Chickens are an essential part of every homestead. They are one of the best sources of eggs and a great meat source. Choosing the right chicken for your needs is a great planning tool to avoid unnecessary expenses. In my case, I had 3 needs:
- Good egg layers.
- Good for meat.
- Easy to find locally.
When we first decided to get chickens, we were interested in eggs; meat was secondary. I researched breeds that would be both good egg layers and good meat chickens. A very good online resource I discovered was “Back Yard Chickens” (www.backyardchickens.com). I found which breeds were good egg layers and good meat chickens. They call these birds “dual-purpose” chickens. I learned that many breeds of chickens are dual-purpose; for example, Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons, Ameraucana, Barred Rock, New Hampshire, Dominique, Black Australorp . . . the list goes on. Another great online resource I used to study chicken breeds was “Henderson’s Handy Dandy Chicken Chart” that I found on the Sage Hen Farm website (www.sagehenfarmlodi.com/chooks/chooks.html).
Rhode Island Reds are a good dual purpose chicken that produces large brown eggs. A single chicken can lay up to 300 eggs each year. The number of eggs decreases as they age. They are a large bird with a lot of meat. When they stop laying (we need to talk about cooking old hens in a later article), they will become meat chickens.
Another good, dual-purpose chicken is the Buff Orpington. They also produce large brown eggs and lay between 200 and 300 eggs each year. My Buff Orpingtons are large birds with thick feathers making it appear larger than my Rhode Island Reds, but they are almost the same size. Orpingtons are also good meat chickens.
I wasn’t sure where to begin to find a chicken breeder who had the specific breeds with the criteria I was looking for. I researched local farm stores like Tractor Supply Store and Agri-Supply. Tractor Supply carries chicks of several breeds, but their stock is seasonal and variable. I struck it lucky when I found a local homesteader who advertised on Craig’s List with Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpington, and American Dominiques. This breeder hatched chicks all year round, and they usually have chicks available. The chicks were very reasonable as well, only $2.00 each. I bought 10 chicks (and no rooster). This is what was available when I was ready to purchase them. I took the whole bunch of hens; 9 Rhode Island Reds and one Buff Orpington.
Young chicks don’t do well in the extreme heat and humidity in Southern Georgia. To avoid the high heat and humidity, I raised them in a cage in my garage until they were old enough to put outside in their own coop. Also, be sure you have a fine mesh chicken wire in your cage and coop. Little chicks can squeeze right through 2-inch mesh wire like it wasn’t even there. I recommend starting your young birds on “Chick” feed (protein level 20-22 percent), then change to “Starter/Grower” feed (protein level 14-16 percent) at about 6 weeks old. About 20 weeks old or when they lay their first eggs, start them on “layer” feed (protein level 15-18%). I’ve used both pellet and crumble feed, but settled on crumble because it was easier to manage. Chickens are very messy eaters and feed is spread everywhere. Crumble was easier for me to manage and minimized chickens spilling food.