Choosing the right chicken breed is an important part of raising chickens. Do you want lots of eggs, friendly chickens, or just something fancy? There are so many chicken breeds out there, it can be overwhelming! Here are some things to consider when choosing a chicken breed for your backyard.
See the first post in our Raising Chickens 101 series: How to Get Started Raising Chickens
Which Types of Chickens Should You Get?
When it comes to choosing your chicken breeds, there are more breeds out there than you can shake an eggbeater at! We’re talking about hundreds of different breeds—lots of choice!
One of the delights of this step is learning some of the types of chickens and their charming names: Silkie, Showgirl, Silver-Laced Wyandotte, Rosecomb, Redcap, and Russian Orloff, to name a few.
Plus, if you’re raising chickens, you don’t have to choose just one breed! Fortunately, chickens of all different breeds typically get along just fine and your egg basket will be much more colorful if your flock is comprised of a variety of different kinds of chickens.
Maybe you do want colorful eggs. Or maybe you want breeds known for their laying prowess. Maybe docile, kid-friendly breeds are a consideration. Or maybe you live in a cold climate and want to be sure the breeds you choose will be well-suited to your area.
Choosing Chicken Breeds
The chickens you ultimately choose will depend on what criteria is important to you and your family. Consider the following factors:
While pretty eggs are fun to collect, your initial consideration when choosing a breed of chicken should be the climate in which you live. Although most chickens are generally okay in cold climates, there are many breeds that struggle in the heat. Phoenix and Minorca chickens like heat, for example, and Brahma and Chantecler chickens prefer cool conditions.
If you live in an area that’s warm and humid for much of the year, then choosing heat-tolerant breeds will be important. Some good choices would be the Mediterranean breeds such as Andalusians, Leghorns, and Penedesencas. Their smallish, sleek bodies and large combs help them stay cool in extreme heat.
Conversely, if you live in a cold climate, then a larger bodied chicken with a smaller comb will do better. Australorps, Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, Cochins, and Wyandottes would all be good choices.
Every breed produces eggs, even the so-called ornamental breeds, but egg size and production vary. Medium-production layers are plenty for a family. Bantam chicken eggs are small; to complement their yolks, you’ll need more whites than most angel food cake recipes call for.
If maximum egg production is important to you, then you can’t go wrong with an Australorp, Barred Rock, Delaware, Leghorn, Rhode Island Red, or Sussex. These breeds are known for their egg laying prowess. While no chicken lays an egg every day, a good layer will supply your family with 5 to 6 eggs a week during the spring and summer months.
If you have small children, or just desire a flock of friendly chickens who will love to sit on your lap and eat out of your hand, then Australorps, Brahmas, or Buff Orpingtons are a great choice. These breeds are known for being extremely docile and friendly: Cochins, Faverolles, and Silkies. You might also consider raising bantams. They’re about half the size of standard breed chickens, so they can be less intimidating for little kids, and they come in a wide variety of different breeds.
There’s nothing more exciting than a multi-colored egg basket! While egg color shouldn’t necessarily be your first consideration, choosing some breeds that lay different-colored eggs is always fun. Most breeds lay brown eggs, although most of the Mediterranean breeds lay white eggs. Marans lay dark chocolate brown eggs. Ameraucana, Araucana and Cream Legbar lay beautiful blue eggs, while Olive Eggers lay olive green eggs. And Easter Eggers are the most fun of all. Each Easter Egger will lay a different color egg, anything from blue to green to pink or cream. You don’t know what color egg you’ll get from a hen until she starts laying.
If you just want pretty chickens, then choose some with feathered feet, like Cochins, Faverolles or Marans; a few with cheek muffs and “beards” such as Ameraucanas; some with crazy hairdos, like Polish chickens; or Frizzles that have feathers pointing every which way. You’re sure to end up with a visually pleasing flock! While not known for being the best layers, these fancy breeds will entertain and delight with their unique appearance.
Some Favorite Chicken Breeds
I kept Rhode Island Reds and Barred Plymouth Rocks, both of which are usually available from a local hatchery. These are docile, not particularly noisy, high-laying, dual-purpose chicken breeds that take confinement well. They gave me 75 percent egg production—that is, a dozen chickens produced nine eggs a day while they were laying.
Another favorite of mine is the Jersey Giant. It is black or white, and large. (My black Jersey Giant rooster was 16 inches at the saddle!) The hens are medium- rather than high-laying chickens, but the eggs are larger than those of the Plymouth Rock or Rhode Island Red. This breed is calm and docile but needs more room because of its size.
Araucanas tend to be flighty (not docile), but they thrive in almost any climate, take confinement well, and are quiet. If you want to make them more calm and docile, try hypnotizing them (and no, we’re not kidding!) Plus, the green-shelled eggs are a novelty. (One of my Rhode Island Red hens mated with an Araucana cock and gave me a hen that laid olive eggs!)
My dream team would include Easter Eggers. (Yes, that’s really the breed name!) They’re similar in temperament to Araucanas and lay blue or green eggs. It may take me a while to track them down, but—hey!—the dream team is worth it.
In the end…
No matter which breeds of chicken you choose to raise, you will be rewarded with baskets full of delicious, fresh eggs and hours of relaxing entertainment watching your little flock roam the yard softly clucking, chasing bugs and scratching for weeds.
What kind of chickens do you raise in your backyard? Tell us in the comments below!
More of Raising Chickens 101
See more of our beginner’s guide to raising chickens: