Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pickin' Chickens

Now that we knew we were getting chickens, the next question was what breeds do we choose for our backyard flock.  There is such a variety to choose from, it can be quite overwhelming.   Temperament was something very important to us.  Having kids and wanting this to be a good family experience, I wanted a flock that would be good layers, great temperaments and cold tolerant. 

There are some excellent resources to help the backyard chicken novice in the breed selection process.  I found the following to be incredibly helpful:

Based on these resources, we decided on the following breeds*.

Buff Orpington
Orpingtons are big, friendly dual-purpose birds originally developed in the UK, and for many small farms Orpingtons are the only way to go! They're friendly and cold-hardy due to their fluffy plumage.

Barred Rock
Barred Plymouth Rocks or "Barred Rocks", as they're called, are one of the most popular dual-purpose chickens on small farms today. Their heritage is unclear with reports of different crosses, but what is clear is that they're very friendly, great layers of large brown eggs and able to withstand cold weather quite nicely.
Easter Egger

Easter Eggers are not a breed per se, but a variety of chicken that does not conform to any breed standard but lays large to extra large eggs that vary in shade from blue to green to olive to aqua and sometimes even pinkish. Easter Eggers vary widely in color and conformation, and are exceptionally friendly and hardy. Since they are usually quite friendly to children and humans in general, they are a great choice for a family flock.

*Breed information and pictures from My Pet Chicken.

On a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon, our family watched the PBS documentary called,The Natural History of the Chicken” on Netflix.   Towards the end of the documentary, there is a story about a white fluff-ball of a chicken named Liza who wanted nothing other than to be a mother.  The story is based on an article written by L. Joseph Tauer called, "Call Me Chicken"It is a beautiful heartwarming story about a Silkie bantam chicken with an incredible heart.   From that very moment we knew we needed to add a Silkie to our flock.  After further research, we learned Silkie’s are supposed to wonderful chickens for children and are considered the lap dog of the chicken world.  Since a Silkie is a bantam breed which is a smaller chicken than a regular sized chicken, we would need to add at least two.  By having just one smaller chicken, she would run the risk of getting picked by the bigger hens. 

We now have gone from 3-4 chickens to 5-6 in the matter of a 60 minute documentary.

Belmont Feed and Seed  is a wonderful resource for the Chicago backyard chicken enthusiastOn another Sunday afternoon we took a ride to Belmont Feed and Seed to look at the baby chicks they had in stock, we were not quite ready to bring any home, but wanted to actually see and hold some chicks.  The owners were so incredibly nice and helpful.  We came to find out the following week they’d be getting a batch of white Silkie’s.  The owner recommended that if we wanted at least two Silkie hens, we should get four chicks as they are hard to sex and quite possibly could end up with a couple roosters.  When buying locally or through an online hatchery you can usually buy your chickens sexed to prevent getting the unwanted rooster, however Silkie’s are a breed that is very difficult to sex.   My huge concern was what would we do with a rooster if we ended up with one or two for that matter.   The owner said they would gladly take back any roosters or if we ended up with four hens, they take two hens back and find them homes.  This was a relief.
It was becoming a reality – we REALLY were getting chickens…

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