Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Keeping Chickens at Home - What's the best type or breed of chicken to get?

Keeping Chickens at Home - What's the best type or breed of chicken to get?

Keeping chickens at home UK
Keeping chickens at home UK
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 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 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.


Nicole said...

Thankyou so much for this blog. Maybe I haven't googled the right key words but I have been looking for a good comprehensive page on how to keep chickens and haven't found one before this one. I am reading through all your posts. I will be moving to a house in May that is in the country. I grew up in the country and loved it. We even had chickens (and butchered a few once in a while). I am really getting excited about having a few chickens when we move. The property has an empty old barn on it that is just used for storing things like boats right now but I'm pretty sure we are allowed to use it too. We would have to build some nesting boxes and section off a piece. I was thinking of removing some replaceable barn boards so that there can be a door to the outside where they can roam around. What do you think? One website I have found for choosing a breed is
Thankyou for all the info.

leshoopers said...

Many people are beginning to realise the cruelty involved in battery hen farming. In addition to the obvious - that of not eating eggs from battery hens - some free-range hen keepers are choosing to rescue 'retired' birds who after 52 weeks are normally disposed of, one way or another, by the farmer. I have taken on three such birds and was shocked to see their pale and limp combs; their scrawny near bald appearance; the evidence of their having been de-beaked. I feel that giving them a happy 'retirement' after such a hard start to their life is a compelling reason for taking them on. Not neccessarily as you have suggested - to avoid if at all possible.

Peter Skuse said...

That's a very noble cause Les, but ex-battery birds are for more experienced poultry keepers in my opinion.
The other problem of course is their egg laying ability is normally not that great. The couple I've taken on over the years have been very poor layers.
I certainly wouldn't advise anyone to get ex battery hens to start off with.

Mike and Kelly said...

We are thinking of getting chickens for our next home, and I was wondering if you prefer to free range your chickens or if a large chicken run is better? IF I do decide to free range, what will my yard end up looking like? Will the grass be torn up? Also can dogs and chickens co-exist?

Peter Skuse said...

I always prefer to free range my poultry, but they will tear up your yard ;-)


anni said...

Hi Peter, thanks for this blog, it's very useful information!!
We have two rehomed hens and a cockerel, in addition to 3 resuced ex-battery hens (1 died). So far, we have no problems, but there again there are only three of us so egg production is not such a big deal. I was interested to read your comments about Ross Cobs, we have been offered 10 these as 6 week old cockerels, which we would be getting specifically for the table. My question is - cocks or hens? Does it really matter?? Will our other cockerel put up with them? As you can probably tell, I am terribly new to all this :) and would appreciate your advice!!
Thanks for your time!
Anni x

Peter Skuse said...

Get 3 of each Anni and you can test the difference. I personally keep table birds separate from the egg layers and the cockerel, as the boys will fight (as will the girls!)and their feed should different with a higher protein content. Pete.

anni said...

Thanks Peter,
Well, in the absence of any hens, I am getting some Ross Cob cocks tomorrow, but have also been given 7 Old English Game(I think)chicks. It's still a little difficult to tell what they are, but I think we have a 2 or 3 hens and 4 or 5 cocks. I know the cockerels will start to fight when they get a little older, but am sort of hoping we may be able to rehome a few...or else they'll go to the big table in the sky. I'm going to keep these separate from the layers and the cockerel, in a run in the garden until my puppy and cat get used to them. Currently the layers and the cockerel are in a big coop in a fenced off area of the garden, so they won't get worried by the other animals and they'll get used to where they are before I let them out. Also a bit worried about my veggie plants as they seem to eat EVERYTHING!! I was going to put the cobs in with the layers, as the coop we have is huge.... As the man we are getting the cobs from said they are pretty docile (at 6 weeks old) I thought I'd give it a go and put them in the same coop. He reckons they will be ready for the table by between 12 and 18 weeks. I guess I could feed them separately, as the layers have pellets. I was going to feed them pure corn. Is this high protein enough?
Thanks for your time Peter, it really IS appreciated!
Anni x

Peter Skuse said...

Anni, keep your hens out of your veggie patch or you can kiss it goodbye ;-) The tastiest table birds I've every had were a Dorking/Old English game cross. If you feed them 100% corn, they will get yellow flesh and will be a little fatty. I personally prefer organic growers pellets. Pete.

anni said...

Thank you Peter, I will go down to our local feed place and have a look at the growers pellets down there. And I shall DEFINITELY keep them off the veggie patch then - no point in chickens without the roast parsnips :)!!
I'll keep in touch and let you know how we get on.....

john said...

We have four Wyandote bantam chicks, we think one hen and three cockerels. They live with 10 other assorted bantams including a cockerel. We would like to breed some pure Wyandotes. How long should we keep the Wyandote hen and cockerel separate from the other cockerel to ensure they breed true?

Peter Skuse said...

Have you had the Wyandote chicks sexed John? I personally would keep them permanently separated if you plan to breed them.


Anonymous said...

Hi Pete, I have always wanted to get bantam Buff Orpingtons from a hatchery called Cackle hatchery. However, After reading a few articles recently, I was shocked to find that there was a reason why people purchased the same chicks year after year or when they feel that they need to replace their chickens. I had thought that wouldn't these chickens just lay eggs, and rather than eating them, you let them hatch. However, it is to my understanding that the hen will probably lay a non Bantam or a non Buff Orpington if the eggs hatch. I have already created a chicken tractor that is approximate 8'x4'x2'deep. If I could, I would just buy the standard Buff Orpington. But if the Orpingtons hatch eggs and I let it become a chick, will the chicks come true to type? What should I do by the way, should I just get the standard Buff Orpington or will the tractor I made not be able to accomodate them?

Peter Skuse said...

Your coop sounds a little low, even for bantams.

Chickens need to roost off the ground and I'm not sure 2' will suffice.

You haven't mentioned a cockerel in your equation. The eggs won't hatch without one ;-)

And if you try to hatch every egg, you are quickly going to end up with a lot of chicks (males & females).

If the hen is a pure Buff orpington, and the cockerel is a pure Buff Orpington, you will get Buff Orpingtons (Not sure about the bantam thing).

Different breeds lay different numbers of eggs. Bantams lay small eggs and make great broody hens.

Personally, I would forego the cockerel if you have neighbours (noisy at 4am!), and either develop a taste for eggs or sell them/give them away and just enjoy keeping the chickens.

Pete :-)

Melina said...

Hi Peter. Can you please tell me how to stop my Isobrown from laying her eggs on the ground in the dirt. Usually she lays right in front of the boxes. She has been doing this now for about a month. We currently have three chickens and three layer boxes so there's plenty of room for her.

Peter Skuse said...

Not a lot you can do except make the nest boxes extra cosy and dark, so she prefers to go in there.

Hens do this for no apparent reason, sometimes it's just because they all want to use the same box and it's occupied at the time.

They just get it in their heads and they are creatures of habit.

Another reason hens don't like nest boxes is because of mites. Have you recently dusted the nest boxes for mites. You really should do this every week when you change the nest box material.

If they start laying outside the hen house, that's easier to sort out....don't let them out until they lay ;-)

Pete :-)

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