Which Chicken Is Right For You?

Which Chicken Is Right For You?

Photography by Richard Bailey

Choosing the right breed of chicken is a lot like dating. Well, not really, but there are serious matters of compatibility at stake and hundreds of breeds to choose from. Before making a commitment, take a moment to consider your “type.”

 

For the meat lover:

Chickens, of course, are good for meat as well as eggs, and Cornish game hens offer broad breasts and good flavor. Also known as Indian game hens, these birds can be crossed with Sussex, Rhode Island Red and White Wyandotte to create traditional hybrids that will grow in 8 to 10 weeks. The Orpington also makes a good table bird, though eating it may feel like feasting on the family dog.

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For city-dwellers and families:

For smaller spaces, consider a smaller chicken. Many breeds have miniature or “bantam” varieties, which are about one-quarter the size of standard chickens. There are also “true bantam” varieties that have no full-size counterpart, like the Pekin Bantam, whose gentle personality makes it a good choice for households with children, and whose feathered feet will be gentler on a garden. Bear in mind, however, that bantams lay smaller eggs, tend to have shorter lifespans and may be targets for predators like coyotes and hawks.

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For extreme climates:

Most hens can survive cold climates well, as long as they have a well-ventilated but draft-free coop. But keep in mind that roosters’ combs can get frostbitten in very cold climates unless they are protected with Vaseline. Tim Daniels of poultrykeeper.com warns that “(p)rofusely feathered breeds such as the exhibition type of Orpington struggle more in the heat,” and all breeds will need plenty of water and shade from the summer sun.

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For aesthetes:

Araucanas sport charming feathered ear tufts and lay lovely blue or green tinted eggs, while “Easter Egger” hybrids like the Cream Legbar produce pastel eggs without the ear tufts. For a really unusual looking chicken, Daniels suggests the Appenzeller Spitzhauben, which he said is “quite a flighty breed but has a lovely crest that gives it the 'wow' factor.” There are also many varieties of Silkie chickens, which look remarkably silky. Ultimately, though, beauty is a matter of personal taste, and you just have to get out there and see which chicken captures your heart.

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For the chicken fancier:

The Orpington’s easygoing personality and fluffy feathers make it an excellent pet, though it was originally developed as a dual-purpose utility breed, suitable for both eggs and meat. Buff Orpingtons are especially docile and were a favorite of the Queen Mum, who enjoyed keeping show chickens. Orpingtons are apt to go broody — that is, to stop laying and start incubating a clutch of eggs — but they make excellent parents. Although Orpingtons tend to be rather large, they are less destructive than other breeds because they are less focused on foraging. Don’t expect any more than 200 eggs per year from an Orpington, though.

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For the egg enthusiast:

If egg production is your highest priority, look for the Rhode Island Red and Sussex breeds, which are dependable layers of large brown- and cream-colored eggs. Rhodies have a reputation for intelligence — at least in comparison to other chickens, and Sussex chickens are considered good-natured, but both breeds active foragers. In general, more productive breeds will inflict more damage on your garden. Daniels notes that the most productive layers are often hybrids, because breeders today are building on work done over many generations. “Two hundred eggs per year would be an extremely productive pure breed,” Daniels said, “but most hybrids will produce at least this, and some up to three hundred eggs per year.” Daniels also recommends the Wyandotte, Leghorn and Faverolles as good layers.