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Which Breed Should I Get?

 
Brandon Greer
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Hi everyone. I'm interested in finding out what breed of chickens would be best for me. I'm wanting to have a small sustainable farm that doesn't require me to intervene with nature. I would like chickens that are hardy and can live off the land and aren't prone to disease and other ailments without my care. I have 2.5 acres of pasture and about 9 to 10 acres of forest which will be shared by Soay sheep who are browsers and grazers. I would like to avoid, if possible, providing supplemental feeding. I want both meat and eggs, so I need either a breed that has a nice balance of both or have 2 separate breeds. I live near the Dallas area where it gets hot and humid. Any advice?
 
John Polk
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Rhode Island Red is a good dual purpose (egg/meat) breed.

About the only breeds that will out lay an RIR are generally too small to be considered meat birds.
The best meat bird breeds are the product of specialized breeding programs, and they cannot be re-bred.

If you want to have a sustainable operation, it is best to stay away from any breed that cannot reproduce itself, (ie the Cornish-X's or Freedom Rangers) or you will be buying new chicks every year. The RIR's or New Hampshires would be good for eggs, meat, and regenerating your flock.

Make certain to provide them with some good shade for those Texas summers.

 
Brandon Greer
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John Polk wrote:Rhode Island Red is a good dual purpose (egg/meat) breed.

About the only breeds that will out lay an RIR are generally too small to be considered meat birds.
The best meat bird breeds are the product of specialized breeding programs, and they cannot be re-bred.

If you want to have a sustainable operation, it is best to stay away from any breed that cannot reproduce itself, (ie the Cornish-X's or Freedom Rangers) or you will be buying new chicks every year. The RIR's or New Hampshires would be good for eggs, meat, and regenerating your flock.

Make certain to provide them with some good shade for those Texas summers.



John, thank you for your reply. Are the RIRs good for someone who wants to let them roam free or do they need a lot of care and supplemental feed?

I agree that I want to stay away from the breeds that can't reproduce. They just seem to unnatural for me. As for shade, my land has plenty, and I'm sure I'll need to build them some shelter to stay in.
 
John Polk
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The RIR's have been around as a breed since the 1800's, so they are used to being 'yard birds'...run around the yard and find their own meals. It is best if you start them very young eating greens and bugs. If they are raised with a bucket of grains dumped in front of them every day, they will grow lazy, and expect to be fed several times per day.

A common method that works for most people is to just let them out in the morning. They will hunt/forage to fill their bellies. Then just before dark, sprinkle some feed at/near their hen house. They should come home for the free supper, then go to bed as the dusk takes over. This also helps reassure that they don't stay out in fox/coyote land all night.

If they are not pampered/spoiled as chicks, they should grow up into self sufficient chickens. Their first +/- 6 weeks will help determine how they act as mature birds. But, do pamper them enough that they know who you are. You want them to run up to you when you visit their home, rather than run in fear. Just don't turn them into 'pets'.

 
Brandon Greer
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John Polk wrote:The RIR's have been around as a breed since the 1800's, so they are used to being 'yard birds'...run around the yard and find their own meals. It is best if you start them very young eating greens and bugs. If they are raised with a bucket of grains dumped in front of them every day, they will grow lazy, and expect to be fed several times per day.

A common method that works for most people is to just let them out in the morning. They will hunt/forage to fill their bellies. Then just before dark, sprinkle some feed at/near their hen house. They should come home for the free supper, then go to bed as the dusk takes over. This also helps reassure that they don't stay out in fox/coyote land all night.

If they are not pampered/spoiled as chicks, they should grow up into self sufficient chickens. Their first +/- 6 weeks will help determine how they act as mature birds. But, do pamper them enough that they know who you are. You want them to run up to you when you visit their home, rather than run in fear. Just don't turn them into 'pets'.



I appreciate your advice. I'll certainly look into them.
 
Sherry Willis
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Brandon,

You will still need to lock them in some sort of secure pen at night. Chickens are natural prey for everything with pointy teeth. Even the hardiest domestic chicken probably won't survive totally unattended.


Sherry
 
Jay Green
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Good advice from John! Also, you need to realize that not every bird of any particular breed is going to thrive and produce on foraged diet, so you will need to cull for these traits and breed the best to the best to get the ultimate. Poultry management is a fact and there will never be a domestic chicken breed that is expected to produce your food that won't need some level of care or management.

The current bloodlines available have grown accustomed to being fed and produce well on this diet...but may need to be tweaked to produce well on their natural diet. You'll have to take your flock back a few generations to get that true "yard bird" heritage. It's worth doing and I'm doing the same.

You also need to have plenty of natural forage available and avoid overstocking the forage you have. Bugs, worms, any other small animal life need a period of recovery if the range is small, or you need to have so much range that your birds cannot deplete it of all natural life. If they have to range further and further to get their daily requirements, they are walking off all the energy they are gaining in feed.

Keep the flock small, the area big, plenty of brush piles, leaf debris, cool and moist places that attract beetles and worms. Good ground cover in the pasture/meadow area that attracts bugs naturally and it tender enough to be palatable to the chicken as well. Don't forget that fruits and vegetables are a great supplement, so grow pumpkins and squash for the birds...these store well for winter consumption.

If you have deep or persistent snows where you live, be aware that much of the bug/worm life go into a dormant state during these times and some feed must be provided.
 
Marc Troyka
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Even here in GA where we rarely see significant snow, the bugs basically disappear in the winter. If you have a winter, some feed will be necessary, but you cut total feed by about 80% with well managed foraging (according to paul's experience, anyway).

Some things you might want to know:

Meat chickens are usually culled at 5-6 weeks old, and 14 weeks when forage fed. A lot of the dual-purpose breeds will not grow as quickly. Jersey giants take 6 months to reach full size, and I would assume Braggs Mountain Buff (which has JG heritage) is similar. Chickens older than 6 months should be allowed to live to at least 4 years old in order to gain full flavor for the soup pot (old birds are tough and stringy, but flavorful).

The main advantage I can see for raising two separate breeds (or at least one breed in two different ranges) is that if you're doing breeding work, it's impossible to tell which of your meat chickens would have made a good long-term layer.

Australian Orpingtons are probably the best dual-purpose (5 eggs/wk, good size, friendly) chickens I know of. I found a neat list here.
 
greg patrick
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We have RIRs and they're great foragers, although leghorns are better. Our white leghorns are better layers on pasture and our RIRs don't lay consistently without grain. White birds are easy prey though, so that's why I say Brown Leghorns. We keep a mixed flock and we let them out on 'pasture' which is mostly goat and horse pens and some weeds and grass. They do manage to find tons of bugs though. Also look at Black Australorps as they are great birds too. And one last thing, if you have a pond, consider ducks too, in particular Welsh Harlequin and Khaki Campbell.

Have fun!
-greg
P1130998-chicken driver.JPG
[Thumbnail for P1130998-chicken driver.JPG]
Crazy Chicken Driver!
 
Marc Troyka
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@greg: Apparently non-white leghorns don't lay nearly as well as white ones do . I've read that leghorns forage exceptionally well (guess fukuoka didn't know what he was missing) but also that they're flighty and not very friendly. The one in your picture looks like it's going to eat you . Also, they aren't known to be broody, do any of yours raise chicks successfully?

Apparently RIRs don't brood either, but Australorps do.
 
Jay Green
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For free ranging and foraging it is desirable to have "flighty" and "unfriendly" birds. They will survive better than chickens that are used to being stooped over and picked up for "friendly" time. You really don't need friendly birds to have great egg layers and meat. Chickens are a prey species, so it's best if they are a little jumpy, a little wary, in order to survive being outdoors and hunting for their food.

Friendly, un-flighty chickens are those that don't have to go further than their coop and run for feed and water. If you are truly wanting a flock that survives on forage, this is something of importance...survival instincts are important. A chicken that squats when you go to pick her up and doesn't struggle a little, is the first one that will be picked off by a hawk, fox or coon. We are predators, they are prey...we are their first experience with predators. Make it a good one...do not expect them to be moochy and easy to pick up.

I've free ranged white chickens of different breeds for many a long year and have never had one taken by a predator, so color is of little significance. That's our own figuring..we think, if it's easier for us to see, that this will be the first one to be seen and targeted by a hawk. Actually, the first to go is docile, slow moving loners...those waiting by the back patio for a hand out~no matter what color she may be.

My favorite free ranging breeds are RIR, Black Aussies, White Rocks, New Hampshires, Barred Rocks, Speckled Sussex, White Leghorns, Partridge Rocks.

Breeds that I have found that do not do well on free ranging or work for sustainable, hardy flocks: Buff Orpingtons..actually, ANY Orpingtons, any of the sex link layer breeds like Comets, Black Stars, Red Stars, etc., Wyandottes, hatchery Dominiques(the old bloodlines, yes, not the newer Doms).
 
Brandon Greer
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Awesome, thanks for the wealth of information from you all!
 
Marc Troyka
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Jay Green wrote:For free ranging and foraging it is desirable to have "flighty" and "unfriendly" birds. They will survive better than chickens that are used to being stooped over and picked up for "friendly" time. You really don't need friendly birds to have great egg layers and meat. Chickens are a prey species, so it's best if they are a little jumpy, a little wary, in order to survive being outdoors and hunting for their food.

Friendly, un-flighty chickens are those that don't have to go further than their coop and run for feed and water. If you are truly wanting a flock that survives on forage, this is something of importance...survival instincts are important. A chicken that squats when you go to pick her up and doesn't struggle a little, is the first one that will be picked off by a hawk, fox or coon. We are predators, they are prey...we are their first experience with predators. Make it a good one...do not expect them to be moochy and easy to pick up.

I've free ranged white chickens of different breeds for many a long year and have never had one taken by a predator, so color is of little significance. That's our own figuring..we think, if it's easier for us to see, that this will be the first one to be seen and targeted by a hawk. Actually, the first to go is docile, slow moving loners...those waiting by the back patio for a hand out~no matter what color she may be.


That makes a lot of sense. I've seen a hawk take a squirrel out of midair from the middle of a leap before, and squirrels have reasonable camouflage compared to a white chicken. That also scratches off some of the breeds I was looking at.

Jay Green wrote:
My favorite free ranging breeds are RIR, Black Aussies, White Rocks, New Hampshires, Barred Rocks, Speckled Sussex, White Leghorns, Partridge Rocks.

Breeds that I have found that do not do well on free ranging or work for sustainable, hardy flocks: Buff Orpingtons..actually, ANY Orpingtons, any of the sex link layer breeds like Comets, Black Stars, Red Stars, etc., Wyandottes, hatchery Dominiques(the old bloodlines, yes, not the newer Doms).


Well, that kills half of Paul's breeding list too lol . When you say "Black Aussies" are you referring to the Black Australorps or something else? I'm pretty sure those are orpingtons, although I don't know for sure that there's any actual genetic relation.

Apparently leghorns aren't as flighty as some other breeds, but they are described as "intelligent" which would make a lot of sense. The main problem is getting a breed that has good productive characteristics while also being good at foraging and able to raise chicks well. I think Australorps and Rocks seem to fit that best (answering the OP's question at least somewhat), but if I were breeding them I think I'd add some Jersey Giants and then breed them all with White Leghorn roosters. I also hear a lot of complaints about "hatchery trash"; birds that show off-breed characteristics, or don't show the breed characteristics, and/or tend to be feeder hogs or eat their own chicks etc etc. I've also heard of Jersey Giants from a reputable breeder going broody and raising chicks. It seems it's worthwhile or even necessary for someone wanting to do the PC thing to go to the trouble of getting good stock.

I also found some cool stuff on how chickens were traditionally raised and cooked:
Prior to development of the commercial birds, there were several types of birds that everyone recognized – the broiler, fryer, roaster, and stewing bird. These types were based on the traditional points where pure (heritage) chicken breeds were processed. All of these heritage breeds were expected to produce meat and eggs for the table; and depending on the bird breed, the farmer would decide when best to process it as a broiler, roaster, fryer, or stewing bird. Although commercial supermarket birds are still called these names; there is no relationship to when the birds were processed.

Traditional broilers were from 7 to 12 weeks old and weighed 1 to 2 ½ lbs.; fryers were 14 to 20 weeks old and weighed 2 ½ to 4 lbs.; roasters were 5 to 12 months old and weighed 4 to 8 lbs; and anything older than a year was a stewing fowl. Broilers and fryers were often excess egg breed cockerels (young roosters) because they wouldn’t attain the carcass size necessary for roasters, and roasters were typically excess cockerels from meat or dual purpose chicken breeds. Stewing fowl were hens or roosters being culled from flocks as older birds.

Although the heritage breeds could all be butchered young for fryers or broilers, in the past it was preferred to take time to produce roasters because they had such superior flavor. Today, few remember or understand that the traditional roasting chicken was a meat or dual purpose breed cockerel. The number of eggs produced by young hens made them too valuable for the table, particularly when there were extra roosters that could be used. I’m often asked why we would bother raising roosters as well as hens – well it’s for the roasters!


From this article.

Some general recommendations from various people: 8 weeks for a broiler, 18 for a fryer (although many wait till 25 weeks, in which case you can only fry the breasts and thighs, which you also have to skin at that point), 6 months for a roaster (I imagine JGs were purpose bred for that) and for a soup chicken the older the better. Lots of people also report using old chickens for chicken salad/chicken sandwiches etc, but only after a good dunk in brine followed by 6-12 hours in the crock pot (longer the older the bird).
 
John Polk
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Most hatchery bred chicks are too domesticated in my opinion.

If you can find a local who is breeding his own foraging birds, he can probably supply you with a better bird.

If his hens are brooding their own, that is even better. Chicks raised by their mothers learn foraging, predator awareness, and other skills needed to survive in a real world situation. Hatchery bought, and other incubated chicks, are better suited for the chicken run than an open field.

If you allow yours to breed and brood their own, after a few generations you will have real chickens.
Just remember: Breed the best, eat the rest.

Contrary to what is often thought, you do not want to breed the fastest maturing hens/cocks. They are precocious birds, and usually will not grow as large as the others, and they will also be the first to quit laying.

An old saying:

First to lay, first to crow,
Are great for show.

But if you want to breed,
Ain't worth their feed.

 
John Polk
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Personally, I would not consider Jersey Giants. They have the worst feed:weight ratio of any chicken I have ever heard of. Nothing else even comes close to their ratio.

The amount of feed it would take to get 100 pounds of Jersey Giant meat is enough to get over 200 pounds from almost any dual purpose bird.
The Jerseys do get big, but it takes a long time, and a lot of feed.



 
greg patrick
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Consider that you only need one broody bird to sit on ALL your eggs. If they all lay in one nesting box, a broody hen will sit on everybody's eggs. One of my RIRs will get broody once there are ten eggs in the box. You can also incubate the eggs and then put them with a hen once they hatch. Chickens readily adopt chicks.
 
Jay Green
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Black Aussie, or Black Austrolorp:

The original stock used in the development of the Australorp was imported to Australia from England out of the Black Orpington yards of William Cook and Joseph Partington in the period from 1890 to the early 1900s with Rhode Island Red. Local breeders used this stock together with judicious out-crossings of Minorca, White Leghorn and Langshan blood to improve the utility features of the imported Orpingtons. There is even a report of some Plymouth Rock blood also being used. The emphasis of the early breeders was on utility features. At this time, the resulting birds were known as Australian Black Orpingtons (Austral-orp).


Yes, a type of Orpington....but as far from the Buff or Blue Orpingtons as the east is from the west in regards to feed thrift, hardiness, productivity and longevity of lay. With the addition of all the other breeds in this breed, the only characteristic that seems truly Orpington is the docility of the breed. The rest is from the other breeds incorporated into this fantastic breed.

Buff Orpingtons are what is known as a pet chicken or starter chicken. Big, fat, docile, good laying but not great, moderately hardy but very prone to reproductive issues and sour crop issues due to overeating of feeds. They are not a real good breed to choose for a sustainable flock that needs to subsist on mostly forage.

I wouldn't consider Jersey Giants either. They are big and hardy....not much else to recommend them at that point. They take a long time to grow out, they have average laying characteristics and they eat a good bit of feed.
 
Paula Edwards
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IMO it is not very important to have super layer chicken like RIR, but it is important that they lay well into winter. Our Aracaunas don't the light Sussex either, but their meat is good. We just ordered some fertile eggs for Langsham because they are supposed to be good winter layers.
Apparently, ducks are laying well in cooler weather too, but ours just started laying so I can't vouch for that, but I would always supplement chicken by some ducks, they are better foragers and the eggs is what you need for baking.
I always lock the chicken in at night and we haven't had one loss so far, most of or neighbours lost all their chickens to Mr fox.
I find dual breed is somewhat flexible because i.e barnevelders don't have that much meat.
I would start with eggs and a broody hen, at least here old breeds can be very expensive and they charge you $50 for one single chicken.
Aracaunas get easily broody and are good mothers, pretty birds which lay green eggs you could sell to South American people (or to anyone else).
Light Sussex have a lot of feathers which keep them warm in winter. White leghorn are too intelligent and always have an obsession, one wanted permanently get in our house and the other one always landed on our head or shoulders (nice when you want to go to work).
If you buy from a backyard breeder they might sell you old chicken and the chicken our neighbour sells are not very pure if this matters to you.
Another neighbour even hatched from supermarket free range eggs. I definitively would not invest that much as foxes are everywhere and chicken die too, especially if this is the first time you keep chicken.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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As far as keeping predators away, if you have horses they'll act as guards. We have our chicken run positioned between the backside of the house and the horse pasture. The one or two times a fox has peeked his head out of the bushes the horses went nuts and chased it off before it could even think of crossing the field.
 
Jill Gabu
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I have to second what others are saying about the JGs. I have a old flock of JGs and a new flock of Buckeyes - they truly free range and the Buckeyes are GREAT foragers. I don't have any Buckeyes old enough to breed, but I have high hopes for laying and raising chicks.

 
Maggie Brooksby
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I didn't see anyone else mention this but if you purchase chicks, make sure you get a rooster or two, not just hens - they will protect the hens somewhat during the day from predators while foraging and they sound the alarm if they see a hawk which will send the rest scattering.
 
John Polk
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Usually, if you purchase from the mail order hatcheries, they have a 25 chick minimum (enough body heat to keep them alive during transit). They usually toss in a few extra so that if 2 or 3 die in transit, you still get 25.

Since most people just want hens, there is always a huge surplus of cockerels. So if you specify pullets, the extras will most likely be cockerels. Big hatcheries have to kill 1,000's of cockerels each week, so it makes sense to them to utilize the cockerels for the "freebies" included.

This also explains why the hatcheries offer "Fry Pan Specials" like 100 cockerels for $27.

 
Benjamin Bouchard
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With the massive surplus of cockerels it makes me wonder why caponization isn't more commonly practiced. If I get to the point where I decide to bother with breeding chickens instead of just ordering in flocks I'll be investing in a kit.
 
Paula Edwards
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We breed naturally it is easy. Whatever breed you take I would always stick to a dual purpose breed.
 
Maggie Brooksby
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Benjamin Bouchard wrote:With the massive surplus of cockerels it makes me wonder why caponization isn't more commonly practiced. If I get to the point where I decide to bother with breeding chickens instead of just ordering in flocks I'll be investing in a kit.


Caponization isn't widely offered because it's considered cruel. Testes are internal in birds. They usually open the ribcge via their back and remove the testicles while the bird is alert without anesthesia. They can't use anesthesia on small young birds because they generally don't wake up. There's usually a very high mortality rate post-surgery as well. Caponization is illegal in some states too. It would sort of be similar to removing one of your kidneys while you're awake. There is no low hanging fruit to snip - so to speak, so it's a much more invasive procedure.
 
Paula Edwards
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Why you just don't raise the roosters and then butcher them?
 
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