Hen Selection: Which breed is right for you?

By Martha White
August 3, 2010
Rhode Island Red

With more than 100 recognized breeds to choose from, hen selection is your first high hurdle. Are you interested solely in eggs or meat, or do you prefer a dual purpose bird? Brown eggs or white? Standard size hens or small bantams? This is no job for the featherbrained!

A hen is only an egg's way of making another egg.

Samuel Butler (1835–1902)

Egg layers

  • Ancona - White eggs
  • Australorp - Brown eggs
  • California White - White eggs
  • Hamburg - White or tinted eggs
  • Lakenvelder - White or tinted eggs
  • Leghorn - White eggs
  • Minorca - Chalk White eggs
  • Production Red - Brown eggs
  • Redcap - White eggs
  • Sex-Link - Brown eggs

Meat Birds

  • Brahma - Brown eggs
  • Cochin - Brown eggs
  • Dark Cornish - Brown eggs
  • Jersey Giant - Brown eggs

Dual-Purpose Birds

  • Araucana - Blue green eggs
  • Black Sex-Link - Brown eggs
  • Dominique - Brown eggs
  • Faverolle - Brown or tinted eggs
  • Houdan (crested) - White eggs
  • New Hampshire - Brown eggs
  • Orpington - Brown eggs
  • Red Sex-Link - Brown eggs
  • Rhode Island Red - Brown eggs
  • Rock - Brown eggs
  • Sussex - Brown eggs
  • Wyandotte - Brown eggs

Remember: Consider the rooster!

  • If you plan to hatch some of your eggs into chicks, or if you prefer fertilized eggs for breakfast, you'll need a roster or two. Otherwise, they're ornamental, sometimes feisty, and a lot of fun and trouble.
  • Breeders suggest having a rooster for every 8 to 12 standard-size hens. A single cock can “accommodate,” as they say, up to 18 hens.
  • If you've ordered straight-run chicks (see our Chicken Glossary) and ended up with several cocks, you may want to cull some or separate them from the hens to minimze pecking-order fights.
  • Since roosters are prone to favorites, rotating two cocks among the flock may even things out.


The 2000 Old Farmer's Almanac

Reader Comments

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do you need rooster for the hens to lay eggs

I wanted to know if you sell

I wanted to know if you sell eggs that hatch in to chicks that lay eggs for meat ?

Sorry, The Old Farmer’s

The Editors's picture

Sorry, The Old Farmer’s Almanac does not sell eggs or any produce. We are primarly a reference guide for the United States and North America.

I'd be interested to know

I'd be interested to know which are the calmest and easiest to care for?

*Just to clarify about the

*Just to clarify about the heat lamps; We had read that the chickens would not acclimate well to their environment if we used them. When we started to notice the very tips of their combs turning white, we got the lamps. The roosters combs however continued to develop FRB, even thought the hens' had stopped. So, did we make it worse by putting in the lamps? Not sure, maybe? But we do make extra heat available when it gets below freezing. The rooster is a BO, btw, with a VERY large comb. Size DOES matter!*

Hi Everyone! Don't forget to

Hi Everyone!

Don't forget to consider your environment as well when looking for your chicken breed!
We live in a very cold area with long winters and temps often below zero. Our first chickens are having a terrible time with frostbite on their large, single-combs (something we forgot to consider). Especially our rooster!

Although we got "cold -hearty" breeds; Buff Orp, Barred Rock, and Speckled Sussex, they are still having a rough time with all this freezing cold....regardless of our 'improved' venting system, Vaseline on combs, deep litter, warm treats, scratch/corn in the evening, et cetera. We keep it dry and clean too, of course...and initially refused to use heat, until they ended up with FB anyway. Now they have some infrared heat lamps in there for REALLY cold nights.
Otherwise, they are doing okay. The rooster will eventually have a 'Mohawk' comb from the parts which are going to fall off. I just keep a watch on him to make sure he doesn't develop infection.

Anyway....our next batch will be something with either a rose or pea comb. I suppose you could also have the birds dubbed, but I think the rose/pea combs look nice.

Just wanted to share our experience thus far with anyone out there doing chicken research who is interested.