In this new feature series, we will be asking our writers to choose their Perfect Flock. What breeds would they choose to create a small back garden flock that is attractive, interesting, stable, harmonious and with a good level of egg production? First off: Charlotte Popescu
For a perfect flock I would choose eight birds: four hybrids and four pure breeds. Choosing four hybrids would mean excellent egg production through the winter. The pure breeds will on the whole outlive the hybrids, will stop laying in the winter but will lay for a substantially longer time. The advantage to hybrids is that they will not go broody, will lay consistently well and are reasonably priced. I think it is important for hens to look attractive in the garden and all to be of a medium size (this helps against bullying problems which can occur if hens are different sizes). Differently coloured birds make up a pretty picture in any garden. The four hybrids would be a Black Rock, a White Star, a Bluebelle (aka Blue Ranger) and an ISA Warren.
1. An ISA Warren (aka Lohmann Brown, Gold Ranger)
This will keep you awash with eggs. She is a standard colour but often her ginger colour can be attractively flecked with cream feathers streaked through the neck and tail. She will probably turn out to be your friendliest hen; she will be easy to pick up and very tame but also quite greedy! Warrens have been developed from crossing Rhode Island Reds with Light Sussexes. They are fantastic layers of around 320 brown eggs in their first year. Isa Warrens, bought at POL, are the least expensive of the hybrids.
2. A Black Rock
These are a true first cross hybrid, bred from selected strains of Rhode Island Reds and Barred Plymouth Rocks. Black Rocks have a good covering of feathers, which protect them in all weather conditions. They also have a good immune system and love being outside in all weathers. After the usual two years of good egg production, eggs will be fewer but Black Rocks keep laying into their third, fourth and even fifth years. They usually live for around six or seven years. Black Rocks are black with ginger lacing. They should lay around 280 brown eggs in their first year. Similar hybrids with the same colouring, include the Bovans Nera, Rhode Rock and Black Star.
3. A White Star
This one will give you white eggs. She is a Leghorn-based hybrid and consequently a light looking bird. She will tend to be quite flighty, so difficult to catch and may be a little smaller than the other hybrids. White Stars may well have large combs which flop over as in the Leghorn. Hens are prolific layers of at least 300 eggs in their first year.
4. A Bluebelle
These are hybrids developed from a French Copper Blue Marans and Rhode Island Red. They are placid, friendly birds. Their colouring is known as blue but is in reality grey, with a darker grey on the neck feathers. They are pretty and will look very attractive in your garden, laying approximately 260 brown eggs in their first year. They particularly love to help with digging in the vegetable patch and will be the first to grab any worms that come to the surface. A healthy Bluebelle hybrid should live five or six years and may continue to lay in the spring and summer in her twilight years.
THE PURE BREEDS
My four pure breeds are chosen for an attractive combination of colours, laying differently coloured eggs and because they are less likely to go broody than some of the other breeds. I have also chosen breeds which are widely available so easy to source. These are a Sussex, a Marans, a Cream Legbar and a Welsummer and all are large fowl. I would veer away from having bantams as they will lay smaller eggs and do rather annoyingly go broody frequently, which of course means no eggs for a period of time.
1. A Speckled Sussex
I suggest this one because of her beautiful colouring. The Sussex is a traditional pure breed with an excellent track record for laying, derived from the Old Sussex fowls bred in Victorian times for their meat and eggs. The single-combed Sussex is a heavy soft-feathered breed which is calm and friendly, so easy to tame. The hens are really good layers of light brown (tinted) or cream eggs and will might lay some eggs during the winter if you are lucky; they should lay around 260 eggs in their first year.
2. A Crested Cream Legbar
The Araucana (famous layer of turquoise eggs) is used to make this auto sexing breed. It has been developed so that male and female chicks can be sexed at birth through different colouring. She is a cross between a Brown Leghorn, a Barred Plymouth Rock and an Araucana. Cream Legbars are usually crested and can develop large combs or sometimes combs that flop over. Their feather colour can vary. Most are a reddish brown partridge type with salmon coloured breast. Others are a creamy buff colour flecked with darker brown neck feathers. Cream Legbars can be flighty (this is a trait from the Brown Leghorn part of their make-up).
3. A Marans
Truly dark brown eggs which are sometimes so dark they are like luscious dark chocolate are much sought after and my friends cherish these eggs so much so that they would rather put them on display than use them. The breed to lay these eggs is the Marans, originally from France. The Marans will lay eggs which have a glossy finish to them. I suggest the Copper Black French Marans which is becoming increasingly popular. These hens sometimes have coppery coloured neck feathers and should have feathered feet. They can be a good size and will look proud and majestic in the garden.
4. A Welsummer
This breed originated in Holland in the early 1900s. Barnevelders, Partridge Cochins, Wyandottes and Leghorns were used in the development of the breed. Welsummers arrived in Britain around 1928 and a breed club was set up. Partridge Welsummers are a red partridge colour and are classified as a light breed but have red earlobes and lay brown eggs, unlike most light breeds which have white earlobes and lay white eggs. The idea with the Welsummer was to maintain the nice dark brown egg. Shells are matt rather than glossy as in the dark brown shell of the Marans. The dark pigmentation, though, has a tendency to wash off newly laid eggs. The advantage to the Welsummers is that they do not usually go broody.
These eight birds between them will give you white, light brown, mid brown, dark brown and turquoise eggs which will look fantastic arranged to contrast each other in an egg box. The colours of the hens from white and grey, through to brown, speckled and partridge colours and finishing with pure black will provide a beautiful spectrum of colours in any garden.
Charlotte Popescu, who lives in Wiltshire, is passionate about her chickens. She is the author of numerous books on chicken keeping and writes for Your Chickens every month. See http://cavalierpaperbacks.co.uk/about/charlotte-popescu/
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