Which chickens?

Possum

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Hi all,

My OH and I have decided to start keeping chickens, primarily for eggs (although I know that I won't dispatch any that stop laying, I'd like to know that they're likely to lay for a good while first).

I've read that the minimum number you should keep is 3, and the run space they will have is 8ft x 2ft, with some 'free range' time in the garden when I'm gardening.

There are so many different types I've got really confused. I need them to be fairly straightforward to look after so no weird exotic breeds, inexpensive to buy and good layers. I'd love to have ex-batts, but I've read that they're better if you want pet chickens rather than a regular supply of eggs.

Any recommendations? I've kept most types of pets, but other than a budgie when I was small this is the first time we've had birds and it's a bit of a learning curve!
 

Nudibranch

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I'd go for Blacktails, which are a Rhode Island crossed with a Light Sussex. Great layers, over 300 eggs a year, sensible, and hardy. Failing that, I always like a decent pure Light Sussex - not quite so many eggs but still good, and pretty.
 

PorkChop

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I've just got some Rhode's and a Light Sussex, a good sort to start with, I also fancy having some Plymouth Rock's :)

I wouldn't worry too much about breeds as such, pop an advert up saying you want point of lay, medium to large, pure or hybrid. See what you get offered, ask some questions and decide from there :)
 
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We used to have a variety of breeds in the past and personally I liked the araucanas for eggs. OK, they aren't as prolific egg layers as the proper egg laying hybrids, but they lay lovely blue eggs and I prefered their temperaments. Welsummers are also lovely and they lay nice brown eggs. My absolute favourite though was the Sumatra Games and they aren't good layers, but when you've got eggs coming out of your ears from your other chickens, it doesn't matter one jot. :)
 
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Three are recommended because chickens do sometimes just die on you, and its not good for one to be kept alone.

What do you want? Pretty hens? friendly hens? hens that lay like mad for the first 18 months and then not so much? a heritage breed that doesnt lay so well but will lay for longer? Can you really use 18 eggs a week over the spring/summer?

I breed Scots Greys and Marsh Daisies. Both hardy British breeds but not the best layers-they do however lay well into their 5th year (and still counting). I've had 'garden' hybrids (bluebells, amber links etc) that lay well until first moult. Then die or stop laying at all (these types lay bigger eggs each year but lay down the same amount of shell = more fragile eggs that can lead to egg peritonitis).

I also keep large fowl Minorcas. Really good layers for a pure breed-stop for moult then lay through winter. Very pretty black hens with white lobes and red combs. Quite big, like to forage and all my breeds fly well.

My cleverest birds are the Marsh Daisies. My friendliest are the Scots Greys. The ones that earn their keep are the Minorca.
Unless you are buying show birds, POL pullets shouldnt cost more than £15-20 each. Its a bit early in the year for PoL heritage breeds though.
 

Archangel

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I have two Beachwood Blues - they are lovely hens, very friendly, lay lots of eggs, nice to look at.

Here they are:
 

shoeey

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Have you thought about rehoming some layers? They are no good for the big boys once they are a couple of years old but still have many laying years ahead of them. They will lay very reliably - unlike some of the more fancy breeds - and you have the warm glow of knowing you've given them a good home. Some good people to try are http://www.bhwt.org.uk/cms/re-home-some-hens/
 

Possum

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Ooh, so much to think about, thank you. To answer some questions:
What do you want? Pretty hens? friendly hens? hens that lay like mad for the first 18 months and then not so much? a heritage breed that doesnt lay so well but will lay for longer? Can you really use 18 eggs a week over the spring/summer?
Not really fussed whether they're particularly pretty, similarly as long as they're not vicious I don't mind if they want to follow me around or not.
No, I don't think I want them to go nuts egg laying for 18 months then because I know I'll just 'retire' them and I don't have space for a massive flock if I keep getting new ones. And yes, we eat between 15 and 30 eggs a week between us, so that shouldn't be a problem :p.

LHR - thanks, probably a stupid question but where would I put an advert?

Archangel - I've never heard of them, they're gorgeous - thanks for posting.

Shooey - I read that because they are farmed so intensively, often commercial chickens will stop laying entirely for quite some time and possibly for good, which put me off. I've no idea how true/common that is though.

<wanders off to google the breeds you've mentioned>

Cheers :)
 

JillA

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I have two Beachwood Blues - they are lovely hens, very friendly, lay lots of eggs, nice to look at.

Here they are:
Thank you - I had two of those (one recently shuffled off at the age of about 9) and the man who I inherited them from insisted they were "bluebells". Unless there is a very similar breed of that name I guess I've got one remaining Beachwood Blue :) And a speckled one who is very vocal and a white one who is very friendly. They make brilliant pets, the eggs are a bonus for me, mine are all about 7 or 8 now.
 

PurplePickle

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I have a mixture
the better layers are RIR , sussex large not bantams those are terrible layers. Also for variety I have some Legbar x warren and pure legbar those give blue and green eggs
Careful once you start you cant stop LOL
 

paddi22

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Thank you - I had two of those (one recently shuffled off at the age of about 9) and the man who I inherited them from insisted they were "bluebells".
we have two of these and they were sold as 'bluebells' as well. great layers! we have a ton of different breeds and don't notice a big difference in any of them apart from the sussex who goes broody if she gets a chance.
 

Clodagh

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You really can't beat good old brown hens, ISAs or warrens. We buy ours from a farm in Essex for £6.50 each and they are calm, easy to look after and good layers. If you don't force them to lay - so no artificial lighting and we feed a lot of scraps as well as pellets, they last for years. Pure breeds lay less for longer, hybrids lay lots to start with then tail off. We had a Mrs Brown ewho lived until she was 9 years old, although we only got one egg a week by then.
 

Clodagh

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Black rocks are another excellent breed, a hybrid again but long lived and hardy. Make sure you get a proper one though, and not a copy.
Marans lay lovely eggs but so few they are a waste of space, IMO, sorry JCW! Welsummers lay dark eggs and are more prolific.
 

LCH611

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I agree that pretty much any of the hybrid hens will suit, but I have a particular weakness for pekin bantams as they are very cute, very friendly and come in very pretty colours. They do go broody at the drop of a hat though and I blame them for the vast array of other poultry we have hatched as a result!
 

Caramac71

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A bit of a generalisation perhaps but from a hybrid you will get a regular supply of eggs for maybe 3-4 years; whereas from a pure breed you will get the same amount of eggs but spread out over double the lifetime (gradually declining as they age). Pure breeds tend to lay more seasonably whereas hybrids lay all year round with just occasional breaks.

Ex commercial hens are around 18 months old when rehomed. This is the age that they will go off lay for a short while and when they come back into lay their eggs are larger and don't fit with the "perfect" size/shape that is wanted to sell in supermarkets.

We rehomed 4 ex batts almost a year ago. In that time they have had a very short break of a few weeks over winter but otherwise they've pretty much laid every day. They were in very poor condition but look amazing now. Their eggs are huge (much larger than supermarket large) and occasionally we get odd shapes and shell defects, but that's not a problem to us.

Previous to this we kept bantams and they laid in 3 week cycles (lay for 3 weeks, go broody, come back into lay, go broody... !). Over winter (November - February) they didn't lay at all.

If you are letting them out in the garden, be warned that smooth legged chickens do like to scratch and dig up a lot; whereas the feathered leg varieties make much less mess.

I've loved all my chickens for all different reasons. I don't think you can go wrong really! Maybe just decide what kind of size chicken you'd like, if you have a preference of egg colour/size, what you want to pay, how many eggs you'd like per day, etc and that should narrow it down a bit.

I hope that helps. Good luck!
 

Nudibranch

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Lots of good advice here.
Just from my own experience, common or garden no-name hybrids laid for me for 7-8 years, at least every other day if not daily all through the year. At school I keep the blacktails I mentioned earlier and they lay well. I don't really expect a massive drop-off and even then there would still be plenty of eggs! I now have only pure breeds - Cochins, Barnevelders, Wyandottes - and the egg production is in comparison to the hybrids, rubbish. I love them all, but I don't really keep them for egg production. As Caramac says, the feather footed types make less mess but my cochins have dug themselves several dust baths on the verges so their garden access is heavily restricted as I value my hard work too much! Field free ranging only here....
 
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Hoof_Prints

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Good advice on this thread! glad you posted as the fox has had my poor rescues , we only have two left and I'm looking to buy some layers. If you want lots of eggs, I wouldn't recommend getting the ones the farmers sell off after their prime. A lot of them don't lay at all, and the ones that do can lay very infrequently in my experience.. we only had 2 that laid out of the 6 and the eggs can sometimes be a bit unusual looking! although it's rewarding watching them grow feathers back and turn in to feathered chickens, rather than ones that look like they've just come out of the supermarket fridge. They make lovely pets and I can see myself ending up with about 20 soon !
 

ahorseandadog

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I have 7 Beachwood Blues and I think that they are probably the best chickens of all. They are always very pleasant to be around and never stop laying eggs (at least mine don't!)

Or you could probably adopt some chickens from a rescue. The rescue would probably help you choose the best chickens.
 

ozpoz

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I have 4 Black Rocks, for eggs and pekin bantams for "lovely friendly attractive chicken ness" !
 

JillA

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This is my best layer - one a day for much of the year although she is now at least 7 or 8 years old. She has a lot to say for herself though, especially when her favourite nest is occupied lol. Can anyone tell me what breed she is?

 

supagran

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There's a really good group on FB (Chicken Keeping UK) which is very friendly and has loads of advice and also has a list of breeds - worth joining.
 

cremedemonthe

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My current crop are
araucana x old Cotswold Legbar (trying saying that after a few pints) she lays a blue/green egg that looks like it will glow in the dark
a silver cuckoo maran x warren (taken the warren's gene so light brown egg)
a black copper maran x warren (taken the maran's gene so dark brown egg)
a Lavender Blue (light brown egg)

I have Welsummers eggs in incubator that should hatch on or around the 13th May, they lay dark brown egg.

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MiJodsR2BlinkinTite

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Ex-Battery hens are an option, and they continue to lay well for a surprisingly long time; and are incredibly rewarding in terms of the feeling that one has "rescued" them from an awful life. However, sometimes they can be in an awful state when you get them, and also sometimes have issues like pecking each other, plus the (obvious) need for special care for a while until they feather up, so I would suggest that they may not be the best choice for a novice keeper.

Rhode Island Reds, Warrens, Marans, Legbars (we've got a white legbar and she lays lovely big white eggs!), Light Sussex, are all good breeds for a proven track-record if you want lots of eggs asap.

But you might like different coloured eggs? With children, this is especially fun, in which case you might consider Devon Rock (blue/green eggs), Cream Legbar (aqua blue eggs); and there are others too. If you ask any good chicken breeder/supplyer they should be able to tell you.

Personally, I swear by Marans. They are lovely, cheerful little hens who will keep on and on laying, and are easy to manage and handle, not flighty like some birds. I love 'em.

Or..... you could get some eggs and hatch them yourself using either an incubator or if you know anyone who's got a broody hen shove them under her. The disadvantage with this is that you'll have to get rid of the cockerels, yes you heard me right, "get rid" means, um, just that. And while we're on the topic (sorry!!) you will need to know how to despatch a fowl quickly and humanely. This is THE most important skill you can ever learn if you intend to keep poultry. Best thing is to ask an experienced chicken keeper to show you how to do it, or there are sometimes courses run at local agricultural courses on chicken keeping for beginners - I say this because it isn't a question of "if" you'll have to do this very essential task, its a question of "when". Chicken are like sheep - born to die basically!
 
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