Choosing Chicken Breeds
Martha, a Buff Orpington Pullet
If you do a bit of research, you’ll find that there are dozens of chicken breeds out there in the world. How do you choose? Just to narrow things down, I’m assuming that you’re interested in chickens as egg-laying pets, and that you don’t plan to butcher them for meat.
Once you rule out the meaties, you can divide up the remaining breeds into two groups: brown eggs or white. In every way but the cosmetic, brown eggs are just the same as white eggs. The only difference is the color of the eggshell. That being said, I just LIKE brown eggs better, so I went with brown egg layers.
Having just said that, the champion of the backyard chicken world is the “Easter Egg” chicken. This can be one of three breeds: Auracana (the original, and somewhat rare breed), Americana (the American version of same), and a breed just called “Easter Egger,” which is a hybrid mix of the other two. These birds lay colorful eggs in pastel shades of blue and green, with a range of speckles. Very pretty!
Which Breed(s) Should I Get?
Since I intend my chickens to be pets, I also ruled out any breed that was described as “flighty” or “not easy to handle.” Here’s the short list of brown egg layers which work well as backyard pets, and which are frequently available as chicks at the feed store:
- Australorp (a champion egg-layer. The world’s record is held by an Australorp – 364 eggs in 365 days.)
- Buff Orpington (very docile and friendly)
- Cochin (super fluffy!)
- New Hampshire Red and Rhode Island Reds (the classic “little red hen”)
- Plymouth Rock (beautiful black and white striped feathers)
- Wyandotte (ditto)
- The Sex Links: Red, Black, Black-and-Gold, Black Star, Red Star, etc: (Can be stand-offish and flighty, but great layers, and you won’t have to worry if you’ve gotten a rooster by mistake).
One of the best reference sources on the web is Henderson’s Chicken Breed Chart, which lists information including average size, body type, volume of eggs produced, color of eggs, winter hardiness, and behavioral information.
Don’t be afraid to mix different breeds into your micro-flock. However, you will want to be sure that you pick up all of your chicks within a week of one another. A significant age difference (more than a week or so) can create problems with bullying. It can also vex you with temperature control problems – if they are all kept in the same brooder, at any given temperature the younger chicks will be too cold, and the older chicks will be too hot. I ran into a situation where chicks of certain breeds were arriving at the feed store weeks apart, so I made my breed selection on the basis of arrival date.
Ready for the next step? Read my article City Chickens: Laying the Groundwork.
Chickens Behind Bars
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