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Help me pick what kind of chickens to raise!
February 5, 2010 10:48 AM   Subscribe

What is a rare breed of chicken that is a) a good all-purpose chicken, b) relatively docile, and c) would do well in a hot and humid climate?

If my life goes as I am hoping it will, I am going to move fairly soon from the cold northeastern US, where I have lived all my life, to the hot and humid southeastern US. I hope to be able to have a small flock of chickens when I move, mostly for egg production (although I am not squeamish in the least about killing things, and I could see myself raising chickens that I intended to eat -- obviously, this will partially depend on where I end up moving to, since a few laying hens is a different proposition from a bunch of laying hens/brood hens and at least one rooster).

I'd rather have a rare-breed/heirloom-breed/whatever you want to call it, mostly because I am concerned about the genetic diversity of the American livestock population, so I want to do my part to make sure that some of the more unusual breeds are protected. Now that I'm starting to do some research, a problem that I'm finding is that most of the websites I've found tell people which breeds tolerate cold climates well, but they don't really mention which breeds do well in the heat. I don't want to get the polar bear of chickens and then have them all die in midsummer or something.

I would also like a chicken that is relatively friendly, and that is a good layer but who also can be eaten if I want to go that direction. (Bonus points if it can not only be eaten, but is a decent mother.)

Other pluses (but definitely things I can live without): Prettiness (I especially like lacing, bars, or speckles on chickens), brown eggs, lack of overexuberant plumage like dragging tails and fuzzy feet (which will only get covered in mud and poop and then will be gross).

Help me find some chickens, please!
posted by kataclysm to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Easter Eggers are an Aracauna mutt and tend to lay green, blue or pink eggs. We live in Maryland and haven't had any trouble with chickens affected by heat.
posted by electroboy at 10:55 AM on February 5, 2010


There is a lot of info here. Check out the dual purpose birds.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:00 AM on February 5, 2010


Also, Murray McMurray has a Rare & Unusual Breed section on their site.
posted by electroboy at 11:04 AM on February 5, 2010


Yeah, I've seen a lot of those sections on various hatchery websites, as well as the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy site. It's just that none of them have any of the varieties marked as being particularly well-suited to a hot climate. Maybe I'm just imagining that this might even be an issue, but I know that a lot of chickens don't do well in the cold climate where I grew up (I'm from the middle of nowhere and had a bunch of friends who were into the whole 4-H thing), and I imagined that there might also be a need to choose a chicken breed that was well-adapted to heat.
posted by kataclysm at 11:09 AM on February 5, 2010


So, we have an Easter Egger, a Barred Rock, a Silver Lace Wyandotte, a Red Star, a couple Australorps and a production chicken from Tractor Supply. They get less active when it's hot, but as long as you provide shade and lots of water, they do fine.

The Wyandotte and the Easter Egger are definitely the best looking chicken, but they're a little skittish. The Red Star was a total asshole and aggressive to the point that we thought it was a rooster (impossible, since it's a sex-link chicken), but apparently just had some gender identity issues. We ended up giving it away and later heard that it was attempting to mount the other hens. Good layer though. The production chicken is your standard reddish yellow chicken, but really friendly. The Australorps had no personality at all.
posted by electroboy at 11:15 AM on February 5, 2010


This chart may help.
posted by bolognius maximus at 11:28 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, I have Light and Red Sussex. They are pretty tough birds. Might want to consider them, they are really docile, great birds.
posted by bolognius maximus at 11:29 AM on February 5, 2010


South American breeds are the obvious choice. Chickens actually were bred up from a jungle fowl, so it's those cold-weather breeds that are the new upstarts!

I'd recommend Americaunas or Auracanas. These are the South American breeds which started the multicolored egg-laying thing. The number of purebreds is small, although I don't know if they're considered "heritage breeds" per se.

The gene that causes blue/green eggs has been passed on to a lot of mutt birds which are sold as "Easter Eggers." If you see chicks at the feed store labeled "Auracana" or "Americauna," it's practically guaranteed to be a mutt/Easter Egger.

The BYC forums would be a great place to ask, as well.
posted by ErikaB at 11:30 AM on February 5, 2010


Seconding Americaunas or Auracanas. I love our Americaunas. They're very pretty (lots of different colourations) and friendly (they follow me around when I'm in the coop). No need to de-beak them, and the roosters aren't usually very agressive.

No laying chicken will compare to a meat breed for eating, so there's no such thing as a laying and meat all-purpose breed. Meat chickens are bred to put on weight as fast as possible and aren't expected to live long enough to start laying (in fact many are unable to walk after about 8 weeks because their legs can't support their weight at that point). So if you want to eat your one of your roosters, don't roast it like you would a meat chicken because it'll be tough and gamey even when quite young. Instead make something that is cooked a long time and where the strong flavour is a plus. Chicken 'n dumplings is delicious!
posted by Emanuel at 11:51 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I would look over at BYC--I know there are a lot of members in Florida, Arizona, etc. and the question of which breeds do best and strategies for helping them cope with the heat comes up fairly often.
posted by HotToddy at 11:53 AM on February 5, 2010


Chickens are basically sub-tropical birds, as ErikaB pointed out. I wouldn't factor the weather into your decision if you'll be in the southeast.

Something to consider, though, is that there really aren't any dual-purpose breeds. That is, with a so-called dual-purpose, you get way fewer eggs than with an egg breed, and way less meat (that takes way more time and feed to raise) than with a meat breed. You would be better off with an egg breed for eggs and a meat breed for meat. Actually, if you have room, backyard turkeys make a phenomenal amount of meat in quite a short time; they are much more efficient feed-convertors than chickens in my experience.

And don't get those horrible cornish-cross things, either. It's really sad to see a chicken that basically just walks from the feed dish to the water dish and then plops down until it's time to eat again. And they develop leg problems easily if not fed exactly right. Get something like a straight cornish--a very compact, pretty bird with a surprising amount of meat on it when mature.
posted by bricoleur at 11:58 AM on February 5, 2010


Here in Portland, I went to a specialty chicken dude and just asked him questions. Rare chickens are his passion, and he ended up selling me a totally gorgeous Exequeter and an equally pretty Wyandote. I love them both.

I found the guy on Craigslist, and I bet you might have someone similar in your area.
posted by Invoke at 3:07 PM on February 5, 2010


My favorite chickens ever were a pair of Chinese Silkies.
Very sweet, friendly and funny/adorable looking. They are very hardy.
ALso, they have dark blue flesh, and bluish ears.
posted by mmf at 8:26 PM on February 5, 2010


Yeah, chickens are basically jungle fowl and do fine in the heat -- this is why you see them called out when they are good for cold: being OK in the heat is the default. You could aim for breeds that are not heavy-bodied or bred in New England. But really you probably don't have to worry much. If it's constantly above 100 you may have to take extra measures, but when it was 103-105 here last summer (hottest summer on record in Seattle) we had to sprinkle the meat birds with the watering can, and that took care of it. If you are just constantly in the 80s-90s, they will be fine.

bolognius maximus links an excellent chart. If that is too much information, a less in-depth one is here.

Our coop is partially dug into the side of a hill, which makes a nice little space for them that's cooler than the outside; if you have a hill on your potential coop space, you might want to consider this.

An issue you might encounter is that, off the top of my head, many of the dual-purpose breeds (layers, yet still hefty enough to be worth eating) are New England breeds and are pretty cold-hardy. This may not mean that they are heat-intolerant -- just that it's not what they are bred for.

The only dual-purpose breed that anyone I know has ever tried to raise is Buff Orpington. They are huge compared to our laying flock (Wyandottes, Rhode Island Reds, Ameraucanas [tiny girls!], and Black Australorps) and look like they might be worth it, but I'm not sure.

I believe Wyandottes, who are SO pretty, are good mothers, but having raised and processed our own meat chickens as well, Wyandottes are really not very big. As far as I can tell, you are unlikely to get a roaster who's also a good laying breed. You will get stewers, sure, but not a nice plump meaty roasting chicken.

I know Seed Savers Exchange has heirloom livestock, including poultry, on their farm, so you could probably call them and ask for advice/thoughts.
We have gotten meat birds (not an heirloom breed, but derived from old French stock crossed with a New England breed) from JM Hatchery and we are really, really happy with their chickens.

Another thing you could do is look for a breeder in your climate or one similar to yours. We get our laying breeds through our feed store, who orders from Privett Hatchery, who are in New Mexico. Their website SUCKS a lot, but you could call and request a catalog I think. Or, ask around at the feed stores in your new area, and find out where they source their chicks.
posted by librarina at 10:29 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks, everyone!
posted by kataclysm at 9:43 AM on February 8, 2010


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