When we started raising backyard chickens, we put a lot of thought and research into the best egg layer hens to buy. Learning which breeds were best for our purpose saved us time as well as money by avoiding buying chickens not suitable for what we wanted. Now, twenty years later, we know which breeds work best for us. So which the best chicken for largest laying eggs?
Backyard Chicken Breeds for Egg Layers
All hens produce edible eggs but, only certain chicken breeds make the best egg layer hens, excelling at egg production. Personally, I prefer brown eggs so I base my breed choices on ones known for laying brown eggs. However, brown eggs are not healthier than white eggs: I just like brown eggs. The chicken’s diet controls the health benefits of eggs, the richness and color of the yolk and the bird’s overall health.
Many people argue that you can’t taste the difference between store-bought eggs and fresh eggs—I say, “baloney”, because not only are the yolks richer and more nutritious, they also have a better taste than any other eggs found in the grocery store. Raising chickens organically and cage free produces healthier and tastier eggs and meat. Once you try an organic meat chicken, free of antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals, you’ll never want chicken from the store again.
If you just started raising backyard chickens or if you already have a flock, get our e-book, Raising Chickens for Fun and Profit.
Treats for Your Girls – They’ll Love Them
5 Best Egg Layer Hens
Rhode Island Red: This is my favorite layer, due to their medium size brown eggs and their above average laying rate. Being both cold and heat hardy, Rhode Island Reds are good for any climate. They are easy to care for because they adapt well to a penned or free-range environment. Reds are an aggressive breed so be careful what breeds you place them with. This dual-purpose breed is well-known for both egg production and meat. If you want a do everything breed, the Rhode Island Red is the one to pick.
Leghorn: The best backyard chickens for lots of eggs, these chickens lay extra-large white eggs, producing over 300 a year. Even with their smaller size, they make a good dual-purpose chicken; using them for meat, once their laying production declines. If you want a meatier chicken go with the Plymouth Rock. Their egg production is lower but they are a large chicken, with an average weight of 10 pounds. While I prefer brown eggs, I always include a few Leghorns for their terrific laying rates.
Buff Orpington: This breed has an above average production of large brown eggs. Their friendly nature and cold weather hardiness makes them an excellent beginner chicken. If you plan to raise chicks, the Orpington is a good brooder and excellent mother. They also make good pets and I wouldn’t have a flock without one or two Orpingtons. However, because of their docile nature, other birds pick on them so they don’t do well with aggressive breeds.
Black Star: The hens are above average layers of large brown eggs and begin lying around five months. They are a hardy breed and easy to raise. These hybrid chickens are a cross between Barred Rock hens and Rhode Island Red roosters. The chicks are easily color sexed, meaning you identify males and females by their color. The males are black while hens have gold plumage on their neck and breast. The Black Star is another good beginner breed with a calm nature making them good pets.
Ameraucana: Also known as Easter Eggers, these backyard chickens lay eggs in various shades of blue, blue-green, green and cream. These easy to handle birds lay medium size eggs, are winter hardy and have average to above average egg production. Ameracuanas adapt well to confinement or free range and are calm and non-aggressive making them a good family chicken. Your kids will love collecting the colorful eggs.
Try various breeds for your backyard flock. Finding the best egg layer hens starts by understanding you desired results. If you want both meat and egg layers, I recommend including dual-purpose chickens like the Leghorn, and meat chickens like the Plymouth Rock. A flock of three to four hens gives a family of four an adequate amount of eggs but, I always have a flock of ten, usually more.
For more information about raising chickens, check out our e-book, Raising Chickens for Fun and Profit.
Chicken Coops – What You Need
Happy, healthy chickens need proper housing, but knowing what you need may seem daunting. Don’t let choosing the house for your chickens intimidate you. Meeting the needs of your flock, whether building your own chicken castle or buying ready-made, is easy and should provide for four basic needs.
- Protection from the elements
- Protection from predators
- Place for laying eggs
- A roost at night
The Components of a Chicken Coop
As I wrote in my Free Range article, chickens have an innate homing instinct, keeping your flock close to home. Our feathered kids are such home bodies that even free ranging, every night before sundown all our chickens are perched in the coop. I always recommend a protected place for your flock to come home and roost for the night, even when free ranging.
You don’t need a poultry castle for your chickens to come home to. Chicken coops come in many shapes, sizes, and designs, from fancy to plain. Believe it or not, your chickens won’t care what the coop looks like as long as it provides the above four basic needs.
With that said, before deciding what type of coop you are going to buy or build, you must decide what coop features are needed that most closely conform to a chicken’s natural behavior. Hopefully I can help you understand what you need in the design of your chicken coop.
Let’s start with the basics. All chicken coops need 3 things; a roof, 4 walls, and a doorway for entering and leaving. The design and the materials used for the chicken coop is up to you. As long as it is mostly draft free (you still need healthy ventilation), your choices are endless.
The number of chickens you plan to house determines the coop space. A good rule of thumb is 4 square feet of floor space per large chicken and 3 square feet for the smaller bantam breeds. Also consider the ease of cleaning when choosing your coop design; you’ll be glad you did.
Making a chicken coop predator free is the most important part of building a home for your flock. You must secure the top, bottom, and all sides of the coop. When looking at any pre-made coop or chicken coop building plans, consider all angles for security. Not only should you consider coop security, but yard and run security also.
When choosing the wire for your run and coop, we recommend steering clear of standard chicken wire. While it works well for keeping your chickens contained it’s not entirely predator proof. Because the holes in standard chicken wire are large, coyotes, raccoons, and foxes can still reach through the mesh, causing harm to your chickens. Always use a small hole wire like hardware cloth with ½ inch openings.
Another consideration when building the chicken yard or run, is airborne predators like hawks. You must include covering the top of the run as well. Our chicken runs use the same size mesh fencing on the top as the sides.
Finally, there are predators from below, such as rats and mice. These critters are attracted to the feed and droppings and like to burrow under your coop. Protect your chickens by using a coop with a floor built into it or burying small mesh fencing below the coop and extending it about 12 inches out on all sides.
The Outside Run
All coops need a connecting chicken run or pen. Chickens need access to the outside to do all those “chicken things”, like dirt baths, catching bugs, scratching dirt, or just relaxing in the sunshine or shade.
Ideally, your chicken run should have 10 square feet of ground space per full size chicken. The smaller bantam breeds require less, about 7 square feet per chicken. If your chickens free range most of the day, you can get by with less space.
If you want eggs, you need laying boxes. Make your boxes as fancy or as plain as you like, just as long as they are about 12” x 12” and raised off the ground a few inches. You need one box for every 4 laying hens. Boxes should comfortably fit the chicken and have low enough sides for the hens to step over. Be sure to keep your boxes lined with clean straw or other bedding.
All birds roost, including chickens. Your coop needs a roosting bar or something off the ground on which your chickens can perch. We strongly suggest having perches both inside the coop and outside in the run area.
When figuring roosting pole size, you need 5-10” of space per chicken and 10” of space between each pole if you are using more than one. Multiple poles also need grading like ladders so the farthest pole is several inches higher than the next.
There are many shapes, sizes, and styles of chicken coops to choose from. Making the right choice for your needs is important, and all coops need to contain all necessary elements.
Choosing A Meat Chicken
Are you thinking about raising meat chickens in a backyard and wonder which are the best meat chicken breeds? With the growing popularity of raising backyard chickens comes an increasing interest in raising meat chickens. Dual-purpose chickens, those yielding both eggs and meat, are the most popular. But many backyard chicken farmers are turning to meat chickens for their better flavor.
Just like with egg layers, a different result comes with different meat chicken breeds. Choosing the best meat chicken breeds depends on what you’re looking to achieve.
Best Breeds for Raising Meat Chickens in a Backyard
Broilers are chickens raised specifically for meat. They grow much faster than egg laying hens or dual purpose breeds. Most broilers have a fast growth rate with a high feed conversion ratio and low activity levels. In five weeks, broilers can reach a dressed weight of 4-5 pounds. Dual-purpose breeds, usually raised for both meat and egg production, are smaller with a slower growth rate.
The Cornish Cross is an excellent, fast growing broiler. Harvest time for a 4 pound broiler is normally 7 to 8 weeks. Their body make-up is superb, with broad breasts, large legs and thighs and a rich yellow skin.
Originating in the United States, this bird was developed to replace the turkey. A purebred chicken, the Giant’s weight averages 11-13 pounds. Jersey Giants grow at a slower rate than other meat birds, about 6 months to full maturity, making them undesirable to commercial industry. While originally a meat chicken, today, the Giant is prized as a dual-purpose bird, laying extra-large brown eggs.
Heritage / Heirloom
When describing Heritage chickens, the words heirloom, old-fashion and antique come to mind. The American Poultry Association began defining these breeds in 1873; setting standards for birds as being well adapted to various climates, hardy and long-lived and reproducing at a rate to provide a protein source to the growing nation.
As chicken breeding became industrialized, these breeds were replaced by fast growing hybrids. Today, more than three dozen chicken breeds are listed as in danger of extinction. To avoid irrevocable loss caused by the extinction of a breed, The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy sets standards for marketing these as Heritage.
I love Heritage breeds preferring them to the newer, fast growing breeds. They are large meaty chickens and many also produce a nice amount of eggs. I usually buy my Heritage breeds on line since they are harder to find locally than what more popular breeds are.
Heritage Chicken Breeds:
Campine, Chantecler, Crevecoeur, Holland, Modern Game, Nankin, Redcap, Russian Orloff, Spanish, Sultan, Sumatra, Yokohama, Andalusian, Buckeye, Buttercup, Cubalaya, Delaware, Dorking, Faverolles, Java, Lakenvelder, Langshan, Malay, Phoenix, Ancona, Aseel, Brahma, Catalana, Cochin, Cornish , Dominique , Hamburg, Houdan, Jersey Giant , La Fleche, Minorca, New Hampshire , Old English Game, Polish, Rhode Island White, Sebright , Shamo, Australorp, Leghorn- Non-industrial, Orpington, Plymouth Rock , Rhode Island Red – Non industrial , Sussex, Wyandotte , Araucana, Iowa Blue, Lamona, Manx Rumpy (Persian Rumpless), Naked Neck (Turken).
Preferred Heritage Meat Chicken Breeds:
Delaware – A heavy bodied bird, the male can weigh up to 8.5 pounds and a female, 6.5 pounds. Originating from the U.S., the Delaware is hardy in heat and cold and matures quickly. The meat is delicious and the hens lay jumbo eggs. Delawares have calm and friendly dispositions
Dorking – This relatively calm bird is non-aggressive so it does well around children and small dogs. Another dual-purpose chicken, the Dorking is a superior table fowl with tender flesh and meaty breasts and wings. Dorkings are productive winter layers, providing a steady egg supply when other breeds are not laying. Good broody hens and excellent mothers, they stay with their chicks much longer than other breeds.
Buckeye – This is the only American breed exclusively created by a woman; developed by Mrs. Nettie Metcalf of Warren, Ohio. This dual-purpose breed is very cold weather hardy and adapts to various living conditions. However, because they are very active, they do not do well in confined spaces, adapting best to free-range. Hens lay medium-sized brown eggs and weigh an average of 6.5 pounds; roosters average 9 pounds.
When you plan raising meat chickens in a backyard, consider your backyard space and setup and the amount of time you have to devote. You can use most backyard chicken breads for meat chickens, but each breed differs in flavor and meat texture. The backyard chicken breeds in this article are good for the table. For more information about meat chickens, check out our article Raising Meat Chickens.
Even though it’s still cold in different areas of the country now is the time for planning and buying baby chicks for eggs and meat.
If you’re to the stage of building your flock, it means you already know what chickens you want to raise. Whether you want laying hens or meat chickens, if you don’t know where to get them, you will not have a successful backyard chicken farm.
Those new to raising chickens may not know where to buy a flock. The problem is, there’s very little condensed information about hatcheries and breeders.
In this article, we list our favorite hatcheries with a synopsis of each one and what they offer. We also include the difference between breeders and hatcheries and which one is best for your needs.
Buying Baby Chicks: Hatcheries vs. Breeders
Choosing a breeder or a hatchery depends on what you plan for your chickens. If you’re looking for egg layers or meat chickens, then a hatchery is your best choice for buying baby chicks. But if you plan to raise show chickens, like the Brahma and the Cochin, a breeder is the best way to go.
One misconception is that breeder chickens don’t lay as many eggs as those from a hatchery. On the opposite end of the spectrum, others say chickens from a breeder lay better: total BS on both accounts.
A chicken has X number of eggs during their lifetime with their most prolific laying period from one to four years. Once they lay the predetermined number of eggs, they quit laying.
The number of eggs you get depends on the chicken breed and not who hatched the egg. Rhode Island Red and Leghorn hens lay 250-300 eggs each year while Delaware and Easter Eggers only lay 150-200 eggs each year.
You can find hatcheries in different states with most of them willing to ship their baby chicks to you. Most offer a variety of breeds including layers, meat chickens, Bantams, and exotic birds. It’s not always possible and depending on what we’re looking for; we prefer using a hatchery close to us.
Commercial hatcheries have a continuous assembly line of hatching eggs with thousands of chicks born each week. Once you place your order, day old chicks get shipped to the post office closest to you and delivery within 72 hours.
Our favorite hatcheries:
- Cackle Hatchery
- Meyer Hatchery
- McMurray Hatchery
- Hoover’s Hatchery
Our Recommended Hatcheries
Cackle Hatchery – Cackle Hatchery is a 3rd generation family owned hatchery offering over 193 varieties of poultry. Raising US Pullorum clean poultry since 1936, Cackle Hatchery ships to the 48 contiguous states plus Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico.
Besides poultry, the hatchery sells supplies including:
- Incubators and Nesting Supplies
- Feeders and Waterers
- Chicken Coops
- Transporting Boxes and Cages
411 W Commercial Street
PO Box 529
Lebanon, MO 65536
Meyer Hatchery – Since 1985, Karen Meyer has offered quality poultry and now carries the title of an industry leader with over 160 poultry breeds. The Meyer poultry lineup includes chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, peafowl, guineas, and game birds and a full line of supplies and feed.
Polk, Ohio 44866
McMurray Hatchery – McMurray has a 100-year history of providing customers with high-quality poultry and poultry supplies. The hatchery supplies small farmers and rural egg producers a large selection of day-old baby chicks, pullets, turkeys, geese, ducks, partridges, guineas, and quail. You can order a free catalog or view their available poultry online.
Besides their high-quality poultry, they offer starter kits, processing kits, general poultry supplies, and feed.
191 Closz Drive
Webster City, Iowa
PO Box 458
Webster City, IA 50595
Hoover’s Hatchery – Providing quality poultry with excellent customer service since 1944, Hoover’s prides themselves on a long tradition of supplying the best poultry in the industry.
Hoover’s keeps 15 breeding flocks for various laying chickens. Their broiler hatching eggs come from a reputable breeder in Hot Spring, Arkansas.
Their lineup includes:
- White, Brown, and Color Egg Layers
- Meat, Dual Purpose, and Rare Birds
205 Chickasaw Street
PO Box 200
Rudd, IA 50471
Some people swear by breeders for buying baby chicks other than show quality. They believe that birds from a breeder lay more eggs, more often. I can guarantee that buying from breeders doesn’t mean more eggs.
When born, chickens have an amount of egg cells for laying during their lifetime. The number of predetermined eggs depends on the breed. Certain breeds may lay several thousand during their lifetime, like a Leghorn or a Rhode Island Red while others, like the Easter Egger, only lays several hundred. Getting a bird from a breeder makes no difference in how many eggs you get.
Breeders are sometimes difficult to find. The first place to check for breeders in your area is the poultry association in your state and local feed stores. Since not all states have a poultry association, we’ve you a list of breeders where you can order chickens.
- McMurray Hatchery
If you can’t find local breeders, you must look online.
Our Recommended Breeders
Stromberg’s – Besides their quality show birds, Stromberg’s offers laying hens, meat chickens, poultry supplies, and a good selection of poultry related books, videos, and posters.
For show birds, Stromberg’s has a line of high-quality ornamental chickens, breeding them for appearance and conforming to American Poultry Association standards. These chickens have little if any economic value, but if you plan to show them, Stromberg’s is the place to get your chicks.
100 York Street
Pine River, Minnesota
PO Box 400
Pine River, MN 56474
PoultryShow.com – We believe this site is the best place to find show chicken breeders. They don’t sell chicks or eggs, but they run an all-inclusive site offering breeder information from around the US. Besides breeder listings, this huge information database includes poultry show information; swap meets, ABA sanctioned shows, guides to raising show chickens, and more.
We don’t have contact information for you because they have breeders listed in a database categorized by breed. You must visit their website and search for your breed of interest.
McMurray Hatchery – McMurray has a line of rare birds of show quality. See the information for McMurray Hatchery earlier in this article. Or visit their rare bird page by clicking on the link listed below. Be sure to check with them for availability and meeting show standards.
Summing it Up
When you don’t have many local options, or you can’t find the chicken breeds you want, online hatcheries and breeders come to the rescue. Most hatcheries have dozens of choices, and you can find almost anything you want. The important thing to remember is to choose your chickens according to what you want from them: eggs, meat, pets, or show.
If you know a breeder willing to ship, please share their information with us.