If you’re just getting into keeping backyard chickens, you may be finding the sheer number of chicken breeds a little mind-boggling.
Chickens have been bred domestically for thousands of years, so it’s hardly surprising that there are now hundreds of distinct breeds. Naturally, choosing the right breed for your backyard flock can be pretty tough.
When you’re picking your first flock, there are a few key things to look for:
Fortunately, there are a few breeds that meet these criteria, making them excellent birds for the average backyard flock. We’ve put together a list of our five favorite chicken breeds for backyard flocks. Each of the breeds on our list meets most of the criteria we’ve mentioned, and are ideal options for a beginner.
1. Rhode Island Red: The Best Dual-Purpose Bird
When you think of a chicken, the Rhode Island Red is probably the bird you see in your mind. These are the classic backyard chickens, found in nearly every backyard flock. If you want just one breed that is good for both meat and eggs, this is your bird.
Reds are easy to care for, and they adapt well to their environment. They are both cold and heat hardy and will do well whether you keep them penned or allow them to range freely. These birds do tend to be rather aggressive, but are otherwise excellent backyard birds.
2. Buff Orpington: The Best Pet Chicken
This bird is a favorite amongst breeders for its lovely, docile nature. The Buff Orpington is not only an excellent dual-purpose bird, but they make wonderful pets and can even be trained to do tricks. They are fairly quiet compared to most chickens, they’re very cold-hardy, and are very easy to handle.
The one caution on this breed is that their docile nature will often make them a target for bullying from other birds. If you choose to raise a Buff Orpington, be careful not to add aggressive breeds to your flock.
3. Leghorn: The Best Egg-Layer
If you want a truly stellar egg laying chicken, choose a Leghorn.
These compact birds can produce over 300 eggs a year!
The Leghorn is very popular as a backyard chicken due to its impressive egg production.
In fact, most white eggs you find in the grocery store are the product of Leghorn chickens.
While this breed is on the smaller side, they are still good dual-purpose birds and can be used for meat once they are no longer laying.
These are good, hardy birds. They do well in cold weather and rarely get sick.
They’re generally friendly, though they can be noisy and a bit aggressive at times.
4. Delaware: The Meaty Bird
The Delaware is a beautiful heavy-bodied Heritage breed. A male Delaware can grow to weigh over 8lb, and females can weigh over 6lb. These birds are typically raised for their meat – which is delicious and plump – but the hens do also lay great jumbo eggs.
Delaware’s are inquisitive and friendly, and generally low-maintenance birds. They do tend to have tough molts though, and while most have mild dispositions, some can be a bit cranky.
5. Ameraucana (sometimes mis-spelled Americana): AKA the Easter-Egger
If you want a bird that’s just plain fun, add an Ameraucana to your flock. Your kids will never get bored of collecting the colorful eggs this breed lays. Ameraucanas lay eggs in shades of blue, green and cream – thus the nickname “Easter-Eggers”.
This breed makes for great backyard chickens. They are highly adaptable, and will do well either in confinement or free-ranging. They have a calm, non-aggressive disposition, and are very easy to handle. This is possibly the best bird for a family with kids.
Remember that you don’t need to restrict your flock to just one breed. Try adding a variety of breeds, and have fun watching them grow as you reap the benefits in meat and eggs.