Heavy Weight Champion Chickens

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Thursday, August 2, 2012 12:00 PM

Let's face it, I'm anal.  Not "sort of anal" mind you.  Dead spot on.


Whenever I need to make a decision, whether it's which varieties of seeds to purchase or when I should breed my goats, I'm an over achiever.  I spend hours upon hours researching a subject.  I make spreadsheets with pivot tables to help weigh the pro's and con's.  I talk to people online.  I visit people in person.  I take things into consideration such as which months are my busiest at work or when will I be working at Ren Faire with my petting zoo .  I analyze a subject to death.  I spend hours making a decision, and then set it aside for a day or two before coming back to review, re-analyze, and see if I come to the same conclusion again.  If I don't, it's further research into whatever variables altered my decision.


Can you see it where this is leading?  Yeah.  Dead spot on!


But that isn't always a bad thing.  For example, when I first decided I wanted chickens, I spent an entire winter researching breeds to figure out which ones were right for me.  I immediately settled on heavy dual purpose breeds that don't fly.  Why?  My barnyard is separated from my garden by a 3-1/2 foot high fence,  the perfect height for leaning on to check on the critters when I don't want to go inside.  I also knew I wanted birds for both meat and eggs.


The problem was there were too many sources of information in too many places (books, websites, etc).  So what did I do?  I created a Chicken Breed spreadsheet and consolidated all the information.  I made categories for things that were important to me such as egg size and quantity all the way down to whether the chicken had feathered feet.  (psst... dead spot on)


It was a lot of work, but I've never regretted it.  I have referenced and updated this spreadsheet time and again over the past 4-1/2 years, fine tuning my decisions about breeds and making educated compromises when I found myself fond of a particular breed that wasn't an ideal producer.  I've shared it with several close friends (who are anal too) to help them with their breed selection as well.  But this data intensive decision making process isn't for everyone.


One of the frequent questions I get asked by folks just starting out is which breeds I recommend.  So I decided it was time for a short list.  Something I could just e-mail to them and/or give them on a single sheet printout.  Now keep in mind these are MY recommendations based solely on productivity, both eggs and meat.  Hence, they are all heavies.  The first list include birds that are known to lay throughout the winter, thereby keeping egg supply semi-consistent all year long.


GOOD
Egg size = M
Egg quantity = 3/week unless noted
  • Brahma
  • Buckeye
  • Faverolle (4)
  • Langshan
BETTER
Egg size = L/XL
Egg quantity = 3/week
  • Jersey Giant
  • New Hampshire Red
  • Orpington

BEST
Egg size = L/XL
Egg quantity = 4-5/week
  • Delaware
  • Plymouth Rock
  • Rhode Island Red
  • Sussex
  • Wyandotte  
If you are not concerned about your winter egg supply, or if you want to provide additional light inside the coop (14 hours per day total)  to force them to continue laying, here are additional breeds you may want to consider.  Personally, I don't bother with extra winter lighting.  If a bird naturally takes a break in the winter I'm okay with it.

GOOD
Egg size = M
Egg quantity = 3/week unless noted
  • Dorking
  • Java
BETTER
Egg size = L/XL
Egg quantity = 3/week
  • Maran
BEST
Egg size = L/XL
Egg quantity = 4-5/week
  • Australorp
So, which breed is my favorite and which breeds do I have currently?  Hands down, my favorite breed is the Wyandotte.  I give them 5 stars!  Not only are they good producers, they are beautiful, sweet, and calm.  They also go broody reliably each year which means they can raise any chicks and I don't have to go through the whole brood light/box hassle.  I've tried giving chicks to other broody breeds and have only had this type of success with an Orpington.  It's less work for me, and it allows them another outlet to express their true nature.  

Right now my oldest Wyandotte, Lily, is raising a Wyandotte chick and a Blue Slate turkey.  Toni (Tony?) the turkey is now larger than she is now.  But if I corner Toni and pick her (?) up, Lily will come racing across the yard to her calls.  Lily puffs all up and curses me out until I put down her baby.  It's quite funny and very cute. 

My next favorite breed is the Cochin.  "What?  That's not on your short list".  Nope, it's not.  But I just love their big fluffy plumage and their sweet gentle personalities.  Pip is a favorite when I run the petting zoo at Ren Faire.  She will literally jump up on the table to get some love from folks.  I've seen her surrounded by 5 or 6 little girls that were taking turns gently petting her.  Was she stressed?  Nope.  Just sat there quietly taking it all in.  When most of them left, did she get up?  Nope.  As long as there was one little girl sitting next to her petting her, she remained firmly glued to the spot.  Yes, a large part of her personality has to do with the handling she received as a chick.  But some breeds are predisposed to being calm and friendly.  The attention just reinforces and enhances their natural behavior.

Another breed that isn't on the list that I absolutely love for sheer beauty if nothing else is the Mille Fleur d'Uccle bantam.  Okay, so Mille Fleur is actually the plumage coloring, but it's the most common in the U.S. so the breed is often just referred to by this name.  I have two of them.  Yes they lay tiny eggs and don't have enough meat on them for a snack.  But I keep them because they are beautiful, entertaining to watch, and have fun personalities.

Here is the current roster of breeds in my barnyard.  Keep in mind that some of the hens are getting quite old and not laying very well anymore (or at all).  The pullets and chicks are either replacement birds or are destined for my freezer.  

HENS -
  • Ameraucana
  • Cochin
  • Mille Fleur d'Uccle bantam
  • New Hampshire Red
  • Polish
  • Wyandotte
PULLETS - 
  • Astralorp
  • Cochin
CHICKS - 
  • Jersey Giant
  • Welsummer
  • Wyandotte
When it's all said and done, for MY needs and desires I enjoy having a variety of breeds.  I love their varied personalities and plumage, and I'm not trying to maximize production.  If I were, I'd only have Wyandottes.  I had hoped to introduce a few Brahma chicks into the mix, but they ended up being breakfast for a scumbag stray cat that decided my yard was a drive-thru.  But that's another story for another day.  I now have an electric fence surrounding my backyard to keep any predators (wild or domestic) away.

So which breed is your favorite?  Which breeds do you recommend?  What's in your barnyard?  What factors are most critical to you when you're deciding which kind of chickens to bring home?  I'd love to hear it.  Who knows?  Maybe I'll have to tweak my spreadsheet with additional information.

3 Response to "Heavy Weight Champion Chickens"

TinaP Says:

My favorites by far are my Plymouth Rocks. They have the best personalities and lay regularly year round.
I HATE my Wyandotte. She's a raging B- and a huge bully. I wish she were like your Lily.

Marc Says:

I care deeply about production of course, as I want the eggs to pay for the feed, labor, and distribution. So I only farm white leghorns, cal whites, production reds, red sex links, black sex links, and barred rocks. In my world broody hens are like malingering employees. I had a large percentage of americauna to get the beautiful rainbow dozens, but now that everybody is doing it we are dropping it.

K Says:

I have a Light brahma, black sexlink, RIR, Welsummer, and two ameracaunas. My ameracaunas bth lay an egg every other day ish. the RIR and sex link are laying almost daily.....the other two i have no idea.

I love my RIR most. her personality is great. I hope to get a broody hen next spring and perhaps hatch 3 more chickies to add to my group.