Are you thinking about adding Barred Plymouth Rock chickens to your flock? Then get the scoop from Molly Cooper on the benefits of this popular egg-producing breed!
Almost anyone with experience rearing small flocks of chickens in suburban backyards will recommend sticking to larger breeds that lay brown eggs. These breeds tend to be calm and gentle. Large breeds are easy to care for and their tendency toward quietness is appreciated by nearby neighbors.
Although brown eggs hold no nutritional edge over their white counterpart, most backyard flock owners prefer darker ones that are harder to find and more expensive at the grocery store.
However, smaller, lighter breeds can be ideal where houses are spaced further apart and noise isn’t an issue, but predators are. Folks living on farms or acreages often let their birds roam the yard and nearby fields without confinement. Unfortunately, big spaces are also a habitat preferred by coyotes, foxes, raccoons, hawks, and free ranging dogs.
The traits that make the smaller white-egg chicken breeds less than desirable in town render them ideal on acreages. Brown leghorns, anconas, minorcas, and a host of other white egg layers are amazingly quick, elusive, and vocal. Many fly as well as a wild pheasant, making them hard to catch by both humans or predators.
Chickens have amazingly keen eyesight and should a flighty leghorn spot danger it will squawk loudly, putting all its flock mates into evasive action. If a fox tries to snatch a bird, it’s likely to fly to the horizon or the top of a nearby tree. In a similar situation a heavier breed like a barred rock or Orpington would likely become fox food.
Raising fast light breeds on large acreages poses challenges not shared by confined larger breeds. Despite their agility and speed, expect predators to catch a bird now and then.
Smaller breeds often are outstanding egg layers, but they like to hide their clutch in unlikely places outdoors. Not all the eggs will be in the coop’s nest, and egg hunting may be necessary. The white leghorn is the most prolific layer on record and chances are if you’ve ever bought white eggs from a grocery store, they came from this type of bird.
Dozens of light breed chicks can be purchased from hatcheries, and they sport a diversity of feather patterns and colors. Some are among the most beautiful of chickens. Although heavy brown-egg breeds are best for suburbia, lighter breeds have their place in spacious yards.
Once you decide to start raising fowl, it is important to select the right type of birds to suit your needs, environment, and desires. Below is a quick overview of the main types of birds available to most people.
Many different breeds of chickens have been developed for different purposes. For simplicity, you can place them into three general categories: Laying, meat-producing and dual-purpose breeds.
- Laying Breeds:
- These breeds are known for their egg-laying capacity.
- Popular laying breeds include the White Leghorn, Red Sex Link and Black Sex Link breeds.
- A healthy hen will lay eggs for several years. Hens begin to lay at approximately 16–20 weeks of age and will lay between 20–23 dozen eggs the first year.
- At 14 months, laying hens usually begin to molt, the process by which they drop their old feathers and grow new ones. No eggs are laid during this period.
- After molting, hens will lay larger but fewer eggs per year (about 16–18 dozen).
- Meat Breeds:
- Meat-producing breeds are very efficient at converting feed to meat, producing approximately one pound of bodyweight for every two pounds of feed they eat.
- A popular meat-producing breed is the Cornish breed. The Cornish game hen is a cross between the Cornish and the New Hampshire or Plymouth Rock breeds.
- Meat-producing chickens are broad breasted and larger than the laying breeds.
- They grow and feather rapidly and will weigh five pounds or more at eight weeks.
- Broilers and fryers are butchered at 31/2 to 5 pounds, while a roaster is butchered at 6 to 8 pounds.
- Dual-Purpose Breeds:
- The dual-purpose breed is the classic backyard chicken. These breeds are hardy, self-reliant and fairly large bodied. Most lay large brown-shelled eggs.
- Examples include Rhode Island Red and New Hampshire breeds.
- Some laying and dual-purpose hens tend to get broody, which means they will want to sit on and hatch eggs. Because broody hens don’t lay eggs, egg production will be affected.
Turkeys, Game Birds and Other Poultry
Turkeys, geese, ducks and pheasants are often raised as pets or for their egg and meat-producing qualities. They also can make terrific projects for children to learn responsibility and animal husbandry skills. Your local feed dealer and extension agent are excellent resources for information on breeds and species that are appropriate for your goals and geographic region.