Pick a chick: How to choose the best breed of poultry for your backyard

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Dickie Bird Farm chick

Chick Days have arrived at Tractor Supply Company. Rural King and the local feed store also have chicks for sale. Many hatcheries are offering spring specials on egg layers and meat birds.

Ivory with poult

I’m a country girl, so baby chicks have the same effect on me as puppies and kittens do city folks. I can’t walk by a tank of chicks without sneaking a peek. I enjoy hatchery catalogs almost as much as I enjoy seed catalogs.

 

The best breed for your backyard

Hundreds of chicken breeds exist. In spring, stores keep just a few popular breeds in stock. Some stores offer additional breeds by order. Hatcheries have a far more extensive chick selection available onsite and by mail order.

Ask a dozen poultry enthusiasts what the best breed of chicken is and you’ll get a dozen different answers. The best breed for your backyard might not match someone else’s poultry preferences anyway. When choosing a chick consider the following:

  1. Do you want to raise egg layers or meat birds? Poultry guides identify several breeds as dual-purpose, but my experience has been that the meat from dual-purpose birds is inferior to meat from broilers. Different chicken breeds lay different colors of eggs. If you have an egg color preference choose a breed of laying hen accordingly.
  2. How much space do you have? Bantam breeds are mini birds; great for small spaces. They require a minimum of 1 sq. ft. indoor space, 4 sq. ft. outdoor space per bird with 6 ft. flight height. Standard size hens require a minimum 1.5 sq. ft. indoor space, 8 sq. ft. outdoor per bird with 3 ft. flight height.
  3. How harsh is your climate? Cold hardy birds are bred to live comfortably in the chill of northern winters. Breeds with smaller combs are less likely to get frost bit. Some breeds have extra feathering as beards or on legs to help keep them cozy.
  4. Are you interested in preserving a heritage breed? The Livestock Conservancy defines heritage breed as a historical livestock breed, rugged and naturally adapted to the local environment over time. For the most part these are animals that thrived before industrial agriculture. The conservancy maintains a conservation priority list for endangered poultry breeds on their website, LivestockConservancy.org .
  5. Which breeds catch your eye? The best breed for your backyard is undoubtedly one you want to look at and interact with every day. My fascination with hatchery catalogs is in part because I love to look at full-color glossy pictures of all the beautiful bird breeds. I attend The Ohio State Fair for the sole purpose of checking out the poultry barn champions.

box of chicks

Whatever chick you pick, all chicks require heat at 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit in a bedding-filled brooder for the first two weeks of life. Decrease the brooder temp by 5 degrees each week thereafter. Special chick feed is formulated for quick growth and easy digestion. Fresh, clean water every day is critical.

Last but not least, make sure to wash your hands before and after handling chicks. Salmonella is spread by direct contact with animals that carry the bacteria. Good hygiene and biosecurity will keep your birds and your family healthy.

More about chicks:

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Ivory Harlow is a Cooperative Development Specialist at the Ohio State University CFAES Center for Cooperatives. She is also a beginning farmer in Ross County, Ohio. Ivory is passionate about agriculture and cultivating cooperative opportunities in rural America.

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