Choosing a Chicken Breed
Chicken breeds break down into three categories: meat chickens, egg layers and dual-purpose. Trying to decide which category of chicken you need and what breed out of the hundreds of different breeds is a daunting task. I hope I can help by narrowing the choices down to what I consider the top six chicken breeds for beginners.
For a beginner backyard chicken farmer, there are certain characteristics to look for when choosing a chicken breed. My top six breeds have at least two of these characteristics:
• Choose a friendly and easy to tame chicken breed
• Pick a breed that is easy to care for
• Look for a common breed. Avoid the fancy and rare breeds until you become more experienced. These should be breeds you can find at most local feed and farm stores or in hatchery catalogs
• For laying hens, choose a breed known for high egg production
• For meat chickens, you need a breed that will gain weight quickly
This is my number-one choice for a beginner chicken breed. Orpingtons have a great personality and lay a good amount of large brown eggs. Orpinton chicks like human contact and try to get your attention by jumping on you when you feed them. As adults, they still crave your attention and like to sit on your lap. This makes Orpingtons a great family chicken the kids will love. We owned an Orpington who would climb in our laps and go to sleep.
Orpingtons are a large breed with a standard weight of eight pounds. They are a hardy chicken and tolerate cold weather very well.
Rhode Island Red
Rhode Island Reds are the best breed for producing brown eggs, and their laying productivity is far above average. They adapt well to confinement or as a free-range chicken. They are easy to care for and hardy, making them ideal for beginners. Rhode Island Reds are an active breed and fairly calm and docile. However, males are aggressive and not suited around small pets and children. If you want rich, brown eggs, then choose the Rhode Island Red hens.
Leghorns are another superior laying chicken with a lay rate of more than 300 eggs yearly. These chickens are hardy and heat tolerant, but their combs and beaks are subject to frostbite so petroleum jelly is needed during the winter months.
You can use Leghorns for meat chickens, however, their lower weight of only 4.5 pounds makes them better for laying extra large, white eggs. If you are looking for a dual-purpose chicken, I recommend the Plymouth Rock.
With an average weight of 7.5 pounds and above-average egg production, the Plymouth Rock makes a great, dual-purpose chicken. Hens typically lay 200 brown eggs each year and males weigh up to 10 pounds. They are a robust and, cold hardy bird.
The Plymouth Rock is friendly, docile and easy to handle, making it a good addition to your flock. They are well adaptable to confinement or free-range.
The Cornish chicken has a quick growth rate and is large, making it popular with people raising chickens for meat. A male Cornish can reach 11 pounds while a hen may weigh as much as 8 pounds. The Cornish breed has white plumage, which doesn’t leave pigment in the skin unlike dark feathered chickens do.
They are cold hardy and less active than other breeds, making them easily contained. Because of their slowness and inability to defend themselves, I don’t recommend these birds for a mixed flock: keep them separated from the other chickens.
The Silkie Bantam chicken is an ornamental breed. If you want chickens for pets, then the Silkie is a good choice. They are a tame breed and small and great mothers should you decide to hatch fertile eggs. They also make good foster mothers for new chicks you add to the flock.
Silkies boast some unique features. With a face resembling a Shiatsu dog, these small chickens have black skin and bones and five toes instead of the standard four. They do well in close confinement but should be separated from the rest of your flock. Take special care during cold weather as their crest feathers may freeze.