If you’ve made the decision to keep chickens in your backyard this spring, it’s time to do a little homework! As the north winds howl and frost collects on your windshield, you can actively plan for warmer days and a spring flock of chickens.
Don’t wait until you’re faced with an assortment of fuzzy, fresh-beaked chicks with unfamiliar names at your local organic feed stores. Now’s a great time to think about what characteristics you’d like to see in your birds – and even what color eggs they lay.
Here are a few breeds you might want to give a closer look:
1. White Leghorns. You may not realize this breed first came to the United States in the mid-1800’s from the west side of Tuscany, Italy. The birds were first called “The Italians” and even “Livornio,” a name derived from the home village in Tuscany. The Anglicized pronunciation quickly evolved from “Livorno” to “Leghorn.” Like Foghorn Leghorn of Loony Tunes fame, these chickens are noisy. In fact their tendency to be noisy, nervous and flighty means that they’re the ones in the flock to sound the alarm should predators encroach. (You’d be nervous too if you weighed 4 pounds and produced 300 white eggs per year.)
2. Rhode Island Reds. The most well-known American chicken makes a great “starter” for your flock. They’re fairly low-maintenance, hardy and friendly. They’ll quickly move to the top of the pecking order and dominate more docile types of hens. While they can be raised for dual purposes (meat and eggs), most small farmers and back-yard enthusiasts prefer them for their egg laying results: 300 brown eggs per year. Go Big Red!
3. Ameraucanas, Araucanas, and Easter Egg chickens. The absolute coolest thing about these chickens is that they lay bluish -green eggs, hopefully in time for Easter. With these hens, you can easily describe them as “fluffy” because of lovely plumage. You’ll find very specific breed standards for both Ameraucanas and Araucanas, but a bird that doesn’t exactly fit either stringent standard would be termed an Easter Egg chicken.
4. Buff Orpingtons. Originally from Orpington, Kent, UK, these chickens are usually a golden beige color and grow to be rather large. They are truly gentle souls and make excellent pets, especially if you invest the time to handle them a good bit when they’re chicks. Orpingtons lay between 200 and 300 large brown eggs per year. (And they lay in winter too.)
5. Plymouth Rock or Barred Rock. Heirloom American breed well-suited for cold weather, these chickens can grow to be just over 9 pounds. Another dual-purposed bird, the Plymouth Rock or Barred Rock lays about 200 large brown eggs per year. They tend to be friendly and gentle.
6. Polish Chickens. You can’t help but notice the bouffant hair-do, the mound of feathers atop this chicken’s head. A Polish chicken is sweet and gentle, but she tends to wander a bit because she can’t see much past the massive feather headdress. Her egg-laying capabilities vary a good bit, but she lays white eggs. With her limited vision, she may be susceptible to predators and needs to be in a flock with breeds that can warn her of danger. (The good news is that every day is a good hair day for her!)
Whatever breed you choose, don’t forget to order your organic feed from Reedy Fork. It’s all the talk of discriminating back yard chickens in your neighborhood. (Bawk!) Or so we hear.