Raising your own chickens can be very rewarding. They provide companionship and an almost constant supply of eggs during their laying season. Ours come to us when we call them and the ones we’ve raised from chickens will sit in my daughter’s lap to be petted.
That said, it’s very important to choose the right breed of chicken for your lifestyle. Every chicken has its own unique needs and personality. What you need for your area will depend on space available, climate, whether you want them for meat or egg production, egg color preference, whether you want them to go broody (hatch their own eggs), whether you’d like to show them and how close your neighbors are. Here are a few things to think about.
1. Space available - All chickens need somewhere to roost (sleep) at night. For most, this is a chicken coop. Chickens that are left wild to roost risk becoming prey of local predators. They also need to be protected during inclement weather (snow, rain, heat). The size of the coop you have available or the room in your backyard will determine whether you want a large breed like a Rhode Island Red or a banty or miniature breed. Larger breeds take up more room than smaller breeds.
2. Climate - Just like people, certain breeds of chickens do better in the heat or cold than others. A few breeds that are very cold hardy and will do well in places with cold winters are Ameraucana, Black Australorp, and Rhode Island Red. We’re in Vermont and have a combination of these three breeds and they do quite well. Heat tolerant breeds include Brahma, Catalana and Leghorn.
3. Eggs or meat - All chickens lay eggs and all chickens can be used for meat but some are better suited than others. When purchasing a chicken make sure to either choose a layer or a meat bird depending on your needs. A chicken in her prime will lay one egg a day during the warm months. They generally stop laying in the winter because they need to use the extra energy to keep warm.
4. Egg color preference - What color egg a chicken lays is dependent on the color of the chicken. There’s no difference in taste or nutritional value. If you want white eggs, go for a white breed like the Leghorn. If you want brown eggs, choose a Rhode Island Red or other dark color bird. Some breeds like the Ameraucana and the Araucana lay multi colored eggs (light blue and light green) which is why they’re called the Easter Egg chickens.
5. Broodiness - Some breeds of chickens are more or less likely to want to sit on their eggs to hatch the next generation of chickens. If you have dreams of your hens raising a new flock, make sure you choose a breed that is most likely to go broody like an Araucana or Brahma. Chickens will lay less and less as they age so if you want a constant supply of eggs you will need to hatch more or purchase new chicks every few years.
6. Show Birds - Chickens can be gorgeous with beautiful coloring, boots (feathers around the feet), beards, and gorgeous tail feathers. Generally speaking the fancier a chicken, the less cold hardy it is.
7. Neighbors - All chickens make noise. Yes, the rooster is louder but if you have dreams of hiding your chickens from your neighbors who live a stones throw from your house, you’re not going to have much luck. If you do have neighbors who might not want to be woken up at 4:30 in the morning by a rooster, go with just hens. Hens do not need a rooster to lay an egg. They only need a rooster if you want them to lay an egg that is fertile and can be hatched. Temperament is important too. Some birds are more nervous than others. Leghorns are a very nervous breed and tend to be more vocal in my experience. Don’t mix sizes as the larger birds will probably pick on the smaller birds which makes a lot of noise.
Check with your local feed store to find out what type of bird is most common in your area. If you’re going to buy chicks, you will need to have heat lamps and keep them inside in the beginning. I’ve found this a lot of work but if you only have a few birds, this may work well for you. Chicks probably won’t lay until they are close to a year old and in the beginning the eggs are quite small. Once they become pullets (about a year old), they will start to lay more regularly. Don’t forget to check with local laws about raising poultry. Sadly, some places don’t allow you to raise chickens. Most of all, enjoy them!