Good foraging birds

Discussion in 'General breed discussions & FAQ' started by fineswine, Dec 28, 2015.

  1. fineswine

    fineswine New Egg

    Dec 28, 2015
    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.
  2. TheTwoRoos

    TheTwoRoos Chillin' With My Peeps

    Sep 25, 2015
    Sex links,black or red.Nice,hardy,and are great foragers.Lay great eggs
  3. dekel18042

    dekel18042 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 18, 2013
    Of the breeds you mentioned, my Easter eggers lay the most and the largest eggs. After their first year, they're in the extra large to jumbo range and are beautiful blues and greens. They forage well and are both heat and cold tolerant.
    We also have a few welsumers because I like the egg color (Some lay speckled eggs.) and I used some to make olive eggers, but they don't lay as many eggs as the Easter eggers and the EEs' eggs are larger.
    We have a multi breed flock for a colorful egg basket and we were trying to figure out which heritage breed we wanted to raise. After trying several with disappointing results for one reason or another (Many of the individual chickens we love.), both my husband and I put the EE's at the top of our list. Our original ones came from, and since then I have bred my own from them.
    My EE's and young birds from last spring are carrying us through the winter in eggs. The rest of the hens seem to be on hiatus.
  4. junebuggena

    junebuggena Chicken Obsessed

    Apr 17, 2015
    Long Beach, WA
    Barred Rocks are really great foragers, are very consistent layers, and their black and white striping makes for really great camouflage. I get quite the range in egg colors from my girls. My girls lay shades of cream, pink, tan, and brown.
  5. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

    Jun 18, 2010
    Southern Oregon

    I always advise new flock keepers to start out with a mix of breeds. No reason at all to limit yourself to just one breed. Ordering from a hatchery or buying from a feed store allows you to experience a variety of breeds and see what works best for you. Some breeds I've loved on paper, but in person they just didn't do it for me. Fifteen years ago, I told someone I didn't ever want barred Rocks, now they're the backbone of my flock. Go figure.

    Hatchery birds have their place, just as do SOP birds. I equate it with my dogs. My dogs are mostly mutts, from the pound or whatever. They're not purebred show dogs. Do they meet my need for a dog? Yep. Might I run into some health issues down the road as their parents aren't known and tested for conditions that run in their breed? Yep. At this point in my life am I interested or willing to shell out four figures for a dog whose parents have been tested and certified? Nope. Basically the same with the chickens, at this point.

    So, you start with a mixed flock of hatchery birds. Down the line, one particular breed might just grab you. You start studying that breed, and maybe find a quality breeder and order some hatching eggs.....and start a new journey. Or, maybe you're just happy with your mixed flock of hatchery birds and hatch your own chicks, or get some new hatchery chicks every year or so to add some diversity. Kind of the nice thing about keeping chickens, there's really no wrong answers. If a particular bird doesn't fit with your flock or management, sell her. In your climate, you're good for pretty much any breed a hatchery sells. I'd just advise against trying to house ornamentals such as silkies or Polish with your other birds, especially in a tractor that size. Other than that, have fun!
  6. Michael OShay

    Michael OShay Chicken Obsessed

    May 14, 2014
    X2 on both of the above posts. I especially like Black Sex Links as they are decent foragers and very friendly and hardy egg laying machines that will churn out more than 300 large brown eggs per hen per year. They are especially persistent in laying in really cold winter weather. Donrae's suggestion of trying a mix of breeds is also a good one as you can learn for yourself which breeds you like best that way.
  7. Free Feather

    Free Feather Chillin' With My Peeps

    Fayoumis are awesome...I agree to try a mix.
  8. fineswine

    fineswine New Egg

    Dec 28, 2015
    Alright, thank you all. I tried looking at ALBC breeders yesterday to see if any had the mix of birds I'm looking for, but it seems that breeders try to focus on 1-4 breeds that they really know well, which makes sense. So I ordered from a hatchery instead. This way, I can get experience with a diversity of breeds and decide which ones I like best. Maybe later I'll think about using breeder stock.
  9. Michael OShay

    Michael OShay Chicken Obsessed

    May 14, 2014
    You're welcome.

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