Getting chickens can be a fun experience. It’s hard not to want all the peeping fuzzies you see when you visit the local feed store (at least for me anyways!). However, different breeds often have unique functions, needs and temperaments. Chicken-keeping is a highly customizable hobby (the bulk of it is finding what works best for you!). Notwithstanding, knowing what breeds are most likely to thrive in your set-up and climate with the time you have to offer could spare you a lot of trouble later on.
What is included in this article:
- The breeds for your needs: The difference between egg, meat & ornamental chickens.
- Picking the breed for your set up.
- Climate consideration: Do you need exceptionally cold hardy or heat hardy breeds?
- Maintenance needs for different breeds
- Temperaments of different breeds
The Breeds for your needs: The differences between egg, meat & ornamental Chickens:
There are 4 basic chicken breed categories: Egg-layer, Ornamental, Dual-Purpose and Meat. Most online hatcheries and local feed stores have at least one from each category. However, some breeds fit into multiple categories. For this reason, it is a generally good idea to know why you want chickens before purchasing them. Do you want chickens for eggs, meat or do you want a dual-purpose breed (will supply eggs also good for meat)? Do you care if your birds are show quality or APA standard (i.e. legally recognized breeds and colors)? Alternatively, do you want chickens for pets (if so, you may want to check out this list of Family-friendly chicken breeds for eggs)?
Examples of Ornamental breeds recognized by the APA (American Poultry Association)
- Belgian D’Uccles
- Frizzles (of APA recognized breeds and color variations)
- Appenzeller Spitzhaubens
- Bantams (of APA recognized breeds and color variations)
Ornamental varieties not yet recognized by the APA
- Ayam Cemanis
- Long Crowers
- Svart Honas (Swedish Blacks)
- Quaib Hmongs
- Swedish Flowers
- Egyptian Fayoumis
Popular Egg layer Breeds:
Examples of Egg-layer Hybrids (Common or exceptional egg-layers but not true ‘breeds’)
- Gold & Black Sex links (Cinnamon Queens, Isa browns, Stars, Bovans Goldlines, Production sex-links, ect)
- California Greys
- Easter Eggers
- Olive Eggers (type of Easter Egger achieved by crossing a blue egg layer with a chocolate egg-layer. The result is an olive green egg-layer).
Meat Chicken Breeds:
- Freedom Ranger
- Cornish Cross
Notes on Heritage Meat Chicken Breeds
Heritage chicken breeds are chicken breeds that where originally bred for meat. However, they have been around for longer than our modern meat producing chickens. As a result, they mature slower (thus being less cost-efficient) and lay eggs. Heritage breeds are less prone to health complications due to unhealthy weight/size (unlike most Cornish cross chickens, which are bred to unhealthy proportions). You can read more about heritage breeds here.
Picking Breeds for your Set-Up:
Different chickens where bred differently and have varying occupational needs. Some breeds are better for small yards because they do not have a strong drive to forage. However, other breeds have strong foraging drives. Such breeds are constantly on the move and looking for edible substances and interesting objects. Knowing what breeds are more likely to thrive in the space and set-up you have will simplify and overall improve your chicken-keeping experience.
Do you have Property/Acreage) or a Small/landscaped yard?
You may want to consider which breeds are natural foragers if you have property and want to keep free range chickens. You may also want to consider which breeds have the most natural instincts that enable them to recognize predators—and give them the discernment to flee/hide when needed. However, many of the chicken breeds that do well free-range are very active and may get restless and bored when penned up and if let out, they will annihilate any garden in their path. In retrospect, if you have a small yard, you might want to consider a less active chicken breed that will be content with less space.
Note: Many of the breeds listed below are linked to posts that give more information about the breed. If you are interested and would like to read more, simply click the link.
Generally active Chickens:
- Sex-Link Hybrids (dual-purpose egg layers)
- Catalanas (egg-layers)
- Leghorns (egg-layers)
- Sumatras (ornamental)
- Egyptian Fayoumis (ornamental egg-layers)
- Jungle Fowl (ornamental)
- Rhode Island Reds (dual-purpose egg-layers)
- Plymouth Rocks (dual-purpose egg layers)
- Appenzeller Spitzhaubens (ornamental egg-layers)
A Few Breeds that may do well in smaller and/or landscaped, yards:
- Silkies (ornamental)
- Bantams (ornamental)
- Faverolles (dual-purpose, ornamental egg-layers)
- Sultans (ornamental)
- Cochins (ornamental)
- Pekins (ornamental)
- Polishes (ornamental egg-layers)
- Crevecoeurs (ornamental egg layers)
- Orpingtons (dual-purpose egg-layers)
Many chicken breeds are very heat hardy while others are cold hardy. Some breeds do not do well in weather that is very far either way. Knowing what breeds will naturally take to the climate you live in can make caring for your chickens much easier.
Cold Hardy Chicken Breeds:
- Sussexes (Dual-purpose, ornamental egg-layers)
- Rhode Island Reds/Whites (Dual-purpose egg-layers)
- Chanteclers (Dual-purpose egg-layers)
- Dorkings (Dual-purpose egg-layers)
- Australorps (Dual-purpose egg-layers
- Plymouth Rocks (Dual-purpose egg-layers)
- Sex-link Hybrids (Dual-purpose egg-layers)
Heat Hardy Chicken Breeds:
- Catalanas (Egg-layers)
- Spanish Minorcas (Egg-layers)
- Egyptian Fayoumis (Ornamental egg-layers)
- Gold/Black sex-link production hybrids (Dual-purpose egg-layers)
- Rhode Island Reds/Whites (Dual-purpose egg-layers)
- Leghorns (Egg-layers)
- Sumatras (Ornamental)
- Welsummers (Dual-purpose egg-layers)
- Turkens (Dual-purpose egg-layers)
Some chicken breeds require more maintenance than others. If you are looking at possibly free ranging your chickens or do not want chickens that need any more than basic maintenance, you may want to consider leaning away from of these breeds:
- Big Crested Breeds (such as Polishes, Crevcouers, Sultans and Houdans): These breeds may have slightly impaired vision due to their fancy feather-dos, making them more vulnerable to predators. Additionally, free-ranged crested breeds tend to get their crests dirty and messy.
- Feather-footed Breeds (Such as Cochins, Sultans, Silkies, Brahmas, Booted Bantams, Belgian D’Uccles and Faverolles): Most feather-footed chickens do not scratch up the ground as much as clean-legged breeds. However, they sometimes require more maintenance than clean legged (non-feather-footed) chickens and are less resistant to scaly leg mites.
- Extra Long-Tailed Breeds (Such as Phoenixes, Yokahamas, Onagadoris): Long-tailed breeds are beautiful to look at. However, they can easily get their tail feathers dirty, scratched and tangled free ranging.
Family Friendly Breeds
Many chickens are not easily tamed and/or often turn out aggressive toward people (particularly children) because of their breeding history. No breed is 100% guaranteed a mellow turnout and every chicken has a different ‘chicken-ality.’ However, certain breeds are generally non-aggressive and easily gentled. That being said, If you have kids or want chickens as pets, you might want to consider Family Friendly Chicken Breeds for Eggs.