Have you noticed that there is a science to all the choices that we make? Think about it while we discuss choosing the best chicken breeds for you.
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Why do you want chickens? That is a fair question. I used to hear it quite often. Our town passed a law a few years ago allowing hens inside the city limits so now more people keep chickens so I don’t hear it so much anymore. Now they all know how wonderful chickens are. Many times the question now is “Do you have any extra eggs?”
Knowing the reasoning behind a decision helps to make the decision. So here are the reasons we choose the chicken breeds that we do. Maybe that will help you decide what the best chicken breeds are for you.
Our Chicken Story
Our chickens are an important part of our garden strategy. We used to have 2 very large vegetable garden plots on our 1 acre. We are always amending our soil but our soil is clay so we needed large gardens to produce enough for our family of 5. Then 8 years ago we got rid of our garage, dug a foundation, and built a new garage with a house attached for Cameron’s parents. We did this with the help of a fantastic construction team and our amazing family.
Now what to do with the dirt? At first it was just piles everywhere. Our front vegetable garden and chicken coop was now 2 sheds. The back vegetable garden was in a hollow at the back of our property. That spring it rained so hard for 2 weeks straight that there was major flooding throughout our area. We couldn’t even get into our back yard for several months but then it was obvious what to do with all that dirt.
We used it to level out low places and put our vegetable garden up on a plateau. It was great, except that all that dirt was all clay from below topsoil level so the soil was worse than it was before and now we had half the garden space. Also, our 12 chickens were gone and we were missing the eggs.
Another winter and more research time and we came up with a plan. Our plan was to build a larger chicken house next to this new garden spot and divide that garden spot in half. Half of this garden would be our garden for one year and the other half would be the chicken yard attached to the coop. The next year, we would move the fence and trade garden space with the chickens. This idea made a huge difference in the quality of our garden soil. Now, we get more produce off this smaller garden than we did way back when we had the two larger gardens. We have a blog series with more information about how we work this plan in our Gardening page.
Why Do You Want Chickens?
I did mention it was a great question, didn’t I? Through trial and error, we have figured out that we need about 25-30 chickens to properly work and fertilize the ground. We also live in an area of extremes. Some winters we have ambient temperatures of -40 degrees Fahrenheit while some summers get as hot as 115 degrees Fahrenheit. We have provided all the protection we can for our chickens but we need chickens that are bred for such extreme temperatures.
At first we thought those 2 qualities would be enough for us. The eggs would be a bonus. But we have found that sharing eggs with people is a way we can add extra income and share with those around us even during times when we can’t monetarily share. So, now we also look for chicken breeds that are good layers.
Since I am the biggest coward you will ever meet, I like docile breeds of chickens. Also for that reason we only keep hens. I do not enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes from proving to a chicken that I am the top of the pecking order.
Some people enjoy attending and entering chicken shows. Some breeds of chickens have been bred for centuries just for their appearance. We do love the uniqueness of some of the more fancy breeds. So from time to time we order just a few of the fancies as long as they are mild-mannered, even if they aren’t great layers. We also choose several breeds so we have a beautiful variety in our chicken house.
Some folks enjoy raising chickens for the meat. In that case, they like the heavier breeds or breeds that mature quickly. There are some of the heavier breeds that also lay a lot of eggs. Those are called dual purpose breeds.
Choosing Best Chicken Breeds for Us
This is the criteria we use for determining our best chicken breeds:
- Hardy enough to thrive in our temperature extremes (with protection)
- Docile, mild breeds
- Better or best egg layers, year round
- Unique beautiful chickens
Choosing Best Chicken Breeds for You
Answering the question; “Why do you want chickens?” is the best place to start narrowing down your choices. The possibilities are overwhelming even after the reasons are established.
After you have figured out what you want out of your chicken flock, it’s time to do the research to choose the best chicken breed (or breeds) for you.
One other limiting factor might be where you decide to get your chickens from. If you have the opportunity to acquire someone’s cast off hens then the choice is already made for you. If you are going to buy your chicks from your local hardware or ag service store, then the choices are limited as well. Sometimes that is a great place to start.
Do the Research
If you want to take the scientific approach to your choice, then do the research to find the breeds that match your needs list. Talking to other chicken owners is a really great place to start.
Purdue University has some fantastic information on poultry found here. We also use the information we find in the hatchery catalogs. One more thing that we have found helps with our research is to check our information in more than one source.
The Science Behind Choices
We get new chickens every few years. Every time we get new chicks we do more research and try out different breeds. Our Americanas are the only breed that we have chosen every time. We buy a variety of breeds every time. It helps us to know that we can choose differently next time.
We all make choices in different ways. Whether we research our choices before we make them or close our eyes and choose, there is still a science to our choice.
Some Tools We Use With Our Chickens
Some things that have helped us keep our chickens happy are K&H Pet Products Poultry Heated and Unheated Waterers. We love the handle on the side of the jug. Heated waterers are an important part of winter survival for all of our animals.
We have a lamp hanging in our chicken house that is on a timer. It not only lengthens the days for our ladies but it also provides some heat. Even when we have had temperatures of -25 Fahrenheit, the coop is fairly warm.
One last thing that has helped a lot with our chickens is an electric fence around the bottom and the top of our chicken fence. We have lost so many chickens to predators but not since we installed the electric fence.
Tell Us About Your Favorite Chickens
We love discussions about chickens. Discussing favorite breeds with others helps us make decisions about our next chick order. Please leave comments telling us your favorite breeds and why.
Crystal Staley · March 12, 2019 at 8:49 am
This is great! I’m looking into chickens (I almost have the coop ready-it’s been so cold!)and working on learning to garden in this new place. I love the idea of sharing a garden with the chickens. Maybe I can pick you brain sometime. Do you habe a place you like to get chicks or chickens?
Rhonda · March 13, 2019 at 7:01 am
I’m so glad you found this helpful. We have purchased chicks from several places. Murdoch’s in Miles City should have them in now and for the next few weeks. They have a great selection. We have also ordered from several places online. Chicks ship to the Post Office in Miles. You check in with the Post Office ahead of time, they call you when the chicks arrive and you can pick them up or arrange for someone to pick them up for you. The first time we did that Cameron said he wished he’d known when he was single that you could pick up chicks at the Post Office lol.
If you haven’t already, subscribe to our email. Through our posts, I’ll walk you through gardening and chicken survival here in Eastern Montana 😉
Sandy Scott · March 14, 2019 at 1:27 am
I loved my black copper marans. They lay the most beautiful dark chocolate colored eggs. Did great in Utah weather. My over all favorite breed is golden sexlinks. We ordered from dunlop hatcheries in Caldwell ID. Great layers, huge eggs, many laying double yokes.
Americaunas and buff orpington coming in a close second. 😊
Rhonda · March 14, 2019 at 6:50 am
We just ordered the black copper marans for the first time. We also ordered red star sexlinks. I’m excited to see how they do. It has been amazing to me that our little polish do so well during our cold winters, but they really are hardy. They just don’t lay very consistently. lol They are more like cats, they do what they choose when they choose to.