So you want chickens. Visions of fluffy babies peck around in your minds eye and you can almost taste those home grown omelets. There’s one dilemma though, what breed do you want? Ask any person who’s raised chickens and they’ll tell you their favorite breed, each one will be different. The American Poultry Association (APA) recognizes over 120 bantam and standard sized breeds in various colors and patterns, not to mention the experimental and regional breeds not recognized by the APA. With this in mind trying to chose a particular breed is daunting. Some solve this problem by ordering a hatchery special with a mix of as many types as possible, others do some research and only order one, still others just end up getting what the local feed-store offers. I’ve done all three routes and all three have their merits, but it still comes down to what you want in the first place.
There are 4 basic breed types: Egg Production, Meat Production, Dual Purpose, and Show. Egg production breeds are skinny, high energy, nervous birds. The main breed used is the White Leghorn, they put all their energy into eggs and are not good for eating. They only come in white so their rather boring to look at and due to temperament are hard to work with.
White Leghorn (Courtesy of California Hatchery)
Meat production breeds are big on muscle and short on brains. They are laid back birds that love to eat as much as possible and grow very quickly. The main breed used in commercial Broiler production is the Cornish x Rock Hybrid. They are also white (most production breeds are white).
Cornish x Rock (Courtesy of Gail Damerow)
Dual purpose breeds are what I mainly keep. These include the Rhode Island Red, Black Austrolorp, Buff Orpington, and Ameraucana to name a few. They don’t produce as many eggs as a production layer and aren’t as fat as a Broiler breed but are a good mix of the two. They are usually hardier than a production breed and will go forage for themselves if you let them. They come in many colors and personalities.
Show breeds are mainly fancy chickens. These are your Polish, Game Bantams, Silkies, Sultans, d’Uccle and many others. These breeds are mainly to look at. A lot of them are Bantam breeds and are not good for meat or eggs. They are flighty and nervous but wonderful setters and mothers (Silkies are especially famous for their ability to brood just about any type of egg)
As always research the breed before you buy. If you don’t you may end up with something you don’t like. For example, if you don’t like a lot of crowing you probably don’t want to end up with a Tomaru rooster (They’re famous for their long and constant crowing). The Backyard Chickens website has a rating system for users to rate and leave comments about about breeds that the posters own. Have fun, if you have trouble choosing get an assortment. It may take a while but sooner or later you’ll find a breed just right for you.