If you didn’t get chickens last year, or the year before, chances are good that you’re thinking about it now. You’re investigating local livestock ordinances. You’re deciding where to build your coop. You’re checking prices and availability at Murray McMurray.
And you’re studying Henderson’s Handy-Dandy Chicken Chart to figure out how to pick your breeds.
Henderson’s Handy-Dandy Chicken Chart is indispensable for anyone considering keeping chickens. It’s a comprehensive list of breeds, with their origins, egg-laying potential, heat- and cold-tolerance, and notes on their behavior. I love Henderson’s Handy-Dandy Chicken Chart, and I encourage you to spend time reading about your many choices.
When it gets serious, though, and it’s time to actually buy chicks, I can help you cut through the indecision. There is one chicken breed that’s beak and wattles above all the others.
You will be tempted by the breeds, like Brahmas, with froo-froo feathers, but those feathers decorate chickens that have less in the way of brainpower than your average chicken – and that’s saying a lot.
You will be tempted by the ones with the big floppy combs, like Leghorns, because they look like Elvis. But those combs get frostbite instantly.
You will be tempted by the ones that are docile and friendly and good with children, like Orpingtons, but you will get very tired of the frequency with which they go broody and have to be kept in a cage for a few days to be convinced that, no, they’re not going to hatch a brood of chicks.
You will be tempted by Araucanas and Ameraucanas, because they lay eggs in pastel shades of blue and green. And they do – every other Thursday. They are freeloaders.
The go-to chicken – drumroll, please – is the Rhode Island Red.
These plain brown hens are barnyard stand-outs. They lay big brown eggs, practically every day. They’re curious and engaged, but not needy or clingy. They don’t bully, and they don’t tolerate being bullied. They never get sick and they never go broody.
It makes sense that it should be that way. If you’re doing the selective breeding, it’s much harder to get feathers and combs and Easter eggs coupled with temperament, egg production, and disease resistance than temperament, egg production, and disease resistance all by themselves. Focus on what’s important, and you get a plain brown hen.
The favorite in our flock is George, who’s always the first to come investigate when we’re working in the yard. She’s friendly and calm, and she hangs out near us, scratching for bugs and clucking. If she decides nothing interesting is going on, she rejoins the rest of the flock.
There’s a lot to be said for a mixed flock, with its quotient of stupid ones, flighty ones, and broody ones. We love our motley crew and, if you’re just now venturing into chicken-keeping, I’d encourage you to go that route. It makes watching them and caring for them more interesting, and it sure makes counting them easier. As much as we like them, I don’t think we’ll ever have a flock that’s all Rhode Island Reds. But we’ll never have a flock without them.