Up to this point, all I know about chickens is what I have picked up from the farm store and by talking to my neighbors. I would like to raise different breeds, but a question has come to up.
If I get two or three differnt breeds, will they crossbreed and give me some kind of frankenfowl or is it like raising ducks with chickens? I want to have males and females of different breeds to increase the flock.
Also, I have 10 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia and want to let the birds free range a little, and would like know if anyone has any experience on breeds that seem to do better when let to roam around a bit? (They will also have the protection of a coop.) My garden is fully fenced to keep out the wild critters, so that should work for the chickens as well.
Any advice would be great.
To answer your first question, yes, they will interbreed and produce mutt chickens. They are all the same species unlike ducks and chickens which are different species (different Genus as well). Similar to breeding of different breeds of dogs. If you want roosters, you do not want more than one rooster for every 12 hens. Also be aware that roosters can be very rough on hens and can reduce egg production due to stress.
There are some breeds that do better at foraging. Most dual purpose breeds are better for that. The most common birds I see at pastured chicken farms are Rhode Island and New Hampshire Reds, Ameracaunas, Delawares, Barred and White Rocks and Orpintons/Austrolorps.
What type of fencing do you have? Foxes, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, etc can be very ingenious when faced with a free chicken meal. Also hawks commonly air lift chickens out for meals.
They will cross breed. That's not so bad though... Most of my chickens are mutts, and they are all GREAT. It's only bad if you want to preserve a breed. It doesn't hurt the chickens.
We live in an area with predators and only one loss so far. I didn't shut them in their house soon enough, and something snatched one of the girls off their roost. They free range though. Losses are something you have to be prepared for no matter how well you think you've protected your flock. Having a rooster will help. They are good watch dogs and danger alarms.
Here's an article I wrote for this site with a ton of good links to help you get started. http://www.homegrown.org/forum/topics/chickens-101
Red sex links are your best egg layers and they lay brown eggs. If a chicken can free range they stay healthier and lay better. Just be careful of predators! Let them in the garden on occasion, they will fertilize, till and debug it for you. I would suggest keeping your roosters seperate from each other or they will fight.
If you have the room, and enough hens, roosters do not always fight. You have to understand them a little, and choose wisely when you choose them, but they can and do live peacefully if you get it right. I have 27 hens, and 2 roosters. I chose both of my roosters based on their docile behaviors. (not FRIENDLY behaviors, docile.) They are calm, wary of people, but not aggressive, and because I raised one of them as a chick, I was able to see that he kept his distance from the other rooster, not challenging him, or chasing the hens. He was also not a big crower when the time came that all my little roos started to crow. Combine that with my treatment of my roosters as if I were the top rooster, they are both good to the girls, not over mating, and they don't fight to speak of. There's a challenge here or there, but never all out fighting. I don't allow either of them to mount the girls in my presence (that's the top roo privilege, and I'm the "top" roo) and I don't allow them to eat before all the hens have started when I throw out food. I also don't try to tame them and get them used to me petting them. I allow them to keep their distance from me. This keeps them with a healthy wariness that seems to keep them from trying to charge me or any kids we have over. I also NEVER allow chasing of my chickens by anyone of ANY age. This way, my roosters have never seen any of us as a threat to the safety of their flock. Only good things come when I'm in their presence, along with any of the above "reminders" that they aren't THE boss.