Which Chicken Breed is Right for Your Homestead?
What Chicken Breed is Right for Your Homestead? If you are just starting out on your homesteading adventure, chickens are a great way to begin with livestock. Whether you have a budding, city backyard or a bustling, rural acreage, getting a coop up and running is a great step in any homesteading plan.
Farm chickens are a diverse set of creatures, and you will want to do a little research before setting them up in your backyard. What kind of housing structure would best suit your needs and your yard? What are the probable predatory animals that roam the area? What conditions will your chickens have temperature and season-wise? What are your goals with these chickens? Are they for meat or for laying eggs?
All of these questions and more can be answered simply by looking into the various breeds of chicken that are available. Here’s a quick guide to get started.
If you have a pasture for ranging, then by all means, get your chickens out and roaming. Free range chickens make the most nutritional and tasty eggs. Best of all, there are tons of breeds that thrive with this kind of living. Catalana, Old English Game, Cornish, Polish, Houdans, Pearl Leghorns, and Langshans will all do well in this environment.
On your journey to finding the right breed, you’ve probably heard this term Heritage Breed come up. This is an important factor in choosing your breed, as it can have a greater effect on the way we farm in the future. Heritage Breeds are a group recognized by the American Poultry Association as original breeds that have been around in the US since the time of the Spanish explorers. These breeds are healthy, hearty, and nutritional and provided a sustainable food source until the mid 1900’s when hybrid breeds began to change the norm.
Today, heritage breeds are often on the verge of extinction due to the rampant use of hybrid breeds. It is necessary to keep these heritage breeds going, as they are a valuable source of genetic, culinary, and cultural importance.
If you’d like to invest in some heritage chickens, it’s important to know the four defining characteristics of these breeds: 1) they must be laid by an APA Standard breed and have all the traits of these breeds, 2) their line must be maintained through natural mating, 3) they should have a long and productive lifespan in the outdoors from five to seven years, and 4) they must have ample time to grow and develop a strong, healthy muscle mass.
There are more than 50 heritage breeds, and many of the breeds in this article are, in fact, heritage chickens.
Chances are, you will be interested in getting some high quality eggs out of your new chicken coop. Certain breeds yield more eggs than others and egg size is variable depending on breed as well.
For a consistent flow of delicious eggs, Hy-line Brown, California White, Cherry Eager, and Indian River are some the of the best. Heritage breeds also yield a good number of eggs, especially Leghorns and Plymouth Rocks.
For larger sized eggs, a few breeds seem to deliver the goods better than the rest. Hy-lines are not only known for their high productivity, but also for their large egg size. Cinnamon Queens and ISA Browns are also good picks. For heritage breeds which produce large eggs, check out Jersey Giants, Orpingtons, and Rhode Island Reds.
If you are in a hurry for your eggs, there are a few breeds which will start to produce at a younger age than others. Some hybrids can start to yield eggs as early as 17 weeks. Almost all Leghorn hybrids will mature fairly quickly. If you are interested in quick and naturally maturing heritage breeds, check out Red Caps, Anconas, and Minorcas.
Meat Flavor, Efficiency, and Growth
Hybrid chickens are designed to grow quickly and with as little feed as possible. Many problems can come along with this kind of breeding as far as chicken health, but if you are interested in a quick, meat-producing flock, then Cornish, Buckeye, Orpingtons, and Plymouth Rock hybrids will do the trick.
For flavor and quality, one might argue that a heritage bird is the way to go. Slower developing and without genetic modifications, these birds provide rich and nutritious meat, especially when allowed to roam and eat free. La Flèche and Cornish breeds are some of the best.
Easy Maintenance and Simple Pest Control
Many breeds of chicken are fairly low maintenance when it comes to keeping ticks and pests under control. Some chickens are even scrappy enough to rustle up the bulk of their own food. These breeds include: Cubalayas and Jungle Fowl.
If you live in a climate that receives a fair amount of winter beatings and chilly temperatures, you will want to take that into consideration when choosing a chicken breed. For a healthy batch of chickens and minimal maintenance, check out Bravas, Buckeyes, and Brahmas.
The heat can also be a hard condition for some breeds, so in order to keep your flock comfortable, it’s necessary to invest in a summer-loving breed. Some that do well in hot climates are: Jungle Fowl, Sumatras, Cubalayas, and Javas.
Since many breeds have been designed to skip the brooding period for strict egg production, it’s important to consider whether or not you will want your chickens to hatch other eggs. Silkies, Assails, Old English Games, and Cochins all do a good job at hatching and caring for young chicks.
Like most other homesteading projects, finding what breed of chicken is best for you is ultimately going to involve a little trial and error. Ask around to see what breed does well in your climate and area, and you can even try starting with two or three breeds to see the differences for yourself and to see what to stick with in the future.