I went to look at some hybrids last week so that our poor little girl isn't lonely after her friend went to the great hen house in the sky. Hybrids are generally bred for egg laying and lay more eggs than pure breeds, however they are sometimes not as hardy as pure breeds and don't live as long. You can get hybrids bred for meat birds too. Most eggs that you buy from a supermarket come from hybrid layers whether these be from the nasty battery hen system or free range. Most commercial egg businesses tend to replace their hybrids after 18 months, even the free range ones. That may or may not be true if you buy your eggs from the farm gate or from farmers markets (I don't know to be honest). After about 18 months the shell quality of some of the more commercial hybrids can not be as good as with younger hens.
So you may ask why am I looking for hybrids and not pure breeds? Well it comes down to cash in some ways, as hybrid pullets (pullets; or POL, point of lay; - hens of about 18 weeks that are just coming into lay for the first time) are not as expensive to buy as pure breeds, however of course the pure breeds may last longer (as long as they don't get eaten by Mr Fox or get egg bound or develop other problems). Some hybrids are bred specifically for free ranging and lay more eggs (not as many as some of the really commercial hybrids such as the ISA's, warrens etc) and are good hardy birds that can live good long lives and these are the ones I was looking for/at. Problem is that I have rather fallen in love with a pure breed, the Welsummers, they are so so beautiful so now I am not quite sure what to do. The most hardy of the hybrids (the Black Rock) seems to be difficult to come by at the moment and their nearest relatives that I can fine are mostly very black!! (some have lighter head and neck feathers than others). I thought I liked this but when I went to see some similar hens I did think that I do really prefer the brown hen; you can get brown hybrids (I am thinking here of the Calder Ranger, also known as the Columbian Black Tail) that are hardier than the ISA's (these are the ones we got first time), but I am not sure if they are as hardy and long lived as the Black Rocks. What of course we could do is get a couple of the Calder Rangers and a couple of Welsummers. Need to put my thinking cap on about this one. The other option would be to raise some chicks, but this takes a lot of time and care and attention and we currently are not set up for this logistically, so something for the future perhaps.
It's quite fun looking at all the different breeds and there is a poultry auction at the agricultural market next Saturday so I might go for a look. I am not sure that I would buy from auction as you can get caught out and end up with cockerels rather than hens if you don't know what you are doing, sorry to say that there are some unscrupulous folks out there who will try to pass off a young cockerel as a hen. Also you really need to know that the hens have been vaccinated against the nastiest hen diseases, mareks for one. I will go and have a look anyway and report back. Who knows by this time next week we may be the proud owners of more girls.