Before you start raising backyard chickens, the first decision that you’ll have to make is which breed to buy. There are dozens of chicken breeds to choose from, and each one has its own pros and cons. There’s no single answer to which breed is best for you because it depends on your needs. Most backyard chicken keepers will have a few different breeds in their flocks.
When choosing a breed of backyard chickens, take into account what your goal is. Do you want to have a lot of eggs? Are your kids raising chickens for 4-H? Do you want meat birds?
Our Guide to Choosing a Chicken Breed
Some chickens are friendly and become pets, while others aren’t as friendly towards humans. Some breeds are ornamental and lay fewer eggs but are pretty to look at in the backyard.
Here are some tips to help you choose the right birds for your new or expanding flock.
Choosing a Chicken Breed to Raise
Generally, you’ll want to take into account your climate and coop area first and then choose what’s most important to you: eggs, meat, or temperament. From there, look for the breeds that will be suited to your climate and fit your first criteria.
Guide to Choosing a Chicken Breed: Climate
Before we get into egg layers or meat birds, the first thing that you need to look at is your climate and how much room your backyard chickens will have. Some breeds are more heat tolerant or cold tolerant than others. If you live in an area that gets cold in the winter and choose a cold hardy breed, then you may not have to heat your coop in the winter.
If you live in a cold climate, look for breeds that are well adapted to cold weather. They will have smaller combs, more feathers to keep warm, and don’t have feathers on their legs that can freeze and cause frostbite in the winter.
Good ones to try are:
- Rhode Island Reds
If you live in a hot climate, look for breeds that do not have a lot of feathers or heavy plumage. Smaller birds also tend to do better in warm climates.
Good breeds for hot weather are:
- Golden Buff
- Barred Plymouth Rock
Our Guide to Choosing a Chicken Breed: Backyard Pens
Another thing to consider is whether your flock will be free-range or in a coop. Will they have a pen to roam in during the day?
Bantams like to fly around a lot, so they are hard to contain in a pen. Leghorns also like to fly out of their coops, so you may need to clip their wings.
Smaller breeds like Silkies are good for small spaces. However, these birds lay small eggs.
If your main goal is to get a steady supply of eggs, some breeds are better egg layers than others. These breeds will lay nearly every day for about 5 to 6 eggs per week during the spring and summer. However, winter egg laying always decreases for any breed.
For more egg production, try one of the following breeds:
- Plymouth Rock
- Buff Orpington
Chickens can lay different colored eggs based on their breed. They can lay brown, white, blue, green, pink, or olive eggs. Although the eggs taste the same, it’s fun to have blue eggs in your fridge or to give to friends and family.
- Brahmas, Cochins, Delawares, and New Hampshire Reds lay brown eggs.
- Light Sussex and Australorps lay pink eggs.
- Ameraucanas, Araucanas, and Cream Legbars lay blue eggs.
You’ll also get some variation between the same breed of chickens. Some will lay darker or lighter eggs, so you’ll have a nice assortment of colors if you get these breeds.
Our Guide to Choosing a Chicken Breed: Meat Chickens
Some people raise chickens for eggs and then butcher the chicken for meat. Others raise chickens just for meat. If you are raising chickens for meat and not for egg production, look for Broilers. These chickens grow fast: up to 10 pounds in 5 weeks!
You don’t have to worry about the birds being cold hardy or able to handle the heat because you can simply buy them when the weather is nice and will be nice for the next five weeks.
The following breeds make good meat birds:
- Jersey Giant
- Cornish Cross
- Freedom Rangers
If you want your chickens to lay eggs and then be used for meat, then you want a dual-purpose breed. These breeds lay a lot of eggs, and they grow to a decent size for meat.
Our Guide to Choosing a Chicken Breed: Exhibition Breeds
There are several ornamental chicken breeds that are fine birds, but they aren’t exceptional for eggs or meat. However, they are fun to have in your flock. Cochins, Marans, and Frizzles are all fun chickens to have. These birds are fun to watch in your backyard, and they will give you a steady supply of eggs, although they usually lay fewer eggs than other birds.
If your kids are using backyard chickens for 4-H or another club, check with the regulations before placing your order. Rules and regulations may vary by state or county.
If you have children or want your backyard chickens to be pets, then you may want to try breeds that are friendlier. Buff Orpingtons, Brahmas, and Australorps are all friendly and will become part of the family.
Leghorns are good for eggs, but they can be noisy and sometimes aggressive. Delawares can also get aggressive. Rhode Island Red roosters also tend to be aggressive. If you have young children, then you may want to avoid these breeds.
Choosing the right backyard chicken breed can be difficult. If you have a large coop, you can get more than one breed to have more variety. Some backyard chicken keepers get a new kind of breed every few years so they have several different kinds.
No matter which breed or breeds you end up with, get your eggs or baby chicks from a reputable hatchery. These chickens will be stronger and healthier, so they are more likely to survive. If you can only have hens due to zoning restrictions, then a reputable hatchery is less likely to make a mistake during sexing young chicks.