By chance we started with Red Star hens, switched briefly to White Marans, and are now back to Red Stars. I feel lucky to have started with the breed we did, since it seems to me now that Red Stars are ideal for our situation. We could easily have been less lucky; our feelings and decisions about keeping chickens could have turned out very differently had we started with a different breed. So I would caution anyone who has never kept chickens before, especially those with limited space and in close proximity to neighbors, to research the breed options carefully before getting your birds.
I'd like to hear from others on the traits of other breeds. First though, descriptions of what I've observed in the hens of the two breeds I "know"...
Originally uploaded by -Mandie-
Red Star - An extremely quiet breed. The only noise they make above normal, very muted, contented or mildly excited burbling noises are when they are truly alarmed by something, or when actually laying an egg. They are very docile and not highly strung, meaning they calm down quickly after an alarming event. They eat like vacuum cleaners however. Someone described them to me as the "Labrador retrievers" of the chicken world. This is accurate in my observation. However, they are also very unfussy eaters once they become accustomed to the idea that what I throw in their pen is generally a treat. They readily eat many weeds and kitchen scraps, as well as sub-par produce and many garden pest insects. This means their eggs have fantastic coloration (in the yolks) and nutrition. They are excellent layers even after two years of age. A great choice for those with little space and neighbors close by.White Marans - A heritage dual-purpose breed. These are larger birds than the Red Stars and far more vocal. They will loudly protest captivity as soon as the sun is up (sometimes before it's even properly up), which can be problematic in the summer. They also seem to have "fits" of nervousness over nothing in particular which spreads from one bird to the next and leads to loud alarmed squawking of the entire flock which can go on for 15 minutes or more. They are fussy eaters with little interest in several common garden crops including lettuce greens and tomatoes. They did enjoy summer squash and Japanese beetles however. As is to be expected from a dual-purpose breed, they are not great layers even in their first year of laying. The eggs they do lay are absolutely gorgeous however, speaking here of the dark coloration and occasional speckling of the shells. In general, while I support heritage breeds, this one is not a great choice for those in suburban or densely populated areas as their noise could easily annoy neighbors. Also not a great choice for homesteaders or those trying to maximize home economy by supplementing purchased feed from the homestead's own resources. For those without nearby neighbors who want one breed to do two things (meat and eggs) moderately well, this breed may be of use.
Do you keep chickens? What can you say about the characteristics of the breeds you know? If you keep either Red Stars or White Marans, do your observations differ from mine?