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Urban Livestock: Backyard Chickens

Our family homesteads on 1/16th of an acre in a sleepy village in southern New York State. We are nestled between Oneonta and Binghamton N.Y. Chickens play an important role on our micro-farm in regards to our effort for self-sufficiency.

Initially, because space was limited, our main focus was on egg production. So our first hens were leghorns. Though a Mediterranean breed they fared surprisingly well in our harsh New York winters. During peak production each of our four leghorns were easily laying 300 eggs a year. Certainly can’t complain about 100 dozen eggs! 

As time wore on I found that raising chickens was far more valuable to me than simply how many eggs were produced. Simply put, I enjoy being around them. It may sound kind of funny but at times it reminds me of watching a fish tank. The hens, even the flighty leghorns, tend to lull you into a state of calm while watching them peck and scratch at the dirt. Before I knew it I was hooked and on the lookout for other breeds.

I eventually brought home a Barred Rock and an Americauna to add to the small flock. I was lured to the Barred Rock because of a family trip I had taken a few years previous to the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown N.Y. They had a flock of free range Barred Rocks. They were so quiet and calm that I literally almost stepped on them in the high grass. I was so impressed by their calm disposition, which was the exact opposite of the leghorns, and their beautiful pattern that I knew right then I would eventually add these beautiful birds to our flock. Those of you who know chickens realize that they are a great dual purpose chicken being reasonably strong layers and decent size birds for the oven. I was attracted to the Americauna because of the potential for some colorful blue eggs and the fact that they seem to do well in confinement since our chickens have an enclosed run. 

For a short time each year we “hen sit” for friends who go out west or down south for the winter and we add a Cochin, Tetra Tint and two Rhode Island Reds to the mix. The Cochin is an old lady and does not lay at this point. But she is still very entertaining to watch as she waddles around with her wide stance. The Tetra is an interesting chicken. It is a cross between a Rhode Island Red and a leghorn. In fact it looks like the perfect combo of both parents. A very light red glaze seems to coat its otherwise white feather. It lays enormous cream colored eggs, so big in fact they do not fit in a large egg container. The Reds are similar to the Barred Rock in that they have long been a standard for dual purpose breeds.

Most recently in my quest for interesting additions to our flock I found and purchased two very rare pullets called Swedish Flower Hens. If you are interested in reading about them in detail you can go to the following link. They are beautiful and friendly hens. They lay around 180-200 eggs a year but as I stated earlier as I have progressed in my chicken rearing I have come to realize that there is far more to this lifestyle than “production”. With that said I still keep some leghorns around to make up for the beauty queens!

Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. Click on the Mother Earth News logo at the bottom of the page for all of his post. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad found here


  1. Great post, Tobias, on backyard chickens! All the different breeds are unique & have their purpose. And they sure are entertaining to watch!


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