Everyone has their favorite chicken. Chicken breeds developed for maximum egg production lay nearly every day, and have been selected to have little or no desire to set on nests and hatch chicks. Chickens that retain this natural desire to set and hatch young are said to be “broody”. Because chickens do not lay once they start setting on a clutch of eggs and do not resume until their chicks are well started in life, broody hens lay many fewer eggs then non broody layers. While most chickens lay brown or white eggs, some breeds lay eggs with unusual colors, deep brown, blue, green or pink. Chickens raised for meat are selected for large size and rapid growth. For the many who keep chickens as pets and layers, temperament is paramount. Chickens have also been bred to achieve many beautiful colors, patterns and feathering.
Most private farms and all commercial growers raise Cornish Cross chickens for meat, because they grow very fast, are harvested at only 6 weeks of age, and have excellent feed conversion, meaning you get more chicken per pound of chicken feed. The Cornish Cross has replaced many other chicken breeds that once dominated American farms. Small farms, and private, non commercial farms still raise many of the older breeds. On our farm, we raise dual purpose heritage chickens for both meat and eggs. Some of our breeds were once important meat birds in the USA, and others were recently imported from Europe. Our highest priorities are flavor, temperament, cold tolerance and parenting skills. Choosing a chicken breed can be complex, and many people raise several breeds at first to find one they like the best.
My background as a scientist led me to approach this as a research project. We began by reading many sources in which chicken breeds are compared. While cold hardiness is generally agreed upon, temperament and certainly flavor are a matter of opinion. Therefore, in 2016 we raised over 15 breeds of chickens, in order to compare and contrast their attributes so that we might decide on which breeds to raise in the future.
We do not raise conventional cornish cross meat birds, but have concentrated on birds famous for flavor. What follows is a list of our breeds, our sources, and some of our impressions. I will update this page as the birds mature, and as we harvest and taste them. Photos of each breed are on their own page, and will also be updated as the birds grow.
Temperament testing chickens is done in a very similar way dogs are evaluated. Every evening, when the birds are quietly roosting, I walk through the coops and pick up random bids. Some are very quiet, and settle quickly, most notably Brahma, Wyandotte, Bielefelder, American Bresse, Speckled Sussex and Dorking. Some startle when picked up, but settle easily, Maran, Barnvelder and Buckeye. Some birds are so calm it is easy to pick them up during the day, these include the Dorking, Sussex and Bielefelder. Delaware, RIR and Barbexieux are significantly more nervous. We also note the birds behavior towards other birds. In general, birds that are quiet in the hand are also quiet in the yard. Birds that are more flighty with humans are more competitive in the yard, and more active in establishing “pecking order”.
We have chosen the American Bresse as our specialty heritage breed for 2017. We are raising these birds from our own stock, and are currently hatching 20 to 40 chicks each week. Our American Bresse are being raised essentially according to the Label Rouge standards and their diet is supplemented with local raw milk. We will offer additional heritage breeds, including French Marans and Rhode Island Red in limited quantities throughout the season.
We obtained many of our chicks from local farms. Some rare breeds were purchased from specialty poultry farms located across the US.
These are the breeds we raised in 2016
Barbexieux, France. Gold Feather Farm
Barred Rock, USA. Randy Wilber, Saugerties, NY.
Barnvelder, Netherlands. Randy Wilber, Saugerties, NY.
Bielefelder, Germany. Large, gentle birds, sex linked so cockerels and pullets are easily distinguished. Randy Wilber, Saugerties, NY.
Brahma, Asiatic. Traditional meat bird that was very popular in America for many years. Very large and gentle birds. Lots of feathers, feathered legs. We raised two varieties, Light Brahma from Cripplecreek Farm, Gardiner NY and Blue Gold Partridge from Chicken Hill Poultry.
American Bresse. French. Famous for flavor. These are typically raised on pasture, and finished in cages where they are fed milk and grains. Our birds will be pastured all their lives. They are independent, but not flighty, very even tempered. Greenfire Farms, Florida.
Buckeye, USA Murray McMurry Hatchery
Delaware, USA Murray McMurry Hatchery
Dorking, Britain Murray McMurry Hatchery
Blue Copper Marans, famous for the flavor of their very dark brown eggs. Randy Wilber, Saugerties, NY.
Niederrheiner, Germany Uberchicranch,Wilmington MA
Rhode Island Red, USA A large bird with excellent flavor, our personal favorite among domestic breeds Tractor Supply and Agway
Salmon Favorole, France
Speckled Sussex Murray McMurry Hatchery
Weathen Sulmtalers, Austria. GreenFire Farms FLA
Buff Wyandotte, USA Barry Koffler High Falls NY
At this time, we have a limited number of frozen heritage dual breed birds from the fall of 2016. Please inquire for availability.