By: Mike Boersma, County Extension Educator & 4-H Program Director with the University of Minnesota Extension in Murray and Pipestone Counties
Many farm stores, elevators, and similar businesses are beginning the spring-time tradition of offering chicks for sale. Raising chickens on a small scale is a fun experience for young and old alike. It is a great way to teach youth (and adults) about food production. Also, while not a lucrative business venture, raising chickens is a hobby that will give you something in return for the time and money you invest in it.
Whether raising chickens for eggs, meat, or both, selecting the right breed is one important step to ensuring success. When choosing broiler chicks (those raised for meat production), the most popular breed is a Cornish cross. These chickens are fast growing and will grow from hatch to market weight in as little as six to eight weeks. This breed is known for their carcass characteristics and rapid growth but they can suffer from joint problems if not managed properly.
As an alternative to the Cornish, the Red Ranger and similar breeds tend to grow a little slower but will produce leaner meat with more texture and flavor. These breeds also produce a higher percentage of dark meat. They can be expected to reach market weight in ten to twelve weeks.
When considering breeds of laying hens, there are many more options and varieties to choose from. White Leghorns may be the most popular breed for egg production. They produce between 250-300 white eggs per year. They are a smaller breed, weighing 4.5 pounds when mature. They are good foragers but are not a docile breed; they can be high-strung.
Many small-scale producers prefer more of a "dual-purpose" breed. The females make good layers while the males can be fed for meat production. There is a trade-off with the dual purpose breeds; they won't lay as many eggs as the Leghorns and won't grow as fast as the Cornish. However, their larger mature size helps them be more hardy, more tolerant of our cold winters and they are often more mild-mannered as well.
Popular dual purpose breeds include the Wyandotte, Rhode Island Red, Ameraucana, Plymouth Rock and the Orpington. There are a number of hybrids that would be considered dual purpose breeds as well. These chickens come in a variety of shapes and colors and are commonly 6 to 7 pounds when mature. The Orpington is the largest of these and hens will reach about 8 pounds. Many of these breeds lay brown eggs, however, the Ameraucana's eggs are green.
Whatever the goals, choosing a breed that suits your needs will help ensure a successful and rewarding venture. If you are considering raising poultry on a small scale but live within city limits, check with local ordinances since these can vary considerably from one town to the next.