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Chickens Are Fun
Are you thinking of keeping some hens in your backyard? Here are a very few of the breeds that are available. Some breeds are better egg layers than others. Chickens will help keep down the pests in your garden, but they will also eat some of your plants!
Bantams are also great to keep in the garden, but they are a little harder to find, at least here in Melbourne, Australia. So far, there have been none available when I've wanted them.
The Phoenix Rooster and Hen
The Phoenix, An Exotic Breed.
Phoenix chickens are a long-tailed breed originating in Japan, They have been cross-bred from the original onagadori breed, known in Japan for hundreds of years.
Unusually, these birds can have feathers, called saddle feathers, growing from their sides, which can grow up to 18 inches (45 cm) in length. The tails can be even longer, growing up to 5 feet (1.5 M). This breed only moults every second year.
These chickens are more often used for show than for egg or meat production. They are not particularly hardy, can be unfriendly, and need a lot of care. Phoenix are usually fairly docile, however. They may only lay one egg a week.
Although they are beautiful, this is not a breed that is suited for a backyard, unless you just want to have a few ornamental chickens.
Rhode Island Red Chickens
These hens are reputed to be quite smart! They are actually the official state bird for Rhode Island! Rhode Island Reds are an American breed which originated in Adamsville, Rhode Island. They are a popular bird with those who have small flocks, as they are great layers. They are also good to eat, and can handle the cold.
These hens usually lay brown eggs. Their colour is due to the influence of Malay blood, as one of the original sires was a red Malay with a black breast imported from the UK. They were developed in the 1880's, and are sometimes used as a showbird.
Sometimes the roosters can be a little aggressive, but the hens are more gentle and make good pets. I've had these hens, and they became very friendly.
Which breed of chicken do you like?
Although I really like these hens, I haven't had much luck with them. A few years ago, I bought two young hens at a Sunday market, but unfortunately, they both turned out to be roosters. The neighbours were not happy! The boys were transferred to my sister's farm out in the bush.
Silkies are one of the most popular of the ornamental breeds, and have a great temperament. Unusually, they have 5 toes instead of four, and black skin, with white feathers, although other colours are available. They are reputed to have been brought to the West from China, by Marco Polo.
This breed lays cream tinted eggs, and can lay up to 3 a week. They are good at raising young, and will even adopt ducklings on occasion. Often these hens are used to hatch eggs from other breeds.
The Australorp is a very pretty bird, with black feathers which may have a green gloss. Their eyes are large and black. The beak and legs are black. They are good layers and meat birds, and are hardy and docile.
This breed was developed at the end of the 19th century, in Australia. Mostly, they were developed with English Black Orpington stock, but there are also genes from Rhode Island Reds, Leghorns, and others. They were intended as a utility breed and there are three colours recognised for them, black, white, and blue.
Australorps are very good nesters and make good mothers. They usually lay about 250 eggs per year.
Isa Brown Hens
These chickens are excellent layers, and are also very friendly. Sometimes too friendly, as I've had them leap on my knee or the table when having lunch in the backyard! Perhaps they were after the food.....
On one occasion, I was going along the plant bed, putting in seedlings, and looked around to find I was being followed by my two Isa Browns, who were happily pulling them up and eating them.
Isa Browns are not a true breed, but a hybrid between White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds. They were originally developed in 1978 by Institut de Selection Animale, or ISA. They can lay up to 300 eggs per year in their first year of laying, which is quite a feat. Unfortunately, because they are such good layers, they are often used as battery hens.
They are very friendly birds, and those I had were quite intelligent, in their way. Isa Browns can make great pets, and just a few birds will keep a family well supplied with eggs.
The Araucana hen is one I always wanted to keep, but never actually found, probably because they are a comparatively rare breed. I wanted them because they laid blue eggs, which is not a paricularly good reason for keeping a hen! The photo above shows an Araucana egg compared with normal brown and white eggs.
The Araucana usually has a great personality, and is good at foraging for food. They are reputed to be friendly and curious. They have a crest which is carried well back from their eyes, and the face has ear muffs and a beard. They have medium legs, which are very strong, and free of feathers, ending in four toes. The hens are known to be great mothers. This breed is a dual purpose breed, and they lay about 3 eggs a week.
The Araucana originally came from the Arauca area of Southern America, between Peru and Chile, where the Incas lived. These birds come in a variety of colours - lavender and black are shown in the picture above.
California Gray Chickens
These hens are an American breed, developed in the 1930s in California. They are reputed to be friendly and curious birds.
California Grays lay large white eggs, and are suitable for both meat and egg production. The original birds were a cross between White Leghorns and Barred Plymouth Rocks, and were developed by Professor James Dryden, a poultry expert.