Mail Order=Now Vs. Feed Store =Wait

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.

    My chickens don't let the snow of winter stop them from foraging.

    My chickens don’t let the snow of winter stop them from foraging.  Here is a Brahma hen with a pea comb.  There is a Buckeye in the back with a single comb.

  • 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.

Who Is Staying and Who is going

I have made a decision on who I am keeping and who is going from my flock for the winter.   Here is what I have decided.

Barred Rock – Going because she is from the 2011 flock.   She is getting on the far side for age.  She is a good layer but in the interest of flock rotation it is time for her to go.

Dark Brahma – Going because she is from the 2012 year and she isn’t a great layer.   The dark brahmas have not been as larger as other brahmas in the past.    They have gone broody and molted the first fall.   If she molts again in fall there will be no eggs until spring.   This is a breed I don’t intend to repeat.

Austrolorp – Going   She has never been the kind of performer that you expect from this breed.   I kept on thinking she would get better but hasn’t.  This is a breed I don’t seem be able to get a good one.   I no longer intend to try and get one.

Speckled Sussex (2) – one stays and one goes.   They both will stay if we change our mind on the Jaehorn.   They are good layers.   They lay late and start early. It is just that there are birds from this year so they have a longer rotational life that forces one of these out.

California Leghorn – Going because her comb is too big for a Montana winter in my coop.

Silver Laced Wyandotte – Going because she has severe scoliosis.   Though she is doing well right now but  I would hate to be forced to deal with problems caused by this in the middle of the winter.  Experience with this problem, says don’t take her into the winter.

Buff Orpington – Staying.    She is a large bird from this flock and seems to be laying well.

Buff Brahma – Staying.   A favorite breed for us.   We are going to see what she will do if she stays for the winter

Easter Egger Staying  We  have had mixed results.   We are going to see what happens if we keep her.

Norwegian Jaehorn – Staying – We are torn the most with this one.   She is the lowest on the pecking order, and not sure when they are forced to hang out more together in the winter how this will all play out.   Because she is for Norway and should be winter hearty we so want to keep her.   We may flip on this before butcher day.

Buckeye – Staying.   She has a cushion comb, and seems to be a great layer.  She is a rock star forager and a fairly calm bird.


There are a couple of things that could change this.

  • Death of a bird
  • A bird goes broody or into a molt.   In that case the bird would move to the going list.   Either one this late in the season, would mean an egg hiatus until next spring.
  • I waiver on the Jaehorn.   Neither one of us are sure keeping her is the right thing.

Introductions – Buff Orpington

10 day old Buff Orpington

10 day old Buff Orpington

Over the next weeks I will posting photos of my assorted flock and sharing with you information about the various breeds   I have pages about what I have done on past years with tabs at the top “Backyard Chickens.”  I am sharing this to help inform folks who have never had a flock about what you might expect…the good…the bad…and the ugly.

Buff Orpington is supposed to be the Golden Retriever of the chicken world.   Golden, friendly and plays well with all others. It is a solid golden bird, with a heavy build.     It is a breed that originated in the UK.  It is considered a dual purpose bird, meaning that it lays well and could just as easily be Sunday dinner.     It is a favorite of backyard flocks because of these traits.   Up until now I have not tried it because….it was solid in color and I really like my little flock to be “interesting” feathered.   It is also known to be a broody, it would like to hatch some eggs, something I am not interested in.   

At this age the feathers in her wings are coming in at that amazing golden color they are known for.   We are not seeing any chest or tail feathers.   In the flock of birds she is in she is one of the crowd.   She is neither wild, nor timid.