Hello! I'm about to order my first flock of chicks (I've worked on farms with other people's chickens for a while now), and need some advice.
Here's my situation: I'm renting in a rural area, so I've designed my chicken coop to be portable (4x8), and the birds will free-range. I'll probably put a ring of portable electric poultry netting around the coop, to discourage them from heading toward the highway and to deter predators. They'll have access to both pasture and woods. And I live in Virginia, so we have hot summers and cold (but not frigid) winters.
When I was researching breeds, I was looking for birds that lay well, forage most of their food, are hardy for our climate, and are predator-savvy (I know a fox family nearby). I'm looking for utility birds - I don't want to spend money on lots of feed, and I don't care about SOP or "pretty". Well, ok, I want Welsummers because they have such pretty eggs, but they seem to fit my other criteria too. So, the breeds I'm interested in are Welsummer, Dominique, Ancona, and Fayoumi. I might get an EE just for kicks.
I've been lurking on this forum searching for information about where to get chicks from, and there seems to be some heated debate about hatcheries vs. breeders vs. unique projects like Sandhill. It seems like a lot of people here care most about SOP, so they diss hatcheries and Sandhill. Like I said - I'm just looking for a utility bird that takes care of itself and gives me eggs - I could care less what it looks like. With that in mind, do you have recommendations about where I should look for chickens? And if you have thoughts on breeds, please chime in.