If you listen to Tennyson, you know that spring is the time when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love. It was smart of Tennyson to focus on the young when it comes to the thinking that happens in spring, because we older folk have much less poetic concerns.
For starters, there’s the giant mud pit in the driveway, created by a combination of the weekend’s downfall and the snow melt from last week’s blizzard. There are seeds to be started, fig trees to be unwrapped, and a hoophouse to be mended. Then there’s the first infiltration of insects into the house. Nothing says ‘springtime’ like silverfish!
Love is a fine thing, and I’ll spare a thought for it, but only when I’m finished thinking about the a more pressing springtime issue: chickens!
With the exception of Queenie, our flock is three years old. Queenie, the last holdover from our first flock, is a geriatric five. We have nine altogether, and are now getting more eggs than we can eat. Next year, though, all we’ll have is a bunch of old chickens and the occasional egg, so we’re thinking about getting a few reinforcements.
Over the two flocks, Kevin and I have had six different breeds: buff orpington, Rhode Island red, barred rock, araucana, brahma, and leghorn. We don’t even pretend to not play favorites. Rhode Island reds are our go-to chickens. We’ve found them to be friendly and curious. They don’t bully, or let themselves be bullied. They lay lots of eggs, and they never go broody. George, the smartest chicken in the world, is a Rhode Island red.
That said, we know other people haven’t had the same experience. Our friends Judi and Frank, who also don’t even pretend not to play favorites, don’t have anything good to say about their RIRs. Sure, they lay eggs, but at the price of peace in the coop. They’re bullies.
So, as so many of us are facing down the springtime question of chicken breeds, I thought I’d give you the run-down of what we’ve experienced with ours. If you’ve had them, or have had other breeds that aren’t mentioned here, and you’re willing to give a quick review in the comments, it would be most welcome!
Buff orpingtons: The sweetest, most docile chicken we’ve had. They’re great layers and, in our limited experience (Queenie did her level best with a turkey poult), great mothers. But great mothers tend to go broody, and our orpingtons did, with great regularity. If you’re looking to breed your own chicks, you need this breed. If you’re not, but you have children, you might want to consider them anyway – they’ll tolerate being held with more patience than any other breed. If you don’t have kids, and you don’t want your chickens to have any either, you may still want orpingtons, but be prepared to break out the broody box.
Barred rock: We expected them to be like the Rhode Island reds, but ours weren’t. They’re cantankerous and irritable. They don’t like to be touched, and protest mightily if you happen to catch them and try to pick them up. On the plus side, they’re the most attractive breed going, and they lay very well. Ours have gone broody only occasionally.
Araucana (or Ameraucana): These are the ones that lay the pastel-colored eggs, and it’s a non-trivial bonus. A box of a dozen eggs in shades of brown, white, and light green is a beautiful thing. Although other people we know have found Araucanas to be friendly, ours have been stand-offish. Phyllis, though, was one of our favorites. She seemed to know her own mind and, although she never came too close, she was always interested in what was going on. We were very sorry to lose her to a hawk.
Brahma: It’s hard not to choose chickens for their looks, and we got brahmas because they have feathers on their feet. It’s not a great reason to choose a chicken. Our brahmas are perfectly fine, but colorless. They’re very large, and they tend to hang out on the periphery, keeping a safe distance from any commotion. They lay large white eggs, and have the advantage of a very small comb, which is less susceptible to frostbite.
Leghorn: Leghorns have the reputation of being great layers, and I have no doubt they are. But ours are suspicious and alarmist. They won’t let you come near them, and they start running around and squawking at the least hint of anything out of the ordinary. When we try and lure the chickens back into the run so we can close them up, it’s always the leghorns who won’t go in. They suspect, with some justification, that it’s a trap. Again, though, other people have had excellent leghorn experiences.
And there you have it. After five years of having chickens, this is all the wisdom we have to offer. If you want some better advice, consult Henderson’s Handy Dandy Chicken Chart, an excellent all-in-one overview of almost every breed there is.
If Henderson, and chickens, just aren’t on your radar this spring, there’s always love.