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How Do You Know What Chicken Is Best?

Backyard chickens are the staple of many homesteaders plots.  Whether you have a large plot or a small town plot, there are lots of considerations when you are choosing the chicken and breed that would be best.  One chicken isnt the same as the next and its surprising how many of them have different personalities and they all have different needs.

Did you know that there are over 100 breeds? (America Poultry Association- APA).  The APA classifies 2 classes of breeds – the bantam and the large.  The bantam are much smaller, and I remember as a child having 2 in the garden; the eggs are a lot smaller however they may lay as many as 12 eggs in a day.  Often bantams become pets as they are particularly beautiful with their patterned colorful feathers.

There are several bantam breeds and you can tell by looking at the varying feather patterns known as spangled, striped, edged, stippled, Millefleur, barred, laced and penciled.

Other than relying on outward appearance, there are six characteristics bantam breeds are classified as in regards to their appearance: modern game; game; rose comb, clean legged; single comb, clean legged; feather legged and all other comb, clean legged. Modern game is an ornamental breed that originated in the mid 1800’s from England and was used for cockfights – not really a personal favorite of mine – and the game class simply consists of the remainder not classified. A comb is the flap like growth on top of a chicken’s head and is very pronounced more so in males. So a single comb, clean legged breed is one with one comb atop its head and no feathers covering its feet. Compared to the single comb, a rose comb is generally flatter situated on top of the head. The other known types of combs a breed can possess are labeled as pea, strawberry, cushion, silkie, carnation, buttercup, walnut or V-shaped.

So when is a chicken a chicken (as opposed to a bantam)?

Larger breeds are the chickens and their are 6 classifications of these depending on where they originated from.  Each of these classifications make for a different bird in personality and output.  Their needs vary and depending on what you are after and your situation its important to know the differences.  Some of them will be great pets, perfect house guests and others will have a more vivacious personality.  Some will lay a lot and some wont.  Rather than going into all the classification and their personalities, you are probably more interested in whether they are going to be good for meat, eggs, dual purpose or ornamental.

Wherever you decide to start, just check out your local ordinances and zoning laws and check in with the neighbours.  Some areas wont allow them at all, or you can have them but not be able to breed from them, or sell, and you are limited to an amount you can have on the plot.  Knowing this stuff can stop you going down dead ends when at the end of the day you cant have them in your area.

So once you have decided you can have them, decide why you want to keep them – is it for the meat, the eggs, both reasons or ornamental… lets look at the different breeds…

Layer breeds are known for their incredible ability to lay eggs all day, every day so long as they are young and healthy. Layers produce about 200-300 egg per year, which some are exceeding that. Ideally the best layers are smaller in build requiring little food to sustain muscle mass, start laying around four months of age and do not commonly nest  (those that stop laying eggs and becomes more interested in hatching them).  The color varies strictly because of the various breeds although there is a slight difference in taste. If you hold a specific interest in raising chicken solely for eggs, consider these breeds:

Meat Breeds are characteristically ideal when the chicken are able to mature and feather rapidly, meet target weight in minimal time span, have white feathers for cleaner feather picking and are broad-breasted.

Dual-Purpose Breeds is a match made in heaven for those who want the best of both: meat and eggs and there are two ways to come about this. You could raise both laying breeds throughout the year and meat birds on the side as they are needed, or another option would be just to raise dual-purpose breeds, which most people do. The main advantage to raising dual-purpose breeds is because they lay better compared to meat breeds and grows larger than layer breeds. However, they still do not grow as fast or big in comparison to meat birds nor do they lay as often as laying birds are able to do.  The English and American breed fit this type.

Ornamental Breeds are birds that are raised purely for aesthetic reasons and not for production. These chickens are shown off at poultry exhibitions to show off their features.

Another question you need to consider is whether you are going to get hybrids or purebred.  Bottom line, if you want to breed from the chickens and get the same breed, then you would choose the purebred.  However hybrids are a product of 2 different breeds so you wont be able to breed the same again.

So you have decided to move forward, and have chosen the breed, you know you can have them on the plot and your neighbours arent going to raise hell when they cluck loudly, or go over the fence and eat the veges.

The next big question is are you going to get them as eggs and incubate them or get a few chicks?

There are positives and negatives with either option you should consider. Hatching an egg is a fun project but many find it challenging when they need to look for one that is fertilized, or something else goes wrong during the process due to improper temperature for example. If you get a chick, they are generally cheaper and are more likely to bond quicker with you other pets (should you have any). Chicks are both sexed or unsexed, fifty percent male and fifty percent female. A problem most people go through is the risk of losing them or falling victim to prey. Buying a breed that is for the most part grown can be a good deal especially if you are not interested in dealing with brooding (nesting) chicks. There are two positives: less time feeding the birds that are unproductive and birds that are ready to lay productively for as long as possible. The only real disadvantage, if you could call it that is that is is generally more expensive to buy them compared to getting eggs or chicks.

Where you get your chickens from is surprisingly important.  Seeing what you get means you can pick and choose.  It lets you determine if they are easier and what conditions they have come from.  You can assess the breeder also.  If you are buying online just make sure the place you are buying from is reputable and get a few reviews… So what do you look out for:

With adults, you can figure this out by examining for bright eyes; smooth, shiny feathers; the level of alertness and brightly colored combs. You also should check for any bugs or parasites by investigating underneath the wings and around their anus and make sure to listen for any coughing or sneezing within the group because if one has a cold, there is a good chance it will be carried over to someone else in the flock. A good option to ensure you are buying healthy chicken would be to buy from a breeder that is partnered with the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP), which ensures the flock is clear of any serious diseases.

Having chickens is a commitment, but one that can give you a huge reward.  If you decide to go ahead check out a great easy to chicken coop here

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