Keeping backyard chickens is a joy shared by many. The sight of a flock of ladies scratching around your garden is a sight that warms the soul (as long as its not your vegie garden). There are so many beautiful, practical, bred for purpose, and exotic heritage breeds to choose from it can be very difficult to make a decision about which breed is for you!
Throw into the mix that backyard chooks can be a deceptively costly and time-consuming passion, and the decisions you do make can have long-term implications. Our top tips for selecting the right breed will help you look past the beautiful plumage and pretty comb of a potential chook to see if their characteristics will suit you long term. Here are our top eight:
1. Climate: Where do you live and in what sort of climate? Do you need a hardy hen who can withstand a tough climate, or can you manage a less robust breed? Some breeds, like Indian Game and Ancona, are only able to cope with warm climates while others, like Cornish Cross and Orpingtons can only cope with cooler weather, while many more will be fine in any weather. Buying from a breeder near you is also a great indication that a chook will thrive in your particular area.
2. Egg production: long lived heritage hens produce less eggs per chook than a commercial layer, who is designed to expend herself through egg production with a life expectancy of around two years. There are, however, some excellent pure bred egg-laying choices out there, who’s egg-laying is less of a burden on their bodies than that endured by commercial layers (See breed chart; link below.). Australian Langshans and Leghorns are good examples of unique, non-commercial breeds that produce many eggs.
3. Meat production: Some breeds are purely egg-layers, others grow quickly for tender meat whilst others still are “dual-purpose” meaning they’re OK for both. It’s important to consider what your preferences are in terms of output to decide whether or not you keep breeds purely for one purpose or whether or not you’re willing to have a bit of both. Good dual-purpose breeds include Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rock.
4. Cost: Don’t just think about the upfront cost of the birds: consider life-expectancy vs. feed and egg-expectancy to get a clear picture of how much you’ll be spending all up, so this doesn’t take you by surprise.
5. Time: Some hens are very easy to care for while others (who, for example, are flighty or go broody) can take up a bit more of your time! Are you home enough to catch a runaway flighty pullet, or care for a broody hen? Also, consider whether or not you have time to become an obsessed chook owner, because keeping and breeding chooks is extremely addictive and the temptation to research breeds, trawl poultry sales and generally hang with your hens is a big one!
6. Personality: Chooks have personality, in bucket loads! Just like dogs and cats, whether or not your personalities gel is not a matter of chance. Some birds are flighty, timid and do best with lots of early handling to get them used to people. Others crave attention and make excellent pets, as well as productive animals. Each chooks personality varies, but breeds often have a tendency towards a certain temperament. Friendly hens include Barnevelders and Welsummers, while Araucanas and Japanese are famously flighty!
7. Space: Whether you have a chook tractor moving around pasture, or a compact deep litter, chooks take space, and the space you have to dedicate to chooks will also determine your flock size – around 1.5 square metres free ranging space is a decent minimum per chook. Silkies are a perfect compact hen for smaller yards, while Australorps are almost big enough to be confused with a cassowary!
8. Aesthetics: All chooks are beautiful, but if you’re after a fabulous looking flock then many of our unique breeds can deliver the goods! From blue-egg laying Araucanas to laced-feathered Wyandottes, the choice is huge, but just make sure that you don’t get too distracted by a pretty face: make sure they’ll meet your other needs before investing!
Want to pick your perfect breed? Check out ours searchable chook breed guide on the Pip Permaculture Blog: https://www.pipmagazine.com.au/grow/chicken-breeds-chart/
To read more about natural chook care, chook breeding and more, get issue 7 of Pip Permaculture Magazine, out now at all good newsagents and selected stores, or subscribe via our website: www.pipmagazine.com.au