The cross-breed chicken, known as the ISA Brown is of French origin. The ‘ISA’ of the name stands for ‘Institut de Selection Animale’. The ISA Brown is a cross between a Rhode Island Red and Rhode Island White and is thus a hybrid and not a breed in its own right. This crossbreed will likely lay almost 300 eggs of excellent quality in its first year. It also has a very good temperament and quickly becomes tame. It is friendly, very confident and tolerates handling very well.
Crossbred chickens are not inclined to go broody but will continue laying through most of the year. The hybrid vigour which these birds are blessed with mean they are good egg producers and generally hardy. They are also quite economical to keep.
When planning a hen coop or pen allow 0.37 square metres per chicken. Ideally, the pen will include a shed of some sort and an open area. The shed should afford protection from the elements. Hens suffer from extremes of temperature and should be able to escape from wet conditions and have shade in summer. Ideally hens prefer free-range conditions but if this is not always possible, letting them out for a period each day to forage for themselves will be beneficial. Wooden (preferably) roosts placed in the shed will give the birds somewhere to sleep at night.
One nest per five hens is usually enough although some hens will lay anywhere and everywhere. A layer of straw in the floor of the coop and in the nests will be appreciated. The straw can be replaced occasionally and composted or spread on the vegetable garden. Fowl manure is very strong and can burn so is best composted before use.
A proprietary grain mix can be fed or layer pellets. Your chickens will appreciate vegetable scraps from the kitchen (no meat scraps, please) and any green vegetable matter such as weeds or grass. They need fresh water and the occasional provision of shell grit will prevent problems with thin-shelled eggs. Provision of a self-feeder will reduce labour but throwing a few handfuls of grain to the hens each day is a non-taxing job for children and will help them learn responsibility. Water should always be available and the water bowl should be kept clean.
In its first season, a pullet may lay around 270 eggs. The eggs may be small in size for a time. In autumn the hens will normally moult (shed their feathers) and during this time they stop laying. Once they start to lay again, the eggs will be larger. A second season layer can be expected to lay between 190 and 200 eggs and from then on, egg production will drop slightly each year. The peak production time for hens is the first three years. The lifespan varies from three to ten years. Egg production drops as the hens age.
These chickens are low maintenance as far as chickens go. Provided their simple needs are met, they do not normally need any special treatment.
Your chickens should be wormed every three months or so and should be checked occasionally for lice. The shed can be sprayed for lice if such problems occur. Chickens can suffer from a few diseases but in the main are healthy individuals, especially when kept under as natural conditions as possible.
The ISA brown chicken has a quiet nature, is easily managed and easily tamed. It is ideal for new owners or for those with children as it will quickly become accustomed to being picked up and handled. It is an ideal backyard chicken and, for a small family, probably 3 to 5 chickens will supply enough eggs for the family’s needs.