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….

Spring Happenings

Spring is in full swing and I’ve been feverishly planting seeds before it turns hot and dry. Since it was a cold, wet Spring the plants are off “normal” schedules and bloom times are compressed. All the daffodils bloomed at the same time vs over a month as they usually do. The lilacs were only open during a torrential rainy period so their odor never perfumed the air. The iris have just opened and the peonies are poised to open any day, they just need a bit more moisture. Don’t think we’ll get it soon, and it has been nearly 90 degrees for a few days so all the plants are looking for a nice drink of water.  This is the new weather pattern – all or nothing, without moderation. We get no rain or 5 inches of rain and it is 15 degrees below “normal” or 15 degrees above “normal”.  Both extremes being tough for living things to handle.

Taking Over the Deck

Bleeding Hearts and Ferns Taking Over the Deck

Lavender and White Iris

Lavender and White Iris

My two surviving strawberry plants are blooming.  The only way to keep them alive it to completely enclose them with hardware cloth.  Otherwise the chipmunks destroy both the berries and the plants themselves.  I had not realized how much damage these cute little rascals cause until I caught them climbing the (deer prevention) cages around my roses to reach through and eat fully bloomed roses!  There is a pair roaming around on the back porch so it looks like a population increase is in the making.

Only Way to Grow Strawberries in the Wilds of Central NJ

Only Way to Grow Strawberries in the Wilds of Central NJ

There is a baby bunny running around in the chicken area, but much fewer rabbits overall then last year.  Surprising, since last year was the year the coyotes took out two of my adult goats and there was also a bumper crop of bunnies!  You would have thought the coyotes would have been eating bunnies versus a 100+ pound goat.  Coyote choices are fewer this year (fingers crossed!) since the goats and sheep are now locked into overnight corrals.  More work for me, but hopefully creating less domestic livestock options for coyote meals.

The new chicks are 4 weeks old as of Monday.  They are nearly fully feathered and really beautiful!  The transformation is always amazing.  Since I’m trying two new breeds this year I’ve been trying to pictorially document their change into adult plumage.   Not an easy task as they move around like bullets, trying out their wings and exploring.  Yesterday I got them outside in their permanent “teenage” area instead of in the smaller cage I’ve been using and moving around on the grass up near the house.

Australorp Hen Meets Salmon Favorelle Chick 4 Weeks Old

Australorp Hen Meets Salmon Favorelle Chick 4 Weeks Old

They are still too small (not fully feathered so unable to fully regulate their temperature) to stay out overnight or in cold, wet weather so they move back and forth to their cage in the basement in a cat carrier.  They are amazingly smart.  They learned to go into the carrier when I go out late in the day, all crowding in so I can take them inside.  It only took them a few days to figure this out!  It is their natural inclination to seek shelter when it starts to get dark which I’m sure helps, but often I’m moving them well before dusk due to the cool temperature or rainy weather.  Chicks feather out more quickly when the temperature is low versus when they are raised in warmer ambient temperatures.  They have a light in their cage that allows them to warm up if they get cold, but the basement ambient temperature is about 60-65 degrees.  That’s why they are almost fully feathered at 4 weeks instead of the more typical 6 weeks.

The difference in their personalities is obvious even at a very young age.  The Salmon Favorelles are much calmer and peaceful than the Chanteclers which are calmer than the Ameraucanas in general.  There is one Chantecler that gets upset about being handled as well as two of the Ameraucana chicks.  They are all getting better with the twice daily routine of being lifted in and out of their cage and being taken outside.  Nothing like a little treat of white bread once they are out to make it an overall positive experience!  I also try to pick them up slowly and respectfully, trying to get them to come to me so I can pick them up versus grabbing at them.

Baby Chicks 3 Weeks Old

Baby Chicks 3 Weeks Old

Above is a group picture at 3 weeks of age showing a Salmon Favorelle in the front, Ameraucanas on each side and a Chantecler in the far back.  They love to crowd into a box and peck at the box sides which makes an interesting noise (to a chicken!) .

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