Posted May 24, 2014
Strictly speaking the brown sex-link hen or ISA Brown is not a breed; it is a hybrid produced by the Institute de Selection Animale in France in 1978 specifically for the egg production industry and as such is a prolific layer. Usually a cross between a Rhode Island Red rooster and a White Plymouth Rock hen they are a relatively small bird in comparison to some of the meat breeds and are a very rich red brown in colour.
If you buy eggs from the supermarket chances are they have been produced by ISA Browns or similar hybrids. Their eggs are large and brown, although what is considered large by commercial standards was quite small for my 3 ISA Browns. The average ISA Brown pullet will start laying as young as 5 - 6 months of age and will go on to produce around 300 or more eggs during her lifetime. This does make them an extremely attractive proposition for the home owner who just wants enough eggs for household use.
Other features which make the ISA Brown an attractive back yard hen include
- lack of broodiness; they are not bred to be broody
- very friendly, laid back nature which makes them very good pets
The downside of the ISA Brown is that this prolific egg production does come at a cost to the bird due to the health issues (exhaustion, tumours, cancers etc) associated with it. She literally lays her life away; where most breeds will go through seasonal moults and 'shut downs' which allow their bodies to rest and recuperate, the ISA Brown, and other similar hybrids, has been specifically bred not to do that. She churns out egg after egg month in, month out for the first 2 years of her life which ultimately reduces her life expectancy to around 3 years on average. Certainly my 3, which were the same age, passed away within 6 weeks of each other at around about that age.
So, is the ISA Brown or brown sex-link hen the one for you? Well that really depends on what you want her for.
If you want an egg producing machine that you can either move on to another home or turn into a meal at the end of her producing life you will certainly get this with an ISA Brown.
If you want a pet that will keep you readily supplied with eggs in abundance and you accept that sadly she'll only last for 2 or 3 years then again, this is a good choice.
If you want a pet that will become an integral part of the family with the added bonus of being able to earn her keep then the fact that she will probably only be with you for a few years could be a deterrent. If this is the case you will be better off going for a pure-bred or a 'naturally occurring' cross which will give you less eggs but will be with you for a lot longer.