Barred Rock chick
June 1, 2009
8:00 a.m. at the feed store
In my Home Town
6 Barred Rock
6 Pearl White Leghorns
6 Buff Orpingtons
All healthy, fluffy, and peeping!
Normally I order my chicks to arrive the first or second week of April. If I can, I like to have them by Easter week because it just seems right to have fluffy, live Peeps at Easter time, and especially if there are Littles around to enjoy holding them and feeling their downy softness on the cheek. This year I put in my order for April, but the hatchery was so overwhelmed by requests that the feed store's order was pushed into June. I've read that the newest rage in America is raising a few backyard chickens and I guess it's true by the back orders at the hatcheries this year.
This week I'd like to do a little series on raising chickens. I have been raising chickens for 26 years and I would like to share a little about what I've learned in the process.
The golden chicks are Buff Orpington, black are Barred Rock, yellow are White Leghorn
When buying chicks, What do I choose?
I have raised several breeds of chicken and I must admit that the very best egg layer is the Pearl-White Leghorn. This chicken is not heavy, not a good-eating chicken, and not a great pet, but it converts feed into eggs better than any other bird I know of. She's a little high strung, but one heck of a white egg layer.
My two favorite egg layers are the Barred Rock, a calm, plump, black and white hen that lays well during cold snaps and the Buff Orpington, my favorite because she's reminds me of the perfect farm hen like Henny-Penny in the children's storybook. She is the color of a gold watch, plump, gentle and would make a nice pet. Both breeds are considered dual-purpose chickens which means they can be used for eggs and/or for meat. Both hens lay brown eggs and are very consistent layers. What the Leghorn has in the best egg production, is easily overshadowed by the Barred Rock and Buff Orpington for personality and charm as well as eggs. I have also raised the Rhode Island Red, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Golden Laced Wyandotte, Black Australorp, Light Brahmas and the Auracana. All are good layers and offer a nice variety to choose from. The Auracana is called The Easter Egg chicken because she lays blue and green eggs.
The largest, best eating chickens I have raised in this category would be the Jumbo Cornish X Rocks. They convert feed into meat very well and at the fastest pace. You should get a 3-4 pound chicken in approximately 8 weeks (the roosters mature the quickest). The drawback to these chickens is that you really must begin to butcher them within 6-8 weeks or else they start having heart attacks and getting so heavy that their legs begin to give out. I have raised some of these to about 9-10 pounds (and they are delicious) if you can keep them alive to this weight.
The Cornish Roaster is another good choice for meat. These chickens don't have near the leg problems that the Cornish X Rocks do but they do take a little longer to finish. Butcher the hens first for fryers and allow the roosters to mature up to 8-9 pounds for delicious roasting.
As mentioned before, the heavy breeds (dual purpose) will work for meat, but they certainly won't have the larger breasts and thighs that these chickens will. If you want meaty, tender birds, you want these two breeds.
Roosters. Do I need one?
I sometimes enjoy having a rooster in the chicken yard. Roosters are the best-dressed and have all the finest feathers among the chickens. I consider the rooster the "guard dog" of the flock. He will always be among his wives protecting, watching, and making sure that they are well fed. One time I noticed a mangy fox snooping around the chicken coop and immediately the rooster spotted him and attacked him, grabbing onto the fox with his claws and beak and beating the poor, unhealthy fellow off with his wings. What a ruckus! I was glad I had that rooster at the time, but there are those times when the rooster can be quite a pest to his harem, if you know what I mean. In this case, he is cooked into a nice roasted chicken dinner.
The rooster's main job is to fertilize your hen's eggs. The only way they will hatch however, is if the eggs are brooded by the hens or incubated. If the hens refuse to brood (sit on the eggs continually) then they will not mature into chicks. Fertilized eggs are said to be very healthy to eat, but I'm not sure why. You do not need a rooster, however, to produce eggs. The hens will gladly supply you with all the eggs you want with or without the rooster.
Roosters will always mature faster when raising them for meat and some folks like to order a straight-run -- a mix of cock and pullet chicks. This way they will have at least half the chickens for laying eggs and half for meat. Buying chicks this way is usually very economical too.
If you would like more information on various breeds of chickens and ordering, the only hatchery I've ever used is McMurray Hatchery. You'll enjoy browsing their website.