Heritage breeds are good all around dual purpose breeds and many are on the watch list or endangered list, because they have fallen out of favor and replaced by faster maturing, higher producing sex-links.
Sex-links were developed originally for the commercial industry so they could tell the females from males at the point of hatch, however they became popular with the backyard chicken owners because most want females or are not allowed to have roosters in their locations. This took the guesswork out of the equation, and farm stores and hatcheries began offering them rather than the heritage breeds. Sex-links do mature earlier and they do lay a fair amount of eggs and they do make good meat birds, but there have been some questions as to their longevity and in some cases about the over-all health of those raised strictly for meat if they live past a typical 8-12 week processing program. Some of the sex-links are bred strictly for meat, while others are bred either as egg layers or good dual purpose birds. Some of the sex-links available are Golden Comet, Red Rangers, Black or Red links. The Cornish cross, though not considered a sex-link is a crossed breed, specifically bred for rapid growth for early processing. The Cornish cross is what you will find in all grocery store meat sections.
Reliable Layers for Beginners
Heritage breeds such as White Leghorn, Orpington, Dominique, Barred Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red and New Hampshire Red are reliable egg layers and other than the Leghorn are considered good meat birds. The Heritage Leghorn can't be beat for their average egg laying ability even through the lower light winter months, but of the heritage breeds they are not considered good meat birds because of their more slender and sleek build. Don't be mislead however, as any chicken can be processed and can be cooked for stews, soups and broth. Though there are a number of heritage breeds, the ones listed have proven to be the most popular among farmers and backyard owners alike and all but the Leghorns are generally good family breeds. We usually advise against the leghorn if there are children, since this breed tends to be flighty and do not have the best temperament, though we have many customers that would have no other breed because of their consistent and reliable egg laying habits.
The Easter Eggers, Ameraucana, Araucana, Marans and Legbar lay colored eggs that many backyard chicken enthusiasts enjoy, especially those with children. It is always fun to collect a basket of blue, green, pink and chocolate colored eggs. These breeds vary in productivity, but the colored eggs usually makes up for fewer eggs. The legbar is a reliable layer of large blue eggs. These breeds tend to be good family birds and are all dual purpose.
Are Bantams a Good Choice?
Many backyard chicken owners lean toward the bantams, and silkies because of their diminutive size, but they also lay diminutive eggs and tend to go broody frequently. Typically bantams are not good reliable egg layers and serve best as pets, but be reminded you will need to break their brooding habit frequently if you are not attempting to hatch chicks.
There are many rare breeds that are suitable for beginners, however they usually cost a lot more than heritage breeds and that cost will usually discourage those just getting started with a backyard flock. Once you've raised chickens many find they enjoy the birds and are ready to pursue the more exotic breeds either for the purpose of exhibition or because they enjoy the variety of colors, patterns and overall appearance. Some of our most popular rare breeds are the Swedish Flower Hens, Basque Hens, Altsterier and Cream Legbar.
What to Consider before purchase:
While considering breeds to raise, you must decide whether they are to be only egg layers or dual purpose for meat. You must also decide if these are pets or livestock. If they are to be livestock, they need to be treated as such, because if you become attached, they become pets. Those pets have an average life span of 12 years, but their peak laying years are 3-4. If they lay 4 years, that means 8 years that you may see an occasional egg, but you will not see an average of 5 eggs per week that you may have been seeing prior to those peak years. You do need to plan for their retirement and how you will deal with that, especially if you are limited by local ordinance on how many chickens you are allowed to have at any given time. You will not be able to replace those retirees for more layers until they reach the end of their life span. This may become a dilemma if you are not prepared early on to deal with the retirement or the processing. Those retirees, continue to eat and continue to require daily care even though they are no longer producing or *earning* their keep. This may not be economical if you were counting on eggs and now feeding birds that no longer lay as you are having to purchase the eggs and continue to purchase feed, bedding and continue maintenance. The older birds may be more subject to disease and illnesses requiring more care than while they were young and productive. This is not an issue about what is right or wrong this is about what your plans will be for those retirement years if you've made pets out of your flock, before you've taken into consideration how you will deal with those geriatric years.
Regardless of the breeds you may wish to consider, this must be a choice made as a family and all members should be involved in some way. We encourage you to research the breeds you are considering, so you will know if they are hardy for your location, and if they provide enough eggs for your family. You may find that chickens not only provide eggs and meat for your family, but that farm youth programs are great learning outlets for children that raise chickens. We work with many children involved in these programs and assist them in making their selections. These children are our future farmers that learn to appreciate the honorable profession of farming and we encourage you to consider these educational programs for your own children if you decide to raise chickens.
To start researching some breeds that we raise, refer to the link justfowlingaround.weebly.com/breed-profiles
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