Once you have made up your mind that you want to keep chickens, the next big questions are what type? And where to get them from? This article covers the main considerations when choosing which breed of chicken will suit you best, and deciding where to buy them.
Which breed or type of chicken will suit you best will largely depend upon why you wish to keep chickens. Obviously, if you are looking for a constant supply of tasty eggs, you will need a breed renowned for good laying, British Sussex, Dutch Welsummer, Leghorns, Anconas, Minorcas for example. The utility breeds can offer an even more prolific return, with American Rhode Island Red, Wyandotte and New Hampshire Red being particularly impressive. However if your choice is based on out-and-out laying performance, then a hybrid chicken, designed specifically for this job, will reward you with an almost limitless supply of eggs.
Alternatively, you might wish to keep and/or rear chickens for showing, or even purely as animated and attractive ornaments. Under these circumstances, interesting plumage and colour might influence your choice of breed most. If you are intending to breed the birds yourself, then a breed which is known to be a good broody (a chicken happy to sit on a clutch of eggs to incubate them) would make a good choice, such as Orpingtons, Sussex or Silkies.
Another factor, which is frequently overlooked when initially chosing chickens, is whether you want a table bird, in which case select either a commercial broiler, or a pure breed specially selected for table quality, such as La Flesche.
Chickens come in various sizes – large, miniature and true bantam, and this is another important consideration for many would-be owners, especially if the space you have available is limited. Many manufacturerers of chicken coops claim that their product will hold twice the number of chicken that represent a sensible and healthy stocking rate, so it’s important to be realistic when chosing bird size and their coop. Obviously the smaller the bird, the less space it is likely to require.
Larger birds will produce more manure, so if you don’t want to be endlessly cleaning housing, pick a smaller breed!
If you have young children or other pets, chosing a breed which is not flighty nor aggressive, but gregarious and happy to be handled, is probably more appropriate. Many breeds are renowned for being stubborn, such as the Leghorn, whilst others have a reputation for being more aggressive, such as the Asil. Many breeds have become popular as the birds are placid, sedate and easily tamed, eg Araucana, Barnevelder, Cochin, Orpington, Modern Game, Wyandotte, Sussex, Silkie.
It is important to consider whether your chosen breed has a reputation for flying if you intend to give it free-range, unless you want to spend your evenings trying to remove stubborn, roosting Leghorns from the branches of nearby trees!
If the time you can spare to spend with your birds is limited, then exhibition stock is probably not for you. You should also avoid breeds with specialist features such as beards, crests, and feathered feet, since after a few days outside these poor birds will look extremely bedraggled and become stressed, resulting in increased susceptibility to disease and upset for you.
Having chosen which breed of chicken is right for you, the next question is where do you get them from?