Originally Posted by Mikejr05
Hello everyone my family is looking forward to starting our very own flock. (small flock). I just finished reading "Backyard Chickens for Beginners" by R.J. Ruppenthal. It gave me a lot of good information. We were going to get our chicks by the end of February but now we are more conscientious of what breed to buy. Any help would be much appreciated, just to give you some background we live in Southeast Idaho so winters can be rough. The coop we are going to have built will only be big enough for 4-5 chickens. Looking for good egg layers but also that will be good to eat when the eggs run out. My wife would like an Ameraucana and a Marans, if possible I guess the question is are these okay for our climate and are they better to have in pairs? Are there other breeds you would recommend? I know we will be leaning on all of you for a long time and we appreciate your help.
Originally Posted by Mikejr05
Bridebeliever thank you for the recommendation on the blue tinted egg. I was afraid someone was going to say build a bigger coop, my wife said the same thing.
Repeat after me Mike: "The wife is always right." OK, now that you have that down
When you say "The coop we are going to have built will only be big enough for 4-5 chickens" is that a commercial coop advertized as "holds 4-5 chickens"? If so, run away! They are almost ALWAYS way too small for the number of chickens they claim and are expensive. If it says 4-6, you might get 2 large fowl in there. The basics are 1' of roost per bird. Roosts should be at least 1' from a parallel wall and 18" from a parallel roost at the same height. MINIMUM floor space for birds that are not confined to the coop except at night is 2 sq ft/bird. And as DD said, that excludes space taken by feeders, waterers and nest boxes. How are you going to do that with 6 birds in a 3'x4' coop? You AREN'T.
There are some amazingly beautiful and some amazingly cute coops on the http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/596294/post-your-chicken-coop-pictures-here coops page. The people care because they 'have' to look at their coops but the chickens DO NOT CARE. If you are a chicken more space is WAY better than "fancier but not big enough" (*). If you have a choice between "I can afford bigger" and "I can afford fancier", GO BIGGER. There are also some amazing coops built from reclaimed pallets and some really functional hoop coops made from 16' long cattle panels. The coop does not HAVE to be expensive. The coop and run DO have to be big enough, they DO have to protect the birds from predators, INCLUDING your own dogs and the coop DOES have to be well ventilated ESPECIALLY in the winter in cold climates to avoid frostbite. Ventilation, without drafts over the birds on the roost, to clear the ammonia and humidity is paramount. Chickens wear their down lined coats 365 days a year (366 this year) and are much healthier in a cold but properly ventilated coop than a closed warm coop.
Are you limited in space (meaning a 20x40 back yard as opposed to a half acre of yard) or the number of chickens you can have? If not, go bigger with the coop and the run. You WILL want more chickens If you can do it big enough to walk in, you will find it easier to maintain (and if you decide to stop keeping chickens, you have a nice sized storage shed).
As to breeds, my signature shows what I have. I too am a noob, having just gotten my first chicks in June 2012 so I don't have experience with a lot of breeds nor experience in how many years they will produce. You do not HAVE to have pairs of a specific breed. Of my 16 chickens, NONE hang specifically with the other(s) of their breed. If you think about it, THEY have no idea what kind of chicken they are, they don't know what THEY look like and they don't know that the 'other' that looks like them IS the same breed. It is more about similar temperament than similar breed.
Of my older girls, only the Anconas have a problem with occasional frost on their combs. I wouldn't get them again though because they are aggressive to the other girls and haven't been great layers for me. ALL the girls do fine in the unheated coop (converted horse stall in an OLD barn), even the Cubalayas (as the name suggests, originally bred in Cuba, not exactly Vermont cold in the winter there).
I had 2 Partridge Chanteclers, one died 3 months before turning 2 years old of unknown causes, lost the other one last April to a fox. The latter was a laying machine when she wasn't broody (several times a year). Even being broody so often she rivaled my best layers - the smaller Black Australorp and the EE (lost the other EE to a fox April the PRIOR year) in laying. My older EE and BAs lay USDA Large to XL to Jumbo and sometimes "you have GOT to be kidding me" nearly twice the size of a Large. The Cubalayas are "yard art" and not expected to lay much. The Faverolles are supposed to be good winter layers but I've not found that to be the case and mine are broody a lot so not very productive.
I was hoping to get some White Chanteclers this year as they are supposed to be good winter layers and not as broody as the Partridge but it didn't work out. We won't be eating our less productive birds so my desire is to have birds that will still be laying when they are more than a couple of years old. I got 2 White Rocks on the advice of a knowledgeable long time chicken raiser as being good with respect to egg quantity, winter laying and years of laying (as opposed to the sex links that seem to lay like machines for a year or 2 then drop off dramatically or develop health issues). One of the WRs has laid 59 eggs in 65 days, the other 26 eggs in 32 days. Check back with me in 3 years and I can tell you how they worked out long term The WRs are big girls so truly dual purpose though that is not of importance to me. When my EE moults, she looks REALLY scrawny, I don't think I would be raising them for roast chicken. As to eating old birds, I gather they are really best left for soup stock. Better to raise dual purpose birds and eat the cockerels when they get to size. In reality, growing dual purpose chicks eat very little commercial feed (**) and even less if they can range in the yard during the spring, summer and fall months. Nothing better for a well rounded diet than the addition of free choice fresh vegetation and bugs!
Note that almost all pullets will lay well their first winter before they have their first adult moult which is why you don't want to get the chicks too early in the year. If they have their first adult moult in the fall of their first year they likely won't lay nearly as well their first winter.
Most chickens will NOT lay while they are moulting so if you want BAs because you read that a BA set a record for an egg a day for a year, discount that! First it was nearly 100 years ago. Second, ALL chickens lay fewer eggs each year as they get older. Unless you are going to get new chicks every spring and cull the older ones when they have their first adult moult, expect your egg counts to go down ESPECIALLY in late fall and winter. Those egg factory eggs at the grocery store aren't laid by 3 year old hens. My smaller BA has never gone broody and laid 244 eggs the first year (from the date of first egg) and since the silly girl didn't moult until the end of January, she laid 290 in 14 months. If we take her to the 2 year mark (from the date of first egg), she laid 413. To the 3 year mark - 579 or averaging 193/year. In my mind that is pretty good and why I got 2 more (though I'm not sure they aren't at least part Jersey Giant given the yellow underfoot). My bigger BA (who raised the June chicks) hasn't ever been the layer that the smaller one is. She goes broody (helpful this spring though) but only laid 185 eggs her first year. She didn't start until January 2013 and has never been a winter layer. She quit for 3 months in Nov 2013 and nearly 6 months mid September 2014. Thus, even with a given breed, it is best not to generalize as to how well any given bird will lay. My EE that has laid as well as the smaller BA is not a winter layer either but she works harder in the other seasons.
Re: "Ameraucana". There are "Ameraucana" and there are "Easter Eggers". The former is a recognized breed, the latter is NOT a breed (but the foundation of the former back in the 1970's) that MANY hatcheries sell as "Ameraucana". They generally look like the Ameraucana breed other than color and they MIGHT lay blue eggs (or green or tan or pinkish or ...) and they USUALLY have muffs and beards.There is NOTHING wrong with EEs, I got 3 more this spring. One lays aqua, one a bit greener than that and one more olive. You NEVER KNOW what the adult of an EE chick will look like, that is part of the fun!
* Not suggesting those amazing cute or fancy coops are too small! Just pointing out they are not requirements set forth by the chickens.
** My Meyer catalog has a chart that says 11.4 pounds of feed to raise a layer breed through 16 weeks (just under 3 pounds). At ~$13 for a 50 pound bag of feed, that is < $3 per bird. Of course you would probably want to keep the cockerels until they were a bit bigger but the point is, even on purely commercial feed, your dinner won't be expensive.
Those are some beautiful BAs you got there Birdrain!