Best Chicken Breed For a Novice To Keep

Free Ranging and Training Chickens...

“I am hoping you will be able to give me some advice on which is the best type of chicken to keep as a novice. I have taken the advice you gave in a previous newsletter and have sought advice locally, but so far it has been conflicting, one supplier is telling me that I must have hybrids for a constant supply of eggs and another has told me to stay away from the hybrids and to keep to the more traditional breeds that tend to produce eggs at a lower rate then the hybrids, but have a longer productive life, also that they are a lot more hardy than the hybrids.

Both are quite adamant in their in recommendation, and I am not sure to what degree their advice is being commercial driven, but it has left me somewhat confused as to which is best. I have been taking your newsletter for quite some time now and am trying to take onboard all your advice, which I am finding invaluable in giving an insight into chicken keeping. Regards,” ~ Andrew Magilton

Andrew, it certainly can be confusing can’t it?

Just to clarify before we really dive into this thing, I’m going to assume that by “hybrid” you mean breeds that have had specific genetic traits that have been selected. Through the generations, these traits have been strengthened to produce the current breeds we have now of “super layers”. There is also genetic selection for show breeds as well as meat breeds.

Here’s the thing about breed selection; there is no one perfect breed. Your purpose in keeping chickens, your climate, the area you’re going to keep them, these are all factors to take into consideration when selecting your breed or breeds.

For the sake of understanding the benefits and drawbacks within any one breed, let’s look in detail at one particular breed.

If your sole purpose in keeping chickens is for eggs, then by all means you’re going to be looking for a breed that will give you the most number of eggs.

Let’s say that you live in a mild to hot climate and will be relying on commercial feed to nourish your flock. My recommendation would be White Leghorns.

They are a light breed, meaning small in size so they are very economical eaters. Their small stature is also helpful if you have limited space as they don’t need as much room as a heavy breed. The adapt well to confinement in a run area.

Leghorns are early maturing and will often continue to lay far into their annual molt and return to full production quickly.

Although leghorns will give you plenty of eggs, they’re skittish and nervous little birds. Walk towards a group of them and they cause quite a raucous trying to avoid you. With time and work you may be able to convince your leghorns to trust you but they’re not a breed I’d recommend for the first time chicken keeper who is looking for pets.

If you’re looking to raise chicks, you’ll likely need an incubator because it is rare to find a leghorn that will brood.

As the prolific egg laying trait was encouraged in breeding, the brooding trait was not. When a hen is starting her family she will assemble her clutch of eggs and commence to sit on them. At this point she won’t lay any more eggs until her chicks have hatched and she has raised them to the point of caring for themselves. This process takes 12-15 weeks.

You can understand why someone who wants hens solely for eggs would find this a nuisance. So, for the good or the bad, broodiness was considered an undesirable trait and selection was made in breeding to discourage it.

Leghorns are better suited to milder climates.

Their comb is subject to frost bite. This is not to say that you cannot keep leghorns in colder climates but that extra consideration would need to be taken.

A petroleum jelly applied to their combs in the winter will help to keep the frost bite away. An insulated coop and a heat source will help tremendously if the temperatures really drop.

So now you know all about Leghorns. This would obviously not be a traditional or “heritage” breed.

“Heritage” breeds are typically more hardy.

They do especially well in the area in which they were originally developed as well as similar climates. They will not lay as many eggs but do not suffer some of the problems more engineered breeds do.

In my opinion a heritage breed is like a truck; dependable, strong, pretty low maintenance.

A highly selected breed is like a sports car; able to do one thing well. For the car it would be to go fast! For the chicken it is either produce eggs, bulk up quickly for meat, or have a particular trait for show. These breeds, like a sports car are also more fragile and require more maintenance.

Andrew, I know this hasn’t given you a specific answer to your question.

My point is to help you, and other readers, think about your situation. Here’s a quick list of questions to ask yourself;

  1. Why do I want chickens? Eggs? Meat? Show? Pets?
  2. How will I feed them? Commercial Feed? Free Range plus supplement?
  3. Is my climate extreme in any way? Extremely Hot, Cold, Humid or Windy?
  4. How much time to I have to devote to my flock?
  5. What type of personality am I looking for? Docile? Friendly? Does it matter?
  6. Do I need a pretty low maintenance breed or am I ready to take on something that requires more?

As you answer these questions, consider which are more important to you.

Start with your highest priority and look for breeds that line up with it. Work your way down the list, knowing that there is no breed that is going to perfectly fit your preferences.

Again Andrew, I’m sorry that I can’t recommend a specific breed but I hope this will help you find the breed or breeds that best suit you.

Whether you're a complete beginner and don't know where to start, or you're a seasoned chicken keeping professional and just want practical "how to" advice on tap our guide to keeping chickens has got you covered...

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