Keeping Chickens at Home - What's the best type or breed of chicken to get?
When you are keeping chickens at home in the garden, it is important to choose the right chickens for the job. There are Pure Breed chickens like Welsomers, Marins and Wyandotts and there are hybrid (cross bred) chickens.
Hybrid chickens have been bred to be either be good layers or good 'eaters'. Pure breed chickens are, on the whole, a lot more easy on the eye and will display unique characteristics to their breed.
For the past three years, I have bought Black Rock hens. It is a hybrid bird, crossed between a Plymouth Rock and a Rhode Island Red. They are great layers (200+ eggs per year), very hardy (suitable for free range living), well natured and have good resistance to disease. They are also quite a large bird, so are also good for eating. I can heartily recommend them as a 'back garden' bird.
You do have to make sure you are buying authentic Black Rocks as some unscrupulous poultry dealers try to pass off other birds as Black Rocks. To make sure you are buying from an authorised Black Rock agent go to http://www.theblackrock.co.uk/agents.htm to find the nearest one to you. Ben & Cathy who supply our Organic Black Rock hens charge £7 each for a point of lay hen (point of lay just means they are old enough to start laying eggs - 16 to 18 weeks old).
The hybrid hen used by battery farms are called Isa Browns. They are amazing layers, rarely missing a day. And if you raise them properly, they will be very happy and healthy hens. It also means you would be keeping a couple of hens from living a miserable life. Do be careful when buying them though, as battery farmers sell them or give them away after a year as their egg production drops. These birds have been reared intensively and they may be cheap or free, but avoid if at all possible.
Pure breed chickens have great names such as the Dumpy, Wyandott, Dorking, Indian game, Cuckoo Marin and light Sussex to name but a few. Describing each breed of chicken is too big a subject for this blog, so I suggest you go to http://www.poultrypages.com/chicken-breeds.html and get a cup of tea and go through the different types to find one that suits you.
If you want to raise some chickens for the oven, then the two main breeds used for this purpose are the Cobb or Ross Cobb and the Indian Game. The Indian Game is normally crossed with a Dorking or a Wyandott chicken to produce the best tasting bird.
One area we haven't mentioned yet is Bantams. Bantams are just miniature versions of certain breeds of chicken. They are normally a little bit more independent and with a little more character. I've known them ignore hen houses and prefer to roost up trees. There eggs are smaller of course, but one or two are normally kept by smallholders as they are excellent mothers. They will happily sit on fertile eggs and hatch them for you.
So the choice boils down to a balance between good egg production (hybrid), good looks (pure breed) or good eating (Ross Cobb and Indian Game).
You decide what your priorities are and what interests you. Then find a reputable local poultry dealer and go and have a look and a chat.
Keeping Chickens at Home.