Garden varieties

Country Smallholding|July 2020

Garden varieties
If you’re looking to allow chickens to range free in your garden, Andy Cawthray advises choosing your breed with care
Andy Cawthray

Which breeds work best in the garden? In my experience, light breeds and hybrids don’t work well free ranging in a garden. There is logic behind this observation. When they were developed as breeds it was to maximise their efficiency at producing eggs, both in terms of converting food into eggs and also at being able to source a lot of their own food; by nature, they excellent foragers. They are also designed to be low maintenance. By this I mean that they were bred to have no leg feathering to get covered in mud or disguise mite problems, while their body feathering is of a standard type, that is well suited to most climates. Most importantly, as broody hens don’t lay eggs, they predominantly have no desire to go broody.

So, what’s the answer to my opening question? It’s not as simple an answer as small chickens. On first impressions a flock of bantams wouldn’t look like they could cause much damage, could they? Wrong. Release a small flock of Leghorn bantams into a garden and it’s like something out of Jurassic Park as these mini velociraptors rip through the undergrowth. I speak from experience, not of velociraptors, but of a roving flock of brown Leghorns which made their presence known both in my garden and in my neighbour’s too.

The characteristics to look for instead are temperament, centre of gravity and legs. This might sound a little scientific, but it’s just about applying a bit of common sense. Docile breeds tend to be slow and deliberate in their movements. However, some of the most docile breeds tend to be the biggest. Brahmas, Cochins, Dorkings and Orpingtons are all well known for their size. However, they are also known for their generally laid-back attitude. If your garden is large enough for these giants, then they can work rather well.

Generally, they have a low centre of gravity, which means that they tend to ‘roll’ when moving and don’t often, if at all, move with any pace. OK, you could lose a small dog in the dust baths they make, but their attitude to foraging in the garden tends to match their attitude towards life — very relaxed.

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July 2020