Here at the Ayers house, we have a small flock of 12 laying hens in the backyard.  I have to admit, at first I was a little hesitant to get chickens.  I was on board with the idea, but they really seemed like a lot of work, and it was very early in my homesteading transformation.  However, I have to say, these stupid birds are absolutely a joy to watch and play with, in addition to providing a ton of nutritious food.  In fact, just two hens per person can lay enough eggs for you to never run out.  They just scamper around the backyard, scratching, foraging and hunting.  When you come outside, they all run over to mooch food and love.  If you have ever been considering getting some chickens of your own, I would wholeheartedly say go for it.  This can be you in no time.

Andy and a Salmon Favorelle

No doubt when considering chickens, you will find that there are tons of varieties to choose from, and you may get a little lost.  In fact, one of my favourite free publications is the catalogue from a hatchery.  I just love flipping through it and seeing all of the different breeds available and learning a bit about them.  I am by no means an expert on chickens, but we have a happy healthy flock, so I will share our thought process with you so you can make your own choices.

Hybrid versus heritage:

There are two main types of chickens.  Hybrid chickens, also known as Cornish Crosses, which are the big dumb white chickens you see on TV.  These chickens are designed to fatten up to slaughter weight in about 40 days, so they grow extremely fast.  As a side effect, they really won’t live that long.  These are a natural hybrid, not a genetic monstrosity, so they are OK to own if you want quick meat, but weren’t what my wife and I wanted.  A heritage chicken is essentially an old school purebred.  They can live happily for several years producing for you, although they don’t mature to slaughter weight, or lay eggs as quickly as a cross.  The also are a little living time capsule, with a genetic legacy stretching back to older farm times, so it can be cool to learn where they come from.

Buff Orpington:

orpington

Orpingtons were originally created in 1886 in Kent, County England by merging three different lines of chickens together.  They didn’t take off in America until 1895, when they were shown in New York.  They started to be replaced by the hybrids in the 20’s, the same as most chickens, but they are making a comeback today.  These have to be the best chickens we own.  They are sweet, they hunt and scratch on their own, and they are tremendous layers.  They also plumped up nicely, but mine are not the 3-4 pounds of slaughter weight they are supposed to be.  We never put any effort into fattening them up.  If we did,  I am sure they would be bigger.  If you want to own an easy, friendly chicken.  Get these guys.

Welsummer:

welsumer

Welsummer chickens are probably what you think of when you think of a rooster.  Why?  Cornelius, they cornflakes rooster was a Welsummer.  These guys originated in the Netherlands in the early 20th century from a mixture of local breeds.  They are supposed to be good dual purpose birds, although our girls remain skinny, and lay mainly when they feel like it.  They are actually in critical stage as a breed, and fairly rare, so owning them was kind of cool as a piece of history.  Then you find out why they are rare.  Because they are bitches.  They yell, they peck, they boss the other girls.  They aren’t nearly enough of a payout to be worth owning in my book.  We are actually looking for a new home for our Welsummer girls, so if you want chickens in Tucson, let me know.  Maybe they will like you.

Salmon Favorelles:

Salmon Favorolle

I have to say, my turn around on these chickens is dramatic.  I didn’t like them at first, now, they might be my favourite.  They are absolutely adorable, and super sweet.  These little girls were originally developed near the village of Favorolle, which is just southeast of Paris, and introduced into America in 1902.  They key here is what they were bred for.  They were created for winter egg laying and production.  They are excellent sitters and mothers.  They are very cold hardy, and are laying stronger than ever now that its colder.  These guys will do just fine in Idaho where we are going.  They are actually a threatened species here in the US, and their line is in danger of dieing out.  If you want hours of entertainment, get these girls.  A mixed flock of these and some Orpingtons is just awesome.

Orpington Left, Welsummer Right, Favorolle Center and posing.

Orpington Left, Welsummer Right, Favorolle Center and posing.

So all in all our chicken experiment is going great.  They provide super nutritious food, keep the yard free of pests, and they are tons of fun.  Petting chickens is a high point of my day.  Hopefully you can learn a little bit from our flock, and start thinking about one of your own.

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