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Heritage Breed Chickens, How To Choose the Best For You

Updated on May 6, 2014
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.


When a family decides to become self-sufficient one of the first livestock purchases that they make will probably be chickens. Heritage breed chickens are a particularly good investment for the small homestead or family farm.

What is a heritage breed chicken?

It is a breed that your great grandparents would probably have been familiar with. It hasn't been hybridized to the point that is can't mate by itself or find its own food. They have a slower growth rate than other chicken breeds and tend to have longer natural lives.

What You'll Need to Keep Heritage Breed Chickens

Chickens are a very low cost addition to your homestead. Chicks can be purchased from a variety of places — you can find them online if you can't get them locally. They don't cost much at all. Chicken feed is also inexpensive and during the Spring and Summer months your flock will find much of their food themselves.

You'll need to provide a safe shelter for them to live in. A coop that is warm in winter and cool in the summer is necessary but doesn't necessarily have to be expensive. Fencing them in does help keep dogs and other predators out but it isn't foolproof.

Allowing your chickens to free range is somewhat more risky but healthier for the chickens. When they free range they can wander off, get picked off by hawks, or preyed upon by dogs, raccoon, or other predators.

Another option is called a chicken tractor. Basically, you can think of it as a small, movable chicken coop. It holds up to four chickens and has an open bottom but is screened in the rest of the way. The chicken can graze on grass and eat bugs as it likes and the chicken tractor can be moved to a fresh area as often as needed. You can buy chicken tractors or make them yourself. It's sort of the best of both worlds — a good compromise between safety and health.


Indispensable Resource for Raising Backyard Chickens

Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens, 3rd Edition
Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens, 3rd Edition

This guide has 137 five star reviews on Amazon and is one of the most helpful guides for both beginner and expert homesteaders that is available today. All the in depth information you need for choosing your breed, raising chicks, building coops, and chicken health.


Identify Your Poultry Needs and Desires

There are numerous breeds of chickens available to the modern day homestead, some are heritage and some are not. Of course what you ultimately choose will depend on many different factors!

It seems a simple thing, to choose a chicken breed to raise but there is so much difference in the different breeds, their quality, the purpose for having them, and location that they will be raised that it is not as cut and dried as it would seem.

Within the various breeds are important factors like egg production, egg color, egg size, temperament, meat production, broodiness,and survival skills in various situations. You may also have a personal preference for a certain coloring or pattern.

The first thing you'll need to do is to identify why you are buying the poultry in the first place.

  • Will you use them primarily as as bug control, egg production, meat, or show?
  • Do you want a breed that is dual purpose?
  • Will you be breeding your own in the future and hatching your own eggs or not?
  • Do you want chickens that are more aggressive, say, if a coyote comes into the yard?
  • Or, would you prefer a breed that is more gentle around children and needs more protection?D
  • Does the look of the chicken make a difference to you?
  • Do you have a lot of hawks? Traditional white chickens will get picked off much more quickly by a hawk than will a dark patterned bird.
  • Docile hens, like Buff Orpington, will cower down when a predator stalks them rather than try to seek shelter.
  • A more aggressive breed, like a Dutch, might fare better with a dog but also chase your children while pecking at their legs!

Be sure to read about each breed that you are considering. Make sure that the breed that you choose fits your family and farming situation as well as your goals, both long and short term.

Heritage Breeds Are Often Dual Purpose Breeds

Birds that are good egg layers are often not good meat producers! However, heritage breeds are not genetically engineered to be specialized and so often produce a bountiful amount of eggs as well as tender, delicious meat. Again, this can vary from breed to breed so do your research to get what you want.

Some Popular Heritage Breeds of Chickens

There are hundreds of breeds of chickens and numerous heritage breeds. Here are some of the most popular.


Leghorns are kept for egg production, and they'll lay an abundance of white eggs. They are able to forage for themselves and so are good for free range situations, although they do not go broody (sit on their own eggs) as well as some of the other breeds. Basically this means that they are not good about hatching their eggs if you want to raise chicks on your homestead without an incubator. They also don't produce a lot of meat.


Bantams lay tiny eggs that are the delight of many younger children. Two of these minuscule eggs fried and on a plate with a toast triangle is a magical breakfast from fairyland. The egg shells are often colorful pastels which makes them fun to gather. These birds are small and make good pets or show birds for children. They are fabulous at keeping your yard bug free.

Plymouth Rock

Plymouth Rock is a heritage breed. As with most heritage breeds you will find that it is multipurpose. It is a good egg layer, a good brood hen, and produces a fair amount of meat. It is a docile, hardy breed.

Red Cap

The Red Cap is a breed that has retained a lot of the wild characteristics of its ancestors. This gives them superior foraging and survival skills but also means that they are less likely to be docile pets around children. They lay an abundance of white shelled eggs and also have a good flavored meat.

Rhode Island Red

Rhode Island Red is another heritage breed that is dual purpose and lays abundant numbers of eggs. It's temperament, egg laying capability, and tender meat make it one of the best dual purpose breeds for a small homestead.


Delawares are excellent egg layers and another good, dual purpose breed. They are listed as critical on the American Livestock Conservancy list which means that their numbers are dwindling. Raising this breed means that you'll be helping to keep one more heritage breed alive and contributing its unique characteristics to poultry farming.


Holland is another beautiful breed on the critical list. This is currently one of the rarest of the heritage breeds and one of the few that lays white eggs. The birds come barred or white, although the white ones are very rare. They are good foragers, having the ability to provide much of their own food, with calm temperaments.

Hollands work well in colder climates because they are tolerant to the cold.


Wyandottes are not particularly rare, however they are a beautiful heritage breed. They get broody very easily and have a docile temperament. I add these because the last chickens we raised (we now have Barred Rocks) were Golden Laced Wyandottes and they were beautiful!

Ordering Heritage Breed Chicks

There is, of course, nothing in the world like the taste of your own farm fresh, organic eggs and meat. Chickens are an easy way to begin food production on the homestead and work a little closer to self sufficiency. Be sure,when you are ordering your chicks, to have them vaccinated and then use non-medicated feed. In this way you will not have to worry about residual medications in the eggs or meat.

You can find Heritage Breed Chickens online at the following sites:

It is very relaxing to sit and watch chickens and for me, they are what puts the home in homestead!

Selecting a Breed of Chicken

Chickens for Eggs, Self Sufficiency, and Homesteading


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    • Gamerelated profile image


      5 years ago from California

      I had a chicken when I was a child. I live in the city though and there isn't all that much rooms to have chickens around, so we only had one chicken. I was sad when my parents gave our chicken away to one of my uncle's friends. This chicken laid an egg almost everyday and it was good at defending itself against cats. I was very impressed with how it handled itself. Great Hub on chickens.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      im lookin for a good birds to raise in the city for meat and eggs that is quite.. can anybody help me out

    • canucknsg@yahoo.c profile image


      7 years ago from Michigan

      Nice post...I am new to the hub and have found your and others articles very interesting. We have a mixed variety of birds and recently acquired some Buckeyes. I am told they are hardy and make excellent dual purpose birds. Not too aggressive and quite beautiful in their own right!

    • profile image

      urban chicken coop plans 

      8 years ago

      We just added 10 Wyandottes to our flock. They have the coolest coloring.

    • profile image

      urban chicken coop plans 

      8 years ago

      We just added 10 Wyandottes to our flock. They have the coolest coloring.

    • Chapter profile image


      8 years ago from Indonesia

      Bantam is very interesting chicken to me. They have colorful feather and beautiful sound.

    • nicko guzman profile image

      nicko guzman 

      9 years ago from Los Angeles,CA

      Rhode Islands are my favorite.Great hub.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      i am looking for blue chickens. if anyone in the usa knows where i can get some call me 903 814 0355

    • moonlake profile image


      10 years ago from America

      Love your Hub and seeing your chickens and all your information about chickens. I'm trying to talk my husband into letting me get chickens again. Stop by for a visit on my Hub when you get a chance.

    • cgull8m profile image


      10 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks Marye, I will check out these books in Amazon. Cheers :)

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I used to raise chickens, and I miss them. It was strange to me to find that they all have distinct personalities. I kept quite a few as pets. I have mostly mixed bantys, RIR's and white rocks. My friend has fryer houses, and gave me all my white rocks. I bred one of my banties with a small white rock and somehow got a frizzly white banty! It was so beautiful!

      I'm making a note of the endangered breeds, and when once again I have some land, I'll see about finding some.

      Thanks for the info!

    • Marye Audet profile imageAUTHOR

      Marye Audet 

      10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      I like Storey's Guide To Raising Chickens, and, Chicken's In Your Backyard. Both have excellent information.

      I have had to adjust my recipes with the fresh eggs. The yellow cakes that used to be pale golden are now nearly orange!

    • cgull8m profile image


      10 years ago from North Carolina

      Is there a good about about raising chickens? Very interesting post. Love the videos, they look so healthy compared to raising them in a closed shed.


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