What chicken? Practical, Pretty or Pets? We rate the breeds
PUBLISHED: 13:53 08 June 2011
In this and the next two issues of 'Your Chickens', Jeremy Hobson offers some 'star-rated' suggestions as to which breeds might best fulfil certain criteria.
All chickens are wonderful; however, not all serve the same purpose. Some look relatively dowdy but nevertheless lay a phenomenal amount of eggs. Some lay hardly any eggs at all, but enhance the garden (and show-bench) with their looks and beauty, whilst yet more lay a modicum of eggs, are relatively colourful and make fantastic pets – especially for children. In much the manner of a certain car magazine and website, the Editor has suggested that I give a few of my personal favourite breeds a ‘star rating’ as to how I think they fair as far as being ‘practical’, ‘pretty’ or ‘pets’ – three stars being the best in a particular category.
A very definite all-category three-star breed which is at the top of many chicken-keepers list of favourites, and, with its attractive rounded shape, ‘fluffy’ feathering, good egg-laying ability and perfect personality, it is easy to see why. The breed is my all-time personal favourite and I could wax lyrical forever about this most wonderful breed of chicken which is, to my mind, the perfect beginner’s bird. It lays extremely well, is very placid and, when it comes to plumage variations, you are most certainly spoilt for choice: there are at least 14 possible colour types recognized as standard in the UK, but worldwide, there are many more. If space, money and time permitted, I would have no hesitation whatsoever in including at least half a dozen varieties of this most wonderful American export in my own garden – and, not content with that, I’d have examples of both large fowl and bantams!
Another all-round three stars given willingly to this particular breed! Along with the Rhode Island Red, the Sussex, and particularly the Light Sussex, has been a favourite amongst both farmers and back garden poultry keepers in the UK for many years, particularly during World War II where it was kept extensively as part of the ‘war effort’, providing both eggs and meat in households which would otherwise have been lacking in such commodities. The plumage variations are, in some types, possibly difficult to breed to show standards, but no one of the colour types is any less easy to keep than another. They are full of character and if one is looking for the traditional ‘farmyard’ bird, a good supply of eggs and a pet with well marked plumage, your search is over!
Although undoubtedly easy to keep on a day-to-day basis, while Sebrights are undoubtedly pretty, they are most definitely not good layers and so lose points as far as practicalities are concerned. Another point loser in the ‘practical’ stakes is the possibility that breeding future stock to show standard may be difficult due to the importance of the correct lacing – however, obtaining good quality birds at the start will obviously make the development of a successful strain far more likely. Their huge characters more than make up for a lack of eggs for breakfast and I’ve given them the maximum number of stars for their ‘prettiness’ as I don’t think there can there be anything more pristine and beautifully marked than either the silver or gold laced Sebright bantam, nor can there be any other diminutive breed that struts importantly about and stands in the show pen so proudly. Provided that you are aware of their flying abilities (which makes me unable to give them top rating for being a perfect pet), it is my personal opinion that there are few other exhibition-type birds more suited for the back garden.
Both the large fowl and bantam Orpington make excellent pets but, perfect though the large fowl is as a beginner’s bird, the bantam is in a league of its own when it comes to being the absolute children’s pet. Cuddly and attractive to look at, as well as being very easy to tame, their conformation means that they have little if any, inclination towards flying or rushing around. Also of benefit when considering a children’s pet is the fact that they will very easily go broody and make excellent and reliable mothers; so it should be possible to allow youngsters the opportunity to see the whole incubation, hatching and rearing sequence from beginning to end. Standard colour variations include black, blue, buff and white. Sadly, I’ve only been able to award the Orpington one star for its practical egg-laying value as, whereas at one time, it was an excellent producer of eggs, some modern strains do not lay that many – a factor thought by some to be the result of breeders mating birds more for exhibition qualities rather than for their activities in the nest box. Gentle and happy enough with those of their own kind, beware of mixing Orpingtons’ with a mixed pen of birds as they can be subject to bullying.