Do you know what I hope? I hope there are lots of folks out there, right now, wondering, “What are the best backyard chickens for beginners?” Because that means there is another normal 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 realize there are some great reasons to raise your own chickens (actually, I think you only need one!), and some of these people want to do it in their suburban backyards! And while it’s tempting to choose those fancy chickens you see, they’re probably not the best backyard chicken breeds to start with.
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Since you are gonna ROCK at raising chickens, you need to know that there are some breeds of chickens that are naturally more hardy, more productive, and more friendly than others. Some chickens do better no matter what type of habitat they are given, and this is an important factor is you live in the suburbs. 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 chickens 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 that we have come up with through trial and error!
Best Backyard Chicken Breeds for Beginners
Best Backyard Chickens: Production Hybrid
Many of the best backyard chicken breeds fall under this blanket term. It seems every hatchery has its 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.
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Best Backyard Chickens: Black Australorp
Black Australorp chickens are such easy keepers and one of the best backyard chicken breeds! 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 four 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 was that it was the first year he only produced two chicks despite many clutches being sat upon (so, yes, they can go broody.)
Best Backyard Chickens: 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.
Best Backyard Chickens: Speckled Sussex
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 is a cold-hardy heritage breed that is heavy enough (7-pound hens) to make a good dual-purpose breed.
Best Backyard Chickens: Icelandic
While I do not have personal experience with Icelandic chickens, I am certainly intrigued by their reputation as one of the best backyard chicken breeds. 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 three 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.
Best Backyard Chickens: White Plymouth Rock
Like Barred Rocks, these hens will lay about five 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 Best Backyard Chicken Breeds
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There are some great backyard chickens out there! And one day they might be an excellent 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.
Best Backyard Chickens: Leghorns
Yes, Leghorns are production rockstars and some of the best backyard chickens! BUT, I was not impressed with them at all. Like the Holstein in the cattle world, this chicken breed has selectively been 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.
Best Backyard Chickens: Buff Orpingtons
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 voluntary retirement.
Best Backyard Chickens: Silkies or Polish
Some of the fancier backyard 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 two eggs per week.
Best Backyard Chickens: Ancona
Ancona chickens are high maintenance drama queens! They are flighty, scaredy-cats who are mediocre layers. Ancona’s hate any confinement and are always looking for a way of escape. They prefer forging free on the range. And they lay just over half as many eggs as a Production Hybrid. I’ve never thought twice about getting them again.
Now that we have given you a list of the best beginner backyard chicken breeds, as well as the worst, along with their characteristics, we want to cover some topics on how to care for your new chickens in your backyard.
What Kind of Housing Is Best for Chickens in the Backyard?
You may be thinking about getting chickens because you want fresh eggs on the daily, right from your backyard. Or perhaps, chickens are a means to pest control for you. Many are desiring these two perks, and that has lead to tons of backyard coops. But this can be a more trying situation than you may think, and the best way to be prepared for raising is by getting some great housing setup for them.
The type of backyard chickens you get matter in this:
>Free range chickens are great for backyards because they can go into their home at their leisure, and be locked up at night. You also will not have to fear them trying to escape continuously.
>Non-free range and known for running away, so you will need a wire fence covering, and you may need to consider clipping their wings.
When considering how to house the best backyard chickens, there are some things you need to think through that all play into their needs:
- Will this house protect them from any predators that may come? Good security may require research to be done on specific predators in your area and how the structure can best guard against them.
- Is there a comfortable place for them to lay eggs? This is one of the most important questions you can ask! The way they are housed can make all the difference.
- Is there an outdoor run, in your backyard, where they can stretch their wings, walk around, peck, and merely act naturally.
- Is there an indoor sleeping place where they can roost in the nighttime?
Building your own chicken coop can be fun and inexpensive if you are into DIY work and building! This option can be done in creative ways that cut costs, such as using repurposed materials.
If you are looking for a more straightforward way, you can also buy a coop kit or prefab units. If the sky’s the limit when it comes to your budget (which is not the case for most of us), you can even purchase a luxury hen house.
There are plenty of things to consider before buying or building your chicken coop, but we will cover a top 3:
- Size. How much space do you have? How many backyard chickens will comfortably fit? What size is their breed, typically? Plan with more space in mind than you should! If it is rainy and cold, consider they will need to be inside the coop frequently. A good rule is to give 2-4 square feet to each bird. If they are not, you can only have enough chickens wandering in the yard as there is space for them. The more space, the happier the chickens!
- Nesting Boxes. You will need a place with lots of space and a dark area to get your hens to lay eggs. This type of area gives them max comfort. These boxes should be about 14 inches and closed all around, except for in the front.
- Roosting perches. These are vital. Your backyard chickens will need a place to roost in the morning time. These are simple to build and can be bought pretty affordably. Roosting perches will allow the chickens to rest their chests.
There is a ton that goes into housing chickens, and when you’re first starting, all the research possible is necessary.
What Vitamins Are Best for Backyard Chickens?
One of the quickest ways to shorten a backyard chicken’s life is by vitamin deficiency. Vitamin deficiency is also a surefire way to get eggs that are not quality. Since you are new to all this, knowing how to prevent it is critical. The vitamins chickens need are not too different than the vitamins humans need to remain healthy.
- Vitamin A.
Some of the signs this vitamin is lacking in adult chickens are fewer eggs produced, weakness, tiredness, puffy chest, and eye secretion. Some natural ways to supplement this vitamin is through peas, pumpkin, and spinach.
- Vitamin B12
The signs in adults here are lack of appetite, and weight gain, lousy quality eggs, wrong feathers, and the things going on inside the body are even worse. You can naturally replace these with fish, dairy products, or sea kelp.
- Vitamin K
This vitamin does an essential job. It allows for healthy blood clotting. Without the right amount of this vitamin, even the most straightforward cut or bruise can make them bleed to death. On the inside, there can also be internal bleeding. Some natural sources of vitamin K are dark leafy greens, cabbage, broccoli and spices such as basil, sage, and thyme.
- Folic Acid
This is a common vitamin deficiency in chickens. It makes them anemic, produces wry neck, and decreases the production of eggs as well as produces ugly feathers. Some natural sources of this are berries, flax seeds, squash, and dark leafy greens.
Here are some tips to help you keep your chickens healthy:
>If you notice a vitamin deficiency, adding the lacking vitamin directly to the water is the best way to replenish it.
>Giving your chickens electrolyte and vitamin-infused water regularly, especially in strong heat and other intense weather conditions, can only do them good.
>It is essential that you give your chickens high quality and nutritional feed. If you purchase chicks, make sure you are keeping age in mind when buying feed.
>If your backyard chicks are suffering from vitamin deficiency, this is usually easily reversible caught early on. Keep a close watch on physical signs of deficiency.
Final Thoughts on The Best Backyard Chickens for Beginners
All in all, backyard chickens are a great investment of time and money. In the beginning, it can seem a little overwhelming, but the return is great. Chickens add quality to your life through fresh eggs and keeping frustrating insects away. They also become pets, and you will find yourself falling in love with them.
What is your favorite beginner chicken breed?
I’ve only done chickens once and we ordered 25 and mixed about 7-8 different breeds. I never knew who laid what, could tell who was starting all of the fights, or get a handle on what was what. After two years they all ended up in the freezer and I buy eggs from a neighbor now. I’d like to start over, but raise both fewer chickens and fewer breeds.
Even if they’re not star producers, it always made me smile to see the light green/blue egg of the Ameraucana amongst the brown ones in the carton. Do you have any recommendations for a “beginner” green or blue egg layer? I just want them to be gentle and non-fussy.
I am so sorry that you had a bad experience…but can say…been there and done that……yet I am stubborn and still have halfbreeds from my bantams which mixed with my Welsummers which are not as aggressive…but the “stupid gene” is breeding out as such…and my “girls” ” now know at the evening when the “human ” comes out it is the chant which I have taught them… BOOM CHICKIE, BOOM CHICKIE…MAW MAW…BED TIME…weird I know but ut they go straight to their respecive coop-ettes and sometimes even let the the bunny sleep with them…Welcome to my world of “HUH?”..don’t give up…just get a couple of hens to start with…you will make it…I did…have faith…
I love colored eggs! And the Ameraucana’s (or however you spell them) are very easy keepers. They seem hardy enough to me. As you pointed out, the only reason they didn’t make the list was because they don’t lay quite as many eggs (maybe 3 per week) so my thought was beginners would do better to test the waters with fewer hens that laid more eggs. I have several in our flock right now cause those beautiful eggs really encourage my kids to go out and “hunt for eggs.” We also have some Olive-Eggers for the first time and so far I am not at all impressed with their laying. The color of the eggs is stunning, but we’re getting like 1 egg every 2 weeks. Or something ridiculous like that. Hope that helps!
Susan O says
When we started with chickens a hear and a half ago, my Mom had some stipulations: NO roosters, NO broodiness, NOT free-ranged (she was afraid of predators). We chose 6 Golden Sex-Links and couldn’t be happier! We got them at the beginning of April 2016 at 1 week old from the feed store and they started laying that July! We lost one that October, but the remaining 5 have kept us in beautiful, brown eggs and have been an absolute joy! This past November, when they were going through their “molt” (We live in a mild-winter climate and we did see scattered feathers and some patchy-ness but no bald birds) a friend said her dozen chickens were giving her 2 – 3 eggs per day; our 5 were giving about 4 eggs per day. The least we’ve ever had in a day so far this winter were 2, and that’s rare. You are right, these are great starter birds!
Sounds about right! You just can’t go wrong with those gals- they’re great!
Tarrah Ferri says
I totally agree. Our white sexlinks give us eggs consistently although the quality is not as high as the Sussex or arcanas . The arcanas have lovely eggs but are definitely more wild at not as personable. The Buff Orpingtons do tend to be the queen bee but not a production queen.
I looked at so many articles when I was starting out 10 years ago but I wish I could’ve read this one. It would have saved me a lot of learning lessons.
☺️ Thank you!! It’s good to hear that others have the same observations (especially in a buff-loving world!)
I love my orpingtons, because they are sweet and have such good personalities, but I do agree with you, they aren’t the best egg layers. I think they make a great chicken for beginners though. We have RedSexlinks and they are aggressive birds, but great layers. I like friendly birds but there is a hand-off there… The orpingtons are the first to be taken by a predator, while the more aggressive girls can hold their own. Plus, the OP girls are usually on the bottom of the pecking order.