If you live in Maine and you’re choosing chicks this spring to start – or add to – your backyard flock, one of your considerations should be whether the breeds you are picking are cold-hardy chicken breeds or not. While temperament, appearance and egg color are often considerations in choosing breeds, anyone who lives in a northern climate should be sensitive to choosing those breeds that are equipped to handle a long, cold winter.
Sure, you can make the argument that chickens have been around long before electricity and have survived. And you would be right? So even if you don’t heat your coop, why should you be sensitive to those breeds that do better in the winter? Well, for starters, it’s unlikely your grandmother was logging onto the My Pet Chicken website and picking out some delicate rare breeds and having them shipped to her door. She was probably either hatching her own chicks from her existing hens’ eggs, or hopping in the old Chevy farm truck and driving to the local feed store to pick out some chicks from what they had in stock – which would all be good, hardy local stock.
Her chickens likely slept in the barn with other livestock to help keep them warm, and she also most likely had a large flock of chickens, not just three or four in a small coop out back.
Now that every breed of chicken imaginable is available to anyone anywhere in the country with the click of a mouse, it’s important to choose breeds that are well-suited to your climate. For Maine, cold-hardy chicken breeds are best. These tend to generally be the larger-bodied breeds with small combs that won’t be as susceptible to frostbite. Darker-colored hens tend to be more cold-hardy than the lighter-colored breeds.
My Five Favorite Cold-Hardy Chicken Breeds
1.) Australorp – Australorps are large-bodied, black hens that are extremely docile and calm and lay large, light brown eggs. Perfectly suited to cold winters, their black feathers absorb the sunlight, helping to keep them warm.
2.) Rhode Island Red – True to their New England heritage, Rhode Island reds are another cold-hard breed that I am partial to. Great layers, they are no-nonsense hens who go about the business of being a chicken with no fuss. They are good layers of brown eggs.
3.) Ameraucana – Add a little color to your egg basket by adding some Ameraucanas. With their puffy cheeks and feathered legs, these little ladies have tiny combs which makes them far less susceptible to frostbite than other breeds. They also lay gorgeous blue eggs, so what’s not to love?
4.) Marans – Speaking of colored eggs, Marans lay beautiful chocolate brown eggs and are a great cold-hardy chicken breed as well. Marans come in various colors including black and blue varieties. I don’t find them to be the friendliest chickens, but their gorgeous eggs more than make up for it.
5.) Light Sussex – Light Sussex are one of the prettier chicken breeds, and one of the few light-colored breeds that are cold-hardy. But with their small combs and large bodies, they handle northern climates well. They lay pretty pinkish-colored eggs and are calm and docile. They also have some great camouflage from predators going on – at least when they’re walking in the snow!
Visit My Pet Chicken and browse their cold-hardy chicken breeds if you’re thinking about adding some to your backyard flock or visit my blog for a more complete list of other cold-hardy chicken breeds.