We've had chickens for many years now, and have tried quite a number of breeds. We've been selecting from our mixed flock of many breeds to create a hybrid chicken that forages for most, if not all, of its own food, lays a fair amount of medium sized eggs, hatches and raises its own chicks and is super hardy. Winter laying and laying longevity are especially important. Essentially what we're trying to do is create a Wyoming landrace breed: a hybrid breed that combines the traits of numerous purebred chickens to create a new strain specially adapted to our climate. To that end, we've begun incubating eggs from hens who fit that picture to help bring their traits into our flock as a whole. A number of birds in our current program are multi-generational hybrids that have been slowly adapting to our environment here in Wyoming. There are a number of pure breeds that have had the strongest impact on our flock and we will highlight those breeds and their benefits before going to the gallery.
We first got into the Easter Eggers because they laid blue eggs, but they've definitely been more than that. The Easter Egger crosses are thrifty, broody, and quite hardy. The muff has proven to be a bit of an issue with lice, which is a bummer, but the rest of their traits have been consistently good. They are average layers, but tend to express great longevity. They are also very gentle. Our oldest rooster (going on eight now) is an Easter Egger, and has earned the right to stay until he dies of old age due to his gentle nature and diligent care of his hens. He can't compete with the younger boys anymore, so he lives in the hospital ward and takes care of any girls who need special care and all of our broody mamas and newly hatched chicks.
The Bresse is a french breed of chicken known for the unique trait of developing marbled meat. That is a useful trait for free range chickens since they can tend to be tough compared with grocery store cornish crosses who never had to forage for a thing in their entire 7 weeks of life. Besides being delicious, they are hardy, good foragers, and actually lay very well. One of our main flock roosters is a purebred Blue Bresse, and besides being a great example of the Bresse traits we like, he's also an incredibly gorgeous boy!
The Old English was a breed we added more recently, and has been a great addition. Since it's newer, we haven't done a lot of crosses, but the pure Old English are great. They're smaller than normal chickens, and lay a smaller egg, but they're very smart about finding their own food, lay very consistently in the summer, mature quickly, and raise their own chicks without difficulty. One hen sat on twelve eggs and effectively managed to get them all up to their hatch date, despite her small size (at which point we found her, and split the eggs with a second hen).
To be honest, the purebred Marans aren't the hardiest or healthiest breed on their own. We were decidedly disappointed in the purebred Marans that we got, but the roosters that we kept have thrown some very nice offspring. One of our current flock roosters is the result of a Barred Maran cross, and he's an incredibly strong and hardy rooster. One of our Maran cross hens broke her leg a couple of years ago and laid an egg every day throughout the entire healing process!
Australorp genetics are in many of our crosses, and they bring a lot of stability. The purebreds are tough, generally have good laying longevity, brood and raise their own chicks with remarkable consistency, and lay very well. They are known as one of the best heritage free range brown egg layers, and definitely live up to that name. The Australorps in particular seem to pass consistency and winter laying to their offspring.
White Rocks are some of the best chickens we've had when it comes to longevity. We had one hen who was one of our top ranking layers until she was five, which is saying quite a lot when most breeders and egg producers recommend butchering chickens at three after they've passed their optimum laying potential. The White Rock is another well rounded breed: consistent laying, cold and heat hardy, and good foraging traits. They aren't particularly good brooders, and their coloring isn't ideal, but the longevity trait is vital and hard to find.
Initially, we didn't think the Brahma would be the best fit (we just got them because we liked them and the numbers just barely worked out, but don't tell anyone that, lol). As it turns out, they were pretty good! They were definitely cold hardy, laid fairly well for their first couple of years, and went broody. The results of the Brahma crosses are what drew our attention. The Brahmas throw a slightly lighter build, but great winter hardiness. The chicks do take a bit longer to reach maturity, but once they do, they are surprisingly stunning layers! The light dusting of feathers on their feet adds some winter protection, but doesn't get in the way of foraging.
The Hamburg is a small athletic chicken that's known as the "Dutch Every Dayer." We got them to test the theory, which proved somewhat inaccurate due to the fact that ours weren't allowed to free range at the time, and Hamburgs don't tolerate confinement particularly well, but the crosses were pretty impressive. we first crossed them with the Easter Egger, which threw a hardy, broody (surprisingly), thrifty, smart, and moderate layer of medium blue eggs. While we wish they laid more, they sure fit the bill when it came to thrifty foragers and impressive mothering ability. One of the resulting hens flew out of her pen every day to lay under the cows' feeder (unbeknownst to us), she then went broody and hatched out four chicks in the middle of a snowstorm without any difficulty. The second cross we tried was with a Black Australorp. These chicks weren't as efficient at foraging, and they didn't brood, but they knocked the ball out of the park in terms of their laying ability. The two hens from this cross laid almost an egg a day until they were four! The other interesting thing we noticed was the lack of lice on the Hamburgs and their progeny. When other hens were struggling with lice, our chickens with Hamburg genetics were lice free.
We haven't been able to try crossing the Norwegian Jaerhons yet, which is unfortunate, but they are a really great breed in and of themselves. Their coloring is absolutely perfect for Wyoming, and they've really thrived here. They are quite small birds, but despite that, the hens lay HUGE creamy white eggs with great consistency. They are also pretty good foragers. They are some of the most "birdy" of all my chickens, standing and moving much like a wild bird and displaying remarkable resilience. One of our Jaerhon hens was attacked by a dog and had her neck ripped open top to bottom. She was back to laying an egg almost every day after only a month! Quite a little champion!
The Deathlayer is a 400 year old breed that's known for laying longevity and great thriftiness. They are also incredibly beautiful! I've noticed some inconsistency in the hens laying pattern, so I'm having to be more selective in which hens I keep, but the ones that have laid are doing great! They are very thrifty foragers, and have done pretty well in the Wyoming weather. We're excited to see how their crosses preform!
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