Backyard chickens are becoming all the rage right now. Not only do you get an easy source of food but you also get companions that act like pets. To find out which chickens you should consider, please consult our Chicken Breed guide.
Types of chicken breeds: If you love the idea of having chickens in your backyard, there are plenty of options. When selecting a breed, you should consider what your ideal purpose is. While most people want backyard chickens for egg production, you can also go the route of meat production. If you aren’t sure, you can always find dual-purpose chickens that are good at laying eggs and are large enough for meat purposes. Furthermore, you should consider if you want chickens that are friendly and affectionate. In North America, there are many breeds that are easy to find, as well as a few rarer birds. You should always select a breed that is best for the purpose to maximize your profits.
3 Types of Chicken Breeds
While all chickens have certain similarities, some are better than others for different purposes. It’s important to start by considering why you want chickens. The main reasons are for egg production and meat options, although there are many breeds that are good for both situations.
Finally, you should also think about whether you want your backyard chickens to act like pets. There are many breeds that love being picked up and are especially good around young children.
Egg laying Chicken breeds
Chickens lay eggs. This is one of nature’s finest gifts and probably the first reason for someone wanting to have backyard chickens.
There’s a certain satisfaction in raising an animal that almost daily gives you sustenance.
With egg-laying chickens, you can decide how many animals you want for your needs. While a few chickens will produce enough eggs to feed a family, with just a couple more animals, you can actually start a small egg-selling business.
For the most part, chickens will lay an egg every one to two days, although this frequency can alter depending on breed. Furthermore, many, but not all, breeds will drastically slow down their egg production during winter.
When it gets colder out, chickens will conserve their energy and halt their egg production as it requires a lot of effort.
Perhaps the most quintessential breed of chickens, Leghorns are white in color and produce large, white eggs. You can expect up to six eggs per week per chicken, which is quite amazing.
These chickens do well even in winter. Although most chicken breeds slow down their egg production once it becomes cold out, Leghorn chickens are not as affected.
While Leghorn chickens have a lot of positives to them, they are not the cuddly pet you may be looking for. These chickens prefer to be left alone and won’t merrily hop up on your lap as other breeds will.
Buff Orpington breed
Those that want a side of cuteness with their eggs will quickly fall in love with Buff Orpington chickens. These birds are extremely fluffy and have rich shades of tawny brown to their feathers.
Buff Orpington chickens have great personalities. They are kind and gentle and are perfect if you have small children that want to help with the chickens.
You can expect three to four eggs per week from these birds, which is fairly average. Hens can be quite broody and you may have to think of creative ways to collect eggs each morning.
An increasingly popular breed of chickens Ameraucanas is often confused with Easter Eggers. However, while Easter Egger chickens have eggs in four different colors, Ameraucanas only lay blue eggs.
Still, this is a great breed of chicken if you want a bit of color in your morning. The chickens themselves are a white to light brown color and are very fluffy.
When not producing eggs, which amounts to three to four a week, Ameraucanas are quite friendly and will happily cozy up on your lap for a bit of relaxation.
While Buff Orpington chickens are native to North America, Australorp chickens are their Australian counterparts. They can come in different colors, including black, blue, or white.
Australorp chickens have great temperaments and are sweet and friendly. They can be a bit shy at first, but if you raise them from chicks, they will soon settle into the family.
You can expect up to five eggs per week from this breed. The eggs are large in size and have light brown color to them.
While not the most common breed of chickens, Barnevelders have a unique coloring that makes them really stand out. They are a dark brown color with a swirly pattern of light brown on the tips of their feathers. As for their neck feathers, they are a dark green-black color.
Barnevelder chickens lay dark brown eggs, which again makes them quite unique. The eggs are medium to large in size and you can expect about three eggs per week.
While they are not the best egg-producing chickens, they still work hard, and having them on your farm can add a bit of excitement.
Easter Eggers breed
Before mass egg production, it was common to have chicken eggs of all different colors. Then, white became the standard color and other hues were not accepted.
Thankfully, this is changing now that more people are turning to backyard chicken coops. As a result, different breeds that produce different colored eggs are gaining popularity.
Easter Egger chickens are named so because of their multi-colored eggs. They can produce eggs in a blue, pink, aqua, and mocha color.
Their eggs are medium to large in size, and you can expect up to four eggs a week. While not the best-producing chickens, they are a great option if you love the whimsical color of these eggshells.
Meat Chicken breeds
A quick word on just what kinds of chickens you can eat. Male chickens are called roosters and female chickens are called hens.
You can eat both rooster and hens. Overall, roosters can have a gamier flavor and leaner meat while hens have a milder flavor and more tender meat.
The one caveat is that you generally don’t eat hens that have produced eggs for their life. After years spend laying eggs, hens are at least three to five years old.
At this stage of their life, their meat is very tough in texture and has a gamey taste. However, you can still eat older hens and they work well as stewing meat.
Jersey Giant breed
With their thick black feathers and iridescent undertones, these are chickens that have a very domineering presence. However, they are actually quite sweet in temperament.
While Jersey Giant chickens are not a very popular breed, there is no reason for them not to be so. They are docile in nature and are content to forage for their own food. Furthermore, you can pick them up for a snuggle.
Jersey Giant chickens will produce up to three eggs a week but they really shine with meat production.
Nicknamed the “queen of chickens,” this may be some of the tastiest chicken meat you will ever eat. However, they are expensive to purchase and thus are not very common in backyard chicken coops.
Bresse chickens have a particular genetic lineage that is unique to the breed. Essentially, they metabolize food in a way to creates different fat and meat growth in their body.
Although they are roughly the same size as other chickens, their bones are very small and dainty. As a result, they have more meat on their bodies.
You can certainly find Bresse breeders in the United States. However, while regular chicks cost about $5 to $10, Bresse chicks can cost upwards of $200.
If you do decide to raise these chickens, you will reap your costs back when you sell them for butchering. There is a small but lucrative market for Bresse chicken meat.
Cornish Cross Rock breed
This is a hybrid chicken that was developed specifically for meat production. White in color, they look a little disproportionate, due to their genetic engineering.
Cornish Cross chickens grow very quickly, which means you don’t have to spend a lot of money on the feed before they are ready for butchering. Their breast meat is particularly plump, as are their thighs.
One highlight of this breed is that their meat is very tender. This is due to them being ready for slaughter at such as young age.
Dual Purpose Chicken Breeds
Versatility is always a positive factor and there are many chickens that work for both egg and meat production. This is a good route to go in if you aren’t sure what your market is, or just what you want to do with your chickens.
When people first get chickens, they may dream about all the eggs they will have. In reality, this can be too many eggs, and running an egg business takes steady work.
Having the option of selling your chickens for meat takes the burden off your egg business and allows you to pick and choose as needed.
There is one important consideration, however. Hens are only good for meat when they are young. You can’t expect a chicken to lay eggs for three or four years and then fetch a good price for her meat.
Instead, you will have to determine if you want to sell your chickens at an early age before they reach one year old. While you can still sell egg-producing hens when they are older, they won’t sell for much as their meat is very tough and gamey.
A true dual-purpose breed, Brahma chickens can really do it all. These chickens also have a unique look, making them a real hit on any farm.
Brahma chickens are extremely fluffy. The white feathers on their bodies are in contrast to their black and white neck and tail feathers.
For egg production, you can expect Brahmas to produce three to four eggs a week which are medium to large in size. One nice feature is that they actually produce more eggs during the winter, which is opposite to most other breeds.
Their large size means Brahmas won’t fly far and instead are happy to stay in their enclosure. Furthermore, their largeness means a lot of meat although they are quite friendly and calm.
Light Sussex Hens breed
A very common breed of hens, Sussex chickens has always been a steady and successful type of chicken for backyard coops.
These chickens have a bright white body and their necks are speckled with black feathers. They are quite austere in their origins and have been in England for over 2,000 years.
These are very friendly birds and make for a great addition to any backyard. They are not aggressive and therefore a good option if you have children.
As far as egg production goes, Light Sussex chickens are quite good at it. You can expect between four and five eggs per week, all large in size.
Their eggs are brown in color and what makes them really unique is that they will keep producing, even during winter. This makes them a great choice as many hens drastically stop their egg production when it gets cold.
Meat-wise, this is also a good option. You may want to increase the fat content of their food if you decide to butcher them, but otherwise, there is nothing else you need to do with them.
Barred Plymouth Rocks breed
With a vibrant black and white coloring, Barred Plymouth Rocks are gorgeous to look at. They are soft and gentle and perfect if you have children.
What really makes Barred Plymouth chickens stand out among the rest is their ability to lead a pack. If there are other breeds of chickens, these ones will become the pack leaders, nudging everyone into the coop at night.
For egg production, you can expect four to five eggs per week. Eggs are large in size and have a lovely brown color.
Meat-wise, Barred Plymouth rocks are definitely dual-purpose birds. They are large in size and so will yield quite a bit of meat.
A perfect, well-rounded bird, Wyandotte chickens are large and fluffy. Their black feathers have white speckles on them and they are quite large in size.
Wyandotte chickens are popular backyard chicken coops and thus are easy to find in the United States and Canada. While there is also an Australian breed of this chicken, they are much harder to find.
These birds are very docile and get along well with both other chickens and children. It is because of their sweet temperament that they are so popular.
You can expect between three and four eggs per week from Wyandotte chickens. While this isn’t as much as other breeds, it is still perfectly decent.
The large size of these chickens means they are excellent for butchering. They prefer areas with large runs so it is best to butcher them before they become too old; otherwise, their meat will be quite lean.
Rhode Island Red breed
Another very popular breed of chickens, Rhode Island Reds have gorgeous red-brown color and are quite fluffy. While they sometimes have a tendency towards aggression, if you give them a large enough habitat, there should be no issues.
Rhode Island Reds can produce three to four eggs a year, which is a good yield. They are also good for butchering, so you can have your choice with these birds.
Classes of Chicken Breeds
Now, this section gets a little technical, so it might be a bit confusing at first. While chickens are a species, there are many different breeds, as we’ve so far noted.
The organization that oversees chicken breeds in the United States, the American Poultry Association (APA) has different classifications. There are two overarching categories within this system.
Standard breeds refer to chickens that are of average size. There are many breeds within this category.
Then, there are bantam breeds which refers to all other chickens that are smaller in size. While standard breeds are classified by their breed name, bantam breeds are categorized by their physical characteristics.
Since our article is about the best backyard chicken breeds, all of which fall under the standard classification, this is what we will stick to in this section.
Within the category of American breeds, there are 13 distinct types of chickens. Despite the name, they include breeds from both America and the United States.
Due to their origin, most of these birds are cold-hardy, which means they are fine with colder winters. However, you may still need to place warmers in their chicken coops if temperatures go drastically below freezing.
Despite the large size of Asia, there are only three breeds within this group. They are all large chickens that have feathered legs.
Similar to their large chicken size, the eggs are also large in size and are a brown color.
A somewhat confusing name, continental breeds all originate from continental Europe, including France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
For the most part, these chickens are quite lively. As a result, they are not the best for backyard coops as they may want to fly away.
Interestingly, within the category of English breeds of chickens, five are from the United Kingdom and one is from Australia.
These birds are quite large and full of feathers. They prefer a more moderate climate.
Hailing from Italy and Spain, Mediterranean breeds of chickens are quite unique looking. They have white earlobes which can really stand out against their darker faces.
Their eggs are always white in color. Unfortunately, Mediterranean chickens are not the best for backyard coops.
These birds prefer a free-range area and have a tendency to be flighty. Furthermore, they are good at evading capture and because of their expert foraging skills, are happy to roam free.
Other Standard Breeds
Any chickens that are not classified in the above-mentioned four categories are simply deemed as other standard breeds. They are standard in size, hence the name.
Among these chickens include game birds, oriental birds, and miscellaneous birds.
How many chickens do you need?
The number of chickens you will have in your backyard coop is directly proportional to your space and your needs. You can start with as little as two chickens, and as long as your zoning regulations allow it, the sky’s the limit.
Chickens are fairly social, and because you have to build a coop, it’s a much better investment to have at least two, if not four or five chickens at a minimum.
With this amount of chickens, you will have enough eggs for your family and possibly a few neighbors. More chickens and you will be able to start a small egg business.
If you want to raise chickens for the purpose of butchering, then you will have a steady ebb and flow of baby chicks that grow into adults, who are then ready for butchering.
Space is always an issue with any animal, so make sure you take that into consideration. Chickens need both a protected space for a coop and an open area for a run. The fences should be high enough to discourage flying away, as well as to prevent predators from getting in.
Also, remember that chickens are messy birds. They like to forage for insects which means their run will be turned over as they peck at the dirt.
Chickens also poop wherever they want, so always wear a sturdy pair of boots. However, chicken manure is great for the garden, so it pays to do a bit of extra work to salvage it.
Backyard chickens make for great companions. They are able to produce eggs, or if you want to go an alternative way, are also good for butchering. Once you decide what purpose you want your chickens to have, there are many breeds to discover.