May 2, 2016
One look and you're hooked! That’s usually how people decide they want to keep
chickens. Gaze into those charismatic, feathered faces and you are drawn in. The
ancient song of the Sirens had nothing on the cluck of the chicken. So now that
you’ve been caught by their irresistible lure – how do you pick the right chicken
breed for you?
Finding the perfect pet starts with an introspective journey. Getting a pet involves
similar steps. Get chickens because you want chickens, do not get chickens because
you want eggs. This will lead to disappointment, as these animals are not “toasters.”
Chickens are challenging animals to work with if you are only familiar with keeping
cats or dogs… and they require an agricultural-styled set-up. You will be farming!
Expect your birds to live for 6-10 years. Barn, fence, and vet care can run into the
thousands. We have a saying, “your own eggs will be the most expensive you have
• Do you live in a rural area, or in an urban or suburban neighborhood?
• Do you want your birds to be pets? Do you want to show, breed or raise chickens
for sale (exhibition quality)? Does your family really want eggs?
• Do you have special plans for your birds – in a school education program, or as
• Do you have very young children (under 5), or active kids eager to get involved?
With over 300 breeds for the choosing, you will have your work cut out for you! But,
on the positive side…there is a breed for everyone.
House chicken or coop chicken?
Many people choose to keep their birds in the house. Chickens are truly special
companions and many make great house pets. House breeds include the true
bantams like Sebrights, Japanese, and D’Anvers. Silkies are also a favorite house
breed, as they are gentle and extra cute.
Silkes are gentle and extra cute!
If you are planning on raising chickens in the traditional coop manner, the weather
in your area/zone will affect your decision. In warmer regions you will want to
select from the hot weather breeds. Choose birds from the Mediterranean class like
Ancona, Leghorn, Panadescenca, or Andalusian. Asian breeds are also a great choice
– consider the Sumatra, Aseel, or Malay. The Egyptian Fayoumi is an especially heat
tolerant and hardy breed.
White Leghorn - great for warmer regions
Climates that experience a cold snap, or a hard freeze (below zero) are not lost
causes! Many breeds have been adapted for the cold. As a rule of thumb, these cold-
ready birds will have minimal or small combs – the first anatomical feature to be
afflicted with frostbite. Consider Wyandottes, Chanteclers, Brahma, Cochin, Easter-
egger or the Rock varieties (Barred, White, Partridge, Columbian). Most heritage
chicken breeds are perfect for colder climates. No worries!
Golden Laced Wyandotte - great for colder climates
Barred Rock - great for colder climates
Are you ready for chickens?
The first question you need to think about is - what is the reason you are getting chickens?
Chickens are animals that require daily care. Vacation may be a thing of the past if
you can’t find reliable sitters! Locate vets that treat birds, or exotics, in your area
before you bring birds home. A good rule of thumb is - if you cannot afford to care
for a dog, financially and time-wise, you aren’t ready to keep chickens.
Chickens are prey animals that will need protection from predators, both day and
night varmints, aerial and ground stalkers. Choose breeds that will meet your care
abilities. Some birds are “farm” bred; they were selected to forage and to keep safe
(Fayoumi, Sumatra, Welsummer). Other breeds were bred for protected
environments and will require extra fencing and monitoring (Silkies, Cochin, Polish).
Heritage and critically rare breeds
These are the birds at risk for extinction or genetic loss. Unfortunately, this includes
most chicken breeds! Heritage birds’ beauty and unique attributes are really worth
a second look. There are dozen of endangered varieties of poultry in desperate need
of conservation. Do your homework by visiting The Livestock Breed Conservancy and
perusing poultry magazines and breeder/club websites.
Consider taking in some of these sensational beauties:
Leghorn (brown, black etc)
There are too many to list! So….in the comment section, keep it going. What breeds
did we miss?
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