There are just so many options when it comes to chickens. How do you choose? It took many years, lots of coops and money to find the ideal breeds for me. Not everyone has the benefit of living on a farm in the country where they can just build another coop to test out another breed. In this post, it is my goal to save you some of the hassle without taking away the fun. My Pet Chicken also has some good information on choosing a breed.
When starting out on the path to chicken ownership most are shocked to learn how many breeds and varieties exist. Books, websites and hatchery catalogs present a visual display which can be enticing and overwhelming. Often we find ourselves chasing after the fanciest and most colorful options. I know I certainly did at first! The availability of information and photos on the internet made the "chicken bug" even worse for so many of us. (Side-note: make sure the breed or variety you fall in love with is available in your home country!)
Choosing the right breed to start off with seems almost impossible. Here's my Top 3 list of most important factors to consider.
1. Consider Your Climate
Research breeds that were developed in climates similar to yours. Physical traits are good clues; large-combed slender breeds like White Leghorns and Blue Andalusians typically work best in hotter regions. Smaller-combed stocky birds are best suited for colder northern temperatures including Buckeyes, Wyandottes and Rhode Island Reds. Don't despair if you have your heart set on an Andalusian and live in Maine! Chickens are incredibly hardy and with a few minor adjustments most breeds can live just about anywhere. I know of one instance where a guy kept two bantam Easter Eggers while living in Alaska!
2. Consider Your Needs
Are you looking for a pretty lawn ornament? Egg producer? A docile new pet? A hardy free-ranger, or do you have limited space? Many breeds will fall into multiple categories and when combined with the other criteria your "possible ideal" list will narrow considerably. Breeds such as the Speckled Sussex and Buff Orpington both fit into many of the boxes on people's checklists. You may find that you only have a few requirements. In that case an assortment may be just the ticket. The first bantams I had were from an assortment bought at a local feed store. From that I learned that Old English Game bantams, Sebrights, D'Uccles and Rosecombs were to my liking.
3. Visual Attraction
An all-around great bird might not hold your interest long-term if they do not catch your eye. By doing your research you can find a breed that is to your liking - possibly even several for a mixed flock. You may even find that mixed-breed birds are your delight as they can offer wild combinations of traits. Personally I like something eye-catching. Chickens not only come in many colorations, but there are many with sculptural qualities as well. Polish and Spitzhaubens are both medium sized breeds that lay white eggs and are crested. I've had Polish for many years and find them attractive and a decent supplier of eggs. Cochins and Brahmas are stunning feather-legged breeds that come in both large-fowl and bantam sizes; the Cochin even comes in frizzled. Keep in mind that birds with fancy feathers often require special treatment or slightly modified housing.
Once you have narrowed down the list, research those breeds further. Visit My Pet Chicken's breed information pages or www.FeatherSite.com's online poultry encyclopedia. You may wish to go further in-depth by contacting clubs such as the American Poultry Association, and American Bantam Association. Breed specific clubs also exist such including Marans Chicken Club and Dorking Breeders Club. Local breeders and local shows are also great for gaining first-hand knowledge.
I have been fortunate enough to learn from several breeders and exhibitors over the years and continue to learn daily. Through this blog I will share what I've learned with you and maybe some of you will teach me a thing or two along the way. Poultry have been a part of my life as far back as I can remember. In my next article we'll get into how I got my start in chickens and other poultry and where this hobby has led me.