Wednesday, November 7, 2012

chicken breeds revisited

I'm figuring out now that early ordering of chicks (as in pretty much NOW) is crucial to securing the breeds you actually want (from all the major chick hatcheries at least). Previously, I blabbered about what chicken breeds I would like to keep at the holler, but these choices were based almost solely on aesthetics and no actual applicability to our farm, environment, preferred keeping practices, and so forth.

So I decided to take a second look at what we actually want out of our chickens and came up with the following list of necessary attributes:

1. Foraging ability
2. Hardiness
3. Carcass weight
4. Mothering ability
5. Egg color
6. Beauty

1. It's not that I plan to not feed our chickens, but their home will be somewhat of a distance away from ours (about 100 yards -- that probably sounds incredibly lazy, I know), and they will have ample space to spread out and peck around for all manner of invertebrates, grasses, and grains on our (mostly) native, undisturbed soil. I'm willing to trade off carcass weight for less store-bought feed as long as they remain healthy and happy.

2. They need to be able to withstand cold weather -- it doesn't get crazy cold out here, and I'm perfectly happy to supply them with a heat lamp if it gets really nasty out, but they should be able to thrive in an non-insulated, clean but primitive coop without much assistance.

3. Slaughtering and butchering chickens is not one of my favorite past times (yet), so I want birds that give us our time and money's worth. Hence, heavy birds are preferable over lighter breeds.

4. I don't want to incubate chicks. That sounds really scary and fraught with heartache because chicks sometimes die (something I haven't encountered yet with store-bought chicks -- crap, not to jinx myself or anything). I would like to leave all that up to a hen if I possibly can.

5. I do still want the green/blue and very dark brown eggs, but two of my choices are not necessarily good mothers; however, I'm willing to intervene and assist their future offspring myself if need be in order to achieve this attribute.

6. It's fun having pretty chickens. Thus far, I've had the following breeds: Buff Orpington, Barred Rock, Delaware, Jersey Giant, Giant Cochin, and Golden Laced Wyandotte (I make it sound like I've had so many, but I've actually only raised eight chickens so far). It's nice to have a varied flock.

That all being said, this is what I'm thinking for our future lineup:


Silver Gray Dorking



I didn't show a picture of the Ameraucana because I'm still trying to understand the genetics and availability of trustworthy stock for that breed. Those birds are all about the green/blue eggs, and there's really no reason to keep them over any other similarly proportioned chicken breed, so it's going to take some research to figure out if they're worthwhile for our farm or not. (Keep in mind that Jay doesn't eat/might be allergic to eggs, and I'm not one to ever crave eggs anyway, so actual egg size/color/quality is not of utmost importance to either of us -- meat quality is far more critical. And yes, I know this totally contradicts my previous post -- what can I say, things change!).


  1. I went to the mother earth fair this year and the guy that had dorkings said they were a great homestead breed. Great layers, heavy enough for eating, they raise their chicks well and my favorite part they're friendly. The ones there were great. I have cochins but I ordered 25 dorkings for the spring.Heritage breeds are important for us keep around on small homesteads the old timers knew what they were doing when they developed the breeds.

    1. Good to know, Adrianna! A friend of mine also has Dorkings and vouched for them as well...

  2. I hope you try 'em all! I'm always curious about other chicken breeds, especially in terms of foraging ability. (Plus, you might become more of an egg-eater when your chickens are really foraging --- it changed our eating habits drastically!)

    That said, if you want to try Australorps (our favorite), and can wait until an off-peak time, I can incubate you some and you can pick them up when they're a day old and the weak ones have all kicked the bucket. :-)

    1. Yep, my plan is to get a few of each. Justin isn't actually allergic to eggs (that we know of anyway), but he tries to eat one once in a while and just can't do it. I would love to try Australorps, too! When you decide, let me know when you plan to incubate some and I'll gladly pay you for 2 or 3 -- we're on no set schedule.

  3. Have you thought about Brahma's? I guess the Light Brahma's are more common, but I like the coloring of the Dark Brahma's and have read Light Brahma's might be a bit more susceptible to hawk predation because they stand out more on the ground. They have feathered feet, which can be an issue where it is often muddy and freezing at the same time, but shouldn't be as much of a problem if they have lots of bedding/pasture. They lay fewer eggs, but more consistently year round (they do well in cold weather) - again, from what I've read. They have largely been bred for show, but a homestead breeding program focused on reducing time to finish (such as I've read on the ALBC - could be fun (I'm hoping to try it once I get settled on our forest property) AND they are large enough to actually have a nice roasting carcass. The size of carcass (though they are slower to grow) is actually one of the most interesting aspects in my mind.
    I don't know if you have considered including any of the Cornish varieties. The heritage ones are slow to grow, but I believe make great mothers and have the extra wide breast, if you prefer breast meat.
    Have you read Harvey Ussery's book, the Small-Scale Poultry Flock? I really want to try my hand at developing a homestead breeding program as described in his book (and utilizing the experience and expertise found at the ALBC website) for enhancing priority performance traits. Sounds like you also want to commit to developing a broody hen clan to help you out with sustaining your flock. Harvey also has a diverse breed homestead flock. (I learned about his book from Anna's blog, which is also how I found your blog.)

    1. Brahma's definitely topped my "maybe" list due to their size and appearance, but I didn't include them because I couldn't find anything that specifically mentioned their foraging ability, which is my number 1 requirement, but maybe I should dig a little deeper.

      I haven't delved into any of the homestead-oriented poultry books yet because I just haven't had time, but I know Anna touts Ussery's methods so I should probably do some reading.

      Thanks for commenting, and I'm glad you found my blog!

    2. I've seen anecdotal evidence that Brahmas are good foragers though they don’t tend to cover quite as large an area as a smaller bird (on the likes of backyard chicken forums and the like.) Basically I’m a ways off from getting birds myself (beyond the handful of laying hens I swiped from my mother and the couple of muscovies I picked up on craigslist) – so I’m trying to convince someone else to try them in a setting such as yours and then I can benefit from the experience!

    3. Ha, well I can't fault you for that! I do need to meet the minimum chick requirement for shipping so I might end up getting a few breeds that I'm not totally sold on but are more for fun and experiment than anything.

  4. In case you haven't seen this, it's a handy chicken reference: