Our Primary Considerations
The factors we are looking for in a chicken are:
Hearty, especially to cold.
Relatively docile to human handlers, specifically those that they are familiar with.
Able to defend themselves at least somewhat from predation.
Good at foraging.
Medium to large eggs.
Note: We had hoped to have pictures to go with words from the Big E, but sadly they didn't have chickens there when we were there, so sadly this will be a post sans pictures of what I'm talking about.
Below the cut will be specific breeds and the benefits we want from them.
A Medium sized bird weighing in at about 6.5 lbs for the hens. They have very small combs, and a thick body with very tight feathering that means they are extremely cold resilient. They are a dual purpose breed which is ideal for what we are hoping for long term. They are fairly docile, but do not handle confinement well which is a concern. According to the documentation I have found they still lay when confined, but get edgy. They also are good mothers which is less of a primary concern for us at this time.
Pros: Cold hearty, dual purpose, docile, good layers, good foragers
Cons: Excitable, smaller side of what we want for eggs, bears confinement only moderately well
As a side note the Chantecler is also in critical conservation status.
Apparently the Dominique was the "original" colonists chicken. Slightly smaller than the Chantecler at 5 lbs for the hens, they are however very cold hearty. They, like the Chantecler have small combs reducing heat loss and good tight feathers. As a secondary feature of their feathers they have a barred pattern that provides some protection from aerial predation. They lay quite well, and as the Chantecler lay medium eggs. They are docile and bear confinement quite well. Finally they are considered some of the best of the foragers which is a major draw for us.
Pros: Cold hearty, good foragers, dual purpose, bears confinement well, camouflaged, matures fast.
Cons: Smaller, similar with medium sized eggs.
Rhode Island Red/ Rhode Island White
The reason for two links for the Rhode Island Red alone is some discrepancies in the description of the temperament which I put down to individual experiences in the writers. The Rhode Island breed was bred by poultry farmers rather than fanciers unlike many laying breeds. They lay extremely well and lay large brown eggs. They mature early which is always a benefit. They have some of the best temperaments according to many, though their roosters can be exceedingly aggressive. Their roosters have been recorded to kill foxes. Apparently if properly raised they tend to be very friendly to handlers though. This breed is considered by many to be the best of the bunch for New England. They have a good body weight at 6.5 lbs for hens, and good feathering which keeps them warm. The rooster has a slightly larger comb which may get frostbite in the winter.
Pros: Cold hearty, dual purpose, bears confinement well, unusually calm, aggressive to predation, excellent layers, matures fast.
Cons: Very aggressive roosters, roosters comb prone to frostbite, not exceptional foragers.
The Welsummer is about 6 lbs for a hen, and has a good tight body, and good feathering allowing it to survive well in winter. This bird was imported from Holland and thus should be well suited to cold damp winters like we have here. They aren't as prolific of a layers as other breeds but are good layers that lay large eggs. The roosters have the disadvantage of having a large comb similar to the Rhode Island rooster, but even more pronounced. The Welsummer is the rooster that the Kellogg Rooster was based on. They are very docile, and are known as the very best of foragers.
Pros: Cold hearty, dual purpose, bears confinement well, docile.
Cons: Not an exceptional layer, uncertain about reaction to predation.
My personal favorite is the Welsummer, but based on the pros and cons of the various breeds I think that a mix of breeds is probably going to be our best bet. With Rhode Island for protection from predation, and a mix of the others for eggs. We may narrow down our flock once we have one, but with the lady of the house and I both being scientifically minded we are going to want to evaluate each breed in our particular situation. We are also very much open to input and further information both scientific and anecdotal.
Again, I am sorry for the lack of inline images, but I'm trying to only use photos we have taken as much as possible.
All images copyright Michelle Vigeant 2011.