What breeds of chicken should you consider as you begin keeping Preparedness Chickens?
As I mentioned before, chickens are typically classified as egg laying breeds, meat breeds, and dual-purpose breeds.
The chickens that you buy at the grocery store are meat chickens. Meat chickens are usually cross-bred; one popular meat chicken is a Cornish-Rock. Unlike egg-layers, meat chickens are only meant to live for a few months. They usually could not lay eggs even if you wanted them too; they get to be so heavy that they cannot walk. They sit and eat, and sit and eat. If you want to raise a bunch of meat chickens to fill your freezer, this can be a great way to prepare. However, since these chickens cannot reproduce, and they will not provide eggs, they are not ideal for long-term self-sufficiency. We will omit these chickens from our discussion, although they may be interesting to you for reasons beyond the scope of our current discussion.
The chickens that lay eggs are usually not very heavy birds (so they mature faster), and they don’t “go broody” (or, stop laying eggs to try to raise chicks) very often. These are factors that make them produce more eggs. The white eggs that you find in the grocery store are almost all from one particular breed, called the White Leghorn. These chickens are considered “excellent” layers, because they lay about 280 eggs per year. White Leghorns are relatively small chickens, and they are pretty much always nervous around people. If you want absolute maximum egg production and you don’t care about anything else, White Leghorns are a respectable breed choice.
A few other choices for egg-laying breeds are: Ameraucana/Araucana/Easter-eggers (These birds lay blue and green eggs. They have been our favorites, because they tend to be really friendly, but they also lay well),Welsummer, and Ancona.
Dual-purpose breeds are breeds that are good at producing meat and eggs. Many of these breeds are especially popular, and they are great to include in preparedness flocks, so that we can have eggs and meat!
Some popular dual-purpose breeds include: Australorp, Orpington, Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, and Wyandotte.
There are also other sorts of chickens; there are bantams (which are miniature chickens) and exhibition breeds (which look ridiculous but don’t really produce much of anything). Neither of these are very practical for preparedness flocks, although they are really funny looking!
All of these breeds have varying personalities; some are very nervous, and others are quite friendly with people. They also deal with climates a little differently, and they produce different colored eggs (most of them produce brown eggs). One really good idea is to find out what other people in your area raise, as those breeds are likely to be well adapted to your climate. Another good idea is to decide what matters most (Quantity? Dual-purpose? Personality? Color?), and go through and research the breeds a little to find something that sounds appealing to you.
Several hatcheries (places that hatch and sell chicks) online will send a free catalog if you request it, and the catalogs will show pictures of the different breeds, what their eggs look like, and they give the different breeds grades for how hardy they are, how many eggs they lay, etc. This may be a good starting place for people who are new to raising chickens.
Next time we’ll look at how to purchase chicks!