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What Chicken Breed is Right for You?

Updated on August 24, 2016
Speckled Sussex hen, one of many dual-purpose breeds that work well on a farm.
Speckled Sussex hen, one of many dual-purpose breeds that work well on a farm. | Source

Spoiled for choice

Human beings first domesticated chickens about 5,000 years ago, and in that time, chickens have spread to virtually every inhabited corner of the world, and each "corner" had it's own ideas about what the perfect chicken should be. Unique breeds and varieties cropped up for every community, the chickens as diverse as the people raising them, and today, we now have hundreds of different breeds to choose from.

As you can imagine, this presents quite the conundrum for the first-time chicken owner. How do you choose just one or two breeds from hundreds? How do you weigh the pros and cons? How do you know where to even start? To help make the process a little easier, I have composed a brief quiz to narrow down what chicken breeds would be best for your needs. This list is just a jumping-off point--it is only intended to give you an idea of what varieties might work well for you, so don't feel like my suggestions are set in stone!

Quick Breed Suggestion Quiz

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Barred rock cockerel and pullet
Barred rock cockerel and pullet | Source

A Brief Summary of the Suggested Breeds

Plymouth Rock

If you're just looking for an all-around solid farm bird, you can't go wrong with the plymouth rock! Available in a variety of colors including partridge, barred, and white, plymouth rocks are the classic chicken folks tend to think of when they picture white hens scratching around in a barnyard. Plymouth rocks are sizeable birds, large enough to utilize for meat while also being steady layers of large, brown eggs. They are usually docile and sweet-natured birds, but as with any breed, they are all individuals, so there are no guarantees. Your best bet is to purchase your chicks or adults from a reputable breeder to ensure that they come from good stock.

Other suggestions: wyandotte, delaware, rhode island, buckeye, new hampshire, sussex

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brown leghorn hen
brown leghorn hen | Source

Leghorns

Lean, mean, egg-producing machines, leghorns are the queens of the nesting box. With one of the highest feed-to-egg conversion ratios in the chicken kingdom, leghorns are already a great option for an egg-laying flock, but throw in their intelligence, energy, and desire to forage and you've got yourself the perfect chicken for free-ranging!

Other suggestions: campine, lakenvelder, ancona, hamburg


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Source

Cornish Cross

If you want meat and you want it now, the cornish cross is the way to go. These birds won't live to maturity under normal circumstances, so you won't be able to keep the hens on for eggs or breed more of them, but as far as sheer production of meat goes, they're the champs. Cornish cross reach butchering weight in just 6-8 weeks, as compared to the 6 months of a heritage breed rooster. Just make sure you're ready to process them when the time comes, because their rate of growth is so great that they are likely to die from organ failure if you leave them longer than 8 weeks.

Other suggestions: rainbow rangers/freedom rangers, purebred cornish
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Buff laced polish hen
Buff laced polish hen | Source

Polish Crested

Polish chickens are the divas of the poultry world. With their outrageous hairdos, ornate feathering, and vast personalities, they're sure to make visitors to your flock do a double take. Their crests do obstruct their vision, making them less than ideal for a free-range flock, but they are nonetheless a high-energy, spirited bird that will delight you with their antics. 10 lbs of personality in a 5 lb sack, these birds can be anything from extremely skittish to extremely gregarious, but they will all be unique individuals with their own personalities. If you're looking for a chicken with character, this is it!

Other suggestions: sultan, naked neck, spitzhauben, d'uccle, cochin
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Photo pending...
Photo pending... | Source

Ayam Cemani

Often referred to as the "lamborghini of the chicken world", ayam cemani are striking birds with black feathers, black skin, black bones, and even black internal organs. Their eggs however, are tinted white to cream in color. Still extremely rare in the United States, there are some breeders who offer them, but you need to be prepared to pay. Unsexed chicks run about $200 each, and there's a waiting list! If you can afford them, they are robust, healthy birds that can endure a variety of climates, but the price tag alone would be enough to discourage most from trying to free-range them.

Other suggestions: Yamato Gunkei
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Black sexlink hen
Black sexlink hen | Source

Sexlinks

If you absolutely cannot have roosters under any circumstances, your best bet is to purchase sexlinked chicks. Sexlinks are hybrids, produced by crossing two different color varieties of chicken so that their offspring will hatch out different colors depending on their gender. As such, if you order only pullets, you are guaranteed to only get pullets. (Any hatchery that mixes THAT up doesn't deserve your business!) Sexlink crosses tend to be made with large, dual-purpose varieties of chicken that work well for both eggs and meat, great for a small-scale backyard operation. Just don't try to breed sexlinks together to get more sexlinks--as a hybrid variety, they won't breed true.

Other suggestions: legbar
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Blue ameraucana pullet
Blue ameraucana pullet | Source

Ameraucana

The ameraucana is a fairly new breed, developed in the USA in the 1970's and still somewhat rare. They are attractive birds, with slightly loose feathering, pea combs, and fluffy beards of downy feathers on their faces. Their most appealing trait is their sky-blue eggs, but buyer beware--many hatcheries and uninformed breeders pass off mixed-breed mutts known as "Easter Eggers" under the "ameraucana" name. While Easter eggers are still fabulous birds, they are not purebred ameraucana, and may not lay the bright, sky-blue egg you're hoping for. Research this breed thoroughly before proceeding so that you will know what to look for and won't be disappointed later.

Other suggestions: Easter egger, araucana, legbar
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black copper marans hen
black copper marans hen | Source

Marans

The marans (and yes, it's spelled with an "s" even when it's singular!) is a breed from France known for it's deeply-colored brown eggs. Well-bred black copper marans have the darkest eggs, deep, chocolate brown with a hint of red undertones. Be prepared to pay the price if you want quality, but if you're willing to take a chance on hatchery stock, you can acquire female chicks for as little as $10 each.
While their lofty price tag (compared to other breeds) may make you reticent to use them for meat, they are a heavy breed that would dress out nicely if that's your wish. Active free-rangers, they are the perfect bird for a small family farm.

Other suggestions: welsummer
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Click thumbnail to view full-size
Bantam black cochin roosterOld English game bantam roosterswhite silkie roosterblack frizzle cochin bantamlavender d'uccle rooster and henOld English game bantam roosterOld English game bantam hen
Bantam black cochin rooster
Bantam black cochin rooster | Source
Old English game bantam roosters
Old English game bantam roosters | Source
white silkie rooster
white silkie rooster | Source
black frizzle cochin bantam
black frizzle cochin bantam | Source
lavender d'uccle rooster and hen
lavender d'uccle rooster and hen | Source
Old English game bantam rooster
Old English game bantam rooster | Source
Old English game bantam hen
Old English game bantam hen | Source

Bantams

Ok, so technically, "bantam" isn't a breed in and of itself, but rather a term used to describe any extra-tiny variety of chicken. Some bantam varieties are miniature versions of larger breeds, like barred rocks or welsummers, while other bantam breeds exist only as bantams, such as d'uccles. Because bantams haven't been bred for production, they tend to retain more broodiness than larger versions of their breed, and while their eggs are smaller, you can keep more of them in a smaller space as well. Throw in the fact that bantam chickens tend to have spunky personalities, and you have yourself the perfect pet chicken!
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