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What’s the Best Breed for Your Space?

Hens in yard

Almost anyone with experience rearing small flocks of chickens in suburban backyards will recommend sticking to larger breeds that lay brown eggs. These breeds tend to be calm and gentle. Large breeds are easy to care for and their tendency toward quietness is appreciated by nearby neighbors.

Although brown eggs hold no nutritional edge over their white counterpart, most backyard flock owners prefer darker ones that are harder to find and more expensive at the grocery store.

However, smaller, lighter breeds can be ideal where houses are spaced further apart and noise isn’t an issue, but predators are. Folks living on farms or acreages often let their birds roam the yard and nearby fields without confinement. Unfortunately, big spaces are also a habitat preferred by coyotes, foxes, raccoons, hawks, and free ranging dogs.

The traits that make the smaller white-egg chicken breeds less than desirable in town render them ideal on acreages. Brown leghorns, anconas, minorcas, and a host of other white egg layers are amazingly quick, elusive, and vocal. Many fly as well as a wild pheasant, making them hard to catch by both humans or predators.

Chickens have amazingly keen eyesight and should a flighty leghorn spot danger it will squawk loudly, putting all its flock mates into evasive action. If a fox tries to snatch a bird, it’s likely to fly to the horizon or the top of a nearby tree. In a similar situation a heavier breed like a barred rock or Orpington would likely become fox food.

Raising fast light breeds on large acreages poses challenges not shared by confined larger breeds. Despite their agility and speed, expect predators to catch a bird now and then.

Smaller breeds often are outstanding egg layers, but they like to hide their clutch in unlikely places outdoors. Not all the eggs will be in the coop’s nest, and egg hunting may be necessary. The white leghorn is the most prolific layer on record and chances are if you’ve ever bought white eggs from a grocery store, they came from this type of bird.

Dozens of light breed chicks can be purchased from hatcheries, and they sport a diversity of feather patterns and colors. Some are among the most beautiful of chickens. Although heavy brown-egg breeds are best for suburbia, lighter breeds have their place in spacious yards.