I have been growing chickens on the homestead for about 10 years now. I grow chickens for eggs, not meat. Hence, my main concern is chickens that will be great producers of big beautiful brown eggs. I have tried lots of different breeds, but for my money nothing can come close to the Red Star line from McMurray Hatchery (I am not affiliated with McMurray Hatchery in any way, and do not receive any type of incentive from them).
OK, here is the rundown on the Red Stars. They are prolific egg producers. Not only to they produce large quantities of eggs, they produce very large eggs . . . big brown beautiful eggs. So, for my primary priority, these chickens just cannot be beat. The second thing that I really like about these birds is that they are a very calm and social breed of chickens. When I go out, they run up like pets. They like to be petted, and like to sit and talk to me. Each breed of chickens has its own unique temperament . . . some breeds are very nervous and jumpy, and some are aggressive. The Red Stars are calm and friendly, and they really make the homestead a peaceful place. I really love going out in the mornings and evenings to spend a little time with them. Taking care of the chickens is an enjoyable event, and one I look forward to.
The next factor I really appreciate about the Red Stars is that they are very aggressive foragers. When I let them out in the morning, they do not head for the feed bucket, they head for the pasture. All day they are out scratching and pecking, and are very adept at hunting down and eating all manner of bugs. This robust foraging characteristic means I save on the feed bill. I do put out some supplemental feed for them, but most of what they eat is what the go find during the day.
I also find these birds to be extremely healthy animals. When I get a new batch of Red Stars, I find the mortality is around 5%. Most of the time I do not lose over one bird in an order of 20. The chicks come alive and perky, and right out of the box, when they are a day old, they are already scratching and pecking and looking for food. In addition, I have never had an issue with congenital defects. The birds grow up well formed, and do not have the leg and feet issues I have found in some other breeds. I also think they stay healthier throughout their lives . . . I think all that exercise as they are out foraging on pasture helps keep them healthy.
I have found that the chickens produce very well for the first two years, and then egg production begins to taper off. On our homestead we have a generous retirement plan for the chickens. We do not put the chickens in the pot after two years. If they work hard and produce well for two years, we let them hang around in retirement even if they are not producing as many eggs. We have several chickens that are nine years old. They do not produce many eggs, but we still enjoy having them around.
The one downside to the Red Star chickens is that they are not a purebred chicken . . . they are a proprietary cross between one type of rooster and another type of hen. Hence, if you have Red Stars, and allow them to raise baby chickens, the baby chickens will not be Red Stars, and will not have the same advantages. Hence, if you want Red Stars you have to order them, you can not propagate your flock yourself. This is not a big deal, and we typically just order a new batch of 20 or so every other year.
Bottom line, if you are new in raising chickens, and want a breed that is calm, friendly and produces loads of wonderful eggs, the Red Star is the breed for you.