The Best Backyard Chicken Breeds

Choosing the Right Chickens for a Micro Flock

While commercial egg farms select hen breeds based solely on productivity and uniformity of egg color, a backyard chicken keeper must consider several traits when creating a small flock. Most backyard chickens exist in small flocks, and are used to produce eggs for a family. The following traits are desired in backyard hens:

  • A friendly personality
  • Excellent egg production
  • Lack of flightiness
  • Hardiness in hot and/or cold weather

A backyard chicken keeper may also select hens to preserve heritage breeds and to obtain unusual egg colors.


Barred Rocks in a Family Flock

Barred Plymouth Rocks are gregarious and provide many eggs for the backyard flock. They are friendly with children.
Barred Plymouth Rocks are gregarious and provide many eggs for the backyard flock. They are friendly with children. | Source

Barred Plymouth Rock

The Barred Plymouth Rock is a heritage breed (first exhibited in 1849), and an excellent producer of large brown eggs. The hen has barred black-and-white feathers and a single comb. The Barred Rock is a dual-purpose bird and can be used for meat and for egg production.

These chickens are cold hardy and very friendly with their human owners. Barred Rocks are not flighty and will be content in a backyard setting. In addition, this breed is not extremely aggressive to other chickens - this is important when dealing with a small number of hens.

Barred Rocks can be expected to lay 200-280 eggs per year. Hens should start laying between 16-20 weeks of age. As with most hens, egg production will decrease over the winter months. For backyard flock owners who would like to keep egg production steady, artificial lighting over the winter months will help to keep egg production rates steady.

Unusual Egg Colors

A flock may be selected to produce unusual egg colors. The blue egg is from an Easter Egger chicken, the dark brown egg is from a Barred Rock, and the light brown egg is from a Buff Orpington.
A flock may be selected to produce unusual egg colors. The blue egg is from an Easter Egger chicken, the dark brown egg is from a Barred Rock, and the light brown egg is from a Buff Orpington. | Source

The Best Chicken Breeds

What is Your Favorite Backyard Chicken Breed?

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Buff Orpington

The Buff Orpington is a British breed, and is one of the best breeds for a family flock. This chicken is extremely friendly, docile, and lays large light brown eggs. These birds are exceptionally cold hardy, but may not do as well in extremely hot climates. Another dual-purpose breed, these hens are very large and will weigh 7-8 pounds (3.2-3.6 Kg) at maturity.

The Buff Orpington will start to lay eggs at approximately 20-24 weeks of age. Watch for signs of imminent egg-laying, such as squatting, singing the "egg song," and the comb and wattles obtaining a red color. This breed will lay 200-280 eggs per year.

"Big Buffs" have a tendency to become broody, which can be a nuisance to some backyard owners. These hens are excellent mothers and the broodiness can be an advantage when new chicks are ordered, as a broody hen will raise new chicks as her own.

Benefits of Backyard Hens

  • Chickens given access to pasture produce eggs with 2-3 times more Omega-3 fatty acids than commercially produced eggs.
  • Hens will recycle table scraps, reducing the amount of garbage that goes to a landfill.
  • Hens produce manure. When composted, the manure creates a fantastic fertilizer for vegetable and flower gardens.
  • Chickens as pets teach children about the food supply chain.
  • Hens are fun to watch, and are one of the few pets that give something back (eggs)!

Silver Gray Dorking

An endangered and old breed, the Silver Gray Dorking is known as an extremely friendly chicken. These hens are so docile they may be subject to pecking and injury from more aggressive breeds. Dorkings lay medium sized cream colored eggs. They are good layers, averaging about 175 eggs per year. They are a dual-purpose bird.

These hens were introduced to Britain from the Roman Empire, and have 5 toes on short legs. Similar to the Buff Orpingtons, Dorkings have a tendency to go broody. While Dorkings will not stray far from home, they do like to roost in trees (an interesting feat for a chicken with short legs)!

Chicken Characteristics

Breed
Hardiness
Egg Production
Egg Color
Egg Size
Barred Rock
Cold Hardy
Very Good
Brown
Large
Buff Orpington
Cold Hardy
Very Good
Tan
Large
Gray Dorking
Cold Hardy
Good
Cream
Medium
Wyandottes
Cold Hardy
Very Good
Brown
Large
Easter Eggers
Cold Hardy
Very Good
Variable (Blue, Green, or Pink)
Extra Large
Australorps
Cold Hardy
Excellent
Brown
Large
Marans
Cold Hardy
Very Good
Dark Chocolate Brown
Large

Wyandottes: A Good Backyard Chicken

Wyandottes

Wyandottes come in many different colors and patterns. Silver Laced Wyandottes are the most frequently seen, but Columbian, Penciled, and Blue-Laced-Red varieties are also observed. These hens are dual-purpose and have a rose comb. They are cold hardy and large (7-8 pounds).

Wyandottes lay approximately 275 large brown eggs per year. They have variable personalities - some hens may be friendly and get along with their flock-mates. Others may become dominate and aggressive toward other hens in the flock. The majority of Wyandottes are fairly easy-going, and should mix well with most backyard flocks.



Easter Eggers

Easter Egger chickens are not a heritage breed, and are not pure-bred chickens. They are a mixed breed, generally bred to produce colorful eggs. Depending on the hatchery or breeder, Easter Eggers may be bred to produce green, blue, or "pink" (light tan) colored eggs. Most hatcheries and breeders sell blue or green laying Easter Eggers.

While this breed is not a heritage breed, they are a fun addition to a backyard flock. The eggs are beautiful and unique. The egg color can also be a selling point for those who wish to sell eggs from their hens.

These chickens often have a beard and a muff, characteristics from the pure-bred Araucana chickens used in the breeding process. Easter Eggers tend to be friendly and curious, and are easy to tame. They lay approximately 200 extra-large eggs per year.

Excellent Book for Keeping Chickens

A Chicken in Every Yard: The Urban Farm Store's Guide to Chicken Keeping
A Chicken in Every Yard: The Urban Farm Store's Guide to Chicken Keeping

This book is an excellent resource for the casual backyard chicken keeper.

 

Black Australorps

This Australian breed was developed from Black Orpingtons, and is another dual-purpose chicken. An Australorp set the egg-laying record, laying 364 eggs in 365 days - while this feat hasn't been repeated recently, these hens are excellent producers of large light brown eggs.

These hens have black feathers with a green iridescence in the sunlight. They are large birds and will weigh 5-7 pounds at maturity. These hens mature quickly and will begin laying at approximately 16 weeks of age.

While the adult hens are entirely black, chicks are hatched with black and white down. Some early chick feathering may include some white feathers, which will fall out at the first molt.

Australorp Chick

A 1 week old Australorp chick from our backyard flock.
A 1 week old Australorp chick from our backyard flock. | Source

Maran Eggs

Maran hens lay extremely dark brown eggs - the appear to be chocolate!
Maran hens lay extremely dark brown eggs - the appear to be chocolate! | Source

Marans

Maran eggs are highly sought after, as they are often so dark they appear to be chocolate in color! Some Marans lay darker eggs than others, with the Black Copper Maran laying extremely dark brown eggs.

These chickens are cold hardy and calm. They are one of the rarest chicken breeds in the United States, though they are common in France. Most Marans will have feathered legs, though there are clean-legged varieties available. The French Poultry Standard states Marans should have feathered legs.

Mature hens are 5-6 pounds and lay over 200 dark chocolate brown eggs per year. For the darkest eggs, seek out a breeder working to improve the breed's egg color. Due to an import ban, the genetic stock of this breed suffers from a lack of diversity in the United States. This is a rare breed.

Breeds for Small Flocks

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A Buff Orpington hen.A Barred Rock hen as part of a backyard flockAn Australorp hen, showing the beautiful green iridescence peculiar to this breed.An Easter Egger hen.
A Buff Orpington hen.
A Buff Orpington hen. | Source
A Barred Rock hen as part of a backyard flock
A Barred Rock hen as part of a backyard flock | Source
An Australorp hen, showing the beautiful green iridescence peculiar to this breed.
An Australorp hen, showing the beautiful green iridescence peculiar to this breed. | Source
An Easter Egger hen.
An Easter Egger hen. | Source

Which Breed is Best for You?

Any of the breeds listed above are fantastic for a small flock. Most chicken owners have more than one breed of chicken, though some will specialize in a single breed. Our family has a small flock of Buff Orpingtons, Barred Rocks, and Black Australorps. This mix of chickens produces a large quantity of eggs and is personable (and friendly with our children).

There are many different chicken breeds, and all provide entertainment with the benefit of healthy, protein-packed eggs!


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58 comments

leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

We go through a lot of eggs and live on an acre, so we decided to raise chickens this year. We love our Buff Orpingtons.. they are my favorite chickens so far. I do have one Barred Rock that is so friendly that she runs up and jumps on our hand when she sees us - they are really entertaining as pets. They are not very difficult to care for, either. I hope you are able to get a few chickens, PegCole!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 years ago

When I do get my new home with land, getting some chickens is high on my list of priorities. Thanks for the advice and tips. I think I would love to go with the Buff Orpinton.


chickenista 2 years ago

This blog is so cool! Nice! I also have a blog about chickens if you want to check it out.... (It's obviously not as good as yours, though) BTW: All chickens are awesome!!!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

We REALLY love our Buff Orpingtons, teaches~ they are so friendly and have the softest feathers! Chickens are a great addition to any backyard (as long as they are allowed in the area you live in)!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

Thanks, chickenista! I have friends who have other breeds they enjoy - Leghorns, Dominiques, and Polish chickens top their lists. I love our chickens!


lobobrandon profile image

lobobrandon 2 years ago

The Australop hen looks really strong and sturdy! Never seen Maran eggs ever - I'd definitely think they were chocolate :D

A deserving hub won today, great job!


Kathy Cronin profile image

Kathy Cronin 2 years ago from Ireland

This was really helpful, and a very interesting read, thank you!


craiger-m profile image

craiger-m 2 years ago from Great Britain

My wife's family keep chickens and we get a regular supply of eggs. I would love to have a few of my own.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

Congratulations on being awarded Hub of The Day! This article is truly deserving.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

I don't currently have any Maran hens in my flock, lobobrandon, but I am desperate to obtain a few Black Copper Marans next year! They lay beautiful eggs!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

I am glad it was helpful to you, Kathy!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

Craiger-m, we love having our own flock of chickens. They are not hard to care for, and fresh eggs are so much better than months-old store-bought eggs. I hope you are able to have a small flock some day!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

Thank you, PegCole! We love our backyard chickens - we currently have a small flock of 5, but I would like to get a few Marans and Easter Eggers for next year.


melpor profile image

melpor 2 years ago from New Jersey, USA

Very informative hub. I enjoyed reading it and I once lived on a farm with some of these chicks running around in the yard. Voted up and interesting.


Robin Marie profile image

Robin Marie 2 years ago from USA

My husband really wants to keep chickens. If I ever give in to his desire, I'll be back to read this one again.


pocono foothills profile image

pocono foothills 2 years ago from Easton, Pennsylvania

Interesting article. I made me reminisce about my youth, because when I was a young boy my father decided he wanted to raise some hens so we could have fresh eggs. Times were tough financially, and he was looking for ways to economize. So, he went to the local farm supply store and bought a bunch of baby chicks (17 of them as I recall). As they matured, we discovered that all 17 of them were roosters. We never did get any eggs, but I learned at a young age how to catch, decapitate, de-feather, and butcher a chicken. Thankfully, as skill I have not needed since then.


Scott A McCray 2 years ago

Love the Black Copper Marans and those lovely dark eggs. My brother is breeding them along with several other varieties. Free ranged chickens produce the tastiest eggs...

A well-deserved Hub of the Day! Congrats!


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

I got 3 Rhode Island Reds a year ago and they are just fantastic and lately I am getting a double yoke from one which is supposed to be one in a thousand! I have had 2 in just a few days. That is suppose to be bad (hormonal chicken) but they all seem happy to me! I would love the colored eggs though!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

We love watching our chickens, melpor - they are so funny and have great personalities!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

Robin, I hope you give it a try one of these days! My poor husband was not sure about keeping chickens, but finally gave in and now we have a small flock. They are a lot of fun and are not very difficult to care for. They are also one of the only pets that reward your efforts with food!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

What bad luck to have all 17 of your chicks turn out to be roosters, Pocono! Farm supply stores often sell chicks as "straight-run," which means you get chicks that don't have an identified gender. I have heard stories of some sellers trying to pawn off multiple roosters to an unknowing customer. There are a few ways to get chicks that have a high probability of being hens: 1) purchase a hen that has a sex-linked trait, as these chicks can be identified at hatching as male or female. 2) Order from a hatchery that offers gender-determination prior to shipping. The hatchery we purchased our chicks from offers a 95% guarantee that the ordered chicks will be pullets (female). 3) Buy started pullets, which are older chicks that have not started laying yet - these birds are sold when they are old enough for gender to be identified accurately. I hope you never need to use your chicken processing skills again!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

Scott, I agree. There is nothing better than a free-ranged, fresh chicken egg. The yolks are so bright and yellow (or orange), and the whites are so thick. Store-bought eggs are so watery and tasteless in comparison!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

Jackie, I have heard mixed reviews on Rhode Island Reds. Some people love them and others think they're too aggressive in a mixed flock. I would guess that a flock of all Rhode Island Reds would be happy together. I wonder if the negative reviews come from people trying to keep Buff Orpingtons (a mild-mannered breed) with the RIR's? Rhode Islands are FANTASTIC layers, and are pretty red hens, too.


thoughtfulgirl2 2 years ago

Beautiful photographs to go with quite an interesting article:)


thoughtfulgirl2 profile image

thoughtfulgirl2 2 years ago from East Coast

I never knew there were so many different kinds of chickens, well, you learn something new everyday!


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 2 years ago from United States

Congrats on HOTD, Leah! Great article.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

Thank you, thoughtfulgirl! There are many breeds of chickens - everything from blue-egg laying breeds to tiny bantam pets!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

Thank you, Dirt Farmer! I love our chickens!


swilliams profile image

swilliams 2 years ago from Arizona

What a unique Hub! There is a lady in my Zumba class that raises chicks so cute. The Australorp Chick is so adorable. Thanks for sharing voted up and tweeted out! Congrats on HOTD!


lobobrandon profile image

lobobrandon 2 years ago

Leah, we had chicken in our backyard when I was younger at my grandmothers place. It's a faint memory, but I remember them being really fun to be around.

Hope you get yourself some black copper marans :) the ones we had were similar to your buff orpington hens. But wonder if it's the same breed here in India :)


swilliams profile image

swilliams 2 years ago from Arizona

I also wanted to add that the little John Deere Denim overalls are super cute! Very adorable young man.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

Congrats on HOTD! Very interesting and well-presented.

I wonder, though, which breeds are heat-tolerant? You listed many as "cold hardy," but where we live, while we can get a few winter cold snaps down into the mid 30's, hot summers are more the issue. Temps vary between 80 and 104 degrees, with around 90 being average.

Also, as a (lacto-ovo) vegetarian, a 'dual purpose' breed is not of interest to me. It is only my husband and I, and I don't want roosters; have no interest in raising chickens; only want eggs.

A few friends of ours have chickens, and they are now saying they are not laying much anymore, as the are 3 or 4 years old. Is that all they last as layers? And then (for us) they would become just pets?


poetryman6969 profile image

poetryman6969 2 years ago

The chicks are cute. I like the idea of those Easter eggers.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

I got two other chicks; they are not what they said they were so I just haven't looked to see if they are muts or what and my Rhode Island Reds do have pecking order over them of course but the muts are beautiful and healthy and don't really pay them much mind. There are no feathers flying and they have been together for weeks now. They are all named and pets, lol, but I get 5 eggs a day.


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

Wonderful hub here. I loved reading about all of the different backyard chicken breeds. I would need to find some for very extreme heat here in the deep south and friendly with children, as we have our grands up all the time. Your photos are great and adorable too.

Congrats on the HOTD!


DealForALiving profile image

DealForALiving 2 years ago from Earth

Congratulations! Very well written hub


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

Thank you, SWilliams! Our Australorp was adorable as a young chick, but went through the ugliest "teenage" phase! Fortunately adult Australorps are gorgeous chickens (they have a green iridescent sheen to their feathers). Chicks are all adorable!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

There are so many interesting breeds - I wonder what the common breed in India is? It would be fun to acquire a breed from each country - a "United Nations" of chickens! I really want a Swedish Flower Hen, too, lobobrandon!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

Swilliams, my little boy loves those overalls! He is outgrowing the legs, though - he is growing like a weed!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

DzyMsLizzy, there are several heat tolerant breeds, but many are not very "friendly" (a characteristic prized by people who want pets out of their chickens). The heat tolerant birds are often a bit more flighty and some are of the game bird category, which means they can be a little more aggressive. We have all dual-purpose breeds in our flock, though we do not intend to eat any of them. Most of the calmer chicken breeds are dual-purpose - the larger chickens tend to be less flighty and more friendly. Even though a chicken breed might be labeled as "dual purpose," one is not required to use them for meat! All laying hens have a peak production of about 3 years. Once they are past that age, they will lay less frequently (and eventually stop laying altogether). This is known as "henopause" in chicken circles.. once they stop laying, they are simply pets. It is common in our area to have a rotating flock - with some older (non-laying hens) slowing replaced by younger laying hens. Some people also cull older hens - it depends on one's personal preferences.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

Thank you, poetryman! Easter Eggers lay really cool eggs. The shells are so pretty!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

Jackie, my friend's favorite chicken is a mutt. She has a little hen obtained from an Amish farm that has the best personality! Sometimes mutts make the best chickens! How many chickens do you have? I really love our little flock. We use the chicken manure on our gardens and our tomato plants love it!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

There are a few breeds that would do well in the south, Faith Reaper. The Barred Rocks can tolerate heat fairly well - they wouldn't do well in an extreme desert environment, but would be fine in the south. Easter Eggers do well in the heat, too. I have a friend in Alabama who raises most of the same breeds I do, and they fare well. Our summer temperatures hit the 90's (with high humidity) in Western NY and all of our breeds are fine.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

Thank you, Dealforaliving!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

So, would the cold-hardy breeds you've listed not do well in our summers?


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

It really depends on how hot your summers get, DzyMsLizzy - Barred Rocks and Easter Eggers could easily withstand temps in the 90's... but desert temperatures are quite a bit more difficult for these breeds. If you have sustained temperatures over 100 degrees, you will need to find a way to help them cool down (misters, etc.) - there are hot weather breeds (like the Egyptian Fayoumi), but these chickens aren't known as being quite so "friendly." It depends on what you are looking for in a backyard chicken - if you are looking for friendliness along with egg-laying, I would go with a Barred Rock or a White Leghorn. They are both heat tolerant. If you live in a climate like Phoenix, Arizona, however - I would look for a desert breed like the Fayoumi or a Sumatra. They aren't as prolific for laying eggs, though.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

We live in the far eastern part of the San Francisco Bay area. Average summer temps are in the mid 80's to mid 90's. We will get perhaps a week or two (not both together) of triple-digits up to about 102-3.

It's why we moved here from the City--got tired of freezing to death all summer in SF. ;)


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

My cousin has chickens in the Bay Area - not sure how far outside the city she lives - and has a Barred Rock and a Buff Orpington that do well. As long as you are not in a desert, the breeds listed above will be fine. A week or two at 100+ is tolerable as long as you can find a way to cool them off. There are several tricks for cooling off a hot chicken - temporary fans, creating small puddles, etc. My chickens have been fine in the 90 degree temperatures we had over the weekend - we watch their behavior and adjust accordingly. If they are standing in the sun and panting, we move them into the shade.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

ok thank you! ;)


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

I just have the five and they keep me hopping. I save the manure too but if I don't get it out of the lot immediately after raking their lot they scatter it so fast it looks like someone stole it! It is just nowhere! They cannot stand a pile of nothing! lol

I had a French hen years ago with babies but a hawk got her and all but one baby. She was so beautiful.


Melissa Knight profile image

Melissa Knight 2 years ago from Murfreesboro, TN

I'm thinking about getting some chickens and this has really helped me! Thank you so much for the really interesting hub!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

I have five chickens, too, Jackie! I want more, but we only have an acre and we figured five was enough. I really do want a few more, though - I really want to get a Cream Legbar, but they are still very expensive (almost $50 per chick). I also want the Marans! We have a compost bin, but a lot of our compost seems to "melt" away into the soil underneath it.

I am so worried about hawks - we aren't going to free range ours (unless I am outside with them). I work part-time, so they'll be in a chicken run when I am at work. We are trying to build a predator-proof run - wish us luck!


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

No I don't free range mine either but their run now is made of well framed (I use trees as much as I can to nail it too) bird netting; so I can give them a much bigger place. I could free range them but when I tried they just wanted to go everywhere; you can't teach them boundaries! lol


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

We have a chicken tractor built out of PVC pipe and netting - it works very well, though I am still nervous about a neighbor's dog getting into it. I really can't wait until our run is built! We're working on it this week.


Rosetta Slone profile image

Rosetta Slone 2 years ago from Under a coconut tree

We have about 100 chickens on our small farm, and love them all. Our newest members are Wyandottes, Sussex and Leghorns. We've been trying to find Australorps and Marans for a couple of years now with no luck (and we're in France). There's something special about chickens, isn't there?


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

We certainly love our chickens, Rosetta! We have a hatchery within driving distance that has almost every chicken breed I have ever heard of - but we do not have room for unlimited chickens. I keep telling my husband that we could easily accommodate 3-4 more! Marans, Cream Legbars, and Easter Eggers are on my wish list!


Ann1Az2 profile image

Ann1Az2 2 years ago from Orange, Texas

Makes me wish I was living in an area that permitted chickens. These are pretty and I love the dark brown eggs from the Marans. Thanks for sharing this info. If we ever do move into a place of our own, I'm planning on getting some chickens. I'd like to find the rarer breeds just to help out with the endangerment of them.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

Ann1Az2, I love our chickens. We have an Australorp, 2 Barred Rocks, and 2 Buff Orpingtons. I had the option to get a Spangled Hamburg from a friend, but they aren't fantastic layers and they are flighty, so the chicken wouldn't have fit in well with our current flock. They are quite easy to care for!

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