When assembling a new flock of chickens, the enormous array of
breeds available to choose from can be daunting, but it’s important to make
an informed decision about breeds in order to avoid disappointment for the chicken keeper as
well as unnecessary challenges for the chickens. Some breeds do not fare well
in certain climates, some are not a good choice for young children, some
produce fewer eggs than others, etc. Below are some of the basic
factors to consider in selecting breeds. After the basics are established,
the field of suitable breeds becomes
much smaller and making choices becomes a much less daunting undertaking.
Most backyard chicken-keepers want laying hens, breeds that are reliable egg layers, not necessarily chickens that will be eaten, which are known as meat birds or table birds. When selecting breeds, the term “dual purpose” indicates that the breed of chicken is a good egg laying bird that may also be processed for meat. When good egg production is the objective, breeds that are known for being broody are not ideal because broody breeds often stop laying eggs in hopes of hatching chicks.
than do anything else and she is an amazing mother.
Some breeds cope
better with cold weather
than others due to heavy feathering; these are referred to as cold hardy breeds. Breeds that fare better in very warm climates due to their lighter/shorter/sleeker feathering are referred to as heat tolerant.
Kate is a Speckled Sussex.
COLD HARDY BREEDS commonly include: Ameraucanas, Araucanas, Australorps, Brahamas, Buckeyes, Chantecler, Cochins, Delaware, Dominique, Faverolles, Jersey Giants, Marans, Orpingtons, Plymouth Rocks, Wyandottes, New Hampshire Reds, Sussex and Easter Eggers (a hybrid).
Silver Laced Wyandotte, a cold hardy breed.
HEAT TOLERANT BREEDS commonly include: Andalusians, Appenzeller Spitzhaubens, Campines, Cornish, (NOT to be confused with Cornish Rocks, which are a meat hybrid) d’Uccles, Egyptian Fayoumis, Hamburgs, Leghorns, Modern Game, Minorcas, Naked Necks, Polish, Shamo, Sicilian Buttercups, Silkies, Spanish, Welsummers.
Dark Cornish hen, heat tolerant breed.
Silver Spangled Hamburg, a heat tolerant breed.
on the comb of this Black Copper Marans rooster.
Breeds with prominent combs can be expected to have more challenges with frostbite in very cold climates than breeds with smaller, less prominent combs. This is not to suggest that a heavy breed cannot live in a warm climate and a light breed cannot live in a cold climate, but seasonal accommodations would need to be made for birds better suited for a different climate such as in the case of the Marans rooster pictured above.
Kate is my Speckled Sussex. She is very friendly, inquisitive and docile.
While each chicken
is an individual with its own unique personality, generalizations can be made
about breeds in much the same way as in dog breeds. If a household has small children where a
docile, friendly dog is preferred, a feisty Chihuahua
is likely not the best choice; likewise, a Hamburg would probably not be a good breed choice if one is hoping for a mellow lap chicken. Chickens are often
characterized as being docile, flighty, calm, friendly and bearing confinement well or not.
Stella, my Silver Spangled Hamburg is very flighty & doesn’t bear confinement well.
Breeds from left to right: Barred Plymouth Rock, Golden Laced Wyandotte,
Easter Egger, Blue Ameraucanas.
3. Egg Production Rate
The rate of egg production
can also be generalized by breed. Some breeds are known for being prolific egg layers, producing 4 or more eggs per week, (Plymouth Rocks, Wyandottes, Hamburgs) while others lay less frequently (eg: Silkies and Seabrights). If a family of five relies upon the eggs collected from the backyard flock, Silkies are likely not the right choice. My Silkie didn’t start laying eggs until she was 14 months old and averages five eggs per month. (she’s an extreme example, however)
Blue Laced Red Wyandotte, Silver Spangled Hamburg & Bantam frizzled Cochin.
4. Egg Color
Each chicken produces a different egg color
based upon genetics. For some people, a colorful array of eggs is an important factor in breed selection, others, not so much. There are blue, green, dark chocolate brown, white and every hue in between to choose from. My neighbor insists on having a white egg-laying breed in her flock for the sole purpose of coloring eggs at Easter, while I prefer breeds that will produce fabulously colored eggs every day.
This is a Blue Ameraucana
– she produces beautiful blue eggs. Shop carefully for this purebred chicken as many breeders and hatcheries mis-label hybrid chickens as purebreds.
This is an Easter Egger
, which is a hybrid mix obtained from crossing a blue egg-laying breed with a brown egg-laying breed. While Esther produced a blue-green egg, Easter Eggers can lay a wide variety of colors from light brown to blue, olive green and everything in between.
Black Copper Marans. This breed is capable of laying dark chocolate brown eggs.
These eggs were from my Marans pullets.
Freida (White Silkie) with her Buff Orpington adopted chicks
Some breeds are predisposed to hatching eggs
more frequently than others. If a high rate of egg production
is important, a broody
breed such as Silkie or Cochin may not be the best choice. If one wishes to have hens hatch and raise chicks, broodiness is very important and either Silkies or Cochins are excellent choices.
Monica, a Black Cochin Frizzle, is a breed known for being broody.
The Breed I Need
After the five primary considerations are taken into account, the selection process is fun!
Here are some of the fun breeds I felt I needed when chicken math
White Crested Black Polish
Bantam Cochin Frizzle
My handsome Serama rooster. He was hatched from an egg I got from a breeder.
The hen on the left is a Golden Laced Wyandotte
White Leghorn pullet.
Australorp (going through a rough molt
Bantam Welsumer pullet.
Rhode Island Red
Bantam Buff Brahma