Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chicken Tid Bits: Picking Your Breed

After thousands of years of domestication and a boom in selective breeding following the Victorian era at the turn of the twentieth century, there are hundreds of breeds of chickens in the world, 60 or so being  most popular in the United States.  When selecting what breeds you want to start with, you have to decide if you want an EGG LAYER, a MEAT BIRD, or an ORNAMENTAL variety.  Often listed as “Dual Purpose”, some breeds are a compromise between meat and egg producers and of those, some are considered “heirloom” because of their historical status within the realm of chickendom.
My first birds were what was on hand from a fairly local breeder and were not the result of a careful or thought out selection process, though they were both reliable layers and pretty to look at.  I never got to taste them in their older age because of some crafty raccoons and a fox that taught me some lessons in predator-proofing my coop.  When I moved out to the country and expanded my flock, K. and I tried pretty much any breed we thought was remotely nifty – and I can tell you what we found.  Your results may differ.
* White Leghorns
* Rhode Island or New Hampshire Reds
* Wyandottes (plus, several color patterns to marvel at)
* Aracauna/Americaunas – GREEN EGGS!
* Brahmas
* Delwares
* Orpingtons
*Cornish-Crosses/ X-Roc (NOTE: They perish in hot climates because of the strain on their hearts due to massive growth rates in my experience and cannot be easily reproduced)
* Don’t Bother.
For a long while, I’d decide which scrawny, leathery bastard was going to be made into stock and pulled sandwiches based on who irritated me the most that day – was it going to be the Andalusian that screeched so loudly one day that I truly thought a girl was being attacked nearby?  Or the twin Sumatras that plucked most of my flock bald to this day in their aggression?  You want a docile bird to work with.  Many sites and books are out there dedicated to just this purpose, such as http://www.backyardchickens.com/products/category/chicken-breeds and Storey’s Guides on any subject relating to farming culture, available at Amazon.com.
But, that’s my two cents.  Go for practicality, not for showmanship unless it just happens to be your calling for a hobby.

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