There are literally hundreds of chicken breeds in the world, with about 65 varieties being recognized by the American Poultry Association, split between bantams and standards.
You can find chickens of various colors and with extravagant combs or no combs at all. There’s those with feathers resembling fur and others that have fancy, feathered top hats. Despite how picky you may be, you can find a breed of chicken appealing to you.
With all of these varieties of chickens it can be daunting to decide which breed to go with. Fortunately there are some breeds specifically suited for the backyard flock.
Choosing a Backyard Chicken Breed
For the average person who wants chickens, there are a few criteria you’ll probably want to keep in mind.
- Good to Excellent Egg Production
- Hardy in Cold Weather
- Resistant to Disease
- Free of Genetic Defects
- Fairly Calm and Docile Temperament
- Excellent Ability to Forage for Food
- Potential Mothering Capabilities
- Ability to Avoid and Flee from Predators
Most chickens that are able to achieve all eight criteria are heritage breeds. Heritage breeds are traditional varieties of chickens used by our forefathers prior to commercial breeds being developed.
Commercial breeds have the highest egg production but can be difficult as part of a backyard flock because they lack the ability to forage well, protect themselves and raise their own chicks. Commercial breeds also tend to succumb to disease much more easily as they were developed primarily in cages.
These beautiful black birds were developed in Australia as a dual-purpose chicken (meat and eggs). They are very good egg layers and are particularly well-known for their calm demeanor and overall hardiness. Though the average Australorp is black in color, there are blue and white varieties. Expect hens to reach around five to seven pounds in weight, with roosters reaching nearly 10 pounds.
2. Barred Rocks
This all-American breed originated in the U.S. and remains one of the most popular chicken breeds here. They are super hardy and very flashy in appearance. Barred Rocks are particularly good for cold climates and free ranging. Hens are a decent size and tend to reach six or seven pounds in weight, with roosters being a pound or two more.
3. Buff Orpingtons
This British breed is quite famous throughout Europe and the U.S. It is a particularly good layer but also will produce a decent carcass. Buff are very docile and great for kids. Hens rarely get over eight pounds. Roosters can easily reach ten pounds in weight. I’ve found that my Buffs are very gentle and can easily be picked on by other chickens – so keep this in mind if you plan on keeping a mixed flock.
4. Easter Eggers
Easter Eggers are more of a variety rather than a breed and are characterized by their blue to green eggs. Typically Aracaunas and Ameracaunas are the most popular Easter Egger pure breeds but this variety also consists of mixes of these two. Theoretically, any chicken that lays blue eggs can be an Easter Egger. Since this breed can often be mixes, weight ranges vary. Ameracaunas and high-percentage Ameracauna mixes will stay between five and six pounds while Aracauna and their mixes are a pound smaller.
5. Black Sex-Links
Sex-linked chickens are a hybrid breed that can be visually sexed as chicks. Black sex-links (also sold as Black Stars) are usually a cross between a Rhode Island Red (RIR) rooster and a Barred Rock hen. The resulting chicks will be all black (hens) and black with a white dot on the head (roosters). These are great birds for the backyard and amazing layers. This breed averages between five and eight pounds.
*Black sex-links can be “made” right at home if you get a RIR rooster and Barred Rock hens. If you plan to hatch your own chicks you will be able to sort out rooster chicks from pullets easily.
6. Rhode Island Reds
Another American breed are Rhode Island Reds (RIRs). This breed is a beautiful deep-red color and also dual-purpose. RIRs are commonly shown so when choosing these chickens for your flock be sure to buy utility lines so you get their egg-laying capabilities. RIRs are an average sized bird, ranging from six to nine pounds.
7. Silver Laced Wyandottes
Silver Laced Wyandottes are quite a spectacular specimen and will look fantastic in any backyard. This is an American heritage breed, developed in the 1870s as a dual purpose bird. They do well in cold climates and rarely get over eight pounds in weight.
8. White Leghorns
If you only want eggs, plan to never free range and live in a warm area, you really can’t go wrong with white Leghorns. Leghorns are a commercial breed and arguably the best egg-laying breed out there. They are a smaller chicken, staying around four or five pounds, and tend to be flighty.
There are many breeds that are quite suitable for a family flock, so selection really comes down to personal appeal. All the breeds mentioned are perfect for the backyard. If none of them really jump out at you, feel free to look into some other breeds that catch your fancy. Just be sure to compare the breed to the above criteria.
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