Gardeners wait for the seed catalogs to come in the middle of the winter but for me the first sign of spring is the arrival of the chicken catalogs.

Full of promise, breeds that are rare, common, colorful, plain the chicken catalogs hint at the summer to come. The poultry world at your fingertips. All the chickens of the world are now available via mail order from somewhere. Or nearly all. Certainly there are hundreds of breeds and varieties that you can purchase.

I love looking at the catalogs, some come via e-mail and refer me to a web site. Others are full color paper catalogs and a few are just plain typed sheets with breed or variety and price. I pour over the lists, refer to my notes about what types have worked for us and which have not. I always like to try at least one new variety each year and deciding which will be the test chicken is always hard.

I have eliminated the long tailed, feather footed and Polish breeds because of the additional care they require to keep in good condition. I have also eliminated all bantams, I want full size birds. Bantams are great as a cage bird but on our farm even standard chickens are at risk of aerial predators so I want the full size versions. I have also eliminated all white birds, they might as well be targets or carry around “chicken dinner” signs in our environment.

That still leaves a lot to choose from. I know that I’ll get a batch of Red Broilers as dinner chickens. The egg laying chickens are the fun ones. We’ve had great success with Gold Campines so I will get some of those for sure. But what new variety (or varieties) to try?

The Dorkings look fun, I really liked seeing them in Wales but I can’t find red ones like I saw in Wales except from the speciality breeders and until I know they work I am reluctant to buy expensive chicks. I’ve always like the looks of Ancona’s but the extra large combs may be an issue in winter. I love Buff Orpington’s but they haven’t been very durable here so I’m not sure I want to try them again. Welsummer’s might be fun, I’ve never had really dark eggs and the Barnevelders also look interesting. Minorca’s have been nice in summer but don’t tolerate our winter very well so even though I like them I am not sure they are a good choice. The Brabanters we had were decent layers but only lasted one season. Russian Orloffs have the same cute ruff and might be a good replacement.

I now only buy pullets for my laying chickens. The extra cost is worth it to avoid having cocks.

Got a favorite breed? Let me know in the comments.