Saturday, February 28, 2009

Around the Homestead - Choosing Chicken Breeds

I've been wanting my own clutch of chickens ever since we were married. We always said that we would get chickens when the children were old enough to help with them. With our daughter turning five soon, that day has arrived!

Last summer, our neighbor was downsizing her animals and sold us one of her small sheds. We moved it to our pasture and Ed put in some large windows and built nesting boxes. We attempted to hatch some eggs in an incubator last fall with no success. We decided to wait until spring and purchase some chicks.

As the first animals we are adding to our property, (besides the steers my dad brings over in the summer to clean up our pasture) we expect these chickens to be more pets then livestock. If we were just hoping for productive egg layers or fryers, we would have ordered chicks from Pinola Hatchery as they have a reputation for great chickens. But I was hoping for a unique chickens and began looking into some of the heritage breeds. I'm writing about it here, just in case someone else would benefit from our research.

We had numerous goals when choosing a chicken breed.

1. Broody – If possible, we would like our chicken flock to be self reproducing. Many of the heritage breeds are good mothers, unlike some of the modern crosses which are feminist and refuse to reproduce! We do realize that this will cut down on our egg production while the hen is sitting.

2. Dual Purpose – We wanted a breed that was not only good layers but also a good eating breed so that we could butcher the roosters. (Isn't it awful to be male!)

3. Cold Hardy – A breed that would survive our cold weather and continue to lay in the winter.

4. Gently Disposition – Since we want our children to enjoy our chickens, we wanted to avoid flighty breeds and aggressive roosters.

5. Large brown eggs – I love the little bantam hens but wanted a larger egg and prefer brown.
6. Free range – We hope to let the chickens out to forage for part of the day. We wanted a breed that would be adaptable to confinement and free range.

In researching chicken breeds, we found several helpful websites. Besides several hatcheries (who often send free catalogs), My Pet Chicken had helpful information. I'm sure you can find many more, though specific sites slip my memory right now.

Evaluating the numerous breeds with the above criteria in mind, we narrowed down the selection to Speckled Sussex, Delaware, Silver Laced and Golden Laced Wyandotte, Black Australorp, Buff Orpington, Dominiques, and Partridge Rocks. Each of these breeds are reported to fulfill our desired qualities for an ideal chicken.

We eventually further narrowed down the choices to three: Speckled Sussex, Black Australorp, and Partridge Rocks. Really we had no greater motivation in our final choice then that all three of these breeds are darker in color. Ed says that they would have greater camouflage, which may be important as we often see hawks in our area! Whether we chose the best breeds is yet to be known but we are excited about learning first hand about these chicken breeds and hopefully by next spring we will have a better informed first hand opinion!

I was a little nervous about mail ordering chicks but that was the only way we knew to get the breeds we desired. We looked into several hatcheries including Meyer's, McMurray's, and Hoffman's. We decided to place an order with the Murray McMurray Hatchery as they have the best prices for rarer breeds and seem to have a good reputation. Most hatcheries like to send at least 25 chicks in an order for warmth. Chicks do not need to eat for the first three days after hatching. Mail order hatcheries send chicks on the day they are hatched, to be picked up at your local post office. Since we didn't think we would need 25 laying hens, we ordered 15 hens and 10 roosters in a combination of the three breeds we had chosen. We plan to pick out our favorite rooster (by appearance, disposition, and crowing ability) and either sale or eat the remaining roosters, since we don't desire to add cock fighting to our homestead entertainment!

So that is our story of choosing a chicken breed, the first chapter in our chicken adventure! Our chicks are slated to arrive in two weeks, so stay tuned! If you have any tips on raising chicks, I would love to hear them!


  1. Thanks to this blog. I've been searching for chickens too. Well, my son wants them, and he's looking for chickens that he hasn't seen on TV yet. So I went to this site and found some rare breeds like the Buckeye or some look-alike. Here's the site:

  2. Hi Gina - I found your blog while doing a google search for "Pinola Hatchery". Are you from the Shippensburg area?

    My husband and I live here in Shippensburg, and we just got 75 broiler chicks from Pinola ten days ago. They were supposed to live in our daughter's chickenhouse out on highway 11, but right now they are under a brooder in our garage (which isn't exactly legal, because we live in the borough!) because the friend who is installing the electrical wiring in the chickenhouse hasn't gotten around to doing it yet.H
    opefully by next week they'll be where they belong, LOL!

  3. Cynthia-
    I'm not from Shippensburg but close enough that I picked up chicks there ten days ago as well! This is our first try at meat birds!

  4. Thank you for sharing your research. I am just starting to gather information and this was very helpful. Your blog is a very pleasant place to visit.


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