Selecting Our Chicken Breeds

My boyfriend is Dutch and he wanted to have chickens like he had growing up. They were called Barnevelders. Common in their country of origin, Holland, they’re not so much here in the States! I looked them up. $25 for a single day old chick. OUCH. I told him maybe when we know what we’re doing we can sink some money into that but for now we should settle on something cheaper.

Initially we only wanted 6-12 chickens. However its hard to get just 6-12 chickens these days! I didn’t want to order from our local feed store as they usually only have Rhode Island Reds. I grew up with these chickens and they are wonderful hardy and very productive brown egg layers but they are really best suited for a completely free range lifestyle, otherwise they get bored and peck each other bald. The large egg industry still uses them in confinement but in order to make everyone peaceable they cauterize half of the chick’s beak off so they can’t peck at each other later in life. Although their beak is made of the same thing as our fingernails and this practice doesn’t technically hurt them I still think its unnecessarily cruel.

In any event I still needed chickens that were 1) Productive egg layers 2) Able to survive a cold New England winter 3) Content in confinement and 4) Friendly towards people (might as well have something we can enjoy!) I was promised I could have chickens when I turned twelve years old by my mother and back then what I wanted more than anything in the world were Barred Rocks. They were just so glamorous and pretty to me. Unfortunately we moved that year and I was never able to get my chickens. Now that I can I decided to look up those rocks!

Barred Rocks are really just a certain color variation of Plymouth Rock chickens. Plymouth Rocks have been around for a long time. Their origin stories are all muddled and no one really knows where the breed started but it may have been with the first chickens brought over with the settlers. They are a winter hardy breed that lay eggs all year round, about 3-4 eggs per chicken per week. There are a lot of fans of these chickens because besides being great layers they are very friendly and are often kept as pet chickens. They are also used for meat as they grow very big very fast without any chemical help. I wanted to order from Murray McMurray hatchery but they have a 25 chick minimum so I decided that we should get six of these first.

Plymouth rocks come in a variety of different colors – Barred, white, black, and partridge were the ones I could pick from at McMurray. I decided to get six of the partridge as they seemed to pretty and exotic-looking.

I could have gotten 12 more rocks, 6 black and 6 white but I was curious what the other breeds had to offer. One of the breeds that seemed  to be getting great reviews were the Buff Orpingtons. They also grew very large, laid very consistently, and didn’t mind cold weather or confinement. Some people claimed they were the friendliest chickens you could get and they look so chubby and darling! Maybe a little too chubby as I have heard once grown they can’t really get off the ground very well, if at all. That being said they didn’t seem to have any fat-related health issues like turkeys sometimes have. Why not? How about 6.

For my final set of six I spent a week reading before I decided to go with some light Brahmas. They were an Indian breed of chicken but strangely enough seemed to do well in cold. They had their own set of fans saying how great, docile, and quiet they were. To add to their mystique they were a “feather-footed” breed, that is a breed with feathers covering up their legs and feet! How can you resist that? Its like a chicken in a parka, all ready to go, and oh how beautiful they were…

All the mathematicians out there are going, “6 X 4 does not equal 25.” You’re right. I decided to make my order even by getting one “freak” chicken unlike all the others. It’d have to be something so vibrantly different from the rest that people passing by would turn their heads and go, “What is that thing?” A lot of people suggested silkies but these could only be ordered straight-run meaning there was a 50% chance I’d get a rooster. Plus silkies are bantams, a mini chicken breed and I didn’t know how it’d do with these heavy weights! Eventually I settled on two breeds – Dark Cornish and Polish. Cornish are meat birds who look like they came out of Jurassic Park and apparently have apt intelligence for a chicken, two qualities that kept bringing me back to them like a moth to flame. They’re also consistent brown egg layers and have been said to fight foxes and win. Sadly I’ve always been attracted to animals with muscular physiques and attitude – my Bengal cat, my pit bull, and my persistent love of bulls in art. Unfortunately they do best in free range situations and can get rather aggressive to the other chickens when they don’t have enough freedom. I pondered this… it would only be one chicken, in a pretty large run, and if it didn’t work out it was a meat chicken… I ordered 1.

Of course I couldn’t resist a Polish either. Maybe two freak chickens? Polish are smaller ornamental breed that sport an eccentric bouffant. They are not great layers but seem to do OK in Winter and definitely do well in confinement. People love them because they’re friendly and utterly bizarre in appearance. They also originally came from Holland so big plus there! We can have one Dutch chicken! They only had one color available to order – silver laced so I ordered 1.

Upon check-out we realized that there was the option to throw in one “mystery chicken” at no expense. Oh what the hell! Let’s go for it, if it doesn’t work out I’m sure we can find something to do with it…