How to choose a chicken variety

Buckeye chickensHow do you choose the chicken variety best
suited to your backyard?  Many backyard chicken-keepers turn to
rare heritage breeds, but Joel Salatin warns that these specialty
chickens have been bred to do well in a very specific suite of
environmental conditions.  Unless you can come up with a heritage
breed that arose in your neck of the woods, you might be better off
looking in another direction.

Large- and medium-scale
chicken-keepers turn nearly unanimously to hybrids.  The
is just about
the only chicken raised for meat in any appreciable number in the U.S.,
while White Leghorns are the standard for egg-layers.  If you
still want productivity in the egg department but would like brown
eggs, you might consider Production Reds (a cross of two strains of
Rhode Island Reds), Black Sex-links (a cross of a Production Red and a
Barred Rock), or some of the brand name hybrids like
Golden Comets

Golden Comet henWe started out our adventure with
Golden Comets, and we have to admit that they are great birds. 
However, as you try to make your flock more self-sustaining, you’ll
butt up against the problem that these commercial hybrids don’t breed
true.  Robert Plamondon provides a tip for backyard chicken
keepers who want high productivity while still being able to raise
their own chicks — consider the breeds that were used by large
chicken farms in the first half of the twentieth century before hybrids
took over.  Non-hybrid, pre-1960s broilers include New Hampshires
and White Wyandottes while the commercial laying hens were primarily
Rhode Island Reds, White Leghorns, and

Unfortunately, in the
last fifty years, most of those breeds have been selected for physical
beauty rather than productivity, so you might end up with duds (like we
did with our seldom-laying Plymouth Rocks.)  Joel Salatin comes to
the rescue here too, suggesting that we should each be breeding our
flocks for what he calls “nativized genetics” — birds that
Chickens foraging in the snowdo well in our particular
micro- and macroclimate.  If, like us, you’re looking for great
foragers, he even has tips for selecting the best birds within your
flock.  When choosing who’s going to be breeding stock, isolate
hens who lay eggs with the darkest yolk and broilers with the darkest
fat.  These birds are the most aggressive scavengers and may pass
their good habits on to their offspring.

And don’t forget to
invest in our
homemade chicken
to keep your
chicken-keeping chores clean and easy.

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