Heritage Breed Chickens, How To Choose the Best For You
When a family decides to become self-sufficient one of the first livestock purchases that they make will probably be chickens. Heritage breed chickens are a particularly good investment for the small homestead or family farm.
What is a heritage breed chicken?
It is a breed that your great grandparents would probably have been familiar with. It hasn't been hybridized to the point that is can't mate by itself or find its own food. They have a slower growth rate than other chicken breeds and tend to have longer natural lives.
What You'll Need to Keep Heritage Breed Chickens
Chickens are a very low cost addition to your homestead. Chicks can be purchased from a variety of places — you can find them online if you can't get them locally. They don't cost much at all. Chicken feed is also inexpensive and during the Spring and Summer months your flock will find much of their food themselves.
You'll need to provide a safe shelter for them to live in. A coop that is warm in winter and cool in the summer is necessary but doesn't necessarily have to be expensive. Fencing them in does help keep dogs and other predators out but it isn't foolproof.
Allowing your chickens to free range is somewhat more risky but healthier for the chickens. When they free range they can wander off, get picked off by hawks, or preyed upon by dogs, raccoon, or other predators.
Another option is called a chicken tractor. Basically, you can think of it as a small, movable chicken coop. It holds up to four chickens and has an open bottom but is screened in the rest of the way. The chicken can graze on grass and eat bugs as it likes and the chicken tractor can be moved to a fresh area as often as needed. You can buy chicken tractors or make them yourself. It's sort of the best of both worlds — a good compromise between safety and health.
Indispensable Resource for Raising Backyard Chickens
This guide has 137 five star reviews on Amazon and is one of the most helpful guides for both beginner and expert homesteaders that is available today. All the in depth information you need for choosing your breed, raising chicks, building coops, and chicken health.
Identify Your Poultry Needs and Desires
There are numerous breeds of chickens available to the modern day homestead, some are heritage and some are not. Of course what you ultimately choose will depend on many different factors!
It seems a simple thing, to choose a chicken breed to raise but there is so much difference in the different breeds, their quality, the purpose for having them, and location that they will be raised that it is not as cut and dried as it would seem.
Within the various breeds are important factors like egg production, egg color, egg size, temperament, meat production, broodiness,and survival skills in various situations. You may also have a personal preference for a certain coloring or pattern.
The first thing you'll need to do is to identify why you are buying the poultry in the first place.
- Will you use them primarily as as bug control, egg production, meat, or show?
- Do you want a breed that is dual purpose?
- Will you be breeding your own in the future and hatching your own eggs or not?
- Do you want chickens that are more aggressive, say, if a coyote comes into the yard?
- Or, would you prefer a breed that is more gentle around children and needs more protection?D
- Does the look of the chicken make a difference to you?
- Do you have a lot of hawks? Traditional white chickens will get picked off much more quickly by a hawk than will a dark patterned bird.
- Docile hens, like Buff Orpington, will cower down when a predator stalks them rather than try to seek shelter.
- A more aggressive breed, like a Dutch, might fare better with a dog but also chase your children while pecking at their legs!
Be sure to read about each breed that you are considering. Make sure that the breed that you choose fits your family and farming situation as well as your goals, both long and short term.
Heritage Breeds Are Often Dual Purpose Breeds
Birds that are good egg layers are often not good meat producers! However, heritage breeds are not genetically engineered to be specialized and so often produce a bountiful amount of eggs as well as tender, delicious meat. Again, this can vary from breed to breed so do your research to get what you want.
Some Popular Heritage Breeds of Chickens
There are hundreds of breeds of chickens and numerous heritage breeds. Here are some of the most popular.
Leghorns are kept for egg production, and they'll lay an abundance of white eggs. They are able to forage for themselves and so are good for free range situations, although they do not go broody (sit on their own eggs) as well as some of the other breeds. Basically this means that they are not good about hatching their eggs if you want to raise chicks on your homestead without an incubator. They also don't produce a lot of meat.
Bantams lay tiny eggs that are the delight of many younger children. Two of these minuscule eggs fried and on a plate with a toast triangle is a magical breakfast from fairyland. The egg shells are often colorful pastels which makes them fun to gather. These birds are small and make good pets or show birds for children. They are fabulous at keeping your yard bug free.
Plymouth Rock is a heritage breed. As with most heritage breeds you will find that it is multipurpose. It is a good egg layer, a good brood hen, and produces a fair amount of meat. It is a docile, hardy breed.
The Red Cap is a breed that has retained a lot of the wild characteristics of its ancestors. This gives them superior foraging and survival skills but also means that they are less likely to be docile pets around children. They lay an abundance of white shelled eggs and also have a good flavored meat.
Rhode Island Red
Rhode Island Red is another heritage breed that is dual purpose and lays abundant numbers of eggs. It's temperament, egg laying capability, and tender meat make it one of the best dual purpose breeds for a small homestead.
Delawares are excellent egg layers and another good, dual purpose breed. They are listed as critical on the American Livestock Conservancy list which means that their numbers are dwindling. Raising this breed means that you'll be helping to keep one more heritage breed alive and contributing its unique characteristics to poultry farming.
Holland is another beautiful breed on the critical list. This is currently one of the rarest of the heritage breeds and one of the few that lays white eggs. The birds come barred or white, although the white ones are very rare. They are good foragers, having the ability to provide much of their own food, with calm temperaments.
Hollands work well in colder climates because they are tolerant to the cold.
Wyandottes are not particularly rare, however they are a beautiful heritage breed. They get broody very easily and have a docile temperament. I add these because the last chickens we raised (we now have Barred Rocks) were Golden Laced Wyandottes and they were beautiful!
Ordering Heritage Breed Chicks
There is, of course, nothing in the world like the taste of your own farm fresh, organic eggs and meat. Chickens are an easy way to begin food production on the homestead and work a little closer to self sufficiency. Be sure,when you are ordering your chicks, to have them vaccinated and then use non-medicated feed. In this way you will not have to worry about residual medications in the eggs or meat.
You can find Heritage Breed Chickens online at the following sites:
- Cackle Hatchery (sells pairs of grown birds for you to breed)
- Sand Hill Preservation
- Murray McMurray Hatchery Not all birds are Heritage breeds
- Ideal Poultry Not all birds are Heritage breeds
It is very relaxing to sit and watch chickens and for me, they are what puts the home in homestead!