RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Maybe you're going to start raising a handful of backyard chickens because you want to know where you food comes from. Maybe you've heard that chickens allowed to forage and live more natural lives on pasture rather than in small cages produce the healthiest eggs, ones rich in beneficial omega-3s. Or maybe you're disgusted after learning that drug-resistant bacteria like MRSA fly off of highway poultry trucks as they ship factory-farmed chickens to slaughter, or that your typical supermarket chicken—even after undergoing chlorine baths—is often contaminated with harmful bacteria. Or maybe you just want a friendly pet who also eats the ticks in your yard and occasionally provides a delicious egg or two.
More about backyard chickens:
Do You Have What It Takes to Raise Chickens?
A Guide to Raising Chickens in Your Small Yard
Whatever the reason, if you're joining the backyard chicken revolution, you'll want to choose a bird that meets your needs. So Rodale.com turned to chicken expert Christine Heinrichs, author of How To Raise Chickens: Everything You Need To Know (Voyageur Press, 2007), spokeswoman for the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities, for advice on picking the right chicken breed. The good news? Whatever breed you end up with will probably get along fine with your family. Heinrichs says that early experiences make a big difference in chickens. "Being raised around humans, being gently handled from day one, can make a pet out of nearly any chicken," she says.
The first step, of course, is to figure out if you have what it takes to raise chickens. If you do, and you understand the ins and outs of raising backyard chickens, it's time to figure out which breeds might work best for you. (You can order chickens from your local feed mill, or from MyPetChicken.com, a site with additional information on choosing breeds.) If you can, Heinrichs suggests attending poultry shows to see different breeds, and talking to breeders to make sure the birds you get are from a flock that meets the standards you are looking to enjoy in your flock. But be warned, the decision isn't just a matter of adding up the pros and cons. "Almost certainly, once you have decided that you want chickens, you will see the birds you can’t live without," Heinrichs says. "That’s the breed for you."