It’s that time of year. We are expected to make some improvements in our lives. Well,¦after you promise to provide more chicken treats and focus on flock pampering. No skipping anything THIS year, the chickens have downloaded their new Treat and Needs” app (And they know how to Tweet). Who could argue with adding a few more friends to the flock?
Gardeners wait for their seed catalogs and those in the feather hobby scan the mail for the new hatchery flyers. This year, consider these tips for finding your perfect breed. While adopting birds in need is ideal, save some coop space for a few heritage birds and some breeds that suit your needs. Try a new species pick some poults or ducklings to add some variety to the homestead.
Myths and Misses
The number one myth that pops up regarding breed selection is,¦wait for it,¦critiques on disposition. Ye olde misleader.
Like books and their covers, you can’t judge a chicken (duck or turkey) by its breed. Breed descriptions need to be taken lightly. A bird’s personality and behavior is strongly influenced by genes on EACH individual. Don’t assume those leggerns will run away from you or those powder fluff silkies will be sugary sweet. If you like a breed the personality descriptions are loose guides. Each bird is an individual and you can’t predict personality.
What you WILL want to consider from the descriptions:
1. Hardiness and region suitability. Don’t buy D’anvers and Andalusians for your unheated Yukon coop. Seriously, get the Wyandottes and the Brahmas. Birds were bred to withstand certain expected conditions in their indigenous area.
2. Egg Production. Uncle Fred’s pasture fed, rare breed, organic egg business will have customers twiddling their thumbs if he raises Sultans and Silkies. Stick to the Australorps, Andalusians, Leghorns and throw in those endearing labrador retrievers of the chook-world, the sex-links (ISA Brown, Gold, Red, and Black).
3. Brooding. Natural reproductive behavior is, well, natural. Let’s preserve that feature. Choose breeds that actually CAN breed naturally. We want to encourage the propagation of heritage types that also go broody. Some breeds (like Silkies – the masters of the brooding box) that brood: Cochins, Marans, Chantecler, Jersey Giants…
If you want to hatch your own chicks, especially game birds, go with the Silkie. They will go broody like clockwork. Silkies are small enough for pheasant hatchlings and they are superb moms. Want great quail hatches? Order those silkies.
4. Habitat and Safety. If you want to let the flock party on the back forty, you will need to choose breeds made to be on those survivalist shows. Many heritage birds were self-selecting to be feathered commandos. All normal breeds of chickens, ducks and turkeys are intelligent and active animals that require plenty of activities to keep them mentally sane, reduce chronic stress, limit fighting, provide foraged nutrition and promote vigor. But, some ornamental/show breeds are not suited to unsupervised range: Cochins, Japanese Bantams, Sebrights, the limited sight breeds (Polish, Silkie, Sultan) and heavy breeds, like large Brahma, are compromised on range.
If you live in suburbia some birds will be unimpressed with your teeny yard. Unless you can send them on an adventure vacation, you will want to reconsider active and lively (flying) breeds that don’t appreciate the urban lifestyle.
Note: Free-ranging fowl still need plenty of “safe house” options. Provide thick brush, buildings and other sturdy cover to allow the birds to hide. A chicken, duck or guinea in the wide open is a dead chicken, duck (“sitting duck” – couldn’t resist) or guinea. It is advisable to run donkeys, llamas and livestock guard dogs to protect the birds. You can also try large breeds of geese like the African or the Embden. Hawks, owls, coyote, fox, raccoons and weasels are waiting to eat your birdies. No breed of fowl is 100% predator-proof. Be proactive to prevent predation.
Industrial farming has really hit heritage breeds. And that is saying something since big ag has only been around for less than a century. Just like the receding ice shelves, many of the genetic varieties that were scampering and strutting about farms and homes have almost gone the way of the dodo. But, you can do something.
Choose heritage! Visit the Livestock Breeds Conservancy to see what American breeds you can help save. eFowl contributes to the conservation of these unique and irreplaceable breeds of fowl by offering them for you to add to your family (check their Rare Breeds list).
Here are a few critically endangered types to consider for your coop!
Silver Appleyard, Welsh Harlequin, Saxony, Magpie
Black Spanish, Royal Palm, Narragansett
Silver Spangled Hamburg, Sumatra, Yokohama, Dominique, Buckeye
Keep your resolution to be a heritage breed hero! Well, what are you waiting for?
Leave us some tips and thoughts on your favorite breeds. We love to hear from you and your feathered favorites!
Photo Credits: Main Image: “The Local Chickens”/Peter Burka/Flickr
“What Are Ya.. Chicken?!”/David Spencer/Flickr