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Chickens can add a new dimension to your life, whether you’re homesteading or living in an urban environment. Their most incredible super power is their ability to produce eggs but that’s not all they’ve got going for them.
What Do I Need to Know Before Buying Chickens?
Chickens bring multiple benefits to your backyard, homestead, farm, or garden, gobbling up unwanted bugs and weeds, providing you with an almost limitless supply of nitrogen-rich fertilizer, and disposing of kitchen scraps in an eco-friendly manner. They’re also highly entertaining and make excellent pets.
You can’t just go out and buy a flock and hope for the best, however. Chickens need to be secured at night to protect them against predators. They also need a coop, space to lay – around two to three square feet per chicken – and space to roam – around eight to 10 square feet per bird.
Your chickens will need feed, water, and regular maintenance to keep them in good health. Both the birds and their coop will need cleanly from time to time to prevent common healthcare issues such as mites, respiratory conditions, coccidiosis, and avian influenza.
When looking for the best chickens for beginners, it’s also important to decide whether you want layers, for eggs, or broilers, or meat, or a more multi-functional chicken that can do both.
Some breeds of chicken are more difficult to keep than others.
The Buff Orpington, for instance, have “a tendency towards obesity” and may struggle in hot temperatures. Similarly, the eye-catching La Fleche is a rare breed for a reason – it doesn’t do well in confinement, making it a difficult breed to maintain, especially as their secretive nature leads them to hide in obscure places.
What Are the Best Chickens for Beginners?
When you start looking for your first flock, you should ask yourself what is the friendliest type of chicken, and make sure you avoid the more aggressive breeds, like the Malay chicken which is both “intolerant of close confinement” and “among the most aggressive”.
The breeds for beginners are generally the friendliest. These include the adorably fluffy Silkie (made famous by the actress Tori Spelling), the lesser-known Speckled Sussex, who will do anything for a cuddle, and the more common Rhode Island Red.
- Out of these, the Rhode Island Red is the best chicken for beginners. Not only is it friendly and easy to keep, but, as one of the most successful dual-purpose birds, is both a good layer and delicious to eat (if you can face turning your friendly fowl into food).
Other good dual-purpose breeds include:
- Australorp – in addition to being a good layer, the Australorp is also a hardy breed and produces great-tasting meat. They also do well in a mixed flock.
- Orpington – these large friendly birds are known as “the “Golden Retriever” of chickens. They are one of the best in terms of egg production, producing around 250 light brown eggs a year, while their large size also makes them great for eating.
- Leghorn – although somewhat noisy and not as friendly as our other top dual-purpose breeds, the Leghorns make up for their shortcomings by producing between 280 to 320 large-sized eggs per year, making them perfect for the omelet-lover.
If you’re more interested in cuddling your hens than eating them, then you’re probably asking yourself, “What breed of hens are the best layers?” While we’ve already mentioned a couple in our summary of the best dual-purpose breeds, there are a couple of others that might appeal to those who want a good egg rather than an egg on their faces!
What Breed of Hens Are the Best Layers?
The Rhode Island Red, Australorp, Orpington, and Leghorn all earn themselves a high rank in the laying department, producing between 250-300 eggs per year (Rhode Island Red, Australorp, and Orpington) and 280 to 320 eggs per year (Leghorn).
Other similarly productive breeds include:
- Speckled Sussex – these large, friendly birds make excellent pets and will produce between 200 and 350 eggs for you each year.
- Plymouth Rock – while generally friendly, these active birds are hardy and capable of producing between 200 and 280 eggs a year.
- Ameraucana – although not the greatest layer, the Ameraucana is highly sought after or their pale blue eggs, of which they lay around 150 per year.
Looking at those figures, the more curious among you are probably wondering, “Can a chicken lay two eggs per day?”. The answer, surprisingly, is, yes, although it is uncommon. A White Leghorn currently holds the world record for egg-laying, having produced 371 in 364 days!
By now, you should have figured out what are the best chickens for beginners so now it’s time to look at the logistics of buying, housing, and caring for your flock.
How Much Should I Pay For a Laying Hen?
Prices for backyard chickens vary according to the chicken’s age and breed. You could pick up a Rhode Island Red chick for under $5 (10 for $36 at Hoover’s Hatchery), for example, whereas an Ameraucana chick could cost as much as $7.50 (10 for $38 at Hoover’s at time of writing).
If you want to avoid the hassles of rearing the tiny balls of fluff more commonly known as baby chicks, you’ll need to be prepared to shell out a bit of extra cash for an adult flock.
Most breeders sell more mature chickens at four-weeks-old and at 15-20 weeks, by which time they are known as point-of-lay or pullets.
A four-week-old chick will cost you between $20 to $25 while a pullet will usually cost between $25 and $30. Given how fragile chickens are at four-weeks, it’s worth paying the extra for a stronger, more mature hen that will start paying off your initial outlay by laying her first egg within a week or two of purchase.
Is It Cheaper to Buy Eggs or Raise Chickens?
If your main motivation for getting a flock of backyard chickens is to ensure a steady flow of eggs, you’re most probably wondering, “Is it cheaper to buy eggs or raise chickens?”, especially now you’ve seen the price of hens!
To be fair, if you’re happy eating eggs produced by caged chickens then it’s probably cheaper to buy them, especially as the United States Department of Agriculture is predicting a dip in egg prices over the forthcoming year.
If you’re committed to eating only organic, free-range eggs, however, you’ll find your backyard chickens save you money. It’s really up to you but, as the average American eats around 290 eggs per year, a flock of five (four hens and a rooster) could keep you in eggs for years to come.
Are Backyard Chickens a Good Idea?
So, are backyard hens a good idea?
If you’ve got the space, enjoy the company of other species, and have a love of eggs, then the answer is a resounding YES!
If you’re rarely at home and have no desire to spend your precious free time cleaning out a chicken coop, then having a flock of chickens roaming around will probably cause you more annoyance than happiness, in which case, you should leave it to the professionals.
Personally, I love my chickens, even though they are a little tatty and spend more time outside the kitchen door than roaming the yard.
When they’re not laying eggs, they’re cleaning up after all the other animals, reducing the bug population, producing compost, and entertaining us with their unique and bizarre behavior.
What have you got to lose … except all the vegetables in your garden and the contents of your compost bin?