I have wanted a flock of chickens for years now. For years, that dream was simply not possible. My husband and I moved to Seattle in 1993, and have lived within the city limits for 20 some odd of those years. Living in a dense urban environment has its upsides, but a serious con is that you have limited space.
I have floated the urban backyard chicken idea to my family many times. It is extremely common in the city, and there are multiple coops throughout our neighborhood. But the idea was always shot down by the rest of the family, and at the time they were right to do so, as I was crazy busy with a job, volunteering and raising two kids. All they could envision was my new passion project becoming one more burden that risked stressing out the family matriarch.
Fast forward to November of 2020. My husband and I are going through inspections and all the back-and-forth that is involved with buying a former dairy farm in Mississippi with barns and outbuildings and tons of history and memories and love.
In between hiring inspectors and appraisers and lots of other -urs, I have been researching CHICKENS. Because there is no reason I cannot indulge in my dream of my own flock of chickens now that we will have 54 fenced acres and enough outbuildings that one of them is bound to make a great coop.
BUT WHAT KIND OF CHICKENS??
I have spent what I would guess is about 20-30 hours researching chickens. I still have tons to learn about how to keep chickens, but I think I have honed in on a must-have breed. It may even be my first eggs to buy and incubate. Skip to the end for the big reveal if you must, or stay for the things I am looking for in our chickens.
THE FEM FARMER CHICKEN BREED MUST-HAVE CHECKLIST
- Beautiful. End of the day, I am a girl who likes beautiful things. Seeing beautiful chickens every day on the farm will be a delight. Soothing soul medicine. Of course what I think is beautiful and everyone else thinks is beautiful may get interesting….
- Friendly. They don’t need to be the golden retriever of chickens, like the Buff Orpington is described, and while it sound cool in theory, I don’t need them to be docile enough to pick up. But I would like to interact with them regularly and feel like they (at least occasionally) enjoy that interaction. My minimum bar is that they will take treats from my hand. Every notch up from there is bonus and wonderful. Note to self —> How often will I have to “hold” a chicken for medical care or other?? This I should research.
- Heat tolerant. Critical given that they will be living in central Mississippi. As I consider which outbuilding to convert into a coop or whether I build one custom, providing adequate shade and escape from afternoon heat will also be important, in addition to a breed known to be heat tolerant. Fun fact —> Chickens with larger combs tend to be more heat tolerant, because chickens use them to cool off!!
- Practical. Now I am also not stupid. They need to be good at either egg-laying or producing meat or both AND be relatively easy to raise and maintain, including resistant to most pests and diseases and having a favorable cost-to-profit ratio when considering things like feed and vet bills. Bonus points for birds listed as “hardy.”
THE FEM FARMER NICE-TO-HAVE CHICKEN BREED CHECKLIST
- Good foragers. My ideal is to have a flock that can actually enjoy the property as much as I do!! The only reason it is not on the must-have list is because my current top pick is a good forager, so where it is on the list is irrelevant for that pick; but also because I don’t know how possible free ranging will be on this property without too much loss. A fun puzzle to solve in my opinion, but that gives context for its current position.
- Conservation. I recently took college-level Biology for the first time in my life and wow was it eye opening. Anything that I can do as a novice farmer to preserve a heritage breed, or an old breed that needs some help coming back – particularly those that are as productive as overbred commercial stock but far more healthy — is something I can get excited about and support.
- Beautiful eggs. I would also ideally like the chickens to lay beautiful eggs. And many of the friendly, heat-tolerant chicken breeds lay relatively boring (in my opinion) light brown eggs. I prefer either the pure white egg or all the unusual colors, like olive green or blue or pink or even the dark chocolate brown of a Maran.
- Competition potential. I have never participated in a farm or 4-H or other agricultural competition, but I could imagine it being quite enjoyable to experience at least once! Thus recognized chicken breeds that can been shown in competition is also an excellent nice-to-have.
Top contenders when considering my current must-have and nice-to-have lists have included Barred Plymouth Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Easter Eggers, Welsummers, Leghorns, and Brahmas; but my current favorite is….
ANDALUSIANS (AKA BLUE ANDALUSIANS AKA BLUE MINORCAS)