If you've decided to acquire hens for your own fresh egg supply, start out with easy-keepers until you get the hang of caring for poultry. You want relatively docile, healthy breeds that produce adequate amounts of eggs for your needs.
You don't need a rooster in order for your hens to lay eggs. You do need a rooster if you want to raise chicks, though, to fertilize the eggs. Many communities that permit backyard laying hens don't allow roosters because they're noisy. Forget the image of the rooster crowing at the break of dawn -- many crow all day. Advantages to having a rooster exist even if you don't intend to breed your hens. If you let your hens free-range, roosters keep an eye out for predators. A good rooster will die to protect his hens.
Before choosing your first hens, decide exactly what size chicken and egg are best for your situation. In the right rural circumstance, noisy and large birds aren't a problem. In an urban or suburban environment, you don't want to bring in birds that will draw complaints from the neighbors. If you live in a cold climate, make sure you choose winter-hardy breeds. Less hardy birds can suffer from frostbitten combs and might not survive unseasonably cold temperatures. Regarding eggs, would you prefer a particular size, color or number? A commercial hatchery can give you all of that information, either on its website or catalog. Hens lay only a certain number of eggs in their lifetimes, which also varies by breed. Once your hens are "spent," what are you going to do with them? Your major choices are pets or meat.
All hens lay eggs, but some are bred primarily for egg production while others' primary purpose is for meat. Some breeds are dual-purpose, equally useful for eggs or dinner. If your focus is on eggs, choose chickens specifically bred for egg-laying for maximum production. Young egg-laying hens might produce an egg daily during the spring and summer, tapering off as all hens do as the days grow shorter. Older hens might not produce as many eggs, but the ones they lay tend to be larger.
Recommended Beginner Breeds
You're unlikely to go wrong with Rhode Island Reds in your flock. This hardy dual-purpose breed furnishes you with medium brown eggs. Plymouth Rocks, another dual-purpose breed, are generally easy to handle and lay light brown eggs. Orpingtons, available in a variety of colors of which buff is the most common, are also friendly, early-maturing birds that produce brown eggs. If you want lots of white eggs, choose Leghorns, knowing these excellent producers can be somewhat flighty. If you want some blue or green eggs among the brown and white, get Ameraucanas. They're quite cold-hardy and relatively calm. If you don't have much space for chickens, consider bantam breeds. These smaller birds produce smaller eggs, but there's no nutritional difference.
- My Pet Chicken: Frequently Asked Questions About Chickens
- The Old Farmer's Almanac: Raising Chickens 101 - Choosing a Breed
- Ithaca College: Henderson's Chicken Breed Chart
- Backyard Chickens: Chicken FAQs - The Frequent Asked Questions of Raising Chickens
- Living the Country Life: Top 5 Backyard Chicken Breeds
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.