Selecting A Breed

A Breeds of Chickens - A breed of chicken is a family of birds that have the same general size, shape and carriage. All birds in this family will share the same characteristics, i.e. skin color, plumage style, number of toes. Breeds of chickens are divided into classes. Large fowl classes generally refer to their place of origin i.e. American, Asiatic, English, Mediterranean, and other. Bantam breeds are classified by characteristics, i.e. Game, comb style, leg feathering.

You might select a breed of chicken based on what you need. There are egg laying breed, meat producing breeds, and dual purpose breeds.

Layers - A smaller bird that will lay between 250 - 280 eggs per year. They will begin to produce at 5 months of age and will continue for three to six years. In reality, the first year of production is the best and there is a decline in production after the first season. You can choose between brown and white egg layers. The Leghorn is the best of the white egg layers however they can be flighty and high-strung. Other breeds laying white eggs include Minorcas, Anconas, and the California Whites. The Production Red is the best of the brown egg layers. This hybrid bird is a cross between Rhode Island Reds and New Hampshire. Rhode Island Reds and New Hampshires are good brown egg layers. The Sex-links are very productive brown egg layers.

Meat Production Breeds - The Cornish Rock cross is the meat production bird. This breed is a cross between Cornish and Plymouth Rock. The Cornish Rock cross will consume two pounds of feed for each pound gained. Keep in mind that broilers/fryers are butchered at three and a half to five pounds and roasters are butchered at six to eight lbs. The quicker a bird makes the weight gain the more economical it is to raise. Other breeds that are considered meat production birds are Brahmas, Cochins, and Cornish. These breeds will take much longer to reach butcher weight.

Dual Purpose Breeds - These birds are a compromise between the egg layers and the meat producers. They generally don't put on weight as fast as the meat breeds nor do they lay as many eggs as the egg layers. They are the typical backyard flock type birds. You will have a nice supply of eggs and the excess roosters and older hens will provide a good chicken dinner. Dominiques, Plymouth Rocks, Sussex, Orpington, and Wyandottes are examples of dual purpose birds. Dual purpose birds are generally hardy and self-reliant. They lay brown eggs and will brood their chicks.

There is a fourth type of chicken, the ornamental or exhibition fowl. These birds are bred for their appearance and how they conform to the standards of the American Poultry Association and the American Bantam Association than their economic value.

We are often asked about breeds for feathers. Fishermen have asked us which breeds to raise for the hackle and saddle feathers used in tying fishing flies. The males of the following breeds provide the best feathers: Plymouth Rock, Blue Andalusian, Buff Minorca, and Silver Penciled Wyandotte (Bantams tend to produce more of the small and fine feathers prized for dry fly tying.)

Another consideration in selecting a breed may be your local weather conditions. Heavy feathered breeds will do better in colder conditions than the light feathered breeds. Orpingtons, Brahmas, Cochins are heavy feathered breeds. Breeds that do well in cool weather are the Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds and Wyandottes. The Leghorn, Minorca, Andalusian, Hamburgs and other Mediterranean Breeds will do better in warmer weather. The crested varieties may have problems with freezing head feathers. Rose combed birds are also a better choice for colder weather as the Single Comb is vulnerable to freezing.

Bantams are miniature chickens. Your reasons for selecting one breed of bantam would be similar to how you select your breed of chickens. However, you are more likely to be choosing bantams for other reasons than for food or egg production. Bantams are often selected for ornamental reasons or the fact that a person can raise more birds in a smaller space than would be possible if you were to have a large fowl of the same breed. Bantams still lay eggs - the eggs are just smaller. You can still butcher your bantams, they will produce a bird that is about 25% of the table weight of the same standard sized breed.

Turkeys are raised for the table. There are breeds that mature faster and are more desirable as a production bird. Broad Breasted White and Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys are noted for their fast growth. The hens of these varieties will have a live weight of approximately 15 lbs. at 18 weeks. The toms will weigh approximately 25 lbs. at 20 weeks. The other breeds of turkeys are generally hardier and do well as free range birds. Turkeys should not be raised with chickens or other poultry because turkeys can pass Blackhead and other disease to chickens.

Ducks are very popular to raise. They can be a good table bird, they are good egg layers and can also be very entertaining. They are very hardy and disease resistant. The Pekin, Rouen, and Muscovey ducks are good meat type ducks. The Pekin will produce a eight to nine pound bird in nine to twelve weeks. Khaki Campbell and Indian Runner ducks are both excellent egg layers capable of laying 250 eggs a year. A pond is nice but not necessary. Ducks will be cleaner and happier with a pond. One thing to keep in mind; it is better to provide no pond or bathing facilities than allow them access to stagnant or filthy water.

Geese are one of the most economical birds to raise. They are great foragers. They will provide large eggs, good meat, feathers for a pillow or comforter and will also sound off when you have visitors. Geese are not usually raised to provide a quantity of eggs, but the best egg layer is the Chinese. Embden, African, and Toulouse are raised more for meat production. The Embden geese are favored because of their white feathers, which make the pin feathers less noticeable in the carcass.