It may not feel like it, but spring is just around the corner. Whether hatching from eggs, starting with day-old chicks or buying juveniles, this is the ideal time of year to start a new brood or look into adding a few birds to your existing flock.
Now the fun part. When considering chickens, the uninitiated often picture the classic leghorn with its white plumage and bright red comb. That’s just the beginning. There are hundreds of varieties of chickens of all shapes, sizes and colors.
For the backyard chicken enthusiast, deciding on a breed can be a matter of style, availability or environment. But there are a few things to consider when choosing your fine-feathered friends.
Generally speaking, chickens are a hardy bunch. In regions with extreme weather conditions though, some do better than others. If temperatures in your area commonly send the thermometer soaring, heavy birds or those with exceptionally thick feathering may struggle. Conversely, lighter birds or those with prominent combs or wattles (which are prone to frostbite) may not be the best choice in arctic climates.
Standard birds are the default choice when populating a backyard coop, but smaller birds called bantams are increasingly popular in backyard coops. Bantams make great pets and some beautiful breeds are available, but if it’s eggs you’re after, stick to the standards. Bantam eggs are smaller and birds lay less frequently.
Broody birds lay fewer eggs and smaller birds lay smaller eggs. If you’re in it for the eggs, seek out production breeds, such as Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, or Plymouth Rocks. While white and brown eggs are the most common, birds like Ameraucanas or Easter Eggers that lay in blue, pink or green is a fun way to brighten up the clutch. A schoolteacher I know loves to bring in a carton of green eggs with her to class when reading Dr. Seuss to the kids.
Some breeds crave the range while other are homebodies. Some are skittish. Others are more amenable to being handled. An aggressive breed may not be a good choice if you’re sending the kids out to collect eggs. Nobody likes to be henpecked. Consult a guide to see which breeds will best suit your family.
The variety of coloring and plumage is myriad when it comes to chickens. While a good ol’ Australorp may be the chicken of your dreams, adding a Yokohama with its long tail feathers or an ornate and downy Sultan to your flock brings fashion to the function of the backyard coop.
Ready to get started? Check out Henderson’s Chicken Breed Chart for a terrific overview of breeds and characteristics. To determine which breeds are best for you, check out the “Which Chicken” utility at MyPetChicken.com or the handy filter on BackyardChickens.com’s Chicken Breed Guide to help narrow the field.