Here is a description of the different kinds of chickens, sorted out in various ways to help you make sense of it. To me, the most important aspects of a chicken are ranging, mothering ability, and climate suitability. But there's a bird for everybody's needs here. Browse until you find your perfect match. But first a useful definition: "sex links."
Sex links exist in various breeds and are always worth considering. Sex links are the offspring of the crossing (mating) of a "gold" (red, buff, brown . . . ) male with a "silver" (Wyandotte, Plymouth Rock, Sussex, Brahma) female. The chicks will be sex differentiated by color: males, cream or white; females, buff or red. The sex links generally belong to the "heavy" size category (see "Heavy Chickens" below). Keep in mind—if you are planning to incubate your own eggs—that they are hybrids, and crosses do not breed true. That means the chicks will not turn out like the parents. (Only pure breeds breed true.) The Black Sex Link is a meat-eggs hybrid gotten by mating a Rhode Island Red rooster to a Barred Plymouth Rock hen. The Red Sex Link has a Rhode Island father and a White Leghorn hen mother. Hatcheries like to see sex links because of the fact that cockerels and pullets are different colors at hatching, and that saves the hatchery time, which is money, in determining the sex.
good Egg Layers: The most efficient layers of all come from carefully selected genetic lines of chickens that have been developed for commercial egg production. The Leghorn is the old-timer in this field. White Leghorns are the best known, but Leghorns also come in brown, buff, red, and the black-patterned Columbian. Other modern breeds that lay as well as, or even a little better than, the Leghorn, are the New Hampshire, Golden Sex Link, Whelp-Line, and Barred Plymouth Rock. All these breeds, including the Leghorn, will lay between 245 and 255 eggs per year under good management. The best egg-laying breeds grow relatively slowly and eat a lot relative to the weight they put on. You can't have both top egg production and most efficient meat production from the same line of birds. It is also worth noting that at least 2 duck breeds, the Khaki-Campbell and the Indian Runner, lay eggs as dependably as these chickens.
EGG COLOR: Brown eggs are exactly the same inside as white ones. To find out what color egg a breed lays—if no one tells you and you care—-just ask. In most places, brown eggs sell for 2-10 cents a dozen more than white eggs. In general, the smaller (Mediterranean-derived) breeds—Leghorns, Minorcas, Anconas—lay white-shelled eggs; the larger (American) breeds lay brown. The major English-developed breeds—Cornish, Orpington, and Sussex—are brown-egg layers, as are the Asiatic chickens— Brahma, Cochin, Langshan. Pure-bred Araucanas, chickens from South America, lay eggs in the purple to pink range. If an Araucana is mated with a brown-egg layer, half the offspring will lay eggs with dusky shells. If an Araucana is mated to a white-egg layer, half the offspring will lay eggs with light blue shells. An individual hen won't change colors. Whatever color she first lays will be what you'll always get from her.
SlZE: Chickens come in broiler, giant, heavy, light, and bantam weights. The concept helps sort out most of them, though many breeds now have both a large variety and a bantam variety.
Broilers. These are your basic meat birds. The ideal broiler is now expected to gain 4 lb. in 8 weeks and then go into the deep freeze. It used to be that meat birds were either extra roosters or culled hens. Then came a period when caponized cockerels were the popular meat birds. Now extra male chicks of egg-specialist breeds are frequently destroyed at the hatchery because, even at bargain-basement prices, they aren't the bargain that broiler chicks are if what you want is meat. Broilers grow phenomenally fast because they've been carefully selected from genetic lines that have maximum feed-to-flesh conversion ratios. That means with a broiler, 2 lb. of feed turn into 1 lb. of meat in just 3 weeks. The best laying breeds, on the other hand, would have to eat around 6 lb. of feed to gain a pound, and it would take longer than 3 weeks. Another way to put it is that your broiler will eat twice as much feed as the other breed, but you'll be done and putting it in your deep freeze 3 months sooner than you would the regular heavy breed. Probably the maximum farm efficiency is to have a good egg-laying dual-purpose (American) breed and raise some extra broiler chicks every year for the bulk of your meat birds. Don't let broilers grow older than 12 weeks because by then they've put on all their meat and mainly acquire fat.
Any "giant" or "Cornish" or "Cornish cross" or "jumbo" or "broiler" is a broiler. The hatchery catalog will make it clear to you which of their breed names means "broiler." The Cornish-Rock is a hybrid of a Cornish rooster and a White Plymouth Rock hen. A friend who raised a batch told me they dressed out between 7 and 8 lb. at 12 weeks old. She said they made good roasters because of that sizable cavity to stuff and had huge breasts and lots of white meat. Hubbard Roasters are another rapid-growing, large-breasted bird. None of these breeds makes good layers because they eat so much more per egg they lay than a good layer does, and they don't lay as well.
Giants. Many sources rate Black Giants and Jersey White Giants as "heavy" chickens, but to me they fit best here, along with Cornish. Their capons may grow to 15 lb. The giants and Cornish are a little slower to mature than heavy breed birds or broilers. If you want to breed your own broilers, a purebred Cornish rooster mated to heavy-breed hens will produce acceptable meat-type offspring. Hatchery broilers come from carefully developed genetic lines that are protected, sometimes even patented. These birds do mate naturally, but only if they're on a lean diet, eating only about 70 percent of what they'd like to have. Cornish roosters do have a problem breeding because of their top heaviness. You have to pick your roosters carefully and not let them get too heavy. The small birds that you see in grocery store meat displays called "Cornish game hens" are Cornish Rocks that were butchered at 4 weeks of age. Butcher them at 2 lb. live weight to get the proper "Cornish game hen" dressed weight (IV2 lb.). Pure Cornish are available from large fowl breeder Ken Herring, President of the Cornish Club: [email protected]. Or from Billy Grimes, Secretary: [email protected]
Heavy Chickens. These also make good fryers and roasters and stay put behind a fence. Your extra roosters and overage hens are meaty enough to make butchering worthwhile. They ordinarily eat more and lay slightly bigger eggs than lighter breeds. It is among the heavy chickens of "American" descent that you find your good combination meat-and-eggs barnyard breeds. They don't grow as much meat as the giants, nor as fast, but their size is not shabby, and many of them are top-of-the-line egg-layers, too. Butcher these breeds at 16-20 weeks of age.
Rhode Island Reds, Production Reds, Plymouth Rocks, White Rocks, Barred Rock, Wyandottes, and New Hampshires fall into this category. Chicken breeds that were developed in England and fit in this weight group are the Australorp, Dorking, Orpington, and Sussex. The Buff Orpington is an exceptionally gentle bird that is a good bet to set when the warm weather comes. The non-bantamized Asiatic chickens—Brahma, Cochin, and Langshan—belong here because of their characteristically large bodies; they also have feathered shanks and heavy bones, and they lay brown eggs. Hen weights range from 6V2 lb. for a mature Wyandotte, Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire, or Black Australorp hen, to ll(i lb. for a mature Barred Plymouth Rock, White Plymouth Rock, or Black Minorca hen. (The Black Minorca is the largest member of the Mediterranean group of egg breeds, but by weight it belongs here.) The naked-necked Turken grows to be 6 lb. or more. Light Breeds. These are the Leghorn and other Mediterranean-derived chickens, plus the Araucana—which is as lean as the Leghorn and still has all its brooding instincts— and the American-developed WhelpLine, a 5-lb. hen. The Houdan is an old-time French-developed light breed. California Gray, Sicilian Buttercups, Minorcas, White Faced Spanish, Blue Andalusians, and Anconas are other light breeds. The Sicilian Buttercups and Houdans are especially good layers. The lights are somewhat more nervous in temperament than the heavy breeds, which are better with children. The high-strung lights don't tame easily. A hen typically weighs 4-4V2 lb. Leghorn roosters make passable fryers, though they are smaller than Reds or Rocks. Leghorns, or Leghorn varieties, are the general favorite of commercial egg operations. The white eggs sell better and color better at Easter. The smaller size means the chicken eats less per egg produced (though the eggs are slightly smaller). The production-oriented Leghorn gets a lot of bad press among homesteaders, but the fact remains that half a century of selection effort has gone into those birds to achieve ideal cost-efficient egg production. Lane Morgan, writer, gardener, and chicken-raiser, summed it up for me nicely: "Leghorns might be a good choice if you are raising a flock in confinement, on commercial food. I've had a Leghorn laying flock, and they certainly do lay, but I just didn't enjoy their company much. Incidentally, I find Araucanas much calmer and more sensible than Leghorns; I personally wouldn't lump them with other hysterical light breeds."
Bantams. A "bantam" is the bantam weight—a very small bird, smaller even than a Leghorn and about one-third to one-fourth the size of a large chicken. There are dozens of types and colors of them with wonderfully varying size, color, and plumage patterns, and they are popular as show birds for the county fair. There's a considerable size range among the different varieties. La Fleche is the heaviest with a 3-lb. cock. Silkies and Faverolles are a little over 2 lb. (cock); Chochin and Ancona cocks are a little over IV2 lb. The hen typically weighs slightly less. The black Silky was domesticated in China 4,000 years ago, the Chabos and Cochins 1,000 years ago. In addition to these ancient breeds, there are many new breeds of dwarfed commercials and other modern chickens, as well as ever-evolving new varieties of selections and crosses being developed for the hobby and show markets, mainly selected for their lovely or interesting feathers.
Bantams require less room and less feed than larger chickens. They provide less meat and their eggs are small, though actually large in proportion to the bird's body weight. (In a recipe, 3 bantam eggs equal 2 regular eggs.) Some breeds will lay almost as many eggs as a commercial chicken (La Fleche, 200/year; Amrock, 200/year; Ancona, 180-200/year), but most lay less than that; the Sebright and Game varieties rank at the bottom for egg-laying (50-80/ year). These breeds are not the most efficient egg-layers, nor do they offer the most efficient feed-growth conversion ratios, but there is one important quality about some of them that merits consideration: many of these chicken varieties will readily brood and be good mothers. The majority of the modern bantam breeds, like the modern breeds from which they were dwarfed, do not reproduce naturally— they must be incubated. The traditional bantam hen, on the other hand, will virtually insist on becoming a mother, and is such fun to watch, and such a good mother, you'd probably be willing to allow it. To own such a bantam hen, choose a variety that has high ratings for broodiness, mothering, and foster-mothering ability: Ancona, Cochin, Silkies, Brahma, and Faverolle. Silkies and Cochins are also outstanding for their tranquil dispositions.
You can start out with just 2 bantams, male and female, and they'll do the rest. Or start out with just a bantam hen, and a regular-size rooster. Then, with genetic luck, her pullet offspring will have the mothering ability of a bantam and grow to more nearly the size of a large chicken. The older bantam breeds are also typically healthy (they can make it through almost anything) and cute, with lots of personality, and are great foragers, as well as good incubating machines for their or any other chicken's fertile eggs. A disadvantage to running bantams (which many folks call "banties") together with a general flock, if you're hatching your own eggs, is that the bantam roosters are so wonderful at doing their thing that soon you'll have all half bantams— which is not good from the meat point of view. You can avoid that by eating the bantam roosters. Bantams are too small to be proper fryers, but they stew okay. A risk with these born foragers is that they'll become totally independent of you and roost in places you disapprove of, and you'll only be able to catch one with a .22.
You may want to join the American Bantam Association and get their quarterly newsletter: PO Box 127, Augusta, NJ 07822; 973-383-6944; fax 973-383-8633; [email protected]; www.Bantamclub.com. They publish 19 books on bantams.
climates: If you live in the frozen North, the heavily feathered, heavy-breed Brahmas, Cochins, Orpingtons, Black Giants, and Wyandottes are worth considering because they are heartier and lay better in cold weather than more lightly feathered breeds. In general, the heavy breeds are the best for cold climates. Neither the broilers nor the light weights tolerate cold well. Frozen combs are a special hazard for cold-climate flocks. In unheated housing, large combs can tend to freeze, which causes lowered egg production from hens and a temporary end to the fertility of roosters in breeder flocks. So avoid buying such large-comb birds as the White Leghorn. A cold-climate bird is best adapted if it has a very close-fitting "rose" comb. The Mediterranean-derived breeds adapt well to warm or hot climates. Breeds for Ranging: In general, don't buy any white birds if you have predator problems and expect your chickens to range free at least part of the time. They stand out too much. An alert, active variety handles predators better. Regular size Anconas, Brown Leghorns, and Dark Cornish, and old-time bantam breeds are well spoken of in this regard. Araucanas, too.
Setters and Non-Setters: Most chicken breeds have had the instinct to set and mother completely bred out of them, but some still have it. If your basic interest is egg production, broody hens are a nuisance. If you like the tradition of a natural chicken family you have to pick one of the breeds that can still handle that assignment. Breeds that will set are Orpingtons (Buff are best mothers), Turkens, Partridge Rocks, Buff Rocks, Speckled Sussex, Dark Cornish, Columbian Wyandottes, Buff Cochins, Partridge Cochins, and Light Brahmas, and any of the good bantam mothering breeds. Breeds for Fly-Tying and Feather-Jewelry: Raise Barred Rocks for the Grizzlies, Blue Andalusians for the Duns (only half of their offspring will be blue, even when breeding true), Silver Penciled Rocks or Wyandottes for the Badgers, and buff, brown, and red breeds for other lovely feathers.
rare Breeds: The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (Box 477, Pittsboro, NC 27312; 919-542-5704) classifies as "rare" those poultry breeds with 500 or fewer females and fewer than 3 sources. As of 1993, Ancona, Black Minorca, Delaware, Dominique, White Jersey Giant, White Wyandotte chickens, the Pilgrim goose, and the (unimproved) Bronze turkey were "rare." The AMBC classifies as "minor" breeds those with 2,000 or fewer females, and 5 or fewer sources, or a concentration of the breeding population in fewer than 3 sources: Black Jersey Giant, Brown Leghorn chickens, and the Khaki Campbell duck. They classify as "watch" breeds those with 2,00020,000 females, but fewer than 10 sources, or a declining number of sources. "Watch" poultry breeds are Barred Plymouth Rock, Black Australorp, New Hampshire, Rhode Island Red (old-type), Rouen duck, and Toulouse goose. In addition to the ALBC and regular mail-order poultry-outlet offerings (listed below), you can locate unusual breeds by asking around locally. Or contact the American Poultry Association, which publishes Standard of Perfection, a show-oriented guide to chicken varieties; 503-630-6759; 133 Millville St., Mendon, MA 01756; www.ampltya.com.
Continue reading here: Starting by Buying Adult Birds
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