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Chickens are a forgiving livestock, however there are a few things to keep in mind when selecting the prefect chicken breed for your homestead. Some important things to consider are meat vs egg production, broody tendencies, and heat/cold tolerance. Below I’ll highlight some of each and the popular breeds within each category.
Meat or Egg production? Or both?
This is a big factor. Chicken breeds today have been selected for more meat producing genetics or egg production. There are a few breeds that fall into both categories, called dual purpose.
The most popular meat breed is the cochins. They are fast growers and fatten in about 8-10 weeks. 99% of the chicken raised commercially are the cochin breed. However, a breed with rising interest among homesteaders is the Freedom Rangers. They are more agile and smart than the Cochin but do take about 12-14 weeks to fatten.
Chickens that are selected for more egg production tend to lay heavy from about 6 months to 2 years, then they taper off, still laying, but not daily anymore. Popular breeds include Golden Comet, Sapphire Gem, ISA Browns, Australorps (egg record holders), Plymouth Rock, Wyandotte, Ameraucana, and Welsummer.
The Welsummer is a good year-round layer, even if they don’t lay the most eggs, and they handle heat and cold well. Australorps are the record holders, but don’t tend to like the heat. I do have one Australorp hen who insists on raising at least 1 clutch each year since turning 3. The Wyandotte is a good layer and also thrives in cold northern winters, but doesn’t like the extreme heat. They can survive, just may not lay well for you. They also don’t tend to go broody. The Ameraucana breed lays eggs from cream to bright blue color. They will slow down in the winter, but still lay eggs.
Breeds that are considered dual purpose are both good egg layers and can be good meat birds. These tend to not be the best in either category, but they are a happy middle if you want to raise all your own birds. Two of my favorite dual breeds are Buff Orpingtons and Sussex/Speckled Sussex. Both lay eggs well and are a bigger breed which would produce a decent amount of meat. Buff Orpingtons are said to have tendency to be broody which is a plus if you want a hen to raise chicks for you.
In general, heavy breeds tend to not like the heat as much and can slow laying. However, they also tend to tolerate the cold weather a little better. If you want to avoid broody hens, go with a breed that tends to not be broody. Overall, make sure to match your chickens to your environment and you will be happy with your chickens’ productions.
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