Our Leap Day Chickens

By Gnarled Carrots, Jun 1, 2016 | Updated: Jun 1, 2016 | |
  1. Gnarled Carrots
    Our Leap Day Chickens



    Spring is on its way. The sun is out. The snow is melting. And we've finally moved from our apartment in the city to a farm in the country. It's time to get chickens!

    Ever since my first flock of chickens back in my teens, I'd been dreaming about my second. I knew what breeds I wanted, had a list of names picked out, and had been dreaming about coop designs. I was ready. All that I needed was my lifestyle to be in line with my chicken ambitions! After all, I couldn't very well cram a bunch of chickens into a one bedroom apartment with my boyfriend, a dog, and two cats.

    With a couple weeks notice, we packed our lives in the city in Oregon, got in our truck, and drove 2,000 miles to a farm in southern Wisconsin. We waited out the winter, weighed the pros and cons of every chicken breed, cold and heat tolerance, egg color, chicken temperament, chicken color, standard or bantam size, chicks or pullets, feed lot, and hatchery that we could imagine and have barreled full steam ahead into our new chicken adventure!

    Unbeknownst to us at the time, we also managed to get chickens who were all born on Leap Day 2016. Because of this, I've begun affectionately calling them our "Leap Day Chickens."

    [​IMG]
    Step 1: Picking Chicken Breeds

    It can be daunting to figure out what chicken breed to get. Standard, bantam, cold tolerant, heat hardy, buff, speckled, porcelain, feathered legs, muffs, friendly, flighty, broody, white eggs, brown eggs, and oh so many hatcheries! Figuring out which chicken breeds suit you best can be a formidable endeavor. After all, if you're looking for friendly birds who lay a high amount of large brown eggs, the last thing that you want to do is fall in love with a bantam who lays one small white egg a week! For us, figuring out what was essential, preferable, and practical led to a logical progression of which chickens to acquire.

    On this page we've shared all of our rationales as well as our trials and tribulations for selecting chickens for our new flock. We hope for this to be a fun little story and learning experience for other new chicken parents!

    Weather

    The first thing that we needed to look at when potentially getting chickens was cold and heat hardiness. The weather in Wisconsin ranges from -10 and snowing in the winter to 110 and sweltering in the summer. It also rains, storms, hails, and snows on a semi-regular basis, so cold, heat, and general weather hardiness was particularly important!

    We also had to consider whether we wanted chickens with certain adornments, like the Polish with their top hats and Brahmas with their feathered legs. Chickens with protruding feathers on top of their heads have a tendency to get wet during the winter and can form little icicles that dangle into their faces. And chickens with feathers on their legs and feet have a tendency to freeze to the ice and snow. This doesn’t necessarily make them I’ll-equipped for colder climates, but may mean that they’ll need a little bit of a hair cut (or feather trim, as the case may be) if you live somewhere that it snows.

    Egg Color

    The next most important factor for us was egg color. Although there's no nutritional difference between white, brown, blue, or pink eggs, we definitely wanted a colorful array! There are plenty of chickens that lay white or brown eggs. However, there are only a handful of chickens that lay blue or green ones. They also come with a much larger price tag and don't necessarily guarantee colored eggs. A lot of breeds, like the Easter Egger (a mass produced crossed version of the Ameraucana), aren’t bred as strictly as some other birds and the likelihood of them laying a colored egg isn’t 100%.

    Temperament

    The next thing that we looked at was friendliness. Although a lot of chickens have been bred and raised on farms or in backyards and are friendly by nature, there are a lot of breeds that are still fairly wild. There are also some birds that are predominately bought for production or as meat birds, who aren’t known to be the friendliest backyard chickens. Personally, we were most drawn to a combination of friendly, docile, hardy, and quiet chickens.

    Chicken Color

    After all of the basic specifications, we narrowed down chickens based on their appearance. A lot of people associate chickens with being white or brown. However, they come in a multitude of colors. Blue, brown, lavender, black, speckled, white and black striped, blue and red striped, you name it and someone's at least tried to make a chicken that color! I'm particularly fond of the striped and speckled varieties. Although I'd be content as long as a couple of them are multicolored.

    Size

    When making the final decision, the last thing that we considered was choosing between standard and bantam sized chickens. Standard sized chickens tend to be bred more for meat and egg production because they're larger and oftentimes lay more eggs than their bantam counterparts. However, bantams are oftentimes more ornamental and come in larger color varieties, although they do lay very (sometimes VERY) tiny eggs.

    It should also be noted that chickens are difficult to sex, especially when they’re newly hatched. Sexing chicks is more of an art than a science and can be very difficult to do accurately. A lot of hatcheries won’t even try to sex bantams because they’re so small and difficult to gauge. You just have to order a couple and hope that there's a hen in the mix! Some hatcheries also require you to order a larger number of bantams in order to keep them warm enough during shipping.

    Day Old Chicks or Pullets

    The last thing that we had to consider was whether to buy day old chicks or pullets. In the end we wanted about 6 hens that would begin laying in early summer. It takes about 4-6 months for hens to lay their first egg and they lay about half the amount of eggs in the winter. In especially cold and/or dark climates, they can stop laying completely (although this can be partially offset with heat lamps). This means that if you wait until June to get chicks they might not start laying until December (and they might not be happy about it!).

    In order to have chickens that would start laying during the summer months, this meant that we'd need to buy chicks in early spring or pullets in early summer. After looking at the price range of various hatcheries, we quickly determined that we would save money by buying day old chicks than pullets. Day old chicks typically cost $3-10 each with a $50 total shipping cost and pullets typically cost $50 each with an up to $200 total shipping cost. Although these numbers change drastically based on season, hatchery, and number of chickens, it became very clear that we wanted day old chicks.

    It's also important to note that there are often quantity minimums when ordering day old chicks. In late winter/early spring, there’s usually a 15 chick minimum. In the summer, there’s usually a 3-6 chick minimum. There are also some breeds and color varieties that aren't typically available year round.


    [​IMG]

    Step 2: Narrowing Down Breeds and Hatcheries


    Initial Breed Selection

    After the fun (and arduous) journey of selecting our favorite chickens, we narrowed down our list to a handful of breeds and colors:
    • Blue Ameraucana
    • Buff or Light Brahma
    • Buff Brahma Bantam
    • Buff Chantecler
    • Blue, Partridge, SIlver Laced, or White Cochin
    • Mottled or Black Frizzle Cochin Bantam
    • Dominique
    • Mille Fleur d'Uccle Bantam
    • Blue Easter Egger
    • Blue Favaucana
    • Salmon Faverolle
    • Cream Lebar
    • Black Olive Egger
    • Black, Blue, Buff, Jubilee, or Lavender Orpington
    • BarredPlymouth Rock
    • Golden Sicilian Buttercup
    • Black, Blue, Buff, Partridge, Red, or White Silkie Bantam
    • Black Sumatra
    • Speckled Sussex
    • Columbian, Golden Laced, or Silver Laced Wyandotte

    Initial Hatchery Selection

    Even more difficult than choosing a chicken breed can be determining where to buy them. There are small hatcheries, large hatcheries, feed lots, farms, breeders, hobbyists, swaps, auctions, you name it and someone's selling chickens! Personally, I'm partial to hatcheries. They often come from NPIP verified flocks, offer vaccinations, sex newly hatched chicks, and have breed and sexing guarantees. A lot of feed stores and feed lots also order their birds from hatcheries, so there's virtually no difference between the two.

    The most well known and reputable hatcheries tend to be My Pet Chicken, Meyer Hatchery, Purely Poultry, Ideal Poultry, and California Hatchery. Personally, I've used and have been happy with My Pet Chicken and Meyer Hatchery. They have well setup web sites, clear pricing and availability, succinct shipping minimums and guidelines, and good customer service.

    I'm also particularly fond of web sites with a clear breed and color availability. A lot of hatcheries make you select your chickens and then will determine the best date(s) when your selection are available. These dates can range anywhere from immediately to available several months from your desired date (that is, if they're available at all).

    My Pet Chicken does this. However, they also have a calendar where, if you hovered over the date, it will tell you exactly how many birds are still available in your selected breed and color variety. This helps A LOT when determining which chicks can ship on the same day. After all, the last thing that you want to do is fall in love with two chickens that have no foreseeable shipping dates in common! My Pet Chicken is also (as of spring 2016) the only hatchery that sexes and ships day old bantams in the United States.

    Based on our breed selection, color preferences, and current availability, we narrowed our potential hatchery list down to:
    • My Pet Chicken ($3.25-49.00 per chick,
      $39.69 shipping)​
    • Meyer ($3.23-30.00 per chick,
      $41.99 shipping)​
    • California ($7.49-30.49 per chick,
      $43.00 shipping)​

    This also narrowed down our breed selection a little bit further. After looking at the pricing, it became very clear that some chickens were more than we wanted to spend. This immediately ruled out Ameraucanas, Favaucanas, Legbars, and most of the Orpingtons, all of which are upwards of $20-40 per chick. Looking at exact hatch dates and availability, this also pretty much ruled out Dominiques, Faverolles, Silkies, and Sussexes.

    Final Breed Selection

    In the end, we narrowed down our chickens to 5 breeds that were all available to ship on the same day from My Pet Chicken:
    • 2 Buff Brahmas ($4.50 each)
    • 1 Partridge Cochin ($4.50)
    • 2 Blue Easter Eggers ($8.00 each)
    • 2 Barred Rocks ($3.25 each)
    • 2 Golden Laced Wyandottes ($3.50 each)

    We also ordered 1 Buff Brahma Bantam, 1 Mottled Cochin Bantam, 2 Black Frizzle Cochin Bantams, 1 Mille Fleur d'Uccle Bantam, and 1 Olive Egger to round out the 15 chick minimum. However, unfortunately we had a huge snow storm the day that they were supposed to arrive and 1-2 day shipping turned into 3 day shipping and none of the bantams survived.

    These were my first chicken fatalities and it was absolutely heartbreaking! However, My Pet Chicken has a money back guarantee for chicks who don't make it within the first 48 hours and were very courteous when we contacted them. This wasn't how we wanted to narrow down our flock (and rare, apparently less than 1% of shipments have fatalities at MPC), but we did want less than 10 chickens and now don't have to re-home any of our chicks.

    Step 3: Our New Baby Chickens


    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Buffy Sanders the Buff Brahma
    Weather: Cold and Heat Hardy
    Features: Feathered Legs
    Yield: 3-4 Medium Brown Eggs per week
    Temperament: Friendly, Sweet, Quiet, Broody
    Purpose: Traditionally bred as a Meat Birds, these are large hardy chickens

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Barbara Novak the Buff Brahma

    Weather: Cold and Heat Hardy
    Features: Feathered Legs
    Yield: 3-4 Medium Brown Eggs per week
    Temperament: Friendly, Sweet, Quiet, Broody
    Purpose: Traditionally bred as a meat bird, these are large hardy chickens

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    (Yes, we noticed the cat lurking up to the chick. And no, she didn’t get her!)​

    Baby Houseman the Partridge Cochin
    Weather: Heat Hardy
    Features: Feathered Legs
    Yield: 2 Small Brown Eggs per week
    Temperament: Friendly, Broody
    Purpose: Traditionally bred as Meat Birds, these are large hardy chickens

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Morticia Addams the Blue Easter Egger
    Weather: Cold and Heat Hardy
    Features: Muffs
    Yield: 4-5 Large Blue, Green, Pink Eggs per week
    Temperament: Sweet
    Purpose: Traditionally bred as Ornamental Production Birds, these chickens are prolific egg layers

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Malory Archer the Blue Easter Egger
    Weather: Cold and Heat Hardy
    Features: Muffs
    Yield: 4-5 Large Blue, Green, Pink Eggs per week
    Temperament: Sweet
    Purpose: Traditionally bred as Ornamental Production Birds, these chickens are prolific egg layers

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Unnamed Barred Plymouth Rock
    Weather: Cold and Heat Hardy
    Yield: 5 Large Brown Eggs per week
    Temperament: Friendly, Sweet, Quiet, Hardy, Free Range Well
    Purpose: Traditionally bred as Dual Purpose Birds, these are both large and prolific egg layers

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Unnamed Barred Plymouth Rock
    Weather: Cold and Heat Hardy
    Yield: 5 Large Brown Eggs per week
    Temperament: Friendly, Sweet, Quiet, Hardy, Free Range Well
    Purpose: Traditionally bred as Dual Purpose Birds, these are both large and prolific egg layers

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Zelda Fitzgerald the Golden Laced Wyandotte
    Weather: Cold Hardy
    Yield: 4-5 Large Brown Eggs per week
    Temperament: Friendly, Forage Well
    Purpose: Traditionally bred as Dual Purpose Birds, these are both large and prolific egg layers

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Xena, Warrior Princess, the Golden Laced Wyandotte
    Weather: Cold Hardy
    Yield: 4-5 Large Brown Eggs per week
    Temperament: Friendly, Forage Well
    Purpose: Traditionally bred as Dual Purpose Birds, these are both large and prolific egg layers

    For updates, check out our web site Gnarled Carrots at http://www.gnarledcarrots.com/ and http://www.gnarledcarrots.com/category/chickens/

    Share This Article

Comments

To make a comment simply sign up and become a member!

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by