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Chapter 3: Cluck, cluck - show me the chickens!
If you've decided you want to raise chickens, CONGRATULATIONS!! You've joined a growing number of people who realize all the benefits
these wonderful pets have to offer. This chapter will help you decide how many chickens to get, which breeds are right for you, whether
to start with baby chicks or grown chickens, whether to get roosters, and finally where you can buy your chickens.
How Many Chickens Should I Get?
Chickens are social birds and they do not fare well on their own, so you should have a minimum of two. As a very loose
rule of thumb,
two to three hens per family member should cover your egg needs, or four if your family really
loves eggs or plans to give eggs away occasionally.
(If you want to sell eggs, or give away more than the occasional dozen, you should plan on even more!)
Keep in mind, too, that if you want to order chicks from My Pet Chicken, there are different chick minimums that apply to different areas, based on how long it takes chicks to arrive from our hatchery to your zip code--and even
that number changes depending on the time of year. In the colder months, for instance, our minimum is higher to any zip code. Check your minimum chick order
What Should I Consider When Choosing Breeds?
Did you know there are over 400 varieties of chickens? With all those options it can be tough to choose! Below are a few things to
think about. (Also, check out the Chicken Breed Selection Tool
on our website: it's a
fast, easy and free tool - no strings! - for recommending breeds.)
Standard vs. Bantam
The first decision to make is whether to get Standards (normal-size),
also known as "Large Fowl" chickens, or Bantams. Ranging from ten ounces to to two pounds each, Bantams are a fraction of the size of Standards and are kept mainly for ornamental purposes. Being cute and flashy, they make great pets. But they lay
less frequently and their eggs are small, albeit just as edible as larger eggs. They are also more susceptible to predators - for instance, crows may take your
bantams, but wouldn't dare to go after your large fowl chickens. For ourselves, we mostly prefer Standards because of their larger eggs and reduced
susceptibility to predators (but we do love those adorable Bantams, too, and we always keep some around just for the kids!).
Some breeds such as Silkies, Belgian Bearded D'Uccles and Sebrights are only available as Bantams; others only as Standards; many as both.
The good news is that you can combine them in a flock, so if you want both types, you're free to mix and match! Many people worry that
if they mix their flock, the Bantams will be on the bottom of the pecking order, but we haven't found that to be true at all. Besides,
no matter which breeds you ultimately decide on, one bird will be at the bottom of the pecking order and another will be at the top.
If you live in a cold climate, where it regularly gets below freezing during part or all of the year, there are certain breeds to avoid.
In general, Standards are hardier than Bantams and heavier breeds fare better than lighter breeds. Combs and wattles also come into play:
the smaller they are, the less susceptible they are to frostbite.
Especially cold-hardy breeds include:
If you live any place that regularly gets over 100 degrees, you will want to avoid fat, fluffy and feather-footed
breeds. Bantams do well in the summer (except the likes of Cochins and Brahmas), and the best Standard
breeds for hot climates are:
These birds were developed in warm climates; their large combs and close feathering help them handle the heat well.
Some breeds are valued mainly for meat, some for laying eggs, and others, called dual purpose, for both. Still others are kept primarily
for ornamental purposes, including all Bantams. At My Pet Chicken we focus on keeping chickens for fun and for eggs, so we discuss--and sell--
laying (production), dual-purpose, and ornamental breeds only.
If you want the best possible egg production, limit your search to the laying breeds. Understand, however, that many people feel the
best layers (like White Leghorns) have a tendency to be more flighty and nervous and to avoid human contact. Our experience is mixed on this (some Leghorns are wonderfully friendly!),
but there are many people who would advise you otherwise. In contrast, dual-purpose and ornamental breeds are usually more
docile and friendly. (Think Jack Russel Terrier as opposed to Old Yeller.) We have had some VERY friendly layers, and dual-purpose
birds that didn't like contact with us at all, so this is just a generalization. How friendly your birds are is in large part based on
how accustomed they are to human contact and their individual personalities.
Our best egg-producing breeds
Dual purpose breeds that also lay well
You may be accustomed to seeing brown and white eggs at the store, but some breeds lay blue eggs, others green, others deep
chocolate brown, cream-colored and almost everything in between! We adore the variety of colors we get from our flock.
These are the breeds to look at if you want an especially colorful egg basket:
- For blue eggs: Ameraucanas, Legbars, Super Blue Egg Layers, Cuckoo Bluebars
- For green/blue eggs: Easter Eggers, Favaucanas, Ameriflowers
- For medium dark, reddish-brown eggs:Welsummers
- For very dark, chocolate brown eggs: Marans, Penedesencas
- For pinkish brown eggs: Plymouth Rocks,
- For cream-colored eggs: Polish, Sussexes, Sumatras
- For olive eggs: Any of our Olive Eggers
Best breeds for kids
Are your kids begging you for chickens (or are they just your excuse to get chickens for yourself)? Either way, you'll want to pick breeds that tend toward calm, docile dispositions. These are our favorite breeds for kids:
Save a Rare Breed
In today's homogeneous world of agro-farming, just a few breeds of chicken are produced en masse and the continuance of hundreds
of other "heritage" breeds ultimately depends on small farmers and backyard flock owners like us! Consider raising heritage
breeds and ultra-rare breeds in your own flock.
If you need help making your decision, give our free Breed Selector Tool tool a whirl!
To Chick or Not to Chick?
An important choice is whether to start with baby chicks or "started pullets": hens that have just started laying.
We love starting with baby chicks. They're too cute to pass up! But there are drawbacks: they require much more tender loving care
than full-grown hens and it'll take 4-5 months before they start laying. Plus, they can be difficult to come by in small quantities.
The large hatcheries ship a minimum of 25 at a time, so if you only want a few
you'll have to find other people to split your order with. However, our minimum is 3-10, depending on your location, the time of year and the types of birds you're ordering! Visit our baby chicks category at left to
see all the breeds we carry. (Also, you can read more
about baby chick care in
the next chapter, and you can learn about how we ship baby chicks.)
Shipping baby chicks can be expensive, too. (Our shipping cost is $37.95 if you're ordering fewer than 25 chicks.) Get around that
by buying them from a garden or farm supply store. Some carry baby chicks in the spring and you can purchase
as many or as few as your want. But these stores can be difficult to find and have limited selection - so if you want a fancy or rare
breed, you may be out of luck.
Finally, be sure to purchase "sexed" female chicks as opposed to "straight run" (mixed male and female), otherwise you will end up
with roosters - lots of them! Which leads right into...
Thinking about keeping a rooster? We don't recommend it for first-time flock owners... at least not to start! Contrary to popular belief,
roosters are not needed for hens to lay eggs. Plus, they are loud and may cause a problem with zoning ordinances and neighbors.
Many people think roosters just crow in the morning. Consider that myth busted! They crow throughout the day. That said, they are
GORGEOUS and do help protect hens against predators. Once you have experience with hens, neighbors, zoning
ordinances etc., you'll be in a better position to give one a try. (And the No-Crow Rooster Collar sure will come in handy!)
Where To Get Chickens
Baby chicks can be purchased at a bird hatchery like ours, a garden or farm supply store, through other online sales channels like Facebook, or through local contacts.
Grown chickens you can obtain either at a hatchery or a local farm near you. Whichever way you decide to go, make sure you know your risks if you don't purchase from an NPIP-certified breeder.