How To Select The Best Chicken Breed For YOU

Baby chicks huddle under a heat lamp.

Concerns about healthy eating and sustainable living can lead even the most ardent city dweller to consider raising livestock. But don’t run out and buy a cow just yet. We recommend poultry as the perfect starter livestock, whether you have a small urban backyard or many acres.

High Desert Ranch & Home will begin receiving chick shipments at the end of February, and continue through the end of April. See our Chick Arrival Schedule blog for a list of breeds and arrival dates. If you’re new to the poultry raising life, don’t let that lengthy list of strange breed names send you into a confused tailspin; continue reading while we shed some light on chick selection.

The best place to start when selecting a breed from among the many varieties and hybrids is to determine the main purpose your chickens will serve. At the most basic level, chickens are categorized into three purposes:  Meat Chickens, Egg Chickens, and Dual Purpose Chickens.

A favorite Meat Chicken breed that High Desert Ranch &Home orders from hatcheries each spring is the Red Ranger broiler. The Red Ranger is a hearty breed with superior vitality and an outstanding growth rate, usually reaching about 7 pounds in less than 3 months. It’s an excellent forager, well-suited to free range living. Another favorite for juicy, tender meat is the Cornish Cross broiler, which is a hybrid that can reach table weight in 7-8 weeks. We special order Cornish Cross for a few customers each spring, and they rave about this big healthy, fill-the-freezer-quickly breed.

Most of our customers are primarily interested in raising chickens as a means of obtaining superior-tasting “farm fresh” eggs. One of the best Egg Chicken breeds we bring into the store each year is the Leghorn. The Leghorn is a prolific layer of large white-shelled eggs, with each adult hen typically producing about 5 eggs per week. When considering Leghorns, however, be aware that they tend to be lively and a bit nervous so may be better suited to farm settings than urban backyards. The vast majority of the breeds we order each spring will grow to be good for egg purposes, with the exception of Cochin (eggs are smaller and usually only about 3 per week) and Bantam (small chickens = small eggs).

Dual Purpose breeds are very productive in laying eggs and are also heavy birds for a providing a good amount of meat. We order a lot of chicks that fit into the Dual Purpose category. Rhode Island, Welsummer, Java, Plymouth Rock, Orpington, Dominique, Ameraucana, Delaware, Brahma, Maran, Australorp, Wyandotte, Sex Link hybrid, Sussex, and New Hampshire are all examples of chicken breeds that are good for eggs and/or meat.

Other considerations in choosing your chicks:

·        If having a delightfully colorful egg basket tickles your fancy, you should consider Wellspring and Cuckoo Maran chickens, which lay brick red to dark brown eggs, or Ameraucana which lay blue, greenish or even pinkish eggs. Also popular are Welsummers, which are beautiful birds that lay darling speckled brown or dark brown eggs.

·        Interested in owning a rare or unusual flock? The intricately-edged plumage of the Blue Laced, Silver Laced, or Black Laced Red Wyandottes makes these creatures basically living, breathing art. Or maybe you’d prefer the elegant head-to-toe feathered fullness of the ornamental Partridge Cochin, or in contrast, the sophisticated sleekness of the Black Langshan. The very rare Buckeye breed has rich mahogany brown feathers and tail feathers tipped in dark gray. And then there is the Turken, also known as Naked Neck, which is considered either incredibly cute or incredibly funny-looking, and is sure to turn heads.  Lastly, we can’t talk about unusual chickens without mentioning the Frizzle, which unlike all other chickens, has feathers that curve outward and forward giving it the constant appearance of having just tumbled through a terrible wind storm. The Frizzle is a charmer in both looks and personality.

·        If having a docile pet is your main interest, we always recommend the Buff Orpington. It is a large bird with a soft appearance due to its rich coloring and full contours, and has a gentle motherly personality. Bantam breeds are generally known to be calm, lovable pets. The super fluffy, super sweet Silkie Bantam is considered the “lap kitty of the chicken world.” A chicken doesn’t have to be small to be huggable, though; fancy-feathered Buff Brahmas are the “quiet, gentle giants” of the chicken world. Delaware, Dominique, Russian Orloff and various Cochins also are known for their mild temperaments and winning personalities.

·        Do you want birds that will be good brooders (sit on their eggs to hatch them) and attentive mothers to their young chicks? Buff Orthington hens often become broody and are very good mothers. Fancy Cochin and Bantam breeds (like Frizzles, Mille Fleur, and Silkies) also are great mommas – to the most adorably cute chicks.

The staff at High Desert Ranch & Home looks forward to “talking chicken” with you and assisting you in making the perfect chick selection to fit your needs – even if it means a special order. Your livestock and pets are our priority.
Six breeds of chickens, all just a few days old.