Over the decades, my husband Jae and I have raised approximately two dozen breeds and varieties of chickens. We’ve raised bantams and large fowl, show birds and layers, heritage birds and hybrids. Most of the breeds we raised were carefully chosen after a great deal of research: online, in reference books, and by speaking to other poultry farmers. Sometimes, however, acquiring a new breed was an instantaneous event. We either saw a breed at a show and just had to have it or we were called by our local farm-supply store to rescue chicks who were faring poorly.
This final quartet of breeds explores unexpected additions that made their way into our flocks.
Rhode Island Red
A trio of two-week-old Rhode Island Red (RIR) chicks joined our farm after I received a call from our farm-supply store. The three babies were the last peeps from that particular hatchery shipment, and the newer arrivals were physically attacking these older hatchlings.
The poor little things were Blu Koted and miserable when I picked them up. They spent the first day huddled together in the corner of their brooder, not even approaching the feeder or waterer. It took a lot of TLC to get them to finally feel safe enough to start exploring their new home.
By the end of their second week with us, you’d never have known they’d been bullied. Aside from our Orpingtons, I’ve never seen such a genuinely happy breed of birds. The RIRs were cheerfully chatty and actively played with each other. We had to give them little boxes in which they played hide and seek and napped together.
As they grew older, the RIRs retained their good-natured dispositions. They were almost doglike with their affection. The trio eventually proclaimed themselves to be two pullets and a cockerel, which led to a little heartache for me because we did not have room for another rooster.
Fortunately I found a nearby 4-H family seeking a showmanship bird for their daughter. Red Boy (not a very original name, I know) took to the young girl very quickly when she and her parents came to see him. Within minutes, she was cuddling and cooing to him, and Red Boy never really looked back.
As for Lynn and Vanessa, the two RIR pullets, they eagerly merged with our Orpington flock, where they became the “popular girls”—our Orps all wanted to be their friends. Helen and Vanessa became prolific layers, producing four to five light-brown eggs per week. Neither had any health or weather issues, and they both lived to be 7 years old.
A little joy went out of the Orpington flock when these cheerful chickens passed on. I’m not sure why we never got more RIRs, given our very positive experience with them.
Also known as a Cinnamon Queen or a Red Star, the Golden Comet is a stunning cinnamon-gold chicken and one of the most popular hybrid backyard birds in America. When we first met Goldie, however, she was anything but beautiful.
I had once again gotten a call from our farm-supply store that one of their older chicks needed rescuing. Jae and I grabbed a cardboard box and headed out, only to find this poor baby cowering on top of the stock tank’s waterer, most of her down plucked out by the younger chicks.
Once home, we carefully treated Goldie’s injuries, then set her inside a cozy brooder with a plush bunny for company. After a few days, Goldie made the move from the top of the waterer to the bunny. I experienced a moment of panic when I came across an empty brooder, only to find Goldie snuggled safely under the bunny’s arm.
Goldie’s relationship with her bunny lasted her entire life.
As an older pullet, she also joined our Orpington flock and, while she was sweet and got along with the other birds, there was always some hesitancy, as if she remembered the abuse she sustained in her earliest days. Goldie ended up making two close Orpington friends, with whom she spent her days. At night, she slept in one of the nest boxes, snuggled up with her bunny.
Goldie was one of the best layers we ever had, producing between five and six large brown eggs per week. She never exhibited any tendency towards broodiness and, interestingly, she never laid in the nestbox where her bunny lived. She was always sweet with us, even with my boys when they were preschoolers. If we had not defined ourselves as a heritage farm, I would not have minded having more Golden Comets … as long as the chicks had plenty of room so as not to pick on each other.
Barred Plymouth Rock
Like the RIRs and Goldie the Golden Comet, our Barred Plymouth Rocks were rescued from a local feed store, where they were the last Barred Rocks amidst a sea of Wyandotte chicks. Knowing they were with Wyandottes probably spurred us to retrieve this chick quartet swiftly, as we had just sold off our Wyandotte flock the previous year.
The Barred Rock babies were not victimized in the way our other rescues had been. They were not injured or missing any down. Instead, the Wyandotte crowd was preventing the Barred Rocks from accessing the feeder and waterer, and the store only had so many brooders. Home they came!
From the start, the Barred Rocks settled in happily, sleeping chick-carpet style and curiously investigating their brooder. They were very inquisitive birds from the get go, even as adults. If we placed anything—a suet cake, a wedge of cabbage, a block of seeds—in their brooder or coop, the Barred Rocks would be the first ones to approach, even before our rooster. The Orpington hens would always wait for the all-clear from the Barred Rocks before inching closer to whatever the mystery treat might be.
Although they were never bossy, they also weren’t overly social with the other birds, preferring to keep to themselves or hang out with us if we were outside. They laid an average of three to four large brown eggs per week and occasionally went broody, though nowhere to the extent that the Orpingtons, Cochins and Silkies did.
They were adorable chicks, with their creamy head dots and smoky black fluff, and even more lovely as adults, with their trademark black barring. They didn’t live past 4 years old, which might be a reflection on their being hatchery birds versus breeder birds. I’d call them your basic backyard chickens, good for eggs and with a decent disposition.
I fell in love with the Serama chicken breed (pictured above) the instant I set eyes on them. It was at a small poultry exhibition in Northern Michigan. I’d made sure my show birds were settled in, then went to explore the rest of the show floor.
The Serama exhibitor—she was the only one—had a table off to one side of the hall, with cages more suited to canaries in size than to chickens. Inside each cage were the tiniest chickens I’d ever seen, each pure perfection.
The Serama roosters had a proud, puffed chest; upright carriage; downward wings; and tiny single combs. The hens displayed glossy eyes, teeny wattles and tidy tails.
When the weekend was done, I went home with a beautiful black and white pair. Orion and Oreo were the first of many Serama chickens lovingly raised and hatched by us.
Purely ornamental, the Serama is the smallest known chicken breed, with adult males typically weighing in at less than a pound and adult females even less.
Because of their size, they are not cold hardy. We built heated brooders in our pole barn, where they cozily passed the cold months. Seramas love being outside, however, so we also built them a chicken tractor within which they could safely enjoy the sunshine, grass and fresh air.
While ideal as exhibition birds, Seramas also make wonderful household pets. They truly love interacting with their humans, will happily spend hours perched on their owner’s shoulder or on the back of a chair or couch, and can be contentedly housed in a parrot cage.
Our Serama chickens always paired up as juveniles and remained mated for life. The hens laid well, averaging approximately four eggs per week—but bear in mind that four Serama eggs equal one large standard chicken egg.
Serama hens will go broody, and it is a delight to watch them set eggs and raise their young, because Seramas are without a doubt the chattiest breed in existence. Hens tend to keep a continual monologue going with their eggs and chicks.
Chicks hatch at about 16 days, five days earlier than other chicken breeds. The juveniles similarly become fully feathered and reach maturity ahead of other breeds. I adored our Serama flock, despite the special allowances necessary because of their size and physique. And although my husband, Jae, deems them “impractical,” Seramas rank in my top six chicken breeds along with Orpingtons, Silkies, Cochins, Ameraucanas and Polish.