds, such as Plymouth Rocks and Brahma’s can be found in the miniature bantam, but most prefer to go for the out of this world look.
If you are looking for a space-alien chicken, consider purchasing: Black Frizzle Cochins, Silkie Bantams, or Faverolles.
If you are looking for miniatures of bigger birds: Barred Plymouth Rock Bantam, Brahma Bantams, Cochin Bantam, or Wyandotte Bantams.
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