BreedsI am trying to breed all my breeds for utility purposes, breeding from the most prolific hens and the cockerels which grow fastest, with the best meat-to-bone ratio.
Barnevelders originated in the Netherlands near the town of Barneveld, at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. They were first brought to Britain in the early 1920s and were bred as a good utility bird until after World War Two. Since the 1950s, like all pure breeds, they have largely been replaced by hybrids for utility purposes and are often better lookers than they are 'do-ers'. Despite that, if you can get a utility strain, I would recommend them as the ideal smallholder's bird, or for someone starting with chickens for eggs and meat who does not want to go the hybrid route.
Purebred double-laced Barnevelders from a good strain will produce around 200 eggs each hen per year and the cockerels make a good killing weight of about 7lb after about six months. Their plumage is a rich brown with the characteristic 'lacing' in black around the outside of each feather. The cockerels and pullets have bright yellow legs, as do the hens at the start of the laying season, although they pale as the season goes on. Barnevelder eggs are dark brown, again very dark at the beginning of the season and paling slightly towards the end. They are a good-tempered, inquisitive, friendly breed suitable as garden hens as well as a free-range flock.
Barnebars are a breed first created by Reginald Punnett, Professor of Biology at Cambridge in the early years of the twentieth century. Punnett and his team followed on with Mendel's work on genetic inheritance and proved their theories by creating first the Cambar, and then other autosexing breeds. These became popular during the First World War, as a way to save feeding male chicks, because the boys could be easily distinguished and culled at hatch. For the Barnebar, Barred Plymouth Rocks were crossed with Barnevelders in a five-generation programme to create a new breed. Any breed with a -bar at the end was first created and bred at a similar time. (See the Autosexing Website for more information)
Barnebars are very similar to their 'parent breed' the Barnevelder in performance and temperment, with colouring that is more 'blurred' because of the addition of the barring gene that makes them easily sexed.
I do not usually sell Barnebar hatching eggs or cockerels (although I can by special arrangement), only pullets, as the breed is very rare and indiscriminate breeding and inbreeding won't do it any favours. My most established line originated with a cockerel from The Wernlas Collection who was 'crossed out' with unrelated utility Barnevelder hens to provide pure pullets and unpure cockerels. The female offspring were then bred back to him to provide pure pullets AND cockerels. The cockerels will then be out-crossed again over unrelated Barnevelders to bring in more fresh blood. I also have stock that I have bred from scratch using Barred Rocks, Amrocks and Barnevelders that will in time be completely unrelated lines of the breed.
Again, I would recommend them as a good dual-purpose bird for both the back garden or the smallholder.
Like the Barnebar, Legbars are a breed first created in the early twentieth century as part of the food efficiency drive, to avoid having to grow cockerels to near maturity before sexing. Barred Plymouth Rocks were crossed with Brown Leghorns in a five-generation programme. The very rare (uncrested) Gold Legbar lays white eggs and is not so well known as it's sister-breed the (crested) Cream Legbar, which has some of the South American Araucana bred in to it. The Araucana in the breed is what gives the Cream Legbar it's distinctive crest and the pretty blue-green egg it lays. Cream Legbars often don't lay as well as other breeds - perhaps 160 eggs a year.
Cream Legbars are not dual-purpose birds - the cockerels are not really worth fattening on, although they will dress out at 1.5lb or 2lb, which will make a stir fry or a good stock. They produce a very pretty egg and are a distinctive, interesting hen to have about; because of their light-breed Leghorn roots, they are busy all the time and rather more flighty than the heavier breeds. They compensate for the slightly fewer eggs by eating less and are much less prone to go broody than heavier breeds!
There is a good discussion of Cream Legbar genetics and some photos of good and bad examples of the breed on the Practical Poultry forum here.
My cockerel is a very nicely marked bird without very much 'russet' on him at all - his hackles are all silver. The three hens in my breeding pen this year are a mixture - silver through to quite gold neck markings. The pen throws very distinct chicks, the boys are pale with blurred markings and the hens are very dark and as they feather up, they don't have much russet at all, so I am hoping that with time I can establish a line that is true to breed standard.
Salmon FaverollesSalmon Faverolles lay light coloured eggs ranging in shade from white to tinted. They are good winter layers and the cockerels fatten well. They are very gentle and get very tame. It is possible to sex them by colour from a couple of weeks old - the cockerels are much darker than the hens, which should be pale 'salmon' colour - hence the name.
The Faverolles was originally bred in central France during the 1860's by crossing heavier breeds such as the Croad Langsham and Brahma with the local Houdan layers. There was also Dorking bred in to the mix, which is where their characteristic five toes comes from. The different Faverolles breeds were standardised in France in the 1890s and came to the UK a few years after that.
Both hens and cockerels have feathered feet and beards and they also have feather bonnets around their faces - which often led people to described them as having 'the head of an owl'. The feathers around their head can make them susceptible to panic attacks when their view of the rest of their flock gets obscured.
Combined with their utility and their friendliness, what's not to like?
Pekin BantamsFor people with limited space, Pekin Bantams are ideal. They don't lay as well as 'utililty' breeds; but they come in all sorts of different colours, they tame easily and are very suitable as pets for children, whilst giving you child-sized eggs - when cooking, just use two or three in a recipe that specifies one egg. I have a small flock of pekins which I use as broodies to rear the chicks of all the breeds I keep and I usually have a few to spare for people looking for an introduction to chicken keeping.