Chickens 101 - Selecting the Right Breeds to Add to your Family

February 10, 2018

 

 

When you come to our family farm, we can help guide you into the best backyard flock that fits your family.

 

How many chickens should you get?

There are a few considerations about the number of chickens to start with.  If you live in a city, there may be ordinates that limit the quantity of chickens you may care for. 

 

When thinking about raising chickens right,  space cures so many health and  flock behavior problems.  Birds will need more space when it is hot outside to avoid aggression and bulling each other. 

 

Most box store coops give more than enough nesting areas, however, can frequently lack roost bar space.  This can be solved by adding an additional roost bar.  Ensure  your coop has 1 nesting box per 3 hens.  Chickens will share their nesting boxes with each other as long as your hen is not broody.  Each hen needs a minimum of  9” of perch space to sleep on at night per bird.  Chickens will poo the most when they are sleeping on their perch.  Helping  to ensure ventilation of the waste and cleanliness  will help if you are limited on space.  The more space the less ammonia in the air in their coop.

 

Chickens do best being able to forage during the day in your back yard. If your yard is not safe from predators and you decide to make a run, ensure they have enough space that their droppings are quickly absorbed into the soil or you have the time to frequently clean the run. The bare minimum is 10 sq ft run space per chicken.  You can make a chicken tractor which allows you to move the chickens around in your backyard to help the ground get fertilized, but moved before all the grass is destroyed.  Keep in mind that chicks are your bug eaters.  Pesticide on the grass will cause chickens to become ill and should be avoided.

 

Notate the  max amount of birds that your space restricts you to.

 

Select the right age.

Are you looking  for chickens as pets that bond with you at an early age?

Do you have the means to care for  chickens indoors?

Are you introducing new chickens to a flock?

Do you need eggs right away?

 

Does egg color matter to you?

Pink Tint Egg Layer: Salmon Favorelle

Sky Blue Egg Layer:  Cream Legbar Blue Egg Layer: Amerucana

Aqua Blue: Easter Egger (bred for aqua blue, may also produce  random colors)

Dark Chocolate Layers: Maran

Moss Green Egg Layers: Isbar (may have speckles)

Dark Olive Green: (Olive Egger (generation determines darkness) 

Brown Egg Layers: Bielefelder, Wyandotte, Barnvelder, Plymouth Rock, Brahma, Orpington,  Rhode Island, Sussex

White Egg Layers:  Silkies, Polish, 55 Flowery Hens

*White Egg Layers will have white ear lobes.

 

How many eggs do you want a week?

Once you know how many eggs you need over a certain period of time, you can easily calculate how many hens you need. For example, let’s say you need two dozen (24) eggs per week. If the city ordinates limits the number of chickens you can have to 6.  You will need your hens to average 4 eggs a week.

 

How many eggs do chickens lay? 

5-6 Eggs a week: Rhode Island, Sussex, Plymouth Rocks, Bresse

4-5 Eggs a week: Bielefelder, Salmon Favorelle, Easter Eggers

Amerucana,  Maran, Cream Legbar, Wyandotte,

Barnvelder, Brahma, Olive Eggers

3-4 Eggs a week: Orpington, Isbar

3 Eggs a week: Polish, Silkies

 

Are you looking for 4H or show chickens? 

Verify the breed  you get meets the standards for the  specific competition you want to enter.  Several gorgeous rare breeds are not yet recognized by APA (American Poultry Association), however, can be shown in exhibits and 4H clubs.  Inspect the chicken to ensure it meets the standards for his/her breed.

 

Do you want all the same breed, or do you want variety?

Some families prefer to have all the same breed as they come upon a breed favorite.   If you plan to have a rooster and reproduce your own chicks, it is good to have all the same breed to maintain breed purity.

 

Having variety allows for a colorful egg basket, being able to name each chick/ hen as they are easy to tell apart, and makes it easier to identify who is laying and who is not. This is perfect for those having backyard chickens.

 

Breed rotation is a popular flock cycling technique.  This is done by starting with a flock of all one breed.  Then, every six months choose another breed.  This allows the farmer to know how old the hens are based on the breed.

 

Do you want a rare or unique chicken?

There are several breeds that will stop friends in their track to admire based on the unique look or rarity.   These breeds are usually 4-5x the expense of a common layer breed.  Typically, those that live in the city and restricted to only 6-8 chickens like to add at least one rare breed as they become family pets.

 

Do you care about the feather appearances and colors of your hen?

Common colors are White, Red, Buff, and Black.  Blue and lavender are more rare.  In the chicken world, dark shades of gray are considered "Blue" and light shades of gray are considered "Lavender". 

 

Some of the feather designs include barred, cuckoo, laced, partridge, splash, and solid. The Barred Plymouth Rock design reminds me of a zebra where the black and white have an even pattern stripes.  Cuckoo is similar to barred, however the lines do not have an exact pattern. 

 

There are also type of feathers that can make a difference such as Silkies in which the feathers are more like hair.  Frizzles are unique in that the feathers curl up wards.  There are also chickens that have various crests such as Polish,  and  Cream Legbar.

 

Will my chicken stop laying eggs?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Production is highest in earlier years.  However, they do not stop all together.  Chickens can lay eggs up to 10 years, however, the eggs are not as frequent and most farmers will harvest a chicken at 2 1/2 years of age as the cost of feed versus the ratio of egg production declines.  If you are keeping her as a pet, she will still surprise you with an egg every once in a while.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once egg production slows, will you harvest or keep as a pet?

If your plan is to harvest the chicken, you will want to ensure the breeds you choose are heavy breeds that are considered dual purpose.  Those choosing this life cycle usually skip the  rare breeds and focus on more common dual purpose layers.

 

This is often a difficult decision for families that live in the city and only have 6-8 hens.  It is easy to grow fond of chickens regardless how many you own, however, when you have a small flock a deeper bond often forms.  Often families would rather keep their beloved chicken as a pet rather than harvest.  City ordinates may not allow for additional hens which then limits egg production as the girls get older.

 

It is a very personal choice.  Those that decide to harvest  want to bypass the cruelty in factory farming.  Through harvesting their chickens locally it  helps ensure they are not contributing funding the factory farms by purchasing chicken at the grocery store.

 

Do you want your chickens to work?

Chickens are hard working best friends!  Most families get excited about adding a chicken to their backyard for the delicious fresh eggs and personalities.  Chickens can work wonders in the garden.

 

Chickens are a natural way to control insects in your garden and around your home.  This is much safer for children and pets then chemical treatments.   In fact,  one chicken can clean a 120 sq ft area in a week and break the life cycle of pets and disease of a fruit tree within an hour.

 

Chickens are wonderful for fertilization.  Not only do they provide fertilization, they can assist in turning a compost pile and level a pile of leaf mulch.  You can use them to till sod as well. 

 

Chickens can convert 4lbs of organic food waste into a dozen eggs.

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