Choosing the right chook for your backyard
There are plenty of breeds available in Australia that can meet a variety of backyard needs. Some people want egg-laying machines or meat varieties, while others want a child-friendly, gentle breed and yet others care only for beauty. The first time people see a “laced” chook, they almost always let out a gasp, followed by either “Wow!” or “I didn’t know chickens could look like that!” We are somewhat used to the “traditional” black, white or red chooks, which suitably meet the criteria of “super egg-layers” and are lovely chooks, but a Silver Laced Wyandotte striding across the lawn is truly a sight to behold.
The Wyandotte, an American breed with a distinct flat comb, comes in many patterns and colours, as shown below. It’s a very placid breed amenable to the odd cuddle and will put up with an overly friendly child’s less-than-tender affections. It’s a dual-purpose breed that was originally kept for eggs and meat, being large and laying a good number of eggs (~5 per week). There are also a few other notable backyard varieties to look at… Another laced breed of note is the Barnevelder. A dual-purpose Dutch breed kept more for eggs than meat, but still a large chook, it has a distinct double lacing and lays darkbrown eggs. Lighter and more agile than the Wyandotte but still very friendly, it too makes a gorgeous addition to the flock.
A little less intricate but by no means less striking, the Light Sussex is a traditional dual-purpose British breed that lays a fair number of eggs. It is known for its distinct black-laced neck and white body. They are very large chooks that may initially make kids (and even grown adults) wary but they, too, are quite friendly chooks laying large, white eggs.
Of course, the traditional White Leghorn, Black Australorp and striking Rhode Island Red are consistent egg producers, adding stunning colour to the flock without any pattern at all. Australorps are large and friendly with an amazing green or purple sheen to their feathers. The white leghorn is a much smaller chook but can be a little flighty. They have all been bred over centuries for their egg-laying abilities and can hold their own against the real “egg machines”, the commercially bred cross used in large-scale egg farms, sometimes known as “ISA Brown”, “Hyline” or other such name. Not technically a breed, the commercial egg-layer-cross lays an egg a day for a couple of years without fail and can form the backbone of a backyard flock, providing egg consistency when the prettier chooks may rest on their laurels.
There are a few other striking patterns out there worth noting: the mottled Campine, Barred Plymouth Rock and the Silver Spangled Hamburg, to name a few. Then, of course, there are the weird and wonderful, such as the Polish, the bearded Araucana (which lays a blue egg) and the poodles of the poultry world, the Silkies. All have different temperaments and physical attributes, but each offers a unique addition to the backyard and all are certainly conversation pieces.
How do you choose?
- Well, start with what you want from your chooks.
- If it is a chook to turn over the soil and provide some eggs, one of the larger dual-purpose breeds would be best.
- If it is eggs only, one of the pure egg breeds would be the place to start.
- How many can you keep? The bigger the chook, the more space they need, so the larger breeds like the Sussex and Plymouth Rock might limit your numbers.
- You may just want something pretty. If so, the choice is almost endless.
- But please, get at least one Silver Laced Wyandotte … you won’t be disappointed.