Late each winter both novice and experienced chicken owners face a dilemma. Read the Hoover’s Hatchery catalog or visit our website and every one of a dizzying array of chicken breeds seems perfect. Placing the order is challenging. It’s tempting to buy a chick of each breed but there’s only enough coop space for a few birds. Narrowing choices down to the best breeds to order may be the hardest part of keeping chickens.
It is hard to go wrong. All breeds excel in one or more valuable characteristics, but it’s important to choose those best suited to the lifestyle and desire of the people who care for them. A few tips may help narrow dozens of possibilities down to the few best to order.
All female chickens lay eggs, but how many they produce can range from just a few dozen a year laid by fancy exhibition breeds to 25 dozen from egg laying hybrids. If maximizing eggs is important choose from any of the egg production hybrids or especially productive purebreds, like Rhode Island Reds for brown shells or White Leghorns for white shells.
Chickens should be fun. A joy of keeping them is enjoying a visit to the coop or watching hens frolic in the run. Most white egg laying breeds are relatively small, high strung, nervous, and fairly noisy. Many can fly like a pheasant. They are adept at escaping predators. In contrast, most, brown egg layers are large, relatively quiet, and not especially excitable. Some seem downright friendly, and they aren’t able to fly over even a four-foot fence. Chose birds with the temperament that you most enjoy.
Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. Brown leghorns have gorgeous feather patterns and few sights are as attractive as a White Plymouth Rock cruising around a green lawn. Fortunately, catalogs and websites show photos of each breed, making it easy for anyone to choose breeds that have the best eye appeal.
HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY
Each breed and even every hybrid has a history. They may have originated in Scandinavia, England, Italy, France, or Asia, or many states. Some breeds have been around for centuries and add tradition to a flock. In contrast, some hybrids are as modern as this morning and result from scientific breeding. Ordering a mix gives historic and geographic diversity.
Rich and Marion Patterson have been keeping chickens since childhood decades ago. They often appear in our Facebook Live programs. Even with their experience they have trouble choosing breeds to order each spring, but they always blend history, tradition, and fun. Marion’s from New England so New Hampshire or Rhode Island Reds are always included in the order. An added plus is the color of New Hampshire Red’s feathers. They are the same hue as their daughter Nancy’s hair, so how can they resist raising them? Rich loves Orpingtons for their fluffy beauty and inquisitiveness so a few are always in the order. Since the Patterson family likes eggs for breakfast they often round out their order with a few super productive hybrids, like Amberlinks and California Whites.
BE SURE TO ORDER EARLY
Sometimes chicks of the most interesting breeds sell out quickly. Be sure to order early.