feathered friends & lucrative layers: part II

Submitted by JimmySprout on Mon, 2011-11-28 11:42

National Geographic: OrpingtonNational Geographic: Orpington

Previously we gave you 10 great reasons to look into keeping your own urban chickens.

Now we take a look at some suitable home-range breeds, where to get them, and what you can expect to pay.

Nowadays there are more than 200 known breeds of chicken, yet most farmed (and home-farmed) chickens are of mixed-breeds, selected over several years to create more desirable fowl. These purpose-bred poultry breeds are ‘high-yielding’ and less prone to disease or the effects of adverse weather conditions. Typically kept as specialist egg or meat birds, these chickens are slowly pushing other breeds to extinction - almost 1/3 of all chicken breeds are at risk of extinction (see here)!

South Africa has 4 indigenous breeds of chicken namely the Naked Neck, the Venda, the Ovambo and the (Potchefstroom) Koekoek. The Koekoek has become the most popular while the other three breeds are rather unique. The Naked Neck has an exposed neck, the Ovambo is very aggressive and agile and known to fly and the Venda lays tinted eggs. You can read more about these breeds on the Agricultural Research Council's website.

While there are many different breeds available in South Africa, it is often difficult to find pure-bred chickens. Despite this, there are many different types suggested for the South African climate as large, heat tolerant and hardy breeds do well in our local settings.

Here are some breeds we recommend researching for your home-range flock:

The Koekoek: The Koekoek is one of four indigenous chicken breeds. It is favoured as a dual-purpose breed, is completely adapted to our climate and young hatchlings have sex-linked colouring, making sex-determination at 1 day old possible. The hens are good layers and lay large brown eggs. Generally well-natured, they make a good home-farm breed.

The Rhode Island Red (or White): One of the most popular dual-purpose breeds, the hens lay large medium brown eggs and are good mothers but brood infrequently and erratically. They make great free-range birds but also adapt well to confined spaces and tolerate varied weather conditions. They are generally calm birds but some cockerels can become very aggressive.

The Buff Orpington: Pure-bred Orpingtons are now facing extinction and only the buffs are readily available. Often referred to as the ‘big friendly bird’, the Buff Orpington is friendly and inquisitive; affectionate and easy to handle. The hens lay medium to large brown eggs and are excellent mothers. They adapt well to a range of conditions and environments. They make good free-range birds but are large and may do more damage to your garden than other breeds.

Image adapted from Guinea GlenImage adapted from Guinea Glen

The Buff Red: The Buff Red is a purpose-bred Buff Orpington cross Rhode Island Red breed and is well suited to the South African climate. They are hardy bird and free-range very well, although they can be confined to smaller areas. The hens are excellent layers and good mothers, but brood erratically. They are well natured, quiet and sociable. Like the Rhode Island Red, the cockerels can be aggressive, but they will defend their hens from a number of potential predators. Buff Reds are a large breed and can also create a big of garden chaos when foraging.

The Australorp: Another fairly common and dual-purpose breed, the Australorp hens lay medium-sized, medium brown eggs. They mature early and lay often, are good mothers and typically quiet, docile and easy to handle. They are good free-rangers, but can also be confined and don’t mind the cold.

The Polish Fowl: Now most popularly used as show birds, the Polish Fowl is actually a good egg-layer. Then hens lay smaller white eggs but they lay consistently and brood well. They are not suitable for foul weather because of their fancy feathering and their plumage tends to block some of their vision. Although the cockerels are quite skittish, the hens are quiet and friendly and will not forage from your favourite flower-bed.

Images adapted from Guinea GlenImages adapted from Guinea Glen

Where do I find chickens?

When looking to buy chicks or chickens, the easiest way is to connected with another home-farmer or someone you know that has chickens or has kept before. We encourage you to keep it local and lekker so you support local breeders in the community, and buy fowl that are already adapted to your local environment.

If you don’t know someone (or someone that knows someone), Gumtree is always a good option. You should be able to find a seller of chicks or hens in your area by simply searching for chicks, chickens or laying hens.

A good avian specialist like Guinea Glen in the Western Cape, stocks many chicken breeds (and other birds) and can ship anywhere in the country. There are also large breeders that specialise in poultry and ship nation-wide such as Natchix

What should I be paying?

Chicks and chickens range in price depending on the breed, the breeder and the age at which you purchase. Chicks can cost anywhere from as little as R5 (or less!) to as much as R100, while recently matured or adult birds will sell for more.