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Five best chickens for homesteaders

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Chickens on the homestead don't have to just be producers of eggs. Many excellent layers can also be good table birds, and you will also find that certain breeds will work hard to keep your yard bug-free.

  • Orpingtons: This heritage breed comes in a variety of colors; buff, blue, black, splash and lavender, just to name a few. They are a hardy breed, prolific layers and are a good size, so extra cockerels do well on the table. They'll be among the first to start laying in spring, and the last to stop laying in winter. Some may even lay right through. You will find them to be placid birds, active at scratching for bugs, but equally happy taking a nap in a dust bath!
  • Silkies: These adorable little bantams are quirky and full of personality and, while they may not lay many eggs, and those that they do lay are fairly small, they will be the mama-birds of your homestead. They are quick to go broody and are excellent at hatching whatever eggs you decide to put under them, and will then raise and take care of the chicks. Have a few of these and your can turn off your incubators; they will hatch you all the birds you need for adding to your flock!
  • Cornish: Cross these chunky meat birds with the Barred Rock and you'll get fast-growing meat birds that can be ready for the table in as little as 12 weeks.
  • Barred Rocks: Another prolific layer. Save the cockerels for either the table or for making sex-links, chicks that can be identified as males or females at hatching. Hatching sex-links can be a profitable business, because people will pay a premium to be sure they're getting pullets.
  • Leghorns: You'll struggle to find a better layer than a leghorn, but they can be flighty birds and they're not the best for the table. The second best thing about them, after the eggs, is the fact that when you cross them with the Barred Rock cockerels, you get chicks that can be sexed at hatching. Often referred to as 'red stars' and a variety of other names, these sex-links are great producers. Keep pullets for eggs and cockerels for the table.

Whichever breeds you choose, chickens are a joy to have on the homestead with their funny personalities - and there's really nothing nicer than fresh eggs for breakfast!

Katy Light has a 44 acre homestead in North GA, where she raises goats, bunnies and chickens. Find her blog at www.poppycreekfarm.com. She can be reached at katy@poppycreekfarm.com.

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