Chicken choices – 2009

Now that we’ve figured out what we’re planting in the garden this year, it’s time to choose some chicks for this year’s laying flock. Hens will be productive for a few years, but as they get older eggs will be less in number and get much larger. We call the eggs laid by our veteran hens “tennis balls”, since they seems to be about that size. Our current flock, which consists of Barred Rock, Buff Orpington and Cherry Egger hens, is in their laying prime right now. But we want to ensure a continued supply of eggs, as well as have some hens to sell. So we’ll order another batch of chicks in time to mature right when we plan to sell our current flock.
This year we’re trying a few new-to-us hens. The picture at the top of the page is a Welsummer hen. Cackle Hatchery says: “The Welsummer is a Dutch breed named after the village of Welsum in Holland, developed in the 1900’s. It was first imported into this country in 1928 for its large brown egg. The Welsummer is a large, upright, active bird with a broad back, full breast, large full tail. and a single comb. They are a fast growing bird and a very rare breed here in the United States. Admitted to the American Standard of Perfection in 1991.”
Check out the beautiful spotted brown eggs they lay (all but the top row in the picture below)!
The hen below is a color variation of the Plymouth Rock called a Partridge Rock. We’re ordering from Stromberg’s hatchery this year (since Cackle Hatchery doesn’t offer the Welsummers pre-sexed), and they have a 25 chick minimum for shipping. So we have an opportunity to try out some new flock members to make up the minimum amount. Some websites say they are a little smaller than the Barred Rocks (we’re getting more of those too), but as long as they are happy layers, we’ll like them just fine.

The hen below might look a bit familiar to our readers who remember Del the rooster. We want big cold-hardy hens for our flock, that lay big sturdy eggs. Delaware hens should fit the bill, and also be good eating birds once they are done with their laying career. They are also on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy list as critical. We don’t plan to breed them this year, but eventually we’ll breed our own replacements. It would be nice to help bring back a breed that is part of our heritage, but only after we give them a trial run.

Another repeat performer for 2009’s flock will be the Buff Orpingtons. They are a nice solid sturdy cold-tolerant layer. Though we like the Cherry Eggers just fine, the Buffs and Barred seem more laid back & friendly, and worth keeping as regular flock members.

How do we go about choosing chickens when there are so many breeds out there? One handy tool is Henderson’s ICYouSeeHandy-Dandy Chicken Chart. It’s an Australian site, so they call chickens “chooks”, and it’s really helpful when you have specific criteria in mind. You can scroll down and see egg size & color, winter layer or not, breed origins, broodiness, etc. There are also other pages on the site with more information on all aspects of chicken-keeping.

Another helpful site (if you’re interested in chicken nutrition, and maybe making up your own chicken feed) is one called Chicken Feed. Some great ideas for raising worms as protein for hens, also calculators to see if your home-blend has what chickens need to be good meat birds and layers. A good resource as store-bought feed prices keep going up.