If you're new to chicken-raising, Rhode Island Reds make a good first choice. They're a hardy, long-lived, dual-purpose breed, suitable to raise for eggs or meat. Because of their hardiness, these chickens can survive on lesser quality feed than other breeds, but give them quality products if you want to keep them in top condition.
Indoors and Out
Among the advantages of keeping Rhode Island Reds is that they're quite adaptable. This breed does well whether you must confine them to a coop at all times or if they're allowed some free-ranging. Unlike some more delicate breeds, they do well in colder climates -- they hail from Rhode Island, after all -- and cope well in hot weather. One caveat: In freezing temperatures, their combs might become frostbitten. You can help prevent that by rubbing some petroleum jelly on the combs when temperatures plummet and are expected to stay below freezing for a while.
While Rhode Island Red hens are usually even-tempered, the roosters have a reputation for aggression. You really don't need a rooster attacking you, your family members or your neighbors, if he free-ranges. Rather than raise a rooster from a chick or cockerel to find out he's nasty, find an adult Rhode Island Red rooster with a decent disposition. Since the supply of roosters always outweighs the demand -- except for eating -- you should be able to locate a suitable specimen. Of course, if you want hens only for eggs, you don't need a rooster at all.
When hens go broody, they want to sit on their eggs for the required 21-day period and hatch them. In nature, broodiness is necessary. For egg production, though, broodiness is an impediment. That's why broodiness has been deliberately bred out of many breeds, including the Rhode Island Red. If you want to raise Rhode Island Red chicks from eggs, your best bet is collecting the fertilized eggs and incubating them, then raising the chicks in a brooder. While some Rhode Island Red hens will go broody, don't count on it if you want to raise chicks. However, those hens that do go broody and raise their own chicks are usually good mothers.
If you're interested in raising show-quality Rhode Island Reds, know the characteristics judges look for in the breed standard. Avoid breeding medium-red hens if you want to produce show-quality chickens. Instead, go for those of a darker, deeper red hue. While black feathers in the tail and wings are permissible in the standard, black feathering anywhere else is not. Don't breed hens with that sort of feathering, called smut.
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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.