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What would you consider to be the best overall chicken for a self-sustaining homestead?

Lets not limit ourselves to a single breed of chicken. Instead, lets throw out several breeds and discuss the merits of each one.


Traits I would look for:

Good layers
Broody
Good forager
Good meat bird for butchering
Able to tolerate heat and cold


My current flock:

4 – Rhode Island Reds
2 – Silver Laced Wyandotte
2 – Barred Rocks
2 – Australorps
2 – Black Jersey Giants
1 – Speckled Sussex


Looking to add:

Dominique / Dominicker


My observations:

The rhode island reds seem a little on the skinny side, while the barred rocks and the Australorps look like they have fuller breast.

The jersey giants look like they are going to be huge when butchered, but they seem to be rather slow in developing.

I will not know for sure what ones are the better meat chicken until I butcher some of them, then I can do a side-by-side comparison.

My Speckled Sussex loves to forage.

The Barred Rocks seem a little spoiled as they will hang around the back door waiting for scraps.

Jersey Giants may not be the best layers, but they lay a rather large egg. If you want something close to a turkey, the Jersey giant would be my first pick.
 

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<--My Faverolle Chicken
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I have several different breeds also. I have Silver and Red-laced Blue Wyandottes, Partridge Rocks, New Hampshires, Faverolles (pictured in my avatar), and Easter Eggers.

My broody ones are the Red-laced Blue Wyandottes and the Partridge Rocks. My best layer is the Easter Egger. My largest eggs come from my Easter Egger and the New Hampshires. I have learned that Silkies are the best mothers so if you want to have a broody that will be a good addition.They are bantums so you don't really want to use them as food...just their mothering skills.

The biggest roosters are my New Hampshire and Partridge Rock. I've dressed a few of each except the New Hampshire and Faverolle. They were all about the same size when we had them for dinner. I would say that the Rock was the biggest because we let him go the longest. He was a little more tough too. So you have to butcher them at the right time to get the best size, but not to old for them to toughen up those muscles. 16-22 weeks seems to be the going time frame for butchering.

edit: Oh I forgot - all of them did fine in the hot NC (100+) summer. Just had to make sure they had plenty of water. They seem to do OK in the cold too. I run a light in the coop only for a little while at night and comes on before the sun comes up in the morning. It is more to keep the water from freezing.
 

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I only have 4 hens right now, 3 Wellies and 1 Aussie. I must say the size of the Australorp compared to the Welsummers impresses me, as does the fact that she may have some broody tendencies. (important if you want a self-sustaining flock...she'll need to visit a rooster if we want that, though). I had chickens back in the early 80s, but this time around my priorities are more than just eggs and meat...those Meat Kings from back then were scary things, btw, and the layers were just those from the Feed Store. Now I recommend people buy from breeders in their area.

How about a dedicated chicken section on here?
 

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Kev for free range birds we always had game chickens running loose, They are a little on the light side, But we never had to worry about them developing leg problems from getting too big too fast and they could pretty much fend for themselves. You want a mother hen to be protective, There you go

http://www.backyardchickens.com/products/american-game#wiki
 

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I started out raising chickens 4 years ago, and for the first two years bought a few of just about every layer breed in the book. I cannot tell any significant difference between any of the breeds as far as hardiness or egg laying, with the exception of the exotics, which would either die easily (Faverolles and Silkies) or be relatively poor layers (Polish).

I think a good egg-layer mix is your best bet, without getting too concerned about any particular breed. I did a ridiculous amout of research trying to find the "best" breeds, and eventually it was splitting hairs. After a few years of raising your own they'll all be mutts anyway. Get a wide variety of layers so you have plenty of genetic diversity 5 years down the road.
 

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What would you consider to be the best overall chicken for a self-sustaining homestead?

Lets not limit ourselves to a single breed of chicken. Instead, lets throw out several breeds and discuss the merits of each one.

Traits I would look for:
Good layers
Broody
Good forager
Good meat bird for butchering
Able to tolerate heat and cold
There won't be a best at everything in every locale breed, so it comes down to best for your needs in your locale, if you're going single breed. Unless you're planning to show or sell purebred stock, you're probably better off with a mix of breeds - which gives you genetic diversity as well as functional diversity.

I'm prioritizing things a bit differently. In order to have a genetically diverse flock large enough to meet my goal of 2 roasting birds per week, I realized I'd probably be getting far more eggs than necessary - so the trait of high egg production that most people think of when they think "good chicken breed" is a very low priority for me. Moderate but steady egg production throughout the year which lasts for several years in a good breeder is more useful to me.

Order of trait importance I'm looking for:
  • Large Fowl (LF) breed, without rapid growth defects:
    • I'm not interested in bantams; I want a nice big bird, but I don't want to make the compromise of a broiler breed that grows so quickly it can't live very long.
  • High broodiness and good mothering instincts:
    • I want them to be able to rear their own young in large quantities with minimal human input, eliminating any need for incubators and heat lamps etc.
  • Tolerant of cold and heat extremes:
    • I live in a climatic zone with an average temp range of 0F:90F and extremes of -40F:125F; the less elaborate their housing needs to be the better.
  • Docile temperament:
    • Primarily because I don't want them fighting constantly, causing stress and injury to each other.
  • Steady layers:
    • 3 eggs/hen/week minimum, with little daylight or temperature effect on laying.
  • Feed and forage efficiency:
    • I'd prefer they not take forever to reach maturity, and have some ability to forage.

The single breed I expect to meet my needs best is the Wyandotte; a LF breed at 6:8.5lb; frequent broodiness with above average mothering instincs, capable of rearing up to 12-18 per clutch; rose comb, physical bulk, and feathering supporting excellent cold tolerance and average heat tolerance; docile temperament; moderate egg production (4/h/w) with above average retention in winter; the one drawback is slow maturity, though certainly not the worst. A minor addition, they come in a variety of aesthetically pleasing colors and patterns.

Potential supplemental breed: Rhode Island Red - a LF with faster maturity and higher egg production, but very poor broodiness and mothering typical of egg production breeds.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
self-sustaining homestead chicken flock

I'm prioritizing things a bit differently. In order to have a genetically diverse flock large enough to meet my goal of 2 roasting birds per week, I realized I'd probably be getting far more eggs than necessary - so the trait of high egg production that most people think of when they think "good chicken breed" is a very low priority for me. Moderate but steady egg production throughout the year which lasts for several years in a good breeder is more useful to me.


The single breed I expect to meet my needs best is the Wyandotte;

Potential supplemental breed: Rhode Island Red
Genetic diversity is something I am concerned about in a self-sustaining homestead chicken flock.

Instead of going with just 1 or 2 breeds, and instead of buying all of my chicks at one time, I am going with several different breeds, and spreading out the age of the chickens over several years.

The chicken coop I am looking at building is designed to support a maximum of around 60 - 65 chickens.

I have 13 hens right now. This summer my wife and I might add another 12 hens and a rooster.

2014 order a few more, plus whatever is hatched.

I read somewhere that hens are best for breeding when they are at least 1 year old. My hens will be one year old in March 2013.

I am leaning towards a Barred Rock, Australorp, Speckled Sussex, Dominique mixed flock, with some Rhode Island Reds thrown in.
 

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Follow your own star
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Can't go wrong with a mixe of mixed breeds.
I have some sussexs one of my top favorites.
Another favorite is black and lavender/slef blue Orpingtons.

My free rangers are a game hen cross(lady) and a ee silkie cross (grace)who allways go broody in fact both hens are broody now.other random ones running around.

Im working on making chocolate cochin bantams.....Will use my broodies to hatch those eggs.
 

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<--My Faverolle Chicken
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One other thought I had was about the best roosters I've had. My most docile breeds (meaning ones that let me hold them without too much fuss) New Hampshire and Faverolle. The Faverolle is the gentlest with the hens. The worst roosters I've had was Easter Eggers...mean as tar so those went to freezer camp pretty quick. My Silver-laced Wyandotte is a stinker too, but I keep him around so I can get more babies sometime. My Partridge Rock rooster is one of the middle of the road types he is not mean, but I don't try and pick him up either. He is in the middle of the pecking order.

I think I may hatch more rocks this spring since I'm thinking they are the best all-around breed for my needs. Good egg layer, broody, middle of the road temperament, and good size when dressed.
 

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Can't go wrong with some buff Orpington my lay lots of eggs and one of them seem to be broody all the time. Lay big brown eggs also . I have had a rir rooster with them and now have pretty little chicks I call goldilocks. The moms are very watchfull but still allow me to pet. During summer months their diets are what the can dig up around my land . I have had lots of chickens but these have seemed to work best for . Very worthy of looking into .
 

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My personal experience has been with:
cornish-rock broilers: absolutely horrible, horrible, horrible choice for a sustainable shtf/free-range homesteader breed
rhode island reds: decent birds, but a bit skinny imo
australorps: better than RIRs, but a lil meaner
ameraucana/easter eggers: excellent shtf/free-range homesteader birds, skinny like RIRs though. better "street-smarts" than the other breeds, better able to survive in the wild, they're the shyest breed I've known so far.

we're going to get a flock of buff orpingtons, can't wait to see in person what they're like, I've heard many good things.

As for silkies, I'm seriously considering crossing a fed silkie roosters with a few orpington hens. Breed those cross chicks for a few generations til I get clean legged, silkie feathered standard-size super broodies with good meat & egg production. I'm excited to see how that breeding venture goes.
I love the silkie feathers, they'll be easy to catch and they can't fly...which is both good and bad. but the worst thing about silkie feathers is their vulnerability to rain and water

I've read some about those freedom ranger chickens as an alternative to the typical fat white broiler, I may try those in the future...they may be a really good bird for homesteaders/shtf.

one thing about cold-hardiness in birds, the roosters with the larger types of combs are vulnerable to frostbite in their combs, I've seen other folks roosters who had damaged combs because of that, it's not pretty. So I really prefer small combs on my birds.
 

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Ive got 17 barred rock 2 month old pullets. Plan to throw in a young rooster with them in a few months. Like to have long term sustainable flock. Going back and forth between rhode island and another rock. The black sexlinks from the RI would probably give better eggs and be stronger chickens initially, but im not sure about long term genetics. Either way inbreeding will eventually be an issue if there is no source of new blood but wonder how long and what problems may arise. I dont want to deal with two roosters going at it. My next research project....
 

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Inglorious Deplorable
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Australorps were the only ones laying consistently over the last month. I've been feeding them sparingly and the flock is foraging very well.

Red Star, RIR, and Buff are not laying.

I also like the fact that the Australorp Rooster grow to about two pounds larger than the hens. I have another 12 Australops on order from a hatcher. I am thinking about getting a show bird quality as a Rooster.

Many of the production birds have a bit of a mix to up meat or egg production. The Show Rooster would have a completely separate blood line.

This should work for a number of generations. I'll just have to find a fellow survivor a few years latter and trade roosters.
 

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Just starting out with some hens, but the Red Sussex Cross we have has been raised from chicks and have really impressed us. Docile, good layer, no problems outside in just a insulated house with a red heat lamp and really good layer. We free range them alot, and not only do they glean alot of insects and such, they are prime entertainment to watch. Roosters were about 5-7 pounds when cleaned so imho the Red Sussex Cross is a good all round bird, especially for Canadian winters.
 

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Buff orpington-can get big and lay fairly decent, broody
Barred rock- broody and lay well, but usually stay small
Leghorn (I prefer brown)- almost guaranteed an egg each every day, very skittish and stay away from danger and very alert. I prefer brown because they blend in well. Roosters can be very agressive and protect the flock well
 

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Well something no one is considering is noise. For some it may not be an issue but for others yes. I am having good luck with light brahmas. The egg size is large but slightly smaller than my rirs. However they are much quieter and more "tame". I haven't dressed them yet but they look bigger than my rirs.

Really I guess it comes down to personal preference. I do like the idea of diversity. I guess that is more important than any particular breed. I am going to add some buff Orpington this year.
 

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Orpingtons get my vote as the best all around dual purpose bird. Very docile. Not overly skittish. Relatively quiet (compared to my leghorns) Leghorns might be egg laying machines, but they pay the . Where as my orps just reliably crank out 4-5 eggs per week no fuss, no muss.
 

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Buff Orrington, Sussex, New Hampshire, Barred Rocks, Road Island Reds, and the other GP hens are all about the same performance wise here in Florida. I haven’t noticed enough of a difference to recommend one breed over another. The white leghorns defiantly lay more eggs and will set the nest despite what some may say. They also are good with conserving feed, but the trade off is they make lousy meat birds. I've been wanting to try dark Cornish hens since I read about them in my McMurray catalog....

"The name Cornish indicates the origin of these handsome birds in Cornwall, England and they belong to the English Class. At one time they were known as "Indian Games" because of the use of both Old English Game chickens and Asells from India in developing this breed. They are unique because of their thick, compact bodies, unusually wide backs, and broad, deep breasts. These super meat qualities have made the Dark Cornish a truly gourmet item to raise for eating. The hens are nice layers of firm-shelled brown eggs and wonderfully hardy. This variety will come as close as any to rustling for themselves under rough conditions and also make good setters and mothers. Another very distinctive character is the close fitting, rather hard textured feathers with unusual luster and brilliance. The close feathering and compact build will fool you on weight. They are always much heavier than they look. Baby chicks, all purebred and from the same strain, can vary greatly in color from a light reddish buff to a darker reddish brown with dark markings on the head and sometimes a dark stripe on the outer edge of the back."
 
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