Humans have been keeping chickens for thousands of years. The chicken was domesticated ... Today, there are literally hundreds if not thousands of distinct breeds in different parts of the world.
Bantam vs. Standard Sized Chickens
A “standard” chicken is one that weighs from 4 lbs. for hens of some breeds to 12 lbs. for roosters of other breeds. A bantam is a very small version of most breeds. They weigh from 20-22 oz. for hens and 24-28 oz. for roosters. They are about one-quarter the size of “standard” chickens. They need much less space, food and lay much smaller eggs often less frequently than standard hens. I substitute 2 or 3 bantam eggs for a standard egg.
There are bantam versions of almost every standard breed. There are a few breeds of bantams that do not have a standard cousin. Most hatcheries do not sex bantam chicks (probably because of their size). That’s called “straight run” or just as they come from the incubators. So you have a 50-50 chance of getting the sex you want which means you have to order more than you want to end up with and find something to do with extra roosters. I usually give mine away to friends.
Breeds That I Raise
I have raised Ameraucana hens because of the variety of eggshell colors. Ameraucanas were developed from the Araucana breed, and other common breeds. Araucana chickens were discovered in Chile with the Araucana Indians.
Here are some of the breeds I am keeping right now:
My Mature Hens
Pictured below are the hens which are in their second year. Drawings of a mature pair are at the top; chicks are pictured below (if available).
Ameraucanas – 2
Ameraucanas, known as the "Easter Egg Breed", are a multicolored breed. This unusual breed gets its name from the Indian tribe of Chile where they were first discovered. They have beards, muffs and a normal tail with a tail head. They are often incorrectly called Araucanas, which have ear tuffs, are rumpless, and do not have a tail head which gives them a bunny tail appearance. Most of the chicks sold as Araucanas are really Ameraucanas, which are excellent, efficient producers of large eggs of many colors and shades including blue and green.Standard weights at maturity are males-5 lbs. and hens-4 lbs.
Barred Rock – 2Standard weights at maturity are males-9 1/2 lbs. and hens-6 lbs.Barred Plymouth Rocks are one of America's oldest and most popular breeds. All of their plumage is black and white barred which is the result of the barred (B) gene. Because males are the homozygous sex, they have two barred alleles (BB) and are therefore lighter in color than the females, which are the heterogametic sex and have only one barred allele(B_). They are an excellent dual purpose breed, known for their efficient production of large brown eggs.
Black Sex Link - 2
Rhode Island Reds – 2This is one of the most famous and all time popular breeds of truly American chickens. Developed in the early part of this century in the state of the same name, they have maintained their reputation as a dual purpose fowl through the years. Outstanding for production qualities, they have led the contests for brown egg layers time after time. No other heavy breed lays more or better eggs than the Rhode Island Reds. Baby chicks are a rusty red color and the mature birds are a variety of mahogany red.
Sicilian Buttercup - 1
Standard weights at maturity are males-6 1/2 lbs. and hens-5 lbs.
Silver Sebright Bantam - 1
Silver Sebright Bantams have an alert, stylish, well-balanced appearance. The tails are full and well expanded while the large wings are hung low. Sebrights are the only breed that has males which are hen-feathered. The males do not have pointed hackle, saddle or tail sex feathers. All of the surface plumage is silvery white laced with a narrow edging of lustrous black.
Standard weights at maturity are male-22 oz, and hen-20 oz.
These pictures are of mature specimens of the breeds I am raising in Fall 2007-Spring 2008.
|Buff Orpington Hen|
|Rhode Island Red Hen|
|Silver Sebright (Bantam)|
|White Crested Black Polish Hen|
|White Silkie (Bantam) Hen|
|The Welsummer lays a chocolate-colored egg!|
Finding and Raising Unusual Breeds
Los Angeles city ordinances prevent local vendors from selling fewer than a half-dozen chicks. (One or two chicks could be bought as a novelty and almost certainly would not be treated humanely.) Reputable hatcheries usually sell day-old chicks in groups of 25 or more, primarily because the chicks will keep one another warm enough to be mailed (yes, by U.S. Mail). When I get chicks by mail, a special instruction alerts my local Post Office to call me the moment the shipment arrives, so that I can go directly to the Post Office to pick them up. I also notify my Post Office that a shipment of chicks is on the way,
Baby chicks do not need to eat for the first 72 hours because they still have residual nutrition in their bodies from the egg yolk. They will be healthier if they have water and food as soon as possible. Of course they have to be kept warm for some weeks to come as they grow feathers — providing substitute heat which naturally would come from the mother hen.
My last order arrived September 19, 2007 (chicks hatched on September 18) from Ideal Poultry Breeding Farms, Inc. in Cameron, TX (www.idealpoultry.com). Another good source is Murray McMurray Hatchery in Webster City, Iowa (www.mcmurrayhatchery.com). I have never had a chick die in transit or arrive sick.
I find it most convenient to get unusual or rare breeds from larger commercial hatcheries in other parts of the country where I can order on line or by phone, and which ship day-old chicks. I don't know of any rare breed hatcheries in California. The advantage is that I know how many I'm getting and I can select the genders (with a 90% guarantee) I want for most breeds.
Pullets grow up to be hens and lay eggs. Cockerels grow up to be roosters which crow (and not just in the morning!).
If you hatch eggs---a delicate process with an incubator---you don't know how many you will get, and they will be half pullets and half cockerels. Unless you want to prepare the cockerels for the barbecue, you'll be hearing lots of crowing, and feeding half of your chickens that most certainly won't give you any eggs!
Rare breeds are rare because of genetic factors which work against fecundity and consistent breed characteristics. The value in rare breeds is that they are unusual and have specific attractiveness to the owner. Many breed them to achieve the perfect specimen to take to a poultry show.
Some photos above courtesy of www.mypetchicken.com