Deciding which breeds of chickens you want for your backyard chicken project is a pretty important decision. There are books and magazine articles on the subject and I found the hatchery catalogues to be quite helpful (and fun to browse through) as you plan on which breeds would fit your needs.
Before making a decision on breeds for you, ask yourself a few questions. Are you raising chickens for eggs, meat, or pets? Do you want steady layers, calm birds, pretty birds, show birds, or just plain sweet birds. Do you have space for the larger breeds or would you prefer a flock of the small bantams? Do you live in a climate that has extremes that may threaten the health of your chickens? Some breeds are called “dual-purpose” breeds so if you put in a “straight run order”, meaning there will be both hens and roosters in the arrival, you will be able to butcher the roosters for meat and keep the hens for eggs. Hey folks, this is the real world!
Now I can only speak about raising chicks for egg layers because this is where my experience lies. When I was searching for the right breeds, I knew what I didn’t want. Growing up we had Leghorns for big beautiful white eggs. They were “flighty” birds and nervous and didn’t make cuddly pets. I knew I was only getting 4-6 hens, and that there was a real chance, that with a calm breed, I could make egg-laying pets. I’d had bantams before, and while they were great at cleaning up bugs in the garden and taking care of chicks, they were “broody” and not the best of layers.
I finally settled on six beautiful, calm (most of the time), self-reliant breeds. They are considered ideal free-range chickens because they are good foragers. I chose an Orpington, Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, silver-laced Wyandotte, golden-laced Wyandotte (all lay large brown eggs) and an Ameraucana (who lays designer olive-green eggs). All of them lay about 5 eggs a week except the Ameraucana. She only averages every other day; but hey, they’re green!
We don’t have a rooster because we have good relations with our neighbors and I want to keep it that way. Roosters are an asset because they are protective of their hens and keep order in the flock. But they do not effect egg-laying. You will still get beautiful, tasty eggs without a rooster in your flock.
Do your research before getting your chicks. Do not get more than your coop can handle (see my article on “A Problem Chicken” that was published in a local newspaper), and nurture them as they grow. A little planning in the beginning can prevent unhappy situations for both you and your hens.