One important thing to consider is how many chicken you can realistically home. If you are in an urban setting, this may be governed by an ordinance. Our little village has guide lines as to the number, sex, and housing of chickens within the village limits. Make sure you check your ordinance BEFORE you go buying birds!
Once you know how many you can legally have, keep in mind the general rule of 3-5 square feet of coop floor space and an additional 10 square feet of run space per chicken. Of course if you are bringing home bantam birds, you can squeeze in a few more *wink* You want each bird to have enough room so that they don’t start picking on each other out of boredom and confinement. We let our birds free range all day, so we don’t have to worry about that, however we do have to worry about predators such as hawks.
Now that you have figured out how many chickens you can handle, you need to think about why you’re getting them. Are you looking to collect your own eggs? Are you thinking of raising your own meat? Maybe you want to do both! Different breeds were bred for different reasons. If you are looking for egg layers, you will want to go with Rhode Island Reds, Leghorns, or Orpingtons (just to name a few.) If you are looking to raise your own meat, you will want to pick up Cornish Cross or Freedom Ranger. Maybe you want eggs and then when production dwindles, you plan to send them to freezer camp. Dual purpose breeds include Barred Rock, Australorp, and Brahma (among others) are good choices.
Once you know why you are getting chickens, you need to consider your environment. Not all breeds do well in all climates. We live in Michigan so we keep in mind when selecting new breeds for our flock that these birds need to be cold hardy. We have been known to get down to -30 and some breeds just can’t handle that type of extreme. If you think about where in the world the breed originated it helps you to understand what type of climate they can handle. Larger combed breeds are more susceptible to frostbite which we do get here in the North. And smaller, thinner birds don’t do very well here either.
Here are a list of some birds and where they fall on the climate spectrum. These is not an all-inclusive list, just some of the more popular breeds you find in feed stores.
Cold hardy breeds
Rhode Island Red
Heat tolerant breeds
Barred Rock Bantam
I know, right now, you are thinking, “wow, there are a lot of things to think about when getting chicks!” Yup, and we are not done yet! But these next things to consider are more of the fun type things. Like do you want to be able to interact with your birds? Will your hens be more of a pet that makes your breakfast? Do you have kids who might want to cuddle the hens? If you answered yes to these questions, you will want to select breed that are more docile. While temperament can vary from bird to bird, some breeds, such as the Buff Orpington, Cochins, and Silkies, tend to be more on the cuddly side. If you don’t care to handle and interact as much with your birds, then more skittish breeds may fill your coop just fine.
Once you fill your coop, your hens will fill your nest box. But what color eggs do you want? There are more than just brown and white egg layers out there! You can get chickens that lay chocolate colored, green, blue eggs, and other shades in between! Here are some egg colors and the breeds that lay them. Again, this is not an end all be all of list, just some more common breeds.
Rhode Island Red
Chocolate Brown eggs
Are you exhausted yet? Because now you get to pick how your chickens will look when they mature. That’s right, it’s like picking paint colors for your home. Chickens come in all shapes and sizes, big combs, pea combs, puffy cheeks, frizzled feathers, feathers on their legs, big bodies, sleek appearances. You name it, there is a bird with a look for everyone out there. I love for each of my birds to be different breeds, it makes them easier to tell apart. We currently have an Isa Brown, Buff Orpington, and an Ameraucana. Today we picked up a Light Brahma and a Silver Laced Wyandotte. Next week we will be getting a Black Jersey Giant. What can I say, I like to mix it up!
No matter what breeds you finally settle on, you want to make sure you pick your chicks. Don't just grab the first few chicks you get your hands on in the feed store. Take time to watch the chicks, see how they interact with the others in the container. Chickens start establishing a pecking order from the moment they come out of the shell. If everyone is picking on one chick, that chick will always be the "low man." More aggressive chicks will grow up to be Alpha hens and run the coop.
You will want to check your chicks over for health. If a chick is just sitting there and you can easily grab it, take heed. Chicks should run from you when you try to pick them out. Make sure their eyes are bright and clear. Make sure their little bums are clean too! Chicks can develop pasty butt, which will need to be cleaned, maybe a few times. A clean butt is a good thing! I also hold my hand with my wedding band on it to see how curious the chicks are to flashy things, I want to know how alert they are.
So before you let chick fever grip you and you grab a bunch of chicks from the feed store and run out gleefully squealing, take a minute to make a plan. It will be much better for you and your flock if those cute chicks are a perfect fit for you! Now go forth and pick some chicks!