Chickens are pretty versatile animals and will adapt to a variety of climates and living situations. Once you know why you want to keep chickens, it can be fun to learn about the different breeds and what they are known for.
Below is a loose outline as to what is available for each chicken keeper’s need. Have fun!
For most backyard keepers, homegrown eggs are the primary reason for raising chickens. The satisfaction of feeding an animal and having that animal, in return, feed you is addicting and often leads to other homesteading practices. If eggs are your goal, and lots of them, then the following breeds should be considered.
- Leghorns – Highest producing layer of white eggs. Will lay up to 300+ eggs per year.
- Red Cross – The red cross is the title used to describe a mixed breed of high-producing brown egg layers. They usually have the genetics of the following breeds: Isa Red, New Hampshire Red, Rhode Island Red
- Sex Link – This is another crossbreed (Rhode Island Red over a Delaware Hen) This breed is autosexing, which means the male chicks are a different color than the females. They can lay 280 eggs per year.
Some people, myself included, raise chickens with the primary goal of having a colorful egg basket. Even more than what the chicken breeds look like, I’m interested in what color egg they lay. I find it fascinating! White and medium brown is the most common egg colors, but with a little searching you can find breeds that lay blue, green, olive, dark brown, speckled and even a peachy pink!
Below is a list of common breeds and the egg color they lay.
- White: Leghorns, Dorkings
- Medium Brown: Orpington, Wyandotte
- Dark Chocolate Brown: Marans, Welsummer
- Blue: Cream Legbar, Americauna, Araucana, Saffire
- Green: Easter Eggers
- Olive: Olive Eggers (a mixed breed between a brown layer and green layer)
Chickens make wonderful pets. They can be trained, and can be quite companionable, loving animals. Below is a list of unusual chicken breeds that make interesting and beautiful pets.
Polish, Crevecoeur – Both these breeds sport a large crown of feathers on the head.
Silkie – The Silkie had soft, down-like feathers. This little chicken is mild-mannered and makes a great mother hen.
Naked Necks – Also called Turkens, are an interesting breed that sports a bare neck.
Cochin Frizzle – Any breed can be frizzled but Cochins are common. Frizzled means the feathers are curved backward, giving the chicken a fluffy dust mop appearance.
Show Girl – This is a crossbreed between a Turken and Silkie. The resulting chicken is a flashy soft feathered breed with a naked neck, giving it the appearance of a LasVegas showgirl.
Bantams – Bantams are a group of chicken breeds that come in miniature. These half-sized breeds lay tiny eggs and can be kept in smaller living quarters.
Ayam Cymani – This is an Indonesian breed that’s gaining popularity across the US. This breed is interesting because the entire bird is black in color. The skin, feathers, eyes, and beak. They make a beautiful flock.
Raising meat birds is an excellent way to humanely raise a healthy meat product for your family. Really, any breed can be consumed, but some breeds have been raised to grow larger and make a better table bird.
Cornish Cross – The Cornish Cross also called The Cornish Rock X or simply, Broiler, is the most popular meat bird. This fast-growing breed is a cross between a Cornish Game and Plymouth Rock. The birds are table ready at about 8 weeks.
Jersey Giant – The Jersey giant a heritage breed and the largest breed of chicken. They are slower to grow, but have great flavor.
Dual Purpose simply means that the chicken breed lays a steady amount of eggs, but also gets large enough to make it a decent meat chicken. Many breeds fall under this category but the following are some popular examples.
- Rhode Island Red
- Buff Orpington
Broodiness is the word to describe a chicken that has the instinct to be a mother. In some breeds, this instinct has been bred out. In Silkies, however, the instinct is so strong that some birds are in a constant state clutch forming. They’ve even been known to steal other species eggs (ducks, guineas even turkeys) and have been successful at hatching them out.
Beyond the usefulness of the breed, there are also a few things to consider when it comes to choosing which chicken will work well in your situation.
If you have a tiny coop, you may want to consider bantams. Bantams eat less and need less space. They also lay fewer eggs and tend to be more “wild”.
As I said above, bantams tend to be more spirited. As a rule of thumb, most small breeds tend to be more hyper, flighty and uppity where large breeds like Buff Orpingtons are slower moving and gentle. The larger the breed, the more it has been domesticated and the less “wild” it behaves.
Chickens are quite adaptable and will thrive in almost all living conditions. However, there are a few that work better in some climates than others. For example, Turkens and Showgirls do well in warm climates because of their lack of plumage.
Wyandottes do excellent in cold climates. They have dense plumage and a short comb that is resistant to frostbite.
Breeds like Leghorn that have a large comb will experience frostbite in cold climates.