My husband and I decided we were going to start a small flock of chickens. We wanted to be able to raise our own meat and get our own eggs for economic reasons, and also because we like knowing exactly what is in the food we eat. We decided we would choose two different breeds to start this flock. AND SO IT BEGAN!
Foolish people that we are, we figured we would simply page through one of our hatchery catalogs, choose two breeds, and place the order. WRONG! Of course we each liked something different, but we did have a few standards to go by to narrow the search. We wanted to get breeds that were rare, or not as common as some chickens such as Leghorns or Rhode Island Reds. (Not that there is anything wrong with those breeds. In fact, if you are looking for egg production in a chicken, those are some of the best breeds to get.) We wanted something different. We also needed dual purpose birds that would be good for eggs and meat on the table. Medium to dark brown large egg layers was another item on our list, and, of course, we wanted chickens that were friendly and easy to work with.
Now, you would think that this would narrow the field down to just a few choices, and it did narrow it considerably. However, there are still a lot of breeds that meet all of these criteria. We spent days looking through catalogs and visited numerous hatchery and poultry Web sites. Let me just say here that anyone interested in info on chickens should visit Barry Koffler at FeatherSite. I highly recommend this site! He has lots of info on all the different chicken breeds as well as photos and links to numerous hatcheries.
Finally, my husband and I agreed on two breeds. Our choices were Barnevelders, developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Holland for laying dark eggs, and Delawares, developed in 1940 in Delaware.
We wanted to get both breeds from the same hatchery but at the one that both breeds, the Barnevelders were sold out until 2009. Needless to say, we were not willing to wait that long, so we went to our third breed choice which was Welsummer. This breed was also developed in Holland in the 20th century, and they lay dark terracotta brown eggs.
So far, I am very pleased with both breeds. They have been great to work with. The Delawares have been particularly rewarding because they are incredibly friendly and enjoy human contact. I highly recommend them.
I would love to hear about your experiences with any other chicken breeds. If you are thinking about starting your own flock, have fun choosing and be sure to visit FeatherSite and take a look at GRIT's guide to chicken breeds!
– Lori Dunn is a freelance photographer specializing in rural subjects and nature. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.