Monday, July 18, 2011

Choosing chicken breeds

I thought I would give you all a little insight today into the laying chicken breeds we got last week and why we chose them. I haven't done all that much research on any of them, instead  figuring that if I picked ones that others around here had, and ones that seemed like they would meet our requirements, I would end up with a couple breeds that really worked well here with us. I'll go through each of the 8 breeds we now have, and for those of you who missed my anticipating chicks post & my excited post once they were here last week check those out for more pictures and details!

One of the main things I was looking for was the ability to withstand cold (down to -30) temperatures in the winter, and hot (up to 100) temperatures in the summer. Because of this, I chose not to get the flashier breeds. We were also looking for birds that were able to forage, were friendly, and were good layers, and weren't too flashy/pale colored to avoid attracting predators. I also tried to pick dual-purpose breeds so that if 16 turned out to be too many, we could eat the extras!

Of our order of 25 chicks, 9 were meat chicks which we will slaughter & freeze sometime this fall when they are big enough, and the remaining 16 were 2 each of the following 8 breeds:

  • ameraucana
  • ancona
  • barred rock
  • black australorp
  • buff orpington
  • rhode island red
  • silver laced wyandotte
  • speckled sussex
Ameraucana: These are supposed to be very hardy, and especially cold tolerant. They can be broody, and the are supposed to be fairly tame. The top photo shows my fluffy cheeked little gal, who is pretty curious and friendly. The second girl looks kind of sleepy and shy, but is fairly skittish. These two had me guessing, they look really similar to the two speckled sussex (who are identical to each other), but not as alike to each other.

Ancona: These two girls are my favorite so far. They will end up being smaller than the others, and I don't know how hardy they will be. But they are really active, and should be good foragers and avoid predators. They are also the only breed I got that lays white eggs, which my husband requested. I figure on a day or so should do him, right? :) These are also one of the breeds that just really attracted me, I'm not sure why! I think I liked their foraging ability and their looks. We'll see how they do!

Barred Rock: These are supposed to be a very quiet bird, and so far, I really agree! My two girls are very docile and calm when I pick them up. And they also don't seem to care when I am moving around beside them in the coop, unlike some of the other breeds. They are supposed to be good foragers too, and from what I have seen of them going after little grasshoppers, I would agree with that too! We'll see how well they do in the heat & in the cold, but others in this area have them too, so my girls should do fine.

Black Australorp: These ladies have seemed pretty skittish for me so far. They are supposed to be cold hardy though, and good foragers, so hopefully they will do well here.

Buff Orpington: These are supposed to be a quiet bird, cold hardy, and they can be broody. My two girls seem pretty alert and not easily panicked. I know they can be hardy around here, but their light color has me a bit concerned about predators.

Rhode Island Red:
These have good egg-laying abilities and are considered hardy, and seem to do well in our area judging by other people around who have them. My two are rather skittish so far, but hopefully with more handling and exposure to me they will get better.

Silver Laced Wyandotte:  These should be cold tolerant and may be broody. I think the chicks are very pretty, and the adult pictures I have seen are also beautiful. My girls are fairly active, not staying still long, and not liking to be close to me.

Speckled Sussex: These are supposed to be calm and cold tolerant. My two don't seem very interested in getting close to me though! They are very pretty though, and they both look identical! I love the feathers that are coming in on their wings, they are going to be beautiful adults.

The consistent thing I looked for was hardiness. I'm just hoping that these birds will mostly be able to make it through our cold winters and hot dry summers. I would really like to end up with a couple breeds, or even one, that really work well for us. Longer term, if having layers works out and we enjoy having them, I think it would be really great to have just one or two breeds and have roosters also, so that we can incubate our own chicks, perhaps even to the point of selling chicks! We'll see though, it might be more work than we can handle!

I'm joining up to the Homestead Barn hop today, so hop on over to check out the goings-on on other homesteads all over the country!


  1. Of what you're raising, we own/owned the Buff Orpingtons, Barred Rocks, Speckled Sussex, & Silver Laced Wyandottes. Our temperature extremes aren't quite what yours are, but we do go sub-zero in winter and mid-90's in summer, and these gals have all done just fine. I find though that the heritage breeds are more apt to quit laying in the colder weather than a production breed like Gold Comets or Black Stars, so I like to keep a couple around so I get at least an egg or two in the worst weather.

    Sussex are our favorites, beautiful and friendly and their eggs are a pinky-brown and the Barred Rocks are wonderful too. The only thing you may need to watch out for is the Wyandottes are FLIGHTY! The clear our fence with ease and are often seen roosting high up in the barn. We resorted to wing clipping to contain them.

    Congrats on your new gals!! :)

  2. Oh, they are all so adorable! I love the way you're approaching the bird raising with such practicality. Enjoy your brood!

  3. You should really consider Dominiques! They are the oldest American breed a dual-purpose breed, and are VERY hardy and excellent foragers. They forage so well that in the summer they barely eat any feed at all. Good layers too. They have good dispositions and are very curious. I think you would be very pleased with the breed but make sure you find a reputable breeder- too many folks confuse them with Barred Rocks. Good luck!

  4. Cute chicks and good information. I hope to have chickens one day so right now I'm busy researching so I really enjoyed your post. Thanks!

  5. Quinn - good idea on the production breeds for the winter, I'll have to look into those for our next chicks! I'm glad to hear yours do fine in warm temps, those are some of the breeds I'm most excited for, and thanks for the tip on the wyandottes as we don't have a top on our outdoor run (yet!).
    Daisy - thanks!
    Megan - thanks for the tip on the dominiques, they sound like the sort of breed that would work out well here.
    Patti - glad you found it helpful! Have fun researching and planning for your chicks!

  6. I have anconas. They do just fine in super cold winter temps. They are supposed to be non-broody, but I have one hen who is broody more often than not. They started laying early, and in the middle of february; they don't seem to have a winter slow down in egg production, though they quit while molting, and often all quit when that one hen goes broody. They still lay at around 3 years old. After three years, they are still skittish - one just panicked and flew out of the coop over my head and was "free range" for four days. I live in the city; birds are not legal to free range. She did just fine out in the wild, so they are good foragers. They can fly like a grouse, however.

  7. Thanks megan for the info on the ancona's, its definitely relieving to hear about the cold temps, I'm getting really attached to those two! I'll have to keep them & our hunting dogs well apart from each other if they start flying around outside of their run though! :)

  8. How adorable! I hope to get chickens one day. :)



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