How to pick the right breed for YOU!
When I started my career here at Purely Poultry, I didn’t have any chickens…yet. I had been around them before, even adored by sister’s from afar, but there were just too many questions about having my own: What to feed them? Where will they sleep? And the biggest and hardest one, “What chickens should I buy?”.
I mean, there are big chickens and little chickens, loud chickens, and quiet chickens, chickens with “Einstein hair” and chickens with…fur? How does one decide on a certain breed? When I started looking into it in earnest, people were asking me how many eggs I wanted and whether or not I needed a broody hen. Broody Hen?! What the heck is a “broody hen”?
Well, needless to say, I’ve learned this and more about these beautiful birds and I wanted to see if I could help any other newbies that might be in the position that I was in not so long ago.
How DOES one decide which of these beautiful birds they should keep in their flock?
Whether you’re new to chickens or have been a chicken tender (ha ha) for decades, the questions to ask are the same. When it comes to choosing new birds to add to your flock, you have to get back to basics. Ask yourself a few questions to narrow down your choices to what would best suit you, and pick the prettiest one after that! Below you’ll find a 10-question guide with lots of links to click for pictures and other handy stuff to help you decide what breed of chicken is the perfect fit for YOU!
THE BASIC 10 Qs
1. What is YOUR purpose of you owning a flock?
I ask this question because this answer alone will narrow down your field significantly. If you wouldn’t dream of adding Rick the Rooster to your freezer for an upcoming meal, click on “C. Pets” below and you won’t even have to see a Broiler. Otherwise, click on the most appropriate answer to be taken to our website into that category of birds. Don’t forget to stop back here for the other 9 questions before you get ready to order.
2. How much space do you have?
Chickens require no less than 2 square feet per bird if penned all the time, and 1 square foot per bird if free-ranging during the day and only cooped at night. Knowing this, it’s as easy as a little math to figure out how many chickens will live comfortably in your space.
(width X length = square feet / 2.5 for penned or 1.5 for free range = how many chickens fit)
(No matter how many times I do this math, my coop can never fit the number of chickens I want. Does anyone else have this problem?)
3. What is your climate?
Living in Wisconsin, it didn’t take me long to wonder how I would keep my chickens from freezing. A quick Google search told me that they develop an insulating layer of feathers and, if you pick the right kind, this will help protect them from extremes. So, how do I pick the right kind?
If the weather is extreme in your area, you want to consider specific breeds that are known to be either heat or cold hardy. Click here for cold-hardy birds if you live in an area with harsh winters. Click here if your area could melt the paint off a car in the summer.
4. How do you feel about Rare or Endangered Breeds?
Purely Poultry offers as many rare and endangered breeds as we can get our hands on. It’s pretty important for us to keep all of the wonderful breeds we already have and not see any of them go extinct. If that’s important to you, too, click HERE to take a gander (see what I did there) at our rare and endangered birds.
5. Do we need to be mindful of the birds temperaments?
If you have “curtain climbers” that might be helping care for your flock, or even just visiting, you may want to consider docile birds. This way your youngin’ won’t have to endure the attack of a “cocky” roo that could easily send a full-grown adult into a chicken phobia. But if kids aren’t present and you enjoy a big personality, the breeds listed below are entertaining and make great foragers (finding bugs n stuff to eat on their own) and there’s more where these came from.
Side note here, most of our best egg layers are sweet and docile – ISA Browns have been known to tolerate costumes and being pulled in a parade in a wagon – so Barred Rock, Buff Orpingtons, Black Australorp, Cinnamon Queen, Golden Comet, ISA Brown, Rhode Island Red-the list goes on and on. They’re great for raising with kids.
6. If you want eggs, how many do you need and what colors are important to you?
The list of our best egg layers that you just read above (if you skipped it cuz you want peppy birds, it’s right up there /\ /\ /\ ) will lay TONS of eggs. I’m talking a dozen eggs per day from a flock of only 15. This is a wonderful thing and selling the eggs will help the chickens pay for themselves. That said, if you do get that many eggs, why stick with boring white eggs? Colorful egg layers add pizazz, and desirability, to your cartons. If you’re interested in lots of different colored eggs, I’ve got another one of those handy links here.
7. Do you need a broody hen?
This question is all about babies and whether or not you want them. Your chickens WILL lay eggs. The question here is do you want to just eat those eggs or would you like to hatch some of them and get babies of your own? If you think hatching your own babies would be cool, you will need at least one rooster for every 5-8 hens, and you might want a “broody” hen
There’s that word again… Broody. But never fear, it just means that the hen likes to sit on the nest and hatch her own eggs. This is a quality that could come in handy if you want your flock to self-sustain, meaning you won’t need to buy more (but you’ll still call us to say “hi”, right?)
If you decide you want a Broody Hen (pronounce Brew-dy) to do your laying, you’ll want to consider a Silkie. A Silkie is the Queen of broody hens and will hatch just about anything in a shell. The next best, by a hair, is the feather-footed Cochin that comes in many colors (and my favorite breed, personally), and then Orpingtons, Brahmas, and Sussex follow suit. Look into these breeds if you want your flock to multiply on its own. Yes, eggs will hatch in an incubator just fine, but a broody mama in your flock can do it for you, no effort from you is required.
8. Have you considered what size of bird you might want?
I know there’s some debate about this elsewhere, but in the poultry world, size really does matter.
Chickens, being the birds that they are, come in lots of sizes and shapes. I mean, they are chicken-shaped, but.. well, you get the point. There’s large fowl that will stand upwards of 3 feet tall and tinies that will never get taller than 8 inches tall. Don’t assume that the biggest chickens lay the biggest egg because you’d be wrong. (What is it they say about assuming?) Fortunately for us, we CAN assume that little chickens will lay little eggs and it’s also true that they lay little amounts of those eggs as well. If eggs aren’t the biggest part of your interest in chickens, check out all of the amazing Bantam varieties we offer. The Bantam’s large counterparts, modern game birds and jungle fowl, will surely pretty up your flock just by being part of it, but they don’t lay many eggs either.
9. What is your budget?
Well, here it comes. The harsh reality. Chickens cost money. And, depending upon what breed strikes your fancy, it can be a lot of money. More common birds, purchased in quantities of 15 or more are the most cost-efficient, with small orders and rare or high-demand breeds requiring planning and sometimes savings. There are a few varieties that ship free, as well. You can check out our Quick Chicks product to see a bunch, but you’ll see them throughout the site as well.
10. Are you the processing type?
By processing, I mean getting your birds from coop to freezer for the next meal. If you’re not a meat bird person, then you might consider skipping over this paragraph. I’m going to talk about size, the color of skin, and butchering so it might be undesirable to some.
That said, I want to point out first that Cornish Cross Broiler is not the only breed of meat birds. While they are the most popular because of their fast turnaround time (meaning they can go from hatch to dinner plate in as little as 6 weeks), there are several other varieties to consider.
If time is not your only consideration, we have plenty of other options. Most varieties of our best egg layers have a male counterpart that will make wonderful meat birds. However, if it is broilers you seek (breeds where the male and female are equally delicious) we have free-rangers (get most of their food from foraging), Red Rangers, Red Broilers, and a GMO-Free option. We also have Silkie broilers, that are sought after for their black meat and skin and a beautiful large Kosher King variety that is energetic and make a great addition to natural or organic farms.
I’ve saved many a marriage with this question, does your spouse or partner agree to these additions, or do you need to sneak them in?
This question is just a little funny and is meant only to ensure that you’re really, really ready to add more babies to your flock. Once they arrive, they’ll need a confined and warmed space for 6 whole weeks, where they will be messy and will stink up the joint quite a bit before they get to graduate to the coop. They’ll need fresh water and food every day and lots of love and attention- even more, if you want them to come to you and eat from your hand later. You’ll need to spend every moment you can petting them and singing to them (ok singing is optional) and making sure they are happy and healthy.
Putting them in the coop is kind of like when the kids move out. Now we add safety concerns and distance to the mix of emotions we feel about the animals we love. I think I just called my kids animals, but they won’t mind. That’s it. That’s all the basics. If you think you’re ready, or even just know the answers to these questions, then you’re ready to give us a call! We’re happy to have that conversation with you and help you make the final decisions (sometimes availability will make it easy). Or, we’re happy to help place the order you’ve decided on, too.
The team here at Purely Poultry is sure that, by having your own flock, you are doing the right thing. So many educational and life lessons can be taught and learned from caring for, eating from, and even just watching your own flock that it’s truly a loss to anyone who can’t own their own. It is our hope that you find what fires up your soul and makes you a happy and successful poultry owner. In my case, that meant buying Ducks. I hope that this has helped you to find your perfect fit, too. (If not, just wing it, you’re just gonna get addicted and want more anyway).