Let me start by saying that there is no right or wrong when choosing chickens for your homestead. However, there are some key characteristics that one should know before building a flock of chickens for self-sufficiency.
Having chickens in your backyard is a great investment for your homestead. They will provide you with homegrown eggs, meat, and most importantly, peace of mind knowing that you have your own food source.
It’s not hard getting started, but before getting your birds, there is the need for proper research on the topic. There are various breeds you can pick, but you should learn a thing or two about those breeds since their key points (productivity, climate hardiness, etc.) can help you meet your goals.
🐔Before getting your birds
When we got our chickens years ago, we had to narrow down the list, and it was quite a challenge since chicken breeders offer lots of breeds to serve your needs. You may very well find yourself going back and forth between getting a new breed or sticking with the ones you already have.
When we got our chickens, our main concern was to have enough eggs for our needs but also to have some extra that we can sell. It was also a good opportunity for us to teach our kids the value or caring for animals and raising their own food. We needed breeds that are good egg layers but also some that had a temperature resistance (cold and heat hardy birds).
We ended up looking for hatcheries in our area, and we ended up picking more than one breed. We now have New Hampshire, Easter Eggers, Barred Rock, Black Australorp, Partridge Cochin, Black Australorp, and White Leghorn.
📝 Seven characteristics to learn
Since new homesteaders are confused about where to start, my recommendation would be to ask people in your neighborhood first and also check with the local feed stores. As you move forward and you are ready to buy your flock is good to keep chicken vernacular and rations in mind. Keep in mind that if you want to rooster in your flock so that eggs are fertile, it’s ideal keeping a ratio of 12 hens to one rooster.
Let’s move forward and see the main considerations when picking a chicken breed.
🥚 Egg production
The number of eggs a chicken will lay in a given time is referred to as egg production. Some chicken breeders will list egg production by week, while others will list yearly production. If you plan to have a constant source of eggs, but if you also want to sell the surplus, you want to pick the best layers, you can find. However, if you just want to meet the weekly needs of your family, you can get various egg producer breeds, and even so, you will have more than enough eggs to skip the grocery trip.
🥚 Egg color
Although I personally don’t mind having eggs with various colors, some chicken keepers have a distinctive choice when it comes to egg colors. Brown egg layers consistently top the best-egg-layer list, and their eggs come in a variety of hues from light tan to dark chocolate. White egg layers are some of the most productive around.
The main thing to keep in mind is that egg color has nothing to do with the flavor of the egg. The flavor is influenced by the diet of the hen, and the color is determined by genetics.
Chicken breeders have made a generalization of adding the temperament of breeds, although this shouldn’t be considered a rule. The temperament of a certain breed is influenced by socialization and interaction with the human factor. When we got our White Leghorns, many of our neighbors were telling us that these chickens are flighty and skittish, but we found out ours were calm, and we could easily handle them.
On the other hand, we had some Orpingtons that were very mean, and we had to get rid of them. Now it all depends on your luck if I may say so, but we do noticed that hand-raised chickens are more friendly than those raised by a broody hen. The ideal situation to make sure your chickens stay in line is to handle them as day-old chicks. Keep in mind not to take them out of the warmth and safety of the brooder for long.
Put some food in your hand and place it near them for as long as possible. If you talk with them and then make any sudden moves, their curiosity will give in, and the chicks will learn you are a friend. Pretty soon, they will climb on your hand, and you will have to refill the food every few minutes. If you do this regularly, the chickens will enjoy human interaction, and they will look forward to your visits.
The term “broody” describes a hen that wants to hatch a clutch of eggs and raise the chicks. Since nowadays, the focus in the industry is eggs mass production, broody breeds are somehow hard to find. The problem is that even if you find a certain breed described as broody, not all hens will follow the standard, and it’s more of a personality characteristic.
You may very well find yourself having to take care of the eggs once you let a hen set eggs and raise chicks. You need to monitor the birds to quickly identify problems in case you have to hatch eggs with an incubator and raise the chicks by hand.
Size plays an important part in picking the right breed, especially if you have a small backyard. Bantams are the breed of choice in such cases since these are miniature chickens (half to one-third the size of large fowl), and they require less living space.
Keep in mind that the size of the chicken also influences the size of the eggs they lay. For example, two bantam eggs equal one medium egg. This breed is known for its broodiness and is often kept for this purpose.
❄️ Weather hardiness
Depending on your climate, you have to pick the right breed since it will make the difference between a healthy, productive bird and one that struggles to survive. Certain breeds are hardy in both weather extremes (hot and cold), while other breeds will thrive only in one extreme. The best thing you could do is to talk with your local hatchery if you are not sure that the birds you picked can thrive in your environment.
Also, keep in mind that temperature extremes can happen in any location, so you might have to use common sense and bring your chickens inside if the weather requires you to do so. The breed may be cold hardy, but it’s smart not to put their ability to survive extreme cold to the test.
🍗 Dual purpose
Certain breeds are known as dual-purpose and such breeds can be used for both eggs and meat. The tendency among those raising dual-purpose chickens is to use extra roosters for meat and keep the laying hens. Certain breeds are raised only for meat, and the Cornish Cross is often preferred due to its shortened lifespan.
We narrowed down for you the main characteristics to learn when picking chickens for your homestead. Now that you have a clear outline, you can get started and start chicken shopping. I hope you have good luck with your new flock, and hopefully, you will share your chicken raising tips with us in the near future.
Useful resources to check out: