This week I got a nice email from Kate (she writes the great blog Gardening without Skills), and she's excitedly getting ready to bring a flock of urban chickens into her backyard this Spring. A friend of hers is building her a coop and she's raised ducks before, so she's got some familiarity with backyard fowl.
Her first question (among many) was whether or not she could mix chicks of several breeds in the same coop. Would they get along? Would she be better off getting three from the same breed?
I assured Kate it's very difficult to go wrong mixing and matching such a small quantity of chickens in your backyard. Chickens are very social animals and they'll get along fine. If you're getting your first flock, you'll want to get them all about the same age (ages should be within a week or so of each other). They'll figure things out themselves and establish a "pecking order" on their own.
While each individual chicken will have its own personality, there are breed characteristics that are for the most part dependable as you're picking out your birds. Keep in mind: humans have been breeding chickens for thousands of years to make them more domesticated and tranquil around each other. Consult the wonderful Henderson's Chicken Breed Chart for a comprehensive run-down of the various traits of any given breed.
And as far as getting smart about raising urban chickens in your backyard, it really is as easy as getting one of the many good beginner books and having at it. Chickens really are resilient animals and as long as you keep them in fresh food and water and clean the coop regularly, you're doing great!
Any other advice you'd offer Kate as she begins her adventure into urban chickens this spring?
My husband and I have a flock of 18 Bard Rocks right now. We decided to go with one breed this time because we found that mixed breeds tended to fight a lot more than a single breed flock. We have had 3 different flocks in the last ten years and it is by far more peaceful with a single breed. Maybe with a small flock it would not be so bad though. As long as they have lots of room.
We took on some chickens from someone who needed to get rid of them. They are two years younger than the original flock. We ended up with several Buff Orpingtons along with Red, and Black Sex Links to add to the Barred Rocks. It's been very interesting to see how they act in a group and as a breed. There are distinct behaviors. I was just thinking about this last week as I was feeding them the leftovers from a loaf of bread by hand.
The Reds come right up and help themselves but quickly run off to enjoy their prize. The Blacks won't come near me but will take from the other chicks. The Rocks are laid back and not all that excited about the idea but will come up and get their share (only to be scooped by the reds -- who are actually quite docile though skittish but also rather plucky). Meanwhile the Buffs who are the largest yet the most put upon will come running to see what everyone else is getting. The Buffs also seem to be the loudest. Recently a beautiful Americauna has joined the roost which has caused a lot of shuffling and upset at bedtime. She's lovely to look at but definitely the low bird on the pecking pole appearing very regal until she tries to walk through the flock with her head low and ducking at every step to avoid the beaks coming her way. I just want to gather her up to hug and comfort her.
I really think a mixed flock is a lot more fun and interesting than just one breed. I've been really happy with the new girls. They've added a new dimension to the ladies who were already there too as there is now something there to compare them with.
The Daily Rasorial Chicks are all of a different sort (color and size) and arrived over 4 years.
Meant to point out too the flock at Urban Hennery has been mixed (breeds and sizes) and has had additions and subtractions (she gave away several girls to other urban keepers). Nice Video of several of them dust bathing here on Valentine's Day (below the napping picture).
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