Choosing Chicken Breeds Right For You

It’s that time of year. Chicken catalogs appear in the mailbox. Experienced poultry keepers think about expanding their flocks. People who have never kept hens plan their coops, ready their brooders and dream of chicks. Everyone is mulling over what breeds to get.

Picking the chicken breeds to order can be overwhelming. Catalogs are a veritable, well, catalog of choices. It’s like opening a box of chocolates. Such a selection! You know you don’t want the coconut bonbon, but what about all of the others? You can’t (you shouldn’t) eat all of them, but they all look delicious. It’s the same when faced with a crate of chicks at the feed store, or perusing the pages of a hatchery catalog. Decisions must be made and limits must be set. But how? To use another analogy, it’s like going to an auction. You’d better decide ahead of time how much you’re willing to spend before you’re actually face-to-face with temptation. Use restraint. Don’t go over.

Few people with a small backyard flock decide on breeds based purely on practicality. Some chose birds based solely on appearance. We fall in love with feather color, fluffy bottoms and silly head plumage. We like big birds, or very small ones. We like floppy combs, or pea combs, or no combs. Some make their decision based on egg color. They want blue eggs, or all white, or brown, or chocolate.

Certainly you should take looks into account. Right now if someone offered me two grey hens (any breed, as long as they are a pretty slate color) I would welcome them into my flock (even though my flock is healthy and well-established and I shouldn’t have any more chickens.) But, there are other things that you should think about, and I’ll list them here for you.

1. Do not order too many chicks. They grow up. They get big. They need way more space than most of the prefab coop advertisements specify. Plan on a minimum of 4 square feet of interior space per chicken – and that doesn’t include the nesting boxes! Plan on a foot of roost per bird. Make sure there’s another 8 square feet of outdoor space per chicken.

2. Purchase a variety of breeds. First of all, it’s easier to tell your hens apart if they have different feather colors. The differences in personality will be more obvious to you (their individuality is part of the fun.) Besides, everyone loves having multi-hued eggs in their basket, and even if you select all brown-egg laying hens, there will be variation in darkness and mottling from breed to breed.

3. Take breed personality into account. Some chickens are more assertive than others. Some are better foragers. Some are docile. Some like to interact with people, some are aloof. Just like there are advocates of different dog breeds (Dachshund or Irish Wolfhound? Border Collie or Pug?) so, too, will people be opinionated about chicken breeds. I’ll give you my prejudiced view. I’m sure to get some disagreement! In my experience the hens that are avid, active free-rangers are also the ones most likely to pick on subordinate hens. Rhode Island Reds, any of the leghorn/RIR hybrids, the Wyandottes and the Barred Rocks, all are greedy about food and not willing to share their space. They’re fine together, but woe to the meeker breeds mixed with them. More mild-mannered hens are the Orpingtons, the Barnevelders, Welsummers, and Cochins. If you want hens that are eager to interact with you, go for the Speckled Sussex and the Leghorns. Do you want good layers that are decent birds, but not friendly? Try Australorps and Americaunas. If you want chickens with no chicken sense whatsoever, get Polish.

4. Take into account your climate, facilities and management style. Pearl is my feather-footed, heavy-coated Cochin. She’s beautiful (grey!) and sweet as can be, but I would never get another Cochin. In the summer here it gets hot and humid and she overheats. She goes broody and suffers even more from the heat. In the winter the feathers on her feet become crusted with frozen slush and snow. In the spring her feet are dirty and I know which eggs are hers from the mud on them. I end up having to trim the feathers on her feet. She gets manure stuck in her fluffy feathers and so she needs baths. She’s totally impractical and high maintenance. Another poultry-keeper might not mind, but that’s not my style. It’s also why I no longer keep silkies. I’ve had only two and I adored both of them for their sweet temperaments and adorableness, but they both died young and I take responsibility. When a silkie gets cold and damp they get sick – something I didn’t realize as a new henkeeper. Where I live it is often cold and damp. If I were to keep silkies, I’d have separate, indoor facilities for them. For some, that extra care is worth it. I prefer sturdy hens that don’t need coddling.

This post probably hasn’t helped you at all. Not only have I been none to specific, but I’ve left out numerous breeds. That box of chocolates is still there, open, with too many temptations. But, the truth is, like a good box of confections, they’re all good. Even if one isn’t ideal, the mix is delicious. I once had a blue-egg layer named Perrie. She wasn’t friendly, but she laid gorgeous eggs, and that was enough. Buffy is a calm Orpington. She was never a good layer, but she’s a content face in the flock. That’s enough, too. All of the parts make the whole. So, when selecting the right hens for you, look at the complete picture. Each hen doesn’t have to be perfect, but the mix should form a satisfying whole.

I am not placing a chick order this year. My Gems are laying, and my retired hens don’t need the upheaval of new birds in their midst. I’m missing the excuse to pore over the catalogs. So, if you’re placing an order, share you thoughts with me. Getting chicks? What’s the picture that you see?


  1. My flock is doing well and I am not getting more this year. Having chicks is an extra level of responsibility that I’ve enjoyed, but it’s also very nice having an established routine with the ones I have already raised. But I love going to Chick Days and seeing all the excitement.

  2. Hi Terry! Lovely post! And it was very helpful! Have you, in the past, written anything about adding new pullets to the flock? I have 9 girls (and a roo) and would love to either hatch their eggs or get 15 more babies this spring.

  3. Hi Terry….I am trying to decide whether to get new birds this year or not? I have a coop full of retired and some very old birds that I know I will lose eventually. I have another coop full of nice young birds that are laying. I liked your suggestions. Maybe I will just order ten? That is a good number, don’t you think?

    • Ten is a nice, round number :) I think you need some Easter eggers in the mix – I’ve a feeling your egg customers like the cartons with color. Not my favorite breed, but I rather liked the purebred muffed Araucanas I saw at the poultry show.

  4. I have researched quite carefully for my needs and wonder what you think of my choice. We live in a semi and the neighbours garden fences border us on both sides. We are self employed caterers so have a busy life but work from a kitchen on our premises so are around a lot.
    I have chosen to get three Dominiques. They are pretty, small, good layers, quiet and docile but also hardy. I also think three the same would be less likely to pick on each other. I am willing to sacrifice different colours and could use leg rings to help tell them apart if need be. They are considered a rare breed and I will drive an hour and half journey to Dorset to collect them. I think about them constantly!

    • Carol- Dominiques are an old, classic breed from the American south (Ken, who posted below, loves them.) I think that having 3 of one breed should reduce the pecking (though they are individuals and you never know!) I use legbands on my Gems of the same breeds. No way to tell them apart, otherwise! I think you’ve done your homework and will really enjoy your flock.

  5. Timely! This has been the topic of much conversation at our house lately – we’ve just put in our spring order (chicks coming in April). My considerations remain: a) a steady supply of eggs, and b) a good variety of hens (both egg & feather color. (The primary purposes of my flock to 1) provide a living lesson in business and the care of animals for my children (they sell the eggs) and 2) to keep me amused.)

    I’ve got a no [boys/feathered feet/feathered heads] rule, just because I’m a low maintenance (i.e. “lazy”) kind of chicken farmer. I’ve also generally shied away from bantam breeds because I feel bad about selling smaller eggs.

    To maintain a flock of around 25 hens, I’ve found that I need to order/replenish about 5-10 hens a year. Predators generally account for about 2/3rds of our loss, but while we have been lucky/careful enough to avoid any other serious issues, I always lose a couple per year to other natural causes (egg bound, cancer, etc). Then there was the rooster that showed up in last year’s order. He ended up on the dinner table (see the “no boys” rule above).

    This year, my daughter and I settled on 10-ish as the magic number. I have bought small lots of pullets from local(-ish) folks (my bride’s preference), but I was looking for a little more variety this order. And I kind of like getting them as chicks. The kids love that part of the process. However, this limits the places I can order or buy the hens to a very few sellers unless I find someone to share an order (and I knew you weren’t ready for more yet, Terry!) I figured I’d go ahead and try – I’ve heard mixed reviews, and the cost/chicken is relatively high, but they do offer vaccinated chicks and have a respectable selection, so I’m willing to give it a try.

    I think we’ve had around 15 different breeds at this point. I don’t like to have just 1 of any bird generally, so that was a factor as well. We spent some time talking about which chickens had been our favortie and why, and which we were willing to try out and ended up with the following:

    – (2) Silver spangled Hamburgs (we just lost our last one to natural causes a couple of weeks ago. We’ve had 5 or 6 over the years. They’re not very friendly – they don’t even socialize well with other chickens – but they are pretty to look at.
    – (1) Rhode Island Red (great bird, but a little dominant, as you mentioned)
    – (1) Australorp (Always try and keep a few of these in the flock)
    – (1) white Plymouth Rock (we haven’t had an all-white hen in a couple of years. This was a special request from my daughter. I’ve got another RIR, so this will be the only ‘single’ in the flock)
    – (2) silver Lakenvelder (I’ve never had these before, and selected them just because they looked pretty in the catalog)

    For the first time, I’ve also ordered a couple of Golden Sebright bantam hens. We’ll keep back the smaller eggs for our own consumption, and I thought it’d be fun to mix it up a bit.

    This will take me up to 30 birds total, but I’m planning to re-design and build an expanded coop this summer. Plus, my experience is that you lose up to 10-15% of chicks in the first 6-9 months (shipping, breeding, or other issues). Combine with expected attrition of the current flock, and this should keep our numbers relatively steady on average, and the birds happy.

    • Hi Ken…Let me know how you like “My Pet Chicken”..I am thinking of not ordering from ideal this year and getting birds from them.

  6. Ken- My Pet Chicken is the middleman for several hatcheries and the last time I talked to them they were quite excited about a new supplier of rare breeds which they think are of great quality. I’ll be eager to see your chicks. White Plymouth Rocks are lovely birds. The Lackenvelder will no doubt be beautiful. You’re right that I don’t need more chickens, and am grateful you didn’t offer to order a couple of grey ones for me :)

  7. Thank you for mentioning ” do not order too many chicks”! Most of my new chickens friends are getting 6-10 chickens and then regretting it. They do not have the space or time needed for those numbers. 2-3 is perfect for the suburban back yard!

    • Yes, Trish! Also, when people decide they want more eggs and add a couple of pullets to an established, small flock in a small space all heck breaks loose. My two Polish came from that situation.

  8. I’m ordering 10 chicks this year (sharing an order with a friend)
    I, like Terry, like as much variety in my flock as possible. I like a flock of hens that will lay “normal” size eggs and then I have to have my bantam breeds, just love ’em. I don’t sell my eggs but do a little bartering with them or give to family and friends. I have three boxes of Thin Mints from the Girl Scouts coming from a co-worker in exchange for several dozen eggs.
    Here is what I have orderd.
    3 Red Pyle OEG bantams-straight run
    1, Red leghorn, silver leghorn and white leghorn all pullets. The second year of the white leghorn the eggs are jumbo size.
    1 Golden Campine-pullet
    1 Golden Penciled Hamburg-pullet
    1 Speckled Sussex-pullet
    2 Americanas-pullets
    1 Red wyondotte-can only be ordered as straight run so my friend who is ordering 20 and will swap me if I end up with a rooster.
    I also use a broody hen to do the rearing for me. So much easier and less worry about a light bulb going out in the middle of the night or a thunderstorm knocking power out for a day or two.

    • Terry, I’m hoping they are just like my Red OEG’s.(I call them standard OEG bantams)
      My Murray, Margie and E-bay are sweet, calm, yet extremely active, love to jump up on your lap and eat of your hand or jump up on your lap and look for a treat then “tell” you all about it if you don’t have a treat. The hens actually “coo” when I hold them.
      I got Murray and Margie as day old chicks and a broody hen raised them. I did handle them each day so they would not be afraid of me and being handled. E-bay came from eggs I bought on E-bay and I raised her and 4 Japanese Bantams by hand, I borrowed a incubator. The Japanese bantams were not wild but did not want to be handled, E-bay, in my human brain, loves to be held.
      Murray loves to fly up on my gazebo and now more recently the roof of my house and tell the world he exists. The funny thing is Margie now flies up onto the roof with him to survey the surrondings.
      Because of their small size these birds are EXCELLENT flyers, so be warned everyone. When I let them run around the yard and they see me come out the back door they do not run/flap they fly very easily across the yard to me. My backyard is 200 feet long and they can fly across it with ease and grace, quite beautiful actually.
      The fence around the yard is only 48 inches but they have yet to go over it, I suspect it’s because my yard is quite large and their free range time is limited to they don’t have excess time to get “bored” with the yard.

    • And if I may also add for anyone interested in the OEG’s and standard chickens in the same flock. I don’t have any issues with the standard hens bullying them, seems to be a normal pecking order. The one thing I did do was suspend a 2×4 about 2 feet long from the coop ceiling. The standard chickens seem to really bully them at roosting time. This suspended roost is about 8 feet off the floor so the OEG’s can get up to it with ease and of course the standards cannot so they get to roost in peace. Sorry Terry if I’m cyber babbling.

      • Helpful advice! I also suggest hidey-holes for the bantams. My Bantam Leghorns used to go under the nesting boxes where the big girls couldn’t fit. They seemed quite happy there during inclement weather days.

  9. I’ve got 7 (lost one to a hawk) gorgeous Barred Rocks and want to expand to have 12 – my thought is that since these girls will be going possibly into molt next fall sometime, I want some new blood to provide eggs in the interval. I’m not as fond of the white eggs (silly prejudice I know) but want something that will give me a different color so I know who’s laying, so I’m considering Easter Eggers. I also like that those have smaller combs, which is good for our cold Ohio weather.

    • The EEs tend to have more aloof personalities. I have friends who love their more challenging gazes, but I’m not that fond of them. Do love the pretty eggs, though. As far as combs go – you might worry about floppy Leghorn combs, but I’ve never had issues with regular combs, even when we’ve had well-below zero weather for 2 weeks straight.

  10. Terry, is it possible to influence flock dynamics by wiggling around with the numbers of each breed? For example, if I had a flock of 7 cochins, 1 RIR, and 1 wyandotte, are the wyandotte or RIR still likely to dominate, despite being outnumbered by cochins?

    My very gentle greyhounds seem to practice a sort of “pack-justice” assertiveness together when confronted with a single dominant dog but assume less confident body language when alone in the same situation. I’ve wondered how much I can extrapolate between dogs and chickens.

    • Yvette, there is something to that, which is why, if you’re adding pullets to an established flock it’s good to add at least two of the same breed. Also, I failed to mention that when chicks of various breeds are raised together there’s far less pecking than if they are assembled after they are several weeks old. One other thing – a tidbit I will put in a much longer post – the best way to teach chickens not to peck each other is to give the 3-day old chicks a clod of turf and dirt. They learn to peck the ground and not each other.

  11. I really wish I had room for more. I have a pre-made coop that says it’s big enough for 6, but it’s crowded enough with 4. Maybe 6 bantams would be OK. I don’t even have the bigger breeds.

    I have two Australorps. Good layers and although not super friendly, they do squat down and let me pick them up and tolerate a few minutes being held well. My blue egg layer, probably and Easter Egger, is fairly friendly. She doesn’t want me to pick her up, but will climb into my lap and go to sleep if I stroke her head. She’s the bravest and even though the bottom of the pecking order, she steals treats from the other girls and runs away fast before they can peck her. And I agree with you, my Wyandotte does not share! She’s the least friendly.

    I also would advocate getting your chicks from a local breeder if at all possible. The way the hatcheries deal with unwanted males is not something I like to support.

    • Local breeders are a good choice. They also cull boys, but sometimes grow them for meat birds. However, they don’t usually vaccinate, which, for some of us, is an issue.

  12. i desperately want more birds but can’t possibly take on any more right now. but someday…someday i’ll have enough room for multiple coops. i’ll order all the rare breeds for one and all my favorites for the other. or maybe i’ll just have a ton of smaller chicken tractors and have multiple little flocks :)

  13. I bought my baby chicks back in December so I’m good for the year.

    The only thing I’d add is that chickens really seem to like having a buddy who looks like them. Found this out the hard way when I bought four difference breeds.

    I hindsight, I would buy chicks in pairs.

    And if you really have your heart set on certain ones, buy extras. I’ve had a sexed pullet turn out to be a roo. When you only buy two, that puts you in a bad place. Had I bought four, I could have easily given or sold a pair.

    • The idea of purchasing two of each breed is brilliant. We were so excited to get our first flock we chose a mix of colorful winter hardy chicks and now they have plucked each others necks and backs and bottoms mercilessly. Someone along the way in my unending research as to why suggested its because they look different from themselves and I believe it now. This plucking has continued despite bottles of blu-kote, CD’s dangling, lots of treats, plenty of room in the coop and hen house and increased protein. (I started raising mealworms to give them). Thanks for the suggestion!

      • Hi Yemina – chicks raised together shouldn’t be doing that much picking. I have a flock with “singletons” (and have always had individuals who are not part of a matched pair) and that sort of pecking doesn’t happen. It’s possible that yours have learned to feather peck/eat. It’s possible you have an unnoticed parasite issue. It’s possible they’re too crowded, (sometimes what we see as space they don’t utilize.) It could be it’s become a learned behavior. Have you identified the worst transgressors? If you separate the dominant hen(s) out the pecking should stop. I hope you can figure it out. That said, those that look alike to hang out together.

  14. Great info! My barnyard bantams are usually broody (for a long time) in the spring and we are tempted to try to hatch a couple of chicks. We mistakenly tried to do it in the coop and the chicks ended up getting pecked to death. Do you have info on how to successfully hatch chicks with a broody hen?

    • I haven’t hatched eggs under a hen. I have used an incubator. As you’ve learned, it’s best to keep the broody hen separate. I was going to use this coop for a nursery, but for the first time in 15 years, last year when I got chicks no one was broody! Of course, if you hatch from eggs you’ll get 50% roosters. If you’re not prepared to harvest them for meat, then hatching from eggs is not a good choice. I can assure you that you won’t be able to find homes for them.

    • Brigid I have raised chicks with a broody hen in the coop with the other hens. However, they must be seperated in some form. I find what works without fail for me is a wire cage. I have a wire dog crate. The other hens cannot get to the chicks. When the chicks wonder out of the crate and get pecked they immediately run back to the saftey of momma. The other great thing about doing it this way is there is no introduction process. The hens see the chicks and watch them grow. Now the chicks will be at the bottom of the pecking order but it works. I generally let momma and the chicks out with the rest for short periods of time for an hour or two in the evening at about 5 weeks of age. A good broody hen will not tolerate the other hens “abusing” her chicks.

  15. I sadly lost my dear Charity (T.Rex) this weekend who was a beautiful gold laced wyandotte. That takes our chicken count down to five from the original seven. :(

    We have found that our original supplier of our girls has some young Gold Laced Orpington Bantams she is looking to find homes for. We have decided to get two.

    Our current chicken varieties are: Buff orpington bantam (not very bright but super friendly and crazy!), aurcana bantam (aloof but beautiful), silver laced wyandotte bantam (beautiful and tiny. Whinges a LOT!) Two light sussex bantams(sweet and bossy).

    We are hoping the new orpies will fit into this group well. Unfortunately Charity was the boss, so the lowest in the group have been very unsettled since she passed. :(

    • Sorry to hear that you lost your hen. I’m sure the pecking order will settle down quickly. In the meanwhile, keep them very busy – piles of dead leaves in the pen, cabbages, etc. Also, extra outside roosts are much used by the birds when new hens are introduced.

  16. I totally agree about feather footed birds being high maintenance. I have 5 bantams 2 of which are feather footed. I have to trim their feet feathers and one had a foot injury and it was so hard to wrap her foot because of the giant feather shafts. My frizzled cochin is so high maintence! Ken brought up a good point about bantams flying as well. Mine fly across my huge yard all the time. When they were younger one of my Japanese Bantams would fly up and perch on top of a 7 foot fence. Then she would get scared by a squirrel and fly down into the neighbors yard. Twice I had to let myself into their yard to try to catch this tiny hen that wanted nothing to do with me. They definitely like to perch as high up and close to the roof of the coop as possible.

  17. I have 17 chicks on order with Meyer Hatchery: 3 Buff Orpingtons (1 roo, 2 hen), 1 Australorp, 5 Wyandottes of differing colors, 2 Easter Eggers, 2 Delawares, 2 Speckled Sussex and 2 Barred Rock. I wanted to build a flock of dual-purpose birds with different colored feathers. I selected breeds that are also supposed to be pretty docile. I included a rooster because I hope some of my birds will go broody and hatch chicks in the coming year – I selected some breeds that go broody for that reason, too.

    • I also want to say that we are going into chicken keeping with the idea that they will be livestock, not pets, so breed “friendliness” doesn’t matter so much. We shall see if I am able to maintain this distinction!

      • Those are all useful hens that are good and thrifty foragers. None are wimpy -though I bet the Delawares, though large, will be on the bottom of the pecking order. Check in with me in a half year and tell me if you were happy with the selection. I bet they all won’t become pets, but I bet one will. Likely the Sussex!

  18. With three generations of hens in the coop, I am opting not to get chicks in the spring. Out of the breeds in my flock, I believe the Buff Orpingtons not only have a kind personality, but are proficient layers. Wonderful post Terry, thank you.

  19. Ooh!! Just what I want to read! I am getting an order of Silkies in colors I do not have. Partridge, gray, buff and red. Going to add them to my five that are black or white.

    In one pen I have eight Mille de Fleur D’Uccles, about two months old. The other pen has two guineas, three big hens and a funny little cochin cross.

      • No, they get the same treatment as everyone else. Both my pens have heat lamps right now, and for now my silkies are in with the big girls and the guineas. They all get along fine. My silkies roost.

        I’m thinking about not replacing my big girls when they are gone, and keeping the two banty breeds for a while.

          • Right now the heat lamps are near the waterers to keep them from freezing. I don’t think they really need them for heat right now. I already had some nice big waterers and didn’t want to replace them.

            The kitties have a special heated water bowl in the tack room though!

  20. Do you make suggestions, breed-wise? I keep fantasizing about the small (3?) flock I would like to have. My requirements would include eggs, friendliness, ease (I am a beginner), and heat tolerence (SW Florida). My mother says that my great grandmother used to talk about the “Domineckers” they raised, so of course I am curious about Dominiques.

    • Dominiques were developed in the South and they’d do just fine, but my favorite chicken personality-wise is the basic white leghorn. They’re friendly and active. They’re not heavily feathered and have that bigger comb that helps to dissipate heat. They also lay lots of eggs. Get 2 Doms and 2 leghorns.

  21. I started my little flock of hens in September this past year. I got one Silver Laced Wyandotte, one Light Brahma, and one Black Silkie, all day old chicks. They are a sweet little group. I would say at the top of the pecking order is the Brahma, though she is very sweet and I have had no problems with her bullying the others. The Silkie does roost and has the greatest personality. I haven’t had to do anything different with her so far. The two big girls are like best friends but little Tina holds her own with them. However, I started hearing some noises from “her” this morning that are making me think she is a he :( No eggs from anyone just yet, but hoping soon! I was thinking of adding a Buff Orpington pullet to the group this spring for some color variety, but we will see!

    Great post, thank you!

    • Perhaps the Silkie is holding it’s own because it’s a he! You’re in California, so the Silkie might be just fine (as long as he/she stays dry.) Here in New England the weather is more extreme (unless you’re in the mountains somewhere – maybe I have an East Coast vision of CA.)

      • Yes, we’re in the dry and warm Central Valley. But I grew up in MA, so I know that weather well!!

  22. As a beginner, and living in VA, what I would really have to worry about is the heat over the cold. I would love to get 2 red sex links, 2 black sex links and two turken hens. Though your suggestion of Dominques and Leghorns doing well in the heat are peaking my interest. I love the Turkens for their ugliness and the ease of which they do well in heat. I think my neighbors would find them so ugly they would be cute and not complain as much about them :) As for sex links I would choose them because I can be sure they are female. And I have heard the black sex links often have the personailty of their barred rock mothers.
    Rooster wise I would love either to have a serama, silkie or oegb. I prefer a bantam rooster’s crow even though I know they crow more. And if I were to buy a rooster, I would want to get one from a breeder. One who has owned a few generations of that line to see what their father and grandfathers were like. I have heard, thought not always sure that most roosters will have the personailities on their fathers. So I would like to see what their father is like before buying one.

  23. Good evening Terry. Last year I attended a poultry swap in Maryland. I came home with a wonderful sweet pullet, a blue orpington. I have looked everywhere for this color and breed, but finally found the woman I purchased her from. Unfortunately she has nothing at this time, but did share the name of two other ladies that raise them. In the past I have bought eggs on ebay and slipped them under my cochins. Fun, and the hatch rate was quite high, but what to do with roosters? I contacted my local feed store that places an order every spring and they offered to include my order (if I couldn’t find the blue orpingtons) in with theirs. I certain do not need 25 chicks. That order would have been a buff orpington pullet, a blue cochin pullet, ameraucana pullets (2), a salmon faverolle pullet, a silver laced wyandotte and a buff braham pullet. Who knows what I will finally decide, but I certainly agree-variety is exciting. Take care, Robin.

    • Hi Robin..I have a GORGEOUS Blue Andulusian that is the most beautiful gray/blue color…she is s good size and very friendly and lays like crazy. I got her from Ideal Poultry in Texas.

  24. I found this resource to be very helpful in checking out characteristics of different breeds:

    Henderson’s Handy-Dandy Chicken Chart

    My delivery day is April 30th. This year it’s all females except the Wyandottes which only come as straight run.

    Here’s the new flock:

    25 Black Australorps
    7 Buff Orpingtons
    6 Cuckoo Marans
    7 Dominiques
    5 Blue Laced Red Wyandottes, straight run

    I’d wanted 6 of every one except 7 of the Wyandottes, but they were restricted to 5. I hope they aren’t all roosters…

    In the past we’d looked mostly at meat properties, but this year, we decided to try some of the rarer breeds and add variety to the flock. We avoided birds with white as they are very attractive to predators. Our pen system has worked well, but there’s no use asking for trouble.

    Of the above, we’ve had the Orpingtons before. We bore in mind that Sarah, a Buff Orpington, and Ernie, a Barred Rock, would join the new birds in the layer flock come September. So that had bearing on color selection, not wanting the pets to be singletons.

    Because My Girl died during the summer, Ernie is currently a singleton, the oldest bird, and holding her own. I’m hoping the similar coloring of Cuckoos and Dominiques will help Ernie integrate.

    In the past we’ve gotten 25 females of one breed and 25 straight run of another. This was to keep the number of roosters smaller, but still have some big birds for whole chicken. As the roosters matured, the poor hens would be under constant attack. Even with fewer roosters, all of us breathe a sigh when they go to freezer camp first.

    This year we went with mostly females, as in the past it’s been hard to find good layers during the culling process. That left us something under 35 to select from and we’ve been hard pressed to find 13 or less as replacements. This year we will need 16 good layers, so we’re hoping we can find them with 45 females.

    The current flock has:

    1 Barred Rock
    1 Buff Orpington
    2 NH Reds
    2 Jersey Giants (black)
    8 Buff Rocks
    4 Partridge Rocks

    The Giants and the Partridges band together, the Reds stay by themselves, Sarah and the Buff Rocks hang out, and Ernie does her thing, either in the pen or out.

    I was worried about the 2 Reds, as they were rather aggressive. But both were excellent layers, even if second year birds, so I kept them. They are far enough down the pecking order to not cause trouble, or be the recipients of pecking. So this year it’s worked out well.

    So these are the things we consider for our layer flock dynamics.

    • The Henderson chart is a good resource. Thanks for mentioning it. You’ve selected all vigorous hens, excellent for pasture, which, if they can forage, will really cut down on your feed bill! (Though I don’t know about the Giants – that’s a breed I haven’t had. It just doesn’t appeal to me. Something about those eyes.)

  25. Terry..There are tons of chicken breeders out there..which one do you prefer? I have always used Ideal, but I would be willing to try something else or should you stick to the same breeder?

    • Donna, quality varies. The big hatcheries have almost every breed, but business is booming and I don’t think they’ve been able to keep the quality up. I’ve heard many stories of chicks with defects and too many roosters in a sexed order (I experienced that myself last year.) If you have only a breed or two in mind I’d go with a small hatchery that specializes. If you want that broad selection you need to go with a big hatchery. You’ll probably get okay birds, but you also might have a couple of problems and many that are pet quality but not up to show standard.

  26. i appreciate this post because you talk about some of the cons that some discover after they’ve gotten their chickens. i chose mine based off of how hardy they were, we get some long winters in northern nevada. i’m content with my small flock, and i still enjoy looking over catalogs wishful and awe-ing. i had thought about getting two polish girls to add to my small flock of four (this is my first time ever having chickens!). seeing your two polish girls on your blog just cheer me up. but, like someone mentioned earlier, i enjoy the routine i have with my girls now.

    i read about chickens for two years before actually purchasing them and the catalogs don’t really go into detail about some of the chickens traits and personalities. i have two silver laced wyandottes, one australurp, and one orpington. each of them definitely have their own personalities. the two laced girls are the most demanding & can be quite obnoxious. the australurp is a follower of the laced girls but is the quietest. my orphington is my best egg layer, independent & friendliest. i enjoy all fours company but would make some different choices for the next batch in the next couple of years.

    terri, if you introduce new chicks to the existing flock, does age matter? i’m hoping that my girls will live till their little old ladies. thank you.

    • Elo- When combining chicks with an established flock you have to wait until they are fully feathered out and mature. At this point, though, my old hens are so old that I don’t think they’d bother chasing the young ones! I have a FAQ about introducing new chickens to a flock. This is my FAQ page:

      • Though it is a shame that Buffy is so old know not be interested in the younger orgphington’s. I guess she is so use to being a single, that having three other similair birds doesn’t even stir her to seek them out. Or vice versa, they are too young and too invested in each other to seek out Buffy

        • In my flock of Gems there are singletons, matched pairs and threesomes. I watched them for over a half hour today, free-ranging. Breeds did not stay together. They milled around in groups of 2s and 3s and 5s, all very comfortable, often at a distance from each other. Although I have seen chickens of the same breed gravitate towards each other, it’s not essential for a peaceful and friendly flock.
          My two flocks also, although able to mingle, do not. The old girls know the young ones are more vigorous and do not want to tangle with them. Also, the Gems are far more active and don’t want to be where the old ones hang out.

  27. I added five babes to my flock of original four (nine total) at the end of September. The little ones are mostly full grown now, and have been sharing a coop (separated by hardware cloth) for a month now. They big and little girls free range during the day together in my urban backyard….and so far I have seen no squabbles. But they do stay in their groups…big girls at their favorite dust bath area and the little girls exploring the yard. We discovered a few weeks ago that one of our little girls is actually a little boy….but even he stays with his flock.

    Old Girls:
    (1) Dominique – my favorite bird, she is my lap chicken
    (2) Americauna – one lays large pink eggs, one lays green eggs
    (1) RIR – dominant, but not overpowering, I have three strong girls that all think they are top hen
    Little Girls and Boy:
    (1) Light Brahma, feathered feet….beautiful, but has dirty feet this winter
    (1) Speckled Sussex, so pretty
    (1) Black Australorp, very sweet girl
    (1) Gold Laced Wyandotte
    (1) Cuckoo Marans…..cockerel….and I was so looking forward to chocolate eggs.

  28. Hi Terry,
    I am an upcoming urban chicken rookie from Alberta and was considering a few Houdans. What do you think?

    • I’ve never kept Houdans. I like the ones with the punk topknots – but I wouldn’t want the ones with the fuller, more Polish headdresses. I have a feeling that they are less docile and more active than other options. Not the easiest breed for a beginner to keep, but they do look fun.