This is a dilemma I have almost every year when I think about baby chicks for the upcoming year. It used to be that ordering mail order was the only way to go, because I wanted one of eight or ten different fairly unusual breeds. Now after years of trial and error, experience has been a teacher that has taught me well. I am much more likely to do the feed store run when they have most of what I want. I still want cute and usual, but have discovered that the practical side of me has become the side that I listen to now.
Important things to me:
- Combs ~ I have learned that I really prefer to take birds with cushion or pea combs through the winter. Montana winters are just too harsh on the little points on the single combs.
- Size ~ All my layers ultimately end up in the soup pot, so a scrawny chicken is just a lot of trouble for very little meat in the end. So super layers with almost no body are not the kind of breed you will find in my coop.
- Forage Qualities ~ My chickens are not only allowed, but they are encouraged to free range and supplement their diet with bugs, slugs, greens and seeds they find naturally out around my house. For this reason I like breeds that have enough of the natural instinct in them to get out do the job well. It is not fool proof because sometimes a breed with a history of being a good forager will not do so well one year. Not sure why that happens, but it does.
- Egg Laying ~ I became a backyard chicken wrangler for the eggs, so I always want something that lays well.
- No Plain white ~ It makes them too easy of a target for predators and besides I am not giving up completely on cute.
- Nix to meanness ~ Any chicken who turns out to be mean makes an early trip to freezer camp. Period.
Based on this you are likely to find Wyandottes in my flock every year, sprinkled with some other near misses that manage to come close to matching my criteria that I keep going back to: Barred Rocks and Buff Orpingtons in spite of the single combs and Brahmas even if they don’t lay the best. If I lived some place a with a little less severe of winters my choices would likely be something else, so remember if you are starting out it will be trial and error based on your situation. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little.