When we first met Rooski, our very first chicken, it was love at first...cock a doodle do. Back track to 12 years ago, I grew up in the city of Chicago...city, not suburb. Yes, I took to horseback riding, but I also drove over an hour one way every day just to be able to ride. So chicken farming was never something I thought of until we became the stewards of the land now lovingly called Stony Rock Farm.
With Rooski, the free white Polish rooster, came Henrietta, the unknown age dark Brahma hen that was ultimately getting picked on by her other flock mates. They were given to us as a pair. A blessing!
I knew nothing about chickens; Other than that's where eggs came from. Had no clue what the difference was between a Brahma and a Polish. We didn't even have a coop up when we went to get them. (Billy is so tolerant of me and my habit of putting carts before horses...or chickens before coops.) We didn't even know what we needed in terms of a coop. So it was a huge learning curve. But what we did know was that this was an opportunity for us to learn. And an opportunity for our boys to grow up on a farm, with animals, and experiences that will build character and memories.
And so we started with two and now have somewhere around 100.
Let's talk about picking the right chicken for your needs. Everyone wants eggs. There is no arguing that farm fresh eggs are the best. And obviously each breed, each chicken has a unique personality. Some like to be loved, some like their autonomy. So which chicken has the best personality and lays the most eggs?
Since there are 5,000,001 (exaggerating) breeds of chicken in the world, I am just going to discuss what I started with and why I have what I have now. Or else we would be here all week. (Disclaimer...not all photos are of my birds. Just examples for reference)
After acquiring Henrietta and Rooski, I researched the dark brahma and the Polish. Henrietta is by far our friendliest, most loving chicken on the farm. Colton can pick her up and carry her around and she tolerates him. But she is not the greatest layer. Brahmas are not the greatest layers. They come in a wide array of colors. Henrietta is considered a dark brahma. You can find small breeders that raise all kinds of interesting varieties, but be prepared to pay big bucks. We ultimately did not continue to raise brahmas as they were readily available at other farms in our area.
Polish- Polish chickens are really neat! I was excited to get Rooski as everything I researched said they are great family birds. This may well be true, but Rooski couldn't see me coming and often was scared of his own shadow. I cannot attest to their egg laying ability, as Rooski was a boy and never reached point of lay (hahaha). Beautiful birds, they are not the greatest for free ranging because of their funky hair dos. Though unique, we opted to not go with any more Polish as we did not want to feed the local predators.
Cubalaya- Small, game type chicken. Unique and beautiful, lays a small-medium white egg. We were excited to have them because they are on the Livestock Conservancy list of threatened breeds. We wanted to take an active role in restoring their numbers. They were super friendly and curious, but really small, as they are slow growers. They are supposed to be reliable layer of small-medium white eggs. We never found out after a devastating loss of 15 in a matter of 3 nights to predators. We sold the rest of the flock (which was mostly cockerels) to a couple friends and moved on.
Red Sex Links- Supposedly a great dual purpose bird, the girls we had were great layers and rather sociable. We were not interested in meat at that time so we did not consider them for the job. Among the top for egg production and readily available at your local farm stores. Ultimately, we rehomed them as we wanted to focus on "rare" and unique breeds that aren't so generic.
Swedish Flower Hen- Hailing from Sweden, this is not a rare of a breed as it once was. These have a near and dear place in our hearts as the first breed that we took to raising with intent on growing our own lines. Considered to be dual purpose, the Swedish Flower Hen takes the prize for all around winner. Relatively good layers, the roosters we processed were of relatively decent size, and overall personality is golden. These girls, and boys, are of the friendliest birds we have on the farm. Probably the most exciting thing about them is that no two look alike (aside from maybe "splashes" which can sometimes be almost completely white). By far our favorites!
The Silver Spangled Hamburg- the dalmatians of the chicken world. We stumbled upon these one day while looking for good egg layers that would be unique. Regrettably, our first batch came from a hatchery (see our page for our relative disdain for most hatcheries). Since then we have incorporated genetics from other flocks to develop our own. These birds are small, but not quite bantam sized (though you can find them as bantams). They are what I like to call "fuel efficient" in that they eat less than everyone else and put out just as many eggs. They are not the most friendly and are actually rather flighty, which makes them great free rangers. We just adore them and their curious personalities and have been working on growing our flock.
"55 Flowery Hens"- Also from Sweden (once upon a time), these are not quite as easily found as the SFH or SSH. But they are unique in their own way. "55s" are an autosexing breed, meaning we are able to determine their genders as day old chicks. This trait breeds true, each generation (unlike sex-link chickens that are ultimately a cross between 2 breeds). They are also prolific layers of large to extra large white eggs. Considering how small the hens are, the size of the egg they produce is impressive. Developed in 1955 by Father Silverudd, they are from a line of leghorns. They are both beautiful and productive members of our flocks and we are delighted to have genetics from across the country to create our own. Like the hamburgs, they are more flighty than friendly and are incredibly "fuel efficient". We like them because of the autosexing and the quantity of extra large eggs produced.
Partridge Penedesenca-We were so excited to have these. An extremely rare bird to find, they lay dark, "terracotta" eggs, similar to Marans. Fantastic free rangers. Flighty and afraid of their own shadows, they blended in well with the ground based on their coloration. Sadly, we were not able to find enough genetic diversity in the US (without having to purchase from a large hatchery) to continue breeding them. They have been rehomed to the beautiful folks at Permasparks Farm.
Ameraucaunas- We started with Easter Eggers (ultimately not a breed but rather a mix of breeds that lay a light green or blue egg). Our first blue egg layers were Easter Eggers. But do not confuse Easter Eggers with Ameraucaunas. Ameraucaunas are pure bred and have their own recognizable traits and standards of perfection (in the APA). Because we are looking to define ourselves with unique and less common breeds, we decided that we are trying our hand at both the blue/black/splash variety as well as the "self blue"(lavender) variety. Ours are still in the grow out stage so keep an eye out for their progress.
PICTURES TO COME
Blue/Black/Splash Langshans- Sometimes a friend will say "here have some chickens". And that is exactly how we acquired them. Still in the growout phase, these are said to be dual purpose. I am excited, personally because they are decent layers and have what I call "Fancy pants"(like brahmas). As chicks and "teenagers" they have been super curious and the cockerels have actually been quite friendly (maybe because I had mealworms, maybe because they just are, I can't tell). I am tickled to have acquired these as they are on the "watch" list by The Livestock Conservancy (meaning they have a global population of less than 10,000). Keep an eye on our page for their progress.
PICTURES TO COME
Black Copper Marans- A crowd favorite, we are excited to have introduced these to our farm from breeders around the state. Still in the growout phase, we look forward to their magnificently dark brown eggs. Truth be told, we are in it for the dark eggs (haha).
PICTURES TO COME
Each of these breeds are unique and special to us for one reason or another. I hate saying the word "generic" to refer to standard chicken breeds, because they are still living beings that serve a purpose and are worthy of respect. Some of the more common breeds are even better layers than any of the breeds I own. So I'm no knocking them, by any means. Mine are not breeds typically found at TSC and they are even considered, to some degree, "rare" (I use the term loosely).
Picking your chickens can be as easy or as hard as you want it to be. If you are in no hurry to have eggs right away, I strongly encourage you to buy chicks (if that fits your lifestyle.) They grow on you and you can enjoy them in every stage of their life from the sweet peeps, to the awkward first crows, to their first itty bitty pullet eggs.
I also encourage you, when you are ready to buy, to reach out to a friendly local farmer, who can answer all of your questions and give you the pros and cons of the chicks or chickens you are considering. I am happy to answer any questions you may have about my birds. I take pride in my flocks, but I also know that they are only suitable for my needs and maybe not someone else's. And if I don't have what you are looking for, I probably know someone who does and can point you in their direction.
One last note...Before ordering from a hatchery, consider keeping your money local. Yes, I would love for you to come buy chicks from me. But I would rather see you buy chicks from my neighbor than a large scale hatchery or TSC (the "big box" corporations). By supporting a local "Chicken Tender" you are not only boosting your local economy, you are also helping to send a kid to summer camp, or take his first guitar lesson. Support small businesses. You will go out looking to buy chicks and end up with a friendship as well.
Have a blessed week, everyone.
I will be blogging next on what to do with your hot chickens in this southern heat.