Spoilt for Choice - A guide to Chicken Breeds Part 1. Hybrids or Pure Breeds

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Firstly congratulations on deciding to take the plunge and buy a few chickens! They will give you hours of entertainment -sometimes can be frustrating, particulary that first night trying to persuade your precious birds into their henhouse for the first time! One thing for sure, you will never forget the sheer pleasure you feel when they give you your first egg!

This is a short series of articles to give you a flavour of some the vast array of beautiful chickens available -their nature, egg laying abilities or even table qualities. Their suitability for children, or perhaps something just a bit different? Maybe you would like to  have a few birds for showing.

Firstly lets have a look at what you may already be puzzling over -a hybrid or a pure bred? Whats the difference?

Hybrid Chickens - Basically a hybrid chicken is the result of the rising commercial demand for eggs (and meat) in the early 50's. In order to respond to the huge demand for eggs the birds needed to be able to reliably produce in the region of 300+eggs a year,they also needed to convert food into eggs as economically as possible. This growth in demand also coincided with the development of the "battery cage" system.
Good layers were crossed using special genetic "recipes" to develop the hybrid chicken a "super layer" if you like! Most hybrids are actually derived from well-known utility egg laying breeds such as Rhode Island Red, Marans or Leghorns.
More recently there has been a rise in people wanting to just keep a few birds in the garden for their own eggs. This has stimulated a change in the traditional hybrid "warren" or brown chicken, to commercial breeders looking at developing chickens which are fundamentally hybrids but are more varied in colours so you will see hybrids with various names such as "Bluebelles" or "Speckedlys","Fenton Blue",with colours described as champagne, blue,black and silver - the choice is endless! However, they will all share the same characteristics and prolific egg-laying capabilites.  In addition to producing loads of eggs -you now have a choice of different coloured eggs for example a marans based hybrid  like a "speckedly hen" will produce brown or brown "speckled" eggs," Fenton Blue" hens will produce a nice blue egg.

Cost wise the prices of hybrid chickens can vary enormously depending on where you buy the birds from, for example, hybrids will be hatched in commercial hatcheries in their thousands, these are then shipped to be "grown on"  as "day olds" to POL or point of lay, meaning around  the time a hen will start to lay eggs. Some breeders will buy in as day olds and then sell direct as a POL chicken at around 18 -24 weeks old. However, sometimes they will sell on to perhaps to a garden centre and at this point to ensure profit this will be the most expensive place to buy a chicken as you can imagine! So how much??? Anything from  around £8.50 to I have heard £25.00 and more!!!!

Pros and Cons to Choosing Hybrid Chickens - There is no hard and fast rule, or right or wrong when it comes to hybrids -it is really about colours and eggs and even egg colour!
Reliability, they will do exactly whats on the tin, and lay lots of them!
Generally speaking a predictable and placid nature.
Easy to look after
Rarely go broody (I said rarely I know some have!!!  :))
Easy to source birds, lots of suppliers
Usually available all year round


Egg laying dramatically drops after the first season -they are not designed to lay for longer
Can be a bit dull
Can be prone to egg laying problems
No conservation value
Can be aggressive within flock compared to some pure breeds.
Generally not as "tame" as some pure breeds with their keeper (some exceptions here as well!)

Pure Breeds - well in terms of choice in plumage, size, personalty the world is your oyster! There are some truly fabulous and glamourous birds in all shapes and sizes out there so the choice can be very confusing. Essentially some pure breeds have been around for centuries, or even have royal connections. I have always been intrigued by the fact that Queen Victoria simply had to have an Cochin! I just cant imagine her with one of those giants sat on her lap! Granted they are a lot bigger now than there were in the 1800's,beautiful fluffies imported in from China.
Dorkings are an ancient very old 5 toed breed around with the Romans and named after the town in Kent. Some breeds once common in the UK have become quite rare like the pretty Marsh Daisy.Luckily there is a  now a Rare Breed Club dedicated to the preservation of these rare chicken breeds.

As there is so much choice I will cover specifically the pure breeds in depth in the next article. Today I will just note some pros and cons so you can compare directly to the hybrid chickens, this will help you decide which would more appropiately suit your circumstances.


Lots of choice in sizes and plumage
More personalty
Can go broody
Lay for more seasons than a hybrid chicken
Conservation value
Fun to show!
Will breed pure
Will have a Breed Club


Need far more research -as the wrong choice can be a disaster!!
Can go broody (yes I know a pro too!)
Can be expensive.
Some breeds difficult to source
More risk of getting a cockerel by mistake!
Pure breeds are not normally vaccinated

I hope this is useful!
« Last Edit: February 23, 2009, 23:06 by Foxy »


Aunt Sally

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Thanks Foxy.  Great information :D



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its a real help Foxy, keep 'em coming

Now if only there was a pea expert for GYO {sigh}

Dont worry he wont see this  ;)
"I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is, you'll agree, a certain je ne sais quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot" Withnail and I



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Thanks foxy, great help I want to get a selection of diffrent ones can you advise me on what to get & what would mix well together



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I think you're description of hybrids is slightly wrong.

Hybrids infact ARE NOT a breed. They're called hybrids because they're mongrels, and not a specific breed.

They're not bred to last more than 2yrs, and prone to tumours and disease. They are exactly the same as battery hens.

If everyone keeps buying hybrids under the mistaken impression that they're better than pure breeds then pure breed (pedigree if you like) chicken are going to disappear.

People need to read about pure breeds, and educate themselves more before plunging into buying hybrids.

Why people want to buy hybrids, when there are hundreds of different pure breeds around I'll never know.

And most hybrids are over priced for what they are. You should never pay more than 10 (and thats being generous) for a hybrid because it's a mongrel, you wouldn't pay much for a mongrel dog would you? Whereas you'd expect to pay more for a pedigree dog.

I'm not dissing people who keep hybrids, it's your choice what you keep, but I get so angry when people think hybrids are a breed, and that they're as good as pure breeds. They're not.

Cons to Hybrid Chickens

    * Egg laying dramatically drops after the first season -they are not designed to lay for longer
    * Can be a bit dull
    * Can be prone to egg laying problems
    * No conservation value
    * Can be aggressive within flock compared to some pure breeds.
    * Generally not as "tame" as some pure breeds with their keeper
    * Can't be shown as they are mongrels


Aunt Sally

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You've obviously not met my hybrids  :lol:



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hello rubycluck, welcome, why not nip over to our welcome section and introduce yourself to everybody and let us know what birds you have.
As for your comments to Foxys post I take issue with a couple of points - I have both pure breeds and hybrids (none of which I have any intention of showing even though some are good specimens) but my hybrids are just as friendly if not more so than my pure breeds (with the exception of the sabelpoots who have to be the friendliest and chattiest birds around).
The blackrock is a hybrid which will live for over 8 years old and have been known to be still laying the occasional egg then and certainly my blackrock who is 4 is still going strong.
My rescue warrens are almost three and although two laid lashes (which can happen to any breed of chicken) so no longer lay the other two are still laying very well without any problems. Hybrids are no more prone to disease than any other birds.
A lot of breeds that are recognised now started off as selective breeding programmes - such as the cream legbar which is a mixture of several breeds including the araucana (so that it had the blue egg gene).
Staffies are softer than you think.



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All "pure breeds" were developed by specific crossing of one or more breeds to emphasise specific characteristics so were effectively hybrids/mongrels.  But when the particular cross is noted as reliable and breeds true, it becomes recognised as a breed.



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Oooh gosh - it's hard to know where to start with refuting some of your claims, rubycluck!   ???

Yes, hybrids are often mistreated by keeping them in battery farms.  But to say they are "exactly the same as battery hens" seems an odd claim.  Perhaps you could say "they are the type of chicken that is usually used in battery farms."  That's hardly a reason not to keep one in your backyard though, and give it a good and happy life.

"They're called hybrids because they're mongrels, and not a specific breed."  Again 'mongrel' is an emotionally-loaded word.  As Joyfull has explained, hybrids are produced by careful cross-breeding over several generations to emphasise certain characteristics.  The label 'mongrel' implies random cross-breeding.  Some people call those 'barnyard hens' - get a bunch of different hens and roosters, let them hatch their own chicks, and see what you get after a few generations.

I have chosen to keep heritage breed chickens (see my signature).  But I have no intention of showing them.  They are not show-worthy as they have all kinds of 'faults' in their feathering.  Would you list that as a 'con' and suggest I shouldn't keep them as a result? 

They also have 'no conservation value' as I'm not going to breed from them.  How is this a 'con' in a backyard bird?

As I said, I don't keep hybrids.  But I suggest you read some of the posts on this forum where people describe how loyal, affectionate, interesting and tame their hybrid chickens are.  You might get a new perspective on them.


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