Thursday, March 04, 2010

Selecting a Chicken Breed


When we decided to get chickens, we knew we wanted a dual purpose breed, which means it's a breed that's good for both meat and eggs. Meat birds take about 10 weeks to get to butchering size but they never get old enough to lay eggs. Dual purpose birds take about 3-5 months to get to butchering size so that's a lot more feed expense if all you want is meat. Egg layers lay an egg a day and most will lay right on through the winter time although production may be reduced. However, they make a scrawny carcass that's not worth the trouble of butchering. Dual purpose birds lay an egg two out of three days and their laying almost stops in the short winter days unless you provide supplemental light. So if you're not going to be butchering that's a lot of feed expense for just a few eggs.

So one of the main things you should consider when choosing a breed of chickens is why you want to raise them. Do you want meat? Eggs? A little of both? Are there ordinances against butchering where you live? Would you be happier with a dual purpose breed or would you prefer to have a permanent flock of egg layers and then raise meat birds a couple of months each spring? Or do you just want the companionship and entertainment that chickens provide? In that case perhaps an ornamental breed would be better for you.

We also wanted a bird that was good at foraging. We have a lot of land and we figured the more they could feed themselves, the better it would be on our pocketbook. As you can see in the video, our chickens love to get outside even if the foraging conditions are, well, sub-optimal. They have a strong foraging drive. This is great for us but if we lived on a small lot in a town then we'd prefer a breed that is happy being confined to a coop and a run. The Sussex would be miserable under such conditions.

We also wanted a chicken that would occasionally go broody. The less we have to deal with incubators, the better. If you live with close neighbors though, you won't want a rooster because they crow a lot and they are quite loud. With no rooster you won't have fertile eggs so there's no point in having a breed that goes broody. That's just one hen that's not producing eggs: hens don't lay when they are setting.

We also wanted to raise a rare breed. The Speckled Sussex is listed as threatened by the American Livestock Breeders Conservancy. It is a dual purpose bird that lays brown eggs and has strong foraging tendencies. For us it's a great bird.

To help you pick a breed that suits your needs I highly recommend the Henderson's Chicken Breed Chart.


At March 04, 2010 9:03 AM, Blogger Leslie said...

Hmm. The video doesn't seem to be working. I tried re-adding it and no joy. I'll try again later. Sorry about that!

At March 10, 2010 10:51 AM, Blogger Teri said...

Leslie - it worked fine for me. I love it! My chickens wouldn't dare step a toe out in the snow - seeing these muddle through it is pretty humorous!

At March 11, 2010 8:08 AM, Blogger Leslie said...

Teri, thanks for letting me know it's working for you. Still not working for me... probably my browser (Firefox) or OS (ubuntu). Odd, that. Yeah I was surprised to learn how different breeds of chickens really can be. Mine are crazy about getting outside. To be fully honest, when it's that bad all they usually do is head over to the equipment shed and hang out in it, but they do love to get out.

At March 11, 2010 10:44 AM, Anonymous Dana said...

Love our little chickens! We went for dual purpose breeds, for the most part. We have one leghorn, and this year we got a few Cornish crosses for our first time butchering.

But the thing I like most about the dual purpose breeds is that for the most part, they are better at foraging. Ours don't take much feed at all when the weather is nice, though it is always available.


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