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What are the most important traits in chickens?

 
Posts: 49
Location: Southeastern Louisiana
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Hello guys! So I'm looking into getting my first flock pretty soon. And I found quite a few articles on the best breeds and why. But I found myself wondering what data these people were using and who these breeds are best for.
So I was wondering.
For you guys, what are the most important traits when it comes to chickens? Is it hardiness, the ability to forage, high egg production, etc. Prettiness is a valid answer!
And would you classify yourself as primarily a professional (who sells a lot of their eggs and whose chickens at least pay for themselves), or a "hobbyist" (who keeps or gives away most of their eggs)?

I want some information that I know is applicable to ME!

 
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Dual breed (meat and chicken)
Broody (will hatch their own eggs)

I havent found the best one for my wants. Mainly because the cornish chicken we have been fed our entire lives is different from any other bird from taste, tenderness, and shape. I had to retrain myself that my chickens are the real ones. I hope that makes sense.

My goal is 2 coops. Each coop is harvested/slaughtered every 2 years (for peak egg quality), then start new with chicks bred from the other coop. Roosters are harvested sooner to keep only 1 rooster per coop. My quantities are not high per coop. Maybe 6-7 birds.

 
steward
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I get farmyard mutts from a homesteader nearby that does some deliberate breeding for a cold hardy dual purpose chicken.  I value their ability to not die when it's -30F, to forage all summer and to have a few broody hens in every flock.  They pay for themselves with egg sales and I like their multicolor eggs.

If you're having trouble picking a variety, get several and let them mix...
 
pollinator
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Hi right back at you!  

I originally bought Chanteclers as they're the only Canadian breed, were bred for our winters, are dual purpose(ish), and because there aren't a lot of them.  They have a pea comb, so they aren't as prone to frostbite, which is important to me as I didn't heat the coop.  They are supposed to lay through the winter with no extra light, but I found I had to supplement the lighting, which wasn't a huge surprise as 9 hours of daylight just doesn't cut it for any breed, I think.  Anyway, I was all set with Chanteclers from two different breeders so that I had different genetics and all my chickens were bred for our winters.

Then I ended up with a bunch more chickens of various breeds.  Some because my daughter wanted them, some Auracaunas because I wanted blue eggs, and some because I got them free/cheap.  In the end, I found very little discernible difference between any of the heritage breeds.  They all laid the same, dressed out similarly (a big disappointment with the dual-purpose Chants) and the ones with huge combs only got a little frostbite, even down to -40 on any scale.  

So, the next year (this is where you get in trouble) I bought more chickens.  I'm half dutch, so I got Welsummers and Barnevelders, some Easter eggers, and a couple more breeds that I can't remember.  Many of the breeds I got were supposed to lay between 180-200 eggs a year.  I got 5 eggs a week from all my chickens, without fail, for 3 years, letting them molt twice in the fall, which is 260 eggs a year.  I fed them well, let them free-range until I had fattened up the local coyote, hawk and bald eagle population, then I gave them a big run instead.  

I also used my chickens.  I made them prep new garden beds by fencing in small sections for a couple of days, then moving them.  They pretty much destroyed any offal I had from butchering rabbits or quail, as well.  Some of them turned out to be pretty good mousers, too, so that's great.  I did sell the eggs for a while, but ended up giving them away to my neighbours when I moved downtown to a semi-detached.  Chickens were illegal in the city ($5K fine), so I bribed the neighbours with eggs so I could have my gardens, chickens, rabbits and quail.

So, in the end, I found that there wasn't a whole lot of difference between heritage breeds, from a production standpoint.  They all laid 5 eggs a week like clockwork and dressed out between 2-3/4lb to3-3/4lbs, not including neck or giblets.  The dual-purpose was at the high end of that, on average, but I never got close to the 10 and 8 lbs for roos and hens (liveweight).  I suspect that some of this was due to genetics, and some due to free ranging.  They ran around like idiots most of the time, burning off calories, so they may have kept more weight on if confined to a run.

My takeaways on getting chickens:

1.  Yes!
2.  If you want meat birds, get cornish X or a heritage-based meat bird that won't grow as quickly but is easier to keep.
3.  If you want to go into egg production, get egg specific breeds.
4.  If top production isn't your goal and you want them to forage, just about any heritage breed will be fine.
5.  Get breeds that appeal to you, for looks, behaviour, or place of origin.
6.  If you want friendly chickens, Orps or Brahamas are nice and there are other breeds just as friendly.  Some breeds like to be petted.
7.  This should be first, but make sure you have EVERYTHING sorted out before they arrive.
8.  Ready to lay hens aren't.  Maybe it's because people think they start laying at 18 weeks, but I've found my heritage breeds took 24-26 weeks.  I've also been sold 8 week hens as 'RTL', but I knew they weren't even close.

Have fun.
 
Timothy Markus
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Mike Jay wrote:I get farmyard mutts from a homesteader nearby that does some deliberate breeding for a cold hardy dual purpose chicken.  I value their ability to not die when it's -30F, to forage all summer and to have a few broody hens in every flock.  They pay for themselves with egg sales and I like their multicolor eggs.

If you're having trouble picking a variety, get several and let them mix...



Not sure what you're market is like, but coloured eggs are great sellers.  The Chanteclers I had laid pink eggs, the Auracaunas laid blue, I got green from the Easter eggers, an dark brown from the rest.  Kids especially loved the coloured eggs, but adults did too.  When I was giving my eggs to the neighbours, one of them told me that there was a new report on a lady in town selling blue and green eggs for $20/doz.  Yep, $20/doz.  We all know that's nuckin' futz, but people paid it.  My neighbours were even happier with me after that.

If you can get $.50-1.00 more a dozen, or even the same price as others but you always sell yours, getting some coloured egg layers will definitely pay off.  As a bonus, I really love the look of the Auracaunas.  Plus, rainbow dozens look cool.
 
Mike Jay
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I'm in a bit of a remote area but we still have organic/healthy grocery stores.  We sell our eggs for $4 a dozen and could sell twice what we produce.  Colored eggs are neat
 
Timothy Markus
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Mike Jay wrote:Colored eggs are neat



Yep.  This is a situation where you can pick beauty over production and not sacrifice much.  Most of the work is in caring for them, so I don't care if I get 1 less egg a week from a breed if I think they're beautiful.  No one ever raises cornish x for their beauty and grace.  I'll raise them for meat to sell because they're hands down the best for that, but for eggs you can just pick whatever tickles your fancy.

If you plan to sell anything you will have much more success if you're passionate about it.  If you love the breeds you have, it will come across.  You can also spread the disease by converting your customers to chicken keepers.  You can then sell them coops and birds and it's a lot easier to sell cute animals.  Then you have someone to feed your girls when you go away.

Edited for speeling.
 
pollinator
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If you want top quality, the sizes of birds advertised, the rate of lay advertised, you’ll want to spend your money with the high-end hatcheries and serious local breeders. The kind of stock you’ll get from the big hatcheries is decent, But doesn’t approach the potential of the heritage breeds of old. This is partly because so many breeds nearly vanished with the advent of huge confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The gene pool used to resurrect these breeds was and is very scanty. Dedicated, motivated breeders whose goal is the good of the breed both functionally and with regard to beauty and breed standards spend a lot of money on their birds. They also charge a lot of money for their stock and they aren’t getting rich doing it. They might be making money or they might be barely paying their expenses or they might not even be doing that. (I’m an observer, btw, not a breeder.) If you want good stock to start your chicken adventure and raise future generations of excellent birds, then you’ll have to work at finding it.

There’s no one around me, that I know about. I have hatchery birds and tbh, I’m happy enough with them. They produce well, egg-wise.  As I move along, though, I’m thinking I’ll make more of an effort to acquire really excellent stock. I don’t need better birds, but raising better birds, even if of only one or a few varieties, is a better way to conserve heritage varieties that are so important to preserve.
 
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Free chickens are my favorite kind!
All my chooks arrived at my house already past 2 years of age, donated by people who had decided against slaughtering their own chickens after they had gotten the next generation.
Not enough room led to some really messed up chooks at the bottom of the pecking order.
I took them from a typical chicken yard to my backyard, free ranging.
They got fat regrew feathers, generally live the good life.
We l,ost three to ailments or predators, but the survivors all still lay, two years plus later.
If I where to buy them I would select Auracauna for the egg color, personality and hardiness.
They are the last too stop laying in the winter, and the first to start again , still in the winter, with no artificial light.
Now the Rhode Island reds were ok, but not as hardy, nor as personable in general.
Got some new ones, big and black and iridescent.
Beautiful, but the new Auracauna is beautiful too and more personable by far.

I think raising chickens to the point that they lay, and selling them along with the gear, is a great idea.
If you could advertise a no kill retirement home, for a fee, or even for a subscription fee(!) you could get even more people to try it!
As long as you have room, I've yet to find any of them to be much of a drain, even in winter they eat some feed, but spend most of their time foraging , and i just have a back yard.
Keep in mind few annuals can thrive where chickens roam freely, but I hate mowing anyway.


 
Timothy Markus
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William Bronson wrote:
If you could advertise a no kill retirement home, for a fee, or even for a subscription fee(!) you could get even more people to try it!



I love that idea.  I've done a variant of that.  I've bought spent hens cheaply, though most I've gotten for free from people who didn't want to butcher them but were OK if I did.  Feed them well for a few weeks and they'll put on weight because they're not laying and it cleans them out  of the other feed and improves the taste.  For a couple of dollars max you can get a flavourful carcass around 3-3.5lbs.  Stew meat and bone broth.  If you get enough, feed 'em to the dogs.
 
Alexis Richard
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William and Timothy- Oh no, you may have just added to my long-term plan! I'd love to be able to tell people they can effectively rent the chickens for two years. I'd hesitate to do that on my current plot, which is definitely on the small side. But definitely a good idea for the future! I'm one of those people btw Timothy! It's hard for me to butcher anything I'm attached to. But I can butcher ones I'm not! And honestly I've had enough animals get hurt that need to be helped along.

That's awesome to know about pricing colored eggs! I know I love them personally but I didn't know if it'd be reflected in people around me, y'know? I live in a semi-rural area with a lot of large corporate farms and older people.
I'd prefer to get ready-to-lay (even if they aren't hahah), but I don't think there's anywhere around me that has those!

Well thanks guys! I'll definitely be adding some of my favorite breeds in then. Since some of the pretty eggers lay less than "regular" layers. I thought at least. I was hesitant to indulge my love of Aracaunas and Ameraucanas!

 
Timothy Markus
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I'd get a couple that are laying now or RTL if you can, just to get started.  I'd take anything that was laying and cheap, but just 2 (min), maybe 3-4.  All you need it two.  You can build a very small coop and run for them, feed them any greens, and eat great eggs.  That'll get the learning curve started and get you hooked on your own eggs.  After that, people will buy your eggs because you believe in them so much.  Then you can get whatever breed (breeds, let's be honest) you want and add them to the flock when it suits you.  I'll tell you from first-hand experience, it's much nicer getting something in return for your animal care efforts.  It can be a long haul incubating or raising chicks until they're productive, but getting just 1 egg a day can put a smile on your face that makes taking care of the other 70 birds.

When I expanded my addiction to quail, I bought 3 laying hens along with 6 dozen fertilized eggs.  I got 3 eggs a day, every day, for the 18 days of incubation and the 7ish weeks I waited for the new hens to start laying.  Much nicer than when I waited for over a month to get my first egg from my RTL pullets.  If you can't find laying hens, though, don't wait.  Go ahead and get whatever you can and you could introduce some hens later if you found some.  
 
Alexis Richard
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Timothy Markus wrote:I'd get a couple that are laying now or RTL if you can, just to get started.  I'd take anything that was laying and cheap, but just 2 (min), maybe 3-4.  All you need it two.  You can build a very small coop and run for them, feed them any greens, and eat great eggs.  That'll get the learning curve started and get you hooked on your own eggs.  After that, people will buy your eggs because you believe in them so much.  Then you can get whatever breed (breeds, let's be honest) you want and add them to the flock when it suits you.  I'll tell you from first-hand experience, it's much nicer getting something in return for your animal care efforts.  It can be a long haul incubating or raising chicks until they're productive, but getting just 1 egg a day can put a smile on your face that makes taking care of the other 70 birds.

When I expanded my addiction to quail, I bought 3 laying hens along with 6 dozen fertilized eggs.  I got 3 eggs a day, every day, for the 18 days of incubation and the 7ish weeks I waited for the new hens to start laying.  Much nicer than when I waited for over a month to get my first egg from my RTL pullets.  If you can't find laying hens, though, don't wait.  Go ahead and get whatever you can and you could introduce some hens later if you found some.  



ACTUALLY, I just found someone near me selling a few under-a-year Blue laced red wyandotte pullets.... I guess I'm fast-tracking my coop!
And miracle of miracles... a feed and seed near me has Ameracauna chicks!!! I'm so excited!

Ideally I don't want to spend that much all the time on pullets, but just to get started that's not too bad I bet!
 
Timothy Markus
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Alexis Richard wrote:ACTUALLY, I just found someone near me selling a few under-a-year Blue laced red wyandotte pullets.... I guess I'm fast-tracking my coop!
And miracle of miracles... a feed and seed near me has Ameracauna chicks!!! I'm so excited!

Ideally I don't want to spend that much all the time on pullets, but just to get started that's not too bad I bet!



Now I feel guilty...
 
Alexis Richard
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Why? I'd already been bitten by the chicken bug!
 
Timothy Markus
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Alexis Richard wrote:Why? I'd already been bitten by the chicken bug!



Yeah, but we all know where this is going.  Chickens really are a gateway drug.
 
Timothy Markus
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William Bronson wrote:
If you could advertise a no kill retirement home, for a fee, or even for a subscription fee(!) you could get even more people to try it!



I was just thinking of this again and I reminded myself just how twisted I am.  

What do you do if they stop paying the monthly fee?  Just imagine the collection notices you could send them.  Postcards of axes.

I think that's an unsportsmanlike penalty for me.
 
Alexis Richard
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Timothy Markus wrote:

William Bronson wrote:
If you could advertise a no kill retirement home, for a fee, or even for a subscription fee(!) you could get even more people to try it!



I was just thinking of this again and I reminded myself just how twisted I am.  

What do you do if they stop paying the monthly fee?  Just imagine the collection notices you could send them.  Postcards of axes.

I think that's an unsportsmanlike penalty for me.



Oh my gosh that'd be hilarious!

And to be honest my parents set me on this path long ago with 4-H animals. 4-H is the real gateway drug. That and FFA.
 
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