Thursday, August 21, 2014

Chickens - Which Kind to Keep?

The big question you need to ask yourself is: what you will be using your chickens for? 

Pepperann (back) and Buffy (front) are Plymouth Rock, and Red Star hens. They are considered to be dual purpose birds, as they are a heavy-bodied breed, suitable for eating, as well as good egg-layers.

The three main uses for chickens are meat, eggs, and showing. More often than not a breed of chicken will fall under two of these categories.

  • Meat chickens are heavy bodied, muscular birds, which typically grow quickly.
  • Egg laying birds are typically light bodied, and may lay up to 7 eggs in a week, although it is more typical to lay 4 or 5 per week to qualify as an excellent egg-laying hen.
  • Ornamental breeds are bred for specific unique characteristics such as color, long or uniquely shaped feathers, feathered feet, or tiny size.
  • Dual-purpose birds are those who fall into more than one category. It is possible to have a dual purpose bird which is heavy bodied, but is also a productive egg layer. It is also possible to have an ornamental bird which lays eggs or makes a decent fryer bird.
If you decide upon keeping chickens for meat, be prepared to see those cute little chicks grow up and be slaughtered. It's not an easy thing to do, so prepare yourself thoroughly. Meat birds are typically slaughtered when they are relatively young. Modern dedicated meat birds have been selectively bred to get huge in a short period of time. The older the bird, the tougher the meat, so it comes in handy to have a young bird which is ready to slaughter early. The decision to be made here is if you want a large chicken or a small chicken. Cornish rock chickens get to be very large, while Cornish game hens stay smaller. Another choice to make is if you are going to raise a modern breed or a heritage breed. Modern breeds tend to grow faster and, therefore, are ready to slaughter at a younger age. Heritage breeds grow a bit slower, but make tastier table birds.

Two-Piece is a White Leghorn hen. Leghorns are excellent egg-layers, but lack the body mass to be a roaster chicken. If considering keeping Leghorn chickens, bear in mind that they are a very loud breed!

If egg-laying is what you desire, there are a plethora of birds to do the job! The first thing to look at is how many eggs your family consumes in a week's time. If you seldom eat eggs, you will want to look into a slower laying breed. The next thing to look at is what size eggs you would like. Chicken egg sizes range from peewee to jumbo. If you do a lot of baking, a large or extra large egg is what you should look for. If you are just looking for eggs to cook up for breakfast or to boil up for a snack, any size will do. You could also factor egg color into your decision. Chickens have been known to lay white, cream, tan, dark brown, green, or blue eggs. Consider, also, if you want the birds just for egg-laying or if you would like to slaughter them. There are some great heavy-bodied birds that are champion egg-layers too! The last thing to think of is whether or not your hens will go broody. A broody hen will lay eggs (or steal them) and sit on them to hatch them. If you have a rooster and you would like your chickens to propagate, this is fine. If, however, you are interested only in having the eggs for food, this behavior may be undesirable. Not only is it difficult to get eggs away from a broody hen, but the hen will stop laying while she is sitting on the eggs, and it can often be difficult to break a hen of her broodiness.

The last category of chicken to consider is the ornamental category. If you are looking for a fun and flashy pet, or a breeding and showing hobby, these are the birds for you! The first thing to contemplate with ornamental birds is whether they will be for breeding and showing,  just a pet, or a useful pet. The next thing to consider is whether or not your need of chicken will require any special care. Long or delicate feathers may become damaged easily, feathery head crowns may obscure vision and make a bird more susceptible to predators. If you're chicken will be a pet, it's attitude and flightiness must be considered, as well as its noise level.

A good, short, yet comprehensive list with information on chicken purposes, egg-laying ability, temperment, size, and cold-hardiness can be found here:

My Pet Chicken Breeds List