I was in a farm store this past weekend, where a customer asked for two Rhode Island Red and two Australorp chicks. It was all I could do to hold my tongue and not blurt out, “Wait, stop! There’s a better way!”
When picking your chicks, a little pre-planning can really pay off and make you a happy chicken keeper.
Worldwide, there are more than 300 recognized breeds of chickens. And, through my experience, there are some really cool breeds that you might want to consider. But, before picking out your breeds, here are five considerations that will serve you well in the chicken world.
Whichever breed you choose, when selecting your chicks, make certain they are “sexed.” Meaning, the odds are in your favor that you will get females. If you purchase “straight run” the odds of getting cockerels/roosters are much greater. I know chickeners who purchase straight run, (usually at a lower price than “sexed chicks”) and end up processing (nice word for butchering) the cockerels once they mature. If this is what you want, go for it!
COLD or HEAT HEARTY?
In our area, there are very few breeds offered at D&B that wouldn’t thrive in our winters or summers. The girls with single combs can run into frostbite issues in frigid temperatures. But, by and large most breeds handle our seasonal extremes.
BUY IN PAIRS
When getting chicks, because they are flocking animals, always buy them in pairs or more. If you buy a single chick to add to an existing flock of chicks, there could already be a pecking order established. The new chick will suffer for this. If you buy in pairs, the two will stick together.
CHECK AREA D&Bs FOR BREEDS
Do your homework and know which breeds are arriving at all the D&B stores near you. There are 13 stores in Idaho and Oregon, (with a brand new store in Emmett!) It might take a little bit of “running around” but you could pick up six different breeds of chickens in one day, as each D&B has different chicks on order. Pick up a schedule of when various breeds will arrive. If you do get all your chicks on one day or one weekend, it’s okay (for instance) to get just one chick from the La Grande store and the rest from the Baker City D&B.
Each D&B Supply orders their own chicks based on their community needs. Please call your favorite store to find out more details on breeds and delivery dates.
BUY ONE OF EACH BREED
Finally, determine the number of chicks you want and get one of each breed. The obvious benefit is you as a chicken keeper can experience various breeds and get a feel for what you like. The most important benefit is that you can directly track your hen’s health through her egg production. If you get six different breeds, it’s likely each will lay a different colored egg. If at some point, you stop finding a green egg in your nest box, it’s a good bet your Ameraucana is either sick, going into a molt or … just being stubborn.
SOME OF MY FAVORITE BREEDS
There are so many wonderful breeds of chickens, that it is hard to say which is my favorite. Each has a distinct personality, and some even have some quirkiness to them. Did you know the Salmon Faverolle has an extra toe? She’s a great little chicken that lays a white medium sized egg. The Buckeye chicken is known for mousing ability. And, the Barred Plymouth Rock, Buff Orpingtons and Black Australorps are favorite backyard chickens because of their docile behavior.
Rhode Island Red: these are generally friendly chickens and they are brown egg laying machines. This is the breed that industrial farms use to provide brown eggs to the market.
Leghorn: like the RIR (Rhode Island Red), this is a breed industrial farms use to provide white eggs to the market. It’s best if you get them as chicks and acclimate them to you. Otherwise, they can be standoffish and flighty. But, they are champion, white egg layers.
Ameraucana: Hello, E-A-S-T-E-R-! These hens lay blue and green shelled eggs. My personal opinion is they are the sweetest and quietest of the bunch.
Maran, Barnevelder or Welsummer: These breeds make great backyard hens. But, what sets them apart is they are likely to lay the darkest brown egg of the bunch. Some even lay an egg the color of chocolate chips!
Gold and Black Sex-links: These are hybrid chickens that don’t have to be sexed as chicks. Their feather color, upon hatching, is an indication of their gender. Generally, they are a little less expensive than the other breeds. They are great producers, generally friendly, and in my experience, really smart.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you about a stellar chicken app for your smart phone. The Pickin Chicken Breed Selector by Mother Earth News is worth every penny. It costs about the same price as a chick. If you’re in this chicken thing for the long haul, it’s worth the small investment. Chicken-on y’all!