The Fun Part: Chicken Pickin’
One of the most enjoyable parts of raising chickens is picking which breeds you will raise. But there are so many to choose from, it can be overwhelming. My general rule is this: as a beginner, pick the ones that catch your eye and are most interesting to you. Just try them out. It’s hard to make a mistake here (except possibly with bantams, see below). And mostly, have fun!
There are four broad categories of chickens:
- Egg birds
- Meat birds
There is significant overlap here (for instance, all four types lay eggs), but I’ve grouped them based on the common reasons people want to raise chickens. Depending on what you want from your flock, this will help you decide on breeds.
When you first start raising chickens, you are going to look at a website or catalog and want to try everything. That is perfectly fine, it’s part of the fun! I have tried all sorts of breeds, just for kicks. After a while, my wife and I found the two or three breeds that suit our needs and we just buy them now.
All hens will lay eggs, but some lay more, more reliably, and for longer than others. If you want good, reliable layers, look at sturdy breeds like Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Pearl-White Leghorns, and Barred (Plymouth) Rocks. They aren’t the fanciest ladies, but your egg basket will stay full.
Our pretty Buff Orpingtons.
I’m not going to spend much time on these because most of you won’t want to butcher your chickens (at least not yet). That said, two meaty breeds are Dark Cornish and Cornish Rock.
Like flowers, the ornamental chicken varieties are nearly endless. They are colorful, interesting, beautiful, and sometimes a little odd. I have tried many of them and enjoyed them all. That said, some ornamentals can be a little testy and may not lay eggs as reliably as the ones I mentioned above. They’re sure fun to look at though!
Silkies are a popular (and silly looking) ornamental chicken breed.
Bantams, also called “banties,” are a category all their own. They are essentially miniature chickens, about half the size of a normal breed. It takes about three banty eggs to equal one large regular egg.
Banties also have tons of varieties. Many are quite beautiful and interesting. Here’s the thing though. In my experience, they are less domesticated than larger, more established breeds and so their temperament can vary widely. One of the sweetest chickens we ever had was a banty hen named Fluffy. Two of the meanest birds I ever encountered were also banties, roosters this time.
Banties also tend to be a little wilder than large breeds. Banties are more likely to lay and sleep where you don’t want them. In other words, they are less predictable than the traditional breeds.
This may not be your experience, but it was definitely mine.
Bantam chickens (Banties) can be gorgeous, but they can also be pretty wild. Their eggs are 1/3 the size of a normal chicken egg.
Where do I get chickens?
There are lots of sources for buying chickens. I recommend two.
Disclaimer: Murray McMurray does not pay me for this endorsement, though I wish they would.
The Murray McMurray hatchery has been around since the earth cooled and they are as reliable a hatchery as they come. They carry every breed known to man and ship day-old chicks right to your local post office (did you know you could get chickens in the mail?!). All their birds are also vaccinated against common poultry diseases and are guaranteed to be the sex you ordered.
Here’s the downside. Most hatcheries, including Murray McMurray, can only ship a minimum quantity of 25 chicks. That is because they need at least that many for the chicks to have enough collective body heat to stay warm.
Source 2: Your Local Farm and Garden
Most communities have at least one farm and garden store and most sell chickens. The advantage of buying from them is convenience. You can run down have your birds in very little time. There is also no minimum quantity, so you can buy in onesies and twosies if you want. Chickens at the farm and garden should also be vaccinated (though you should double check).
The downside to buying from the farm and garden is lack of variety. They simply can’t stock all the breeds that Murry McMurray does. So, if you want a rare or fancy breed, they will likely not have it. That said, sometimes they can order them in if you ask.
The other occasional con to buying local is that the birds may not be “sexed” as reliably as they are at Murray McMurray. In other words, you may buy 10 little hens and, in a few weeks, discover you have a couple roosters in the mix. This has happened to me several times.
Don’t Over Think It
As a beginner, pick chickens because they look neat to you. Over time you’ll learn which breeds you like and which you don’t. Have fun!