Chicken Breeds

Since there are many “would be” or new chicken owners looking for guidance I’ve begun a series of articles summarizing what I’ve learned over 16 years of raising chickens.  Seems like the place to start is with chicken breeds.

Delaware (left), Australorp (back on left), Dominique (black and white) and Ameraucana Hens (multi colored)

Delaware (white, far left), Australorp (black, back left), Dominique (black and white) and Ameraucana Hens (multi colored) Anticipating Dinner

I feel it is important to support rare breeds as genetic diversity is very important to preserving chickens for the future.  Currently genetic diversity is rapidly being lost in livestock species as farming becomes larger in scale and utilizes single breeds.  In the poultry industry the white leghorn chicken is used pretty exclusively.  Should something happen to the leghorn without other breeds available, chickens as a species could be wiped out.

I’m a member of the Livestock Conservancy and they provide information for free on rare and heritage breeds.  These breeds are typically very thrifty, meaning they forage for themselves and are smart enough to recognize and try to elude predators.  In many cases they were developed by our colonial ancestors who needed chickens to fit on a small homestead as good producers with minimal supervision.

Take a look at the Livestock Conservancy resources on chickens for help selecting the best breed for you.  They have a great breed comparison chart (pdf) that will let you quickly scan for the features most important to you.  A few notes on the breeds I have raised are below.  Since I keep my hens until they die of old age (10+ years) and I focus on egg layers as I don’t sell my chickens for meat, my experience is different than those who only keep them a year or two.

Ameraucana or Easter Eggers:

Sienna (Angora Goat) with Ameraucana Chickens

Sienna (Angora Goat) with Ameraucana Chickens

Very prolific egg layer, with egg shell color in green shades.  They are variable in personality and color as they are typically hybrids.  Some are quite friendly, others are nearly wild (ie- flighty) but not aggressive.  They have small combs so do well in cold weather.  Roosters are pleasant and safe even with children.  They are prone to reproductive tract issues as cause of death.


Very prolific egg layers, calm and easy going temperament.  Large comb that is prone to frost bite even here in central NJ.  I have never had roosters of this breed.  Mine have all had crop issues (getting things stuck) but always (so far!) have recovered.  I’ve only had mine for 3 years so don’t have any long term experience with them as yet.


Chantecler, Favorelle in Background

Chantecler, Favorelle in Background

Developed in Canada for cold weather tolerance (no comb), and good egg production in winter months.  Very active, quick, and flighty personalities.  I haven’t noticed better egg production than my other breeds during the slow season.  I have never had roosters of this breed.  They tend to be broodier than my other breeds.  I’ve only had mine for 3 years so don’t have any long term experience with them as yet.


Large, friendly, easy going and tolerant birds.  They are very good egg layers with a large comb that is  prone to frost bite even here in central NJ.  The roosters are wonderful, safe even for children.  They don’t tend to live as long as other breeds, presumably due to the small genetic diversity within these chickens as there are so few of this breed around.  Generally reproductive tract issues will do them in.  They are incredibly resilient though.  I have experienced them egg bound (with broken egg shells inside – you could hear and feel them) and they not only survived but recovered fully, at odds with what you can read in the veterinary literature.


Small, easy going, curious and friendly black and white birds.  Barred rocks were bred from these birds and they carry sex linked coloring so that the females can be distinguished from the males at birth by the white dot on their foreheads.  They have small rose combs which make them good in cold weather environments.  They are also good egg layers.  Roosters can be aggressive with strangers and I would not trust them with children but they never attacked me (they definitely recognized me as their caregiver).  Prone to leg mites in old age.


Regina - Favorelle Hen

Regina – Favorelle Hen (was helping me paint the hen house green!)

Active, vocal birds with a few feathers on their feet.  They definitely have in your face personalities but are not aggressive, just talkative, curious and friendly.  They were bred in France for good egg laying in the winter season.  I haven’t noticed better egg production than my other breeds during the slow season.   I have never had roosters of this breed.  I have only had this breed for about 3 years so have no long term experience with them.

Next:  Buying chicks….


Tiny, an under sized 3 year old Australorp hen,  has been under the weather so I brought her in for some TLC.  She is only 2 pounds 9 ounces!  Jasper is enjoying the new play friend and is being respectful, watching her intently but no prodding.  Can’t say the same for her dry food as he keeps sticking his paws into her cage and extracting food from the dish.  She is loving the shredded carrots, apples and small bits of bread in a Greek yogurt base I made for her.  Photo below show signs of a recent yogurt snack on her beak and feathers!

Tiny, Australorp Hen

Tiny, Australorp Hen

Not sure how things will turn out as she was always under sized and last year spent a few weeks in the house with an impacted crop.   Often with under sized animals their organs can’t support them long term as they haven’t developed properly.  It’s nearly always heart breaking as these are the animals that have the sweetest nature, as if it is their defense plan to get the extra help they need to survive. She is the sweetest thing, allowing me to pick her up and do anything to her without a complaint or attempt to escape.  She takes blow drying her after washing off a poopy rear end in stride as if every chicken receives these beauty treatments on a regular basis.

The other hens were literally walking over (on) her and she wasn’t moving around much.  It has also been quite cold this last week (3 degrees on Sunday), so I felt it was time for an intervention.  She likes to perch on her food dish so I’m swapping out an empty one after I feed her.  She’s also sleeping a lot but when I take her out for some fresh air she runs around for at least 30 minutes before settling down and looking like she needs to come in out of the cold.  She’s unusually thirsty so I’m wondering if it’s kidney failure.  I’ve put her in front of the patio windows so she can watch the wild bird activity at the bird feeder.

Feb. 22 Update:  Tiny stopped eating after feeding herself a good breakfast on Feb. 21, passing away during the evening/early morning Feb. 21-22.  She had picked up a few ounces but was only 2 pounds 12 oz. when she passed.   In these situations I always wonder if there was more that I could have done.  Sadly none of us is all knowing and I did the best I could do for her.  She appeared to enjoy life up to the end without complaint or bad temper and peacefully drifted off to sleep.  A good lesson on aging and passing for all of us.

April Showers

30 something degrees and 6 inches of rain the last Wed. in April!  However, nothing like the 22 inches of rain in FL nor the tornadoes in the South so no complaints here.  The poor geese were watching their island nearly disappear as the pond could not discharge water fast enough to stay within it’s banks.  6 goslings had hatched out just earlier in the week, all survived the flood but one seems to be missing this week.


Flooding on Mulhokaway Tributary Bordering East Side of the Farm

Geese on island in flooded pond

Geese on Island in Flooded Pond

Bad week for adult chickens.  Chocolate (an Ameraucana hen) was found dead one morning under the perches.  A necropsy revealed internal tumors and 4 fully formed eggs without shells in her intestinal cavity!  Several days later at dusk, Placido (the lone rooster, also an Ameraucana) was found face down in the drainage ditch near the hen house.  He had been seen walking the territory and crowing very shortly before he was found dead.  Had seemed in good health, was a good weight and had not a mark on him.  Best guess is that he had a heart attack or an aneurysm to go so suddenly.  It’s much quieter on the Farm without his cheerful crowing.  On the positive side, this year’s chicks arrived in good health!

Amerauncas, Chanteclers, Salmon Favorelles Chicks

Ameraucanas, Chanteclers, Salmon Faverolles Chicks

I’m trying some new varieties this year, Chanteclers and Salmon Faverolles.  Both were bred to lay well in the winter, and are very cold hardy.  The Chantecler was developed in Canada and the Favorelle has 4 toes (vs the “normal” three) and their toes are more flattened (vs completely round) with some feathers but not completely feathered.  I’m trying to get pictures of their legs but it’s not easy as they are not too fond of posing for the camera while held in the air (easiest way to see the legs clearly).

Both are rare breeds.  The Chantecler is listed on the Livestock Conservancy Conservation Priority Poultry Breeds 2014 Critical list and the Faverolle is listed on the Threatened list.  They join the Dominiques ((Watch) and Delawares (Threatened) that I’ve raised for over 15 years.  I always have Ameraucanas too as many of my customers love the green eggs they lay.  Last year I added 3 Australorp hens as they are great egg layers.   One was a runt (although she is doing well, just tiny) and another, sadly, has developed a neck twitch which means she won’t last long.  They are friendly and productive but have big combs which make them susceptible to frostbite.  I’ll post notes comparing the breeds as they get older.

I’ve finished another Inkle and like the pattern so much I think I’ll do another using some of my dyed yarn.


Black and White Inkle with Warping Pattern

The picture above shows the warping pattern as well as the pattern as it is woven, and the finished Inkle is shown below.  I really love weaving Inkles as they provide a great sense of accomplishment very quickly!  I’ve been putting off starting on a set of tapestries I have designed and warped since I know it will take a long time to compete them.  It’s time to start washing fleeces since the Spring shearing was successfully done in between major rain storms!

Finished Black and White Inkle

Finished Black and White Inkle