Just want to talk a couple things out with people that know far more than me and can point out the error of my ways...
New coop design is almost complete (will share when drawings are finalized so you can tell me what I'm forgetting), and I have been researching quite a bit exactly what birds I want to add in the spring as I grow the flock. I want dual purpose birds, as once the ladies have moved beyond their use as layers I plan to pressure can them, so I'm looking at the heavier breeds. I like the idea of a mixed flock at this point. Not planning any breeding or hatching, just a nice mix of birds for laying. I'm semi-collaborating with my neighbor (who supplied my starter birds this year) on planning our spring order of chicks. He gets his chicks every spring from Murray McMurray and has had extremely good luck with healthy, productive birds.
At current I have the leghorn and ancona.
My short list is:
Anybody see something glaring where I've missed the boat with my choices/thinking?
What colors are you looking for in your basket?
I've heard great things about Sussex, but never had any (want to have some eventually). Sussex are pretty close to Orpingtons and Australorps as far as genealogy and purpose go. I have both Australorps and buff Orpingtons, and they've been pretty universally great girls and easily integrate into a flock. They're not the top or bottom of my hierarchies here. Sweet, fluffy, heavy, good broodies and layers. Roosters of all of these breeds get quite large and taste delicious.
I have a GLW from a different hatchery and she started laying really early for the breed. Wyandottes have a reputation as bossy, alpha girls and, from what I've seen, it's deserved. My oldest SLW keeps the girls pretty well in line and can terrorize roosters if they don't step to her bidding. For the most part, my girls have been quite agreeable in a mixed flock. they're also eye-candy.
New Hampshires are really close to RIR so I'm not sure why you would prefer one over the other when RIR are really common (with good reason). Production Red have a well-deserved reputation as phenomenal egg-layers. I've kept RIR, ISA brown and RSL but not BSL (all RIR derivative 'breeds') and they've all been great layers who had a keen eye for who did or did not belong in my yard. If they start out with all flock members, they get along fine (tend to be top bird or close to it in the food chain), but woe be to new members and interlopers! We definitely had some difficulty integrating new members after those girls got a little older (as in "a few weeks old"). Rooster got along with everyone, but the RSL, RIR and white Leghorn hens were the worst birds period for picking on new flockmates. Very pretty girls, though. From what I understand, New Hampshires are close to RIR in this respect, but less so.
Delawares are hit and miss depending on breeder. I've heard great and terrible things about them. They're either really good birds, or just the worst thing to ever enter your yard. It's very difficult to find a good quality Delaware, which is a shame considering they're splendid birds when bred to standard.
Marans I've also heard mixed reviews on. Some people really like them... others not so much. They're a new fad bird on the market, and with any new fad, there comes a lot of fraud. Many breeders/hatcheries are churning these birds out as fast as they possible can and so really poor quality birds are being shipped off to perfectly nice people. Many of these birds don't look remotely or even lay remotely like what they should. Complicate this with "industrial" vs "French" strains, and you can get yourself a major league headache very quickly. I advise purchasing Marans only from people you know really well who keep the parents on site (it's the same thing I advise to anybody who wants to get in on the latest crazes--especially when those crazes involve thinking, feeling, beings). I've heard from too many people who got all kinds of weird eggs from what were supposedly 100% Marans. It just seems like everyone gets ripped off when it comes to this breed.
Leghorns fly and roost in trees when they're given the opportunity. RIR just like to hop the fence into the neighbor's yard, but Leghorns will clear your garage, neighbor's garage, neighbor's house and about 5 more miles before they feel like maybe coming home. Leghorns also have super mean, meatless roosters if you're ever unlucky enough to get one. They're pretty, but otherwise terrible to have around and, of all the breeds I've ever heard of, the most likely to flog children. The hens can also be temperamental and tend to be nervous, flighty creatures. EEs are frequently interbred with Leghorns to improve their annual egg count and this shows itself in the markedly nervous (or bossy) disposition they usually have. Individual Leghorns can miraculously be both nervous and bossy.
Brahmas come in a more limited variety of colors, but they're big sweeties who are pretty good winter layers and the least susceptible to frostbite compared to any of the other common breeds. Only other really cold hardy breeds commonly available are Chantecler and Faverolles, which are still harder to find than Brahmas. Faverolles are basically slightly smaller Brahmas with beards and a really odd color that makes the genders look like separate species of bird (salmon!).
So a recap:
1) Wyandottes, RIR and all derivatives are known to be very picky, bossy birds. RIR lay better than Wyandottes, but Wyandottes look spectacular.
2) Finding good quality Delawares and Marans is a pain in the butt and likely to give you a good deal of heartache
3. RIR, Orpingtons, and Australorps are the main brown-laying chicken breeds with very good reason: they're dependable layers, easy to find, and generally of good dispositions
4) New Hampshires are almost just like Production RIR except they have lighter fluff as babies, don't lay as many eggs, and are harder to find
5) For all of their prowess as battery layers, both RIR and white Leghorns actually prefer a lot more space. Leghorns thrive when free-ranging.
6) Old hens of any type aren't likely to have that much meat on them anyway; that's what roosters are for (and roosters are cheap!). Get hens you like, and if you want meat, get some cheapo BSL or RSL roos for your stewpot whenever they get obnoxious.
Good dual purpose breeds that get along pretty well with everyone: Australorp, Sussex, Orpington, Brahmas, Faverolles, Chantecler. Orpingtons come in a rainbow of colors available from BYC members, also.