As March ends, it is time for us to order our laying hens to ensure they arrive towards the middle of May. Hen selection seems easy enough, but it’s more complicated than it appears. Unlike broilers that arrive as one- or two-day old chicks, layers come aged 18 to 19 weeks. They usually start to lay within a couple of weeks. The question is – which hens to choose? Our research seems for naught as we quickly find out breeders don’t sell chickens by breed, but by color: “What’s it going to be? We have red ones, white ones and grey ones.” After a few frustrating calls, a friendly breeder finally explains that the “whites” are white-egg-laying Leghorns, the “reds” are those of Rhode Island fame who typically lay brown-shelled eggs, and the “greys”, our favourites, are Plymouth Rock hens, whose shells have a pinkish hue. Plymouth Rock layers are sought after as much for their meat as for their eggs. The aforementioned hens have well-established pedigrees that reach back to colonial times and even Europe. At the beginning of the last century, farmers in nearby Oka bred the Chantecler, a hardy hen capable of weathering cold Quebec winters and a prolific layer, to boot. We have been told that it is the Chantecler, a species now on the verge of extinction, that is the most commonly depicted rooster on Quebec weathervanes.
Our answer this year: we’ll take the white ones and the grey ones, please.