Saturday, April 10, 2010

BACKYARD CHICKENS - size does matter

What size chicken is best for the backyard flock?

Notice I said “size” not what "type" is best for the backyard chicken. Breed is pretty important in your selection of chickens for the small homestead, but if you are trying to tuck a few hens into an urban backyard then size is a critical factor also.

Chickens come in 3 basic sizes: small or bantam, medium and large.

BANTAMS – Bantam hens usually weigh 1 to 2 pounds. Chickens vary widely in height but all bantams are shorter than average. Some can be as short as 6 inches; although 9 -10 inches is more common and are shorter than the average chicken. Bantam is not a breed of chicken. It is a breeding selection and theoretically any breed can be had in bantam sizes.

STANDARD – Medium or standard sized hens weigh around 4 to 6 pounds. A standard chicken probably stands around 12 to 15 inches tall.

LARGE – Large hens can run 7 to 10 pounds. Larger breeds of chicken do not tend to run much taller than standard perhaps 14 to 18 inches tall. Much of their extra size goes into their girth. I am very familiar with that concept.

Now, why does this size data matter to the person seeking to become more self reliant by producing their own healthy, cruelty free eggs? Again, it can be a simple matter of taste if you have a real homestead with plenty of room and systems in place to protect your flock from predators. But, if you are just planning on a pair of two hens tucked away in your backyard garden, then size matters. Here are a few reasons why size can be a major decision in the urban environment.

First, you need to think about safety. A cat is much more likely to attack your fluffy 2 pound Cochin bantam than he is a 10 pound Jersey Giant. Size matters when it comes to safety.

Secondly, you need to think about fencing. If you are not able to put up a high secure fence then you may want to go to the larger breeds like the Buff Orpington. Larger tends to equate to heavier and that makes them a lot less likely to fly or at least to fly high.

Third, you need to think about housing. Obviously you can house more bantams in a small space than a large breed

Lastly, you need to think about grazing. Allowing your hens to graze in your backyard or even in the gardens has many benefits. The chickens get exercise and superb nutrition. You get pest control and better tasting eggs. The downside is that your plants get an enormous amount of scratching. Actually scratch is an understatement – those feet can really dig. So again, size matters because large breeds like my Dominique hens can dig holes almost as deep as a small dog. Milly is a ferocious miner and has dug up 2 of my blueberry bushes looking for worms.

So, size does matter and you will need to add that criteria into your search for the perfect backyard chicken. Sorry to complicate things but not one ever said the simple life would be simple all the time. Deciding what size chicken is right for you will allow you to make your home flock the best possible choice for you and your circumstances. A good flock of backyard chickens is a great way to maximize your health, self reliance and sustainability. But the sound of your own hens clucking gently as the sun sets is a joy beyond measurement and a giant step down the road to a good life.

Milly says "seriously, I may dig - but I'm loveable once you get to know me"

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