Friday, April 27, 2012

Keeping Chickens: Breeds

What Breed to Choose?
The first things I often get asked by potential new chicken owners are, "what breed of chickens should I get?" and "why did you choose the breeds you have?". The latter being easier to answer.

I chose the breeds I have for a number of reasons. First reason is rather superficial, I like the look of them, they're pretty birds. Secondly, two of the breeds I chose for their egg colour, as I wanted a variety of different coloured eggs in my egg carton. Lastly and personally most important for me, is that they are all purebreed birds, some a lot rarer than others. I feel by keeping them, I am keeping alive part of their heritage and the future of the breed. Don't get me wrong-in no way am I a purebreed snob, I love the crossbreed chickens just as much and they are some mighty fine ones out there.

Now to the question of what breed to get. It's really a personal choice. Do you want to go for something that will consistently lay an egg every day or did you want something that is pretty but useful? Are they going to be pets for children or bug eating, manure makers in your garden or orchard? There is no right or wrong breed, it's what suits you and your lifestyle.

I've put together a list of chicken breeds that can be sourced in Australia. In no way is this list the be all and end all of chicken breeds, this is just a small selection of what is out there.

Commercial Hybrids
The breed of choice for a lot of commercial egg producers are often hybrids [crosses] and they are also the breed most commonly found for sale at fodder stores. They have an extremely high egg production and make pretty good backyard pets. 

Often the commercial hybrids can be picked up as rescued birds from egg producers, who replace their hens when they reach about 12-18months old. Often these rescue birds look a bit scraggly from being caged, but their feathers do grow back. Most will also have had the top part of their beak cut off to stop cannibalism in commercial settings-it does make them look a bit different but it shouldn't affect their ability to eat.

Isa Brown
Size: Med-Large
Egg Colour: Brown
Eggs/Year: 300
Isa Brown hens
The Isa Brown is a hybrid of Rhode Island Reds and Leghorn chickens, both highly productive egg layers. Isas are relatively placid and not too flighty but can have a tendency to bully new chickens in the flock.

Large breed
The large breed chickens are often quite placid in nature and not as inclined to fly over fences to go exploring. In saying that, it generally still is a good idea to clip one wing to discourage attempts at flying. Many large breed chickens are dual purpose or utility birds, used for both meat and eggs. Their eggs are normally as big or bigger than supermarket eggs [even the extra large supermarket eggs]. Some large breeds also come in a smaller or bantam breed.

I have listed the more common colours of the breeds but some breeds may have more than I have listed-these unlisted colours are either very rare or unavailable in Australia.

Size: BantamLarge
Colour: Light, Buff, Coronation and Speckled
Egg Colour: Cream to Light Brown
Eggs/Year: 240-260
Light Sussex hen
Often used as a dual purpose bird, Sussex are rather docile in nature and are pretty comfortable with human interaction, especially if raised from chicks. They don't go broody too often and less inclined to fly. The bantam Sussex would suit smaller backyards and make good children's pets.

Rhode Island Red
Size: Large
Colour: Dark Red-Brown
Egg Colour: Brown
Eggs/Year: 200+

Rhode Island Reds are another dual purpose breed, they are friendly but can be aggressive if they feel threatened-in particular the roosters. If raised well with plenty of human interaction, they often seek out human companionship and will happily sit in your lap if allowed to.

Size: Bantam, Med-Large
Colour: White, Silver Laced, Gold Laced, Columbian, Partridge, Silver Pencilled
Egg Colour: Pale Brown to Tan
Eggs/Year: 200-240
Gold laced and silver laced Wyandotte hens

A particularly pretty addition to the backyard flock, Wyandottes are good egg producers but have a high tendency to go broody. They make excellent mothers and will happily take on a clutch of fertile eggs or even day old chicks to raise as their own. Some individuals can be rather loud in volume but generally show no sign of being flighty.

Size: Bantam, Large
Colour: Double Laced, Brown, Black
Egg Colour: Dark Brown
Eggs/Year: 180-200

Double laced Barnevelder hen
Another dual purpose breed, Barnevelders are another pretty addition to a backyard flock. They are hardy birds who often will lay continuously through the winter months where other breeds may stop.

Size: Bantam, Large
Colour: Black, Blue, White
Egg Colour: Brown
Eggs/Year: 250
Black Australorp hen [left] and cockerel [right]
Australorps are an Australian bred, dual purpose breed who have exceptional laying records. One hen has even been recorded to lay 364 eggs in 365 days! Beside their egg laying, Australorps are hardy docile birds who make great mother hens.
Blue Australorp hen

Size: Medium
Colour: White, brown, black
Egg Colour: White
Eggs/Year: 280-320

One of the original commercial egg laying breeds before the commercial hybrids came in, the Leghorn has a good reputation for laying lots of eggs. They rarely go broody, but do avoid human contact and are rather loud and flighty-so not ideal for backyards with children or other pets.

Bantams are much smaller than your average chicken, making them more suitable for smaller backyards and children's pets. They don't lay as many eggs as the larger breeds and their eggs are much smaller than your average supermarket egg, but still can be used [normally 1.5-2 bantam eggs per normal egg].

It is generally not a good idea to mix bantam breeds with large breeds, but it really depends on the nature and personalities of the hens in the flock.

Size: Bantam
Colour: White, Black, Red, Gold, Blue, Buff, Partridge
Egg Colour: White to Light Brown
Eggs/Year: 150
Silkie hen
Silkies are a rather unique looking breed of chicken, with soft fluffy feathers similar to chick down, a pom-pom crest, five toes and purple/black faces. They cannot fly due to a lack of proper wing feathers and need decent shelter from rain as their feathers are not water proof. Silkies are very docile birds who, if handled enough are great children's pets. They make excellent brooders and mothers, and are often used to hatch eggs from other species including ducks and quails.

Size: Bantam
Colour: Buff, white, black, lavender, red
Egg Colour: White to Light Brown
Eggs/Year: 100
Pekin rooster [left] and hen [right]
A small fluffy chicken with feathered feet, the Pekin is another breed that makes wonderful pets for children. They are docile and affectionate in nature and like Silkies, make great brooders and mothers not only to chicks but to duckings, guinea fowl and quails.

Something Different?
There are some breeds that have rather unique characteristics, such as egg colour or feathers. They make a rather novel addition to a backyard flock and/or your egg carton.

Size: Bantam, Large
Colour: White, Lavender, Blue, Black
Egg Colour: Blue to Green [see below for a photo]
Eggs/Year: 180
Lavender Araucana hen

Black Araucana pullet
Araucanas are a blue egg layer, whose eggs range from blue to green in colour. They also exhibit a crest and a muff [or beard] of feathers around their throat, both varying in size with each individual bird. They are a wary but docile breed, and if raised from chicks can be quite friendly.

French Marans and Araucana eggs next to Wyandotte eggs.
French Marans
Size: Large
Colour: Wheaten
Egg Colour: Dark Brown [see above for a photo]
Eggs/Year: 150
Wheaten French Marans hen

A relatively rare breed in Australia, French Marans are prized for their dark coloured eggs. The birds are curious by nature and are rather quiet and friendly. They can be hard to come across, and due to their rarity are normally much pricier than most breeds.

Please note: Australian French Marans do not produce eggs as dark as French Marans in other countries-breeders of French Marans in Australia are improving the egg colour but don't expect to get birds that produce super dark, almost plum coloured eggs.

Size: Bantam, Large
Colour: Various
Egg Colour: Various
Eggs/Year: 100-200
Frizzle Rooster
Frizzles have feathers that instead of lying flat, curve outwards-giving the impression that someone has dragged the chicken through a bush backwards. It's caused by a feather mutation and often Frizzle chickens are crossed with other breeds to get different colours and patterns with the frizzle feathers.

Size: All
Colour: Various
Egg Colour: Various
Eggs/Year: 100-250
Wyandotte X Silkie hen and rooster

Probably the most common chicken people keep as backyard pets are crossbred chickens. Crossbreeds are normally the offspring of a mixed flock with a rooster or deliberate crossings [and subsequent cullings] from breeders trying new colour strains. They range in size, colour, personality, egg colour and production-each one being a unique specimen. They make wonderful, colourful additions to any flock.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Photo by Spedding-Stock

At the going down of the sun,
And in the morning,
We Will Remember Them
Lest We Forget

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Keeping Chickens

For me, having a flock of chickens is the most rewarding thing I could do in my backyard. I get my own personal feathery army of weed destroying, bug eating, mobile fertilisers with the added bonus of fresh 'happy' eggs each day.

I want to share the joy of keeping chickens with...well everyone! It's not difficult to keep chickens and it doesn't need to be expensive either. They make wonderful pets and children love having the opportunity to collect their own breakfast!

I'm starting up what hopefully will be a weekly blog entry called Keeping Chickens [original I know!], which I hope to cover the basics of keeping chickens and some extra stuff including health, incubating your own eggs and a few myth busting posts.

If there is anything you would like me to cover, please feel free to leave me a comment any time.

So stay tuned for the first one...soon. :)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

April Garden Update Photos

My pot of garlic cloves I planted to harvest in Spring/Summer.

Broadbean seedlings surrounded by self seeded parsley

My lone Calendula which survived my summer of not watering and is currently thriving [and more parsley].

Cauliflower seedlings

Pak Choy seedlings...with a few more parsley popping up.

Lots of beetroot!

One of two types of broccoli planted. One is an early harvester [12-16 weeks] the other a later one [16-20 weeks].

Snow peas! My favourite! Four types of peas were planted, snow peas, telephone peas, sugar snap peas and dwarf peas.

And the mouth the veggies above will hopefully feed!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Quince Jelly and Quince Paste


A hard yellow, apple like fruit, is often associated in Greek mythology with the goddess Aphrodite. When raw they are almost inedible, but once cooked they have the most delicate scent and flavour.

A few weeks ago, whilst driving in the Adelaide Hills I came across some quince trees with fruit on the side of the road. On Friday my friend Kyri and I went back and picked all the quinces we could get from the trees. It was a lot of fun, using sticks to pull the fruit down from the higher branches and in some cases chasing dislodged fruit down the road! We got about 5 kg of fruit from 2 trees.

We used the fruit to make quince jelly and quince paste over the course of 2 days. It is rather time consuming and not really something that can be done in a day.

Cooking quince jelly and quince paste!

The first issue we had was finding a recipe to deal with about 4 kg of cut, peeled and cored fruit. Most recipes were for '6 quinces' or '8 quinces', not actual pound/kilogram measurements. After a phone call to Kyri's grandmother we finally managed to get started.

Poached Quinces
The first step to making quince jelly and quince paste is to poach the quinces.

You will need quinces, water, a jelly bag and a reasonably large pot, preferably aluminium-as aluminium cookware enhances the deep red colour quince goes when cooked.

  1. Peel, quarter and core the quinces, place into a large pot and add enough water to just cover.
  2. Tie some of the quince cores and skin into a muslin bag and add to the pot. They contain a lot of pectin which will help the jelly set.
  3. Cook over a medium heat until the quinces are falling apart.
  4. Using a jelly bag [or in our case a clean sterilised pillowcase], strain the liquid from the pulp into a clean saucepan overnight. Don't be tempted to squeeze the bag to hurry the straining process along, as it may make the jelly cloudy.

Quince Jelly
The second step is to make the jelly from the poaching liquid. The liquid won't be clear yet but as it is boiled with become clear.

You will need the poaching liquid, white sugar, a pot, clean empty jars with lids and something to skim the scum from the top [a skimmer or a large spoon will work fine]. If you have one, a sugar/jam thermometer is handy-we didn't have one, so used to traditional method of a cold saucer to check when the jelly was set.
Quince jelly on the stove. Note the white scum on the surface-this needs to be skimmed off.

  1. Measure the poaching liquid and add 950g of white sugar to every litre of poaching liquid. Place into a clean pot, heat and stir until all the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Keep on a slow boil, constantly skimming the surface scum off. The more of the scum you skim off, the clearer the jelly will become. As it boils down, the colour should deepen to a deep red colour.

    Quince jelly freshly poured into hot sterilised jars.
  3. Once the jelly has reached 104 °C (219 °F) pour into hot sterilised jars and seal.
  4. If you do not have a thermometer, you can test the jelly setting by putting a drop of the jelly onto a cold saucer [we put ours in the freezer] and see if it gels. If it stays liquid, it needs to cook for longer. 

Our tray of cooling quince jelly.
 Quince Paste
The third step is to make the quince paste. This can be done at the same time as the jelly, if you have room on the stove.

You will need the quince pulp, white sugar, water, a pot, greaseproof paper and trays/containers to set the paste in.
Quince Pulp on the stove
  1. Weigh the pulp and use 3/4 of the pulp's weight in white sugar.
  2. Place the quince pulp into a pot, mash well and add a small amount of water if necessary to stop the pulp sticking to the bottom of the pan. Try to add as little water as possible-the more water you add, the longer the cooking will take.
  3. Start heating on low heat, once it has warmed slightly, start adding the sugar in portions and stir until dissolved.
  4. Keep on a low heat, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn't stick. As it reduces it should turn a red/brown colour and get rather sticky. This can take a long time-we had 2kg of pulp and it took roughly 5-6 hours to reduce down enough.

    Quince paste after being cooked on the stove. Ready to go into the oven.
  5. Remove from heat and spoon into trays lined with greaseproof paper. Place in a warm fan-forced oven for approximately 2 hours. This dries it out somewhat and darkens the colour a bit more.
  6. Once cool enough to touch, cover with cling wrap and allow to set in the fridge.
Finished quince paste ready to be cooled and cut.

Thank you Kyri for the photos!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

First Eggs...Just In Time For Easter

My Marans and Araucanas are now 6 months old and are ready to stop free loading and start laying. On Friday [Good Friday] I found my first pullet egg laid by one of my Marans.

First Marans pullet egg with some of my Wyandotte eggs.

Followed very shortly on Saturday with a white pullet egg. I was unsure of who laid this egg, but narrowed it down to two possible suspects. My Araucana or my black crossbreed.

Clockwise from top: Marans pullet egg, mystery pullet egg, Silver laced Wyandotte egg, Gold laced Wyandotte egg.

This morning [Easter Sunday] I found four eggs in the coop, two of them being from my pullets. And excitingly one of them was green!

No I don't have an alien chicken! Araucana's lay eggs with shells have a green-blue tinged shell. I had a chat with a knowledgeable chicken friend and the white egg was most likely her egg as well as sometimes they start off laying very pale/white eggs.

Left to Right: Marans pullet eggs, Araucana pullet eggs, Gold laced Wyandotte eggs, Silver laced Wyandotte eggs, Gold [top]/Silver [bottom] laced Wyandotte eggs.

 So for Easter this year, instead of chocolate eggs, I got real eggs!