You know what I hope? I hope there are lots of folks out there, right now, wondering, “What are the best beginner chicken breeds?” Because that means there is another family out there thinking about that next step to take control of their food production!
The modern homesteading movement is continuing to grow! More and more folks are realizing there are some great reasons to raise your own chickens! (Actually, I think you only need one!) And while it’s tempting to get choose those fancy chickens you see, they’re probably not the best beginner chicken breeds to start with.
Since you are gonna ROCK at raising chickens, you need to know there are some breeds of chickens are naturally more hardy, more productive, and more friendly than others. There are chickens that do better no matter what type of habitat they are given. And there are chicken breeds that are going to be great choices for you to learn the ropes by raising. All these factors will help you choose the best chicken breeds for your homestead.
But which ones should you start with?
We’ve had many different chicken over the years and some of the breeds I’ve seen suggested for those just starting out have left me scratching my head. Here are my top picks for beginner chicken breeds!
Best Beginner Chicken Breeds
Many chicken breeds fall under this blanket term. It seems every hatchery has their own term. I’ve seen them called Black Sex-Link, Red Star, Golden Comets, Production Reds, Golden Buff, Isa Brown, Cinnamon Queen, and so on.
Whatever their name, these chickens have two things in common. They are crossed between two heritage breeds and you can tell by their coloring as chicks whether they are chicks or dudes. The other thing that sets these hens apart is they lay a lot of eggs! Nearly one every day of the year!
Production Hybrids are easy to keep. They generally aren’t flighty, don’t go broody, and don’t eat a ton of feed. We have found them to be among the friendliest of chickens we’ve ever raised.
We add a few Production Hybrid chickens to our flock every year because they will keep us getting at least a few eggs when the other gals are slacking over the winter.
Black Australorp chickens are such easy keepers! Having a few in your flock will be a pleasure! They will lay 5 or more eggs per week, are very hardy, and are friendly and quiet. The longest we’ve ever had a rooster was 4 years and he was a Black Australorp. He never once showed an aggressive bone in his body. We had fallen into a nice pattern of hens hatching out his hardy chicks each year. The only reason he retired is that that was the first year he only produced 2 chicks despite many clutches being sat upon. (So, yes, they can go broody.)
Barred Rock (Plymouth Rock)
This beautiful heritage breed is everything I’m looking for in a chicken. They lay well (4-5 eggs per week), are very friendly, and hardy. Barred Rocks do well in either freedom or confinement. They can be considered dual-purpose because they are heavier than other laying breeds.
Speckled Sussex hens are a pleasure to raise. They are friendly and calm, lay 4-5 eggs per week, and will thrive regardless of your choice of habitat. Speckled Sussex are a cold-hardy heritage breed that is heavy enough (7-pound hens) to make a good dual-purpose breed.
While I do not have personal experience with Icelandic chickens, I am certainly intrigued by their reputation. As I’m sure you can imagine with a name like “Icelandic”, these chickens are very cold-tolerant and resourceful. They may make excellent additions to the “self-sufficient flock.” They are reported to forage exceptionally well which translates to they do very well free-ranging. Icelandic hens will lay about 3 eggs per week and will go broody, mothering successive generations. They are pretty hard to find, but as demand increases, I’m sure that will change over time.
White Plymouth Rock
Like Barred Rocks, these hens will lay about 5 eggs per week with a similar temperament, but these hens are even better suited to warm or hot climates because of their light feathers and larger combs which work to regulate their body heat.
Wait To Raise These Chicken Breeds
There are some really great chickens out there! And one day they might be a great fit for your flock. But, maybe, it would be a good idea to wait to raise these breeds until after you’re asking yourself if the hens from your first flock are still laying.
Yes, Leghorns are definitely production rockstars! BUT, I was not impressed with them at all. Like the Holstein in the cattle world, this chicken breed has been selectively bred for confinement and short lifespans. They are the only breed we’ve ever had where everyone in the flock died naturally before they turned two! We had several Amish neighbors we split an order of pullets with and their experience was identical.
The large comb of Leghorns makes them less winter hardy. (That comb can easily be frost burned in winter.) They are nervous, noisy, and flighty. Though they aren’t very friendly, they aren’t mean either. I found them to be poor foragers. This was reflected in the color of their yolks. They were a dull, pale yellow instead of the vibrant orange I want to see in my eggs.
I can never understand how Buff Orpingtons make it on the top of every beginner chicken breeds list. No doubt, those soft butterscotch colored feathers are beautiful. But despite their popularity, they failed to impress me. Forget “jumping up in your lap”, I suppose they were friendly enough. Mostly I found them to be indifferent. Surprisingly unlike their Production Hybrids flock-mates, they could have cared less if we existed. The first year, they laid the promised 3-4 eggs, but after their first molt, it was cut by about half. The third year, after their second molt, they never came back into production. Meanwhile, the Black Stars in the same flock (so same diet & conditions) thrived and laid well long after the Buffs had entered a self-imposed retirement.
Silkies or Polish
Any of the fancier chicken breeds like Silkies or Polish should be added once you have more experience and your systems have been tested as predator-proof. The beautiful plumage on their heads makes these birds more susceptible to attack, especially from overhead predators like hawks, owls, and eagles because they can’t see them coming. These chickens lay less than ⅓ of what some other chickens will lay, only about 2 eggs per week.
Ancona chickens are high maintenance drama queens! They are flighty, scaredy-cats who are mediocre layers. Ancona’s hate any type of confinement and are always looking for a way of escape. They definitely prefer forging free on the range. And they lay just over half as many eggs as a Production Hybrid and I’ve never thought twice about getting them again.
What is your favorite beginner chicken breeds?