red hen for backyard chicken breed article standing with other chickens

Backyard Chicken Breeds for Beginners

Are you interested in raising backyard chickens? I hope there are lots of folks out there, right now, wondering, “What are the best backyard chicken breeds for beginners?” Because that means there is another normal family out there thinking about that next step to take control of their food production!


Best backyard chicken breeds for beginners

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!

While it’s tempting to choose those fancy chickens you see, they’re probably not the best backyard chicken breeds to start with.

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. Different breeds do better no matter what type of habitat they are given, and this is an important factor if you live in the suburbs.

There are backyard 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 backyard chicken breed 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 Chickens; New to Backyard Chickens? Choose the Best Beginner Chicken Breeds (and a few to avoid your first year)

Best Backyard Chicken Breeds for Beginners

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 hens or roosters. 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, making them great urban chickens. 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

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.

He retired solely because it marked the first year he produced only two chicks, despite sitting on numerous clutches (confirming that they can go broody).

Barred Rock (Plymouth Rock)

chickens-12 barred 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. Consider them dual-purpose, also, due to their weight exceeding that of other laying breeds.

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.

Icelandic

Although I lack personal experience with Icelandic chickens, their reputation as one of the best backyard chicken breeds certainly intrigues me. 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, indicating that they thrive when free-ranging. Icelandic hens will lay about three eggs per week and will go broody, mothering successive generations. (Broody hens are great as they eliminate the need for brooders, the use of a heat lamp, and all the work of caring for chicks.) They are pretty hard to find, but as demand increases, I’m sure that will change over time.

White Plymouth Rock

Similar to Barred Rocks, these hens lay about five eggs per week and share a comparable temperament. However, they are even better adapted to warm or hot climates due to their light feathers and larger combs, aiding in regulating their body heat.

Best Backyard Chickens:; New to Backyard Chickens? Choose the Best Beginner Chicken Breeds (and a few to avoid your first year)

Check out these helpful Chicken books.

Wait To Raise These Backyard Chicken Breeds

There are many other chicken breeds out there, but not all are best suited for beginners. Here are a few that may be tempting to get, but would be a good idea to wait to raise these breeds until after you have more experience and you’re asking yourself if the hens from your first flock are still laying. One day, they could be an excellent addition to your flock.

Leghorns

Yes, Leghorns are production rockstars and some of the best backyard chickens! However, I was not impressed with them at all. Similar to 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 suffer frostburn 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. The color of their yolks reflected this. They were a dull, pale yellow instead of the vibrant orange I want to see in my eggs.

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.

Silkies or Polish

Consider adding some of the fancier backyard chicken breeds like Silkies or Polish once you have gained more experience and tested your systems for predator-proofing. 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.

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 foraging 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 Backyard Chickens?

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 matters

> 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.

Considerations for Housing Backyard Chickens

When considering how to house the best backyard chickens, there are some things you need to think through that all play into their needs:

  1. Will this house protect them from any predators that may come? Raccoons love chickens as do weasels. Weasels, much like mice, can fit through the tiniest hole. Good security may require research to be done on specific predators in your area and how the structure can best guard against them.
  2. 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.
  3. Is there an outdoor run, in your backyard, where they can stretch their wings, walk around, peck, and merely act naturally.
  4. Is there an indoor sleeping place where they can roost in the nighttime?
  5. How will you provide fresh water?
  6. Can you easily clean out the chicken manure? This isn’t a fun job, but your coop design can make this harder than it needs to be. Keeping a clean coop goes a long ways to preventing bacteria such as salmonella.

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.

Tops 3 Things to Consider for Your Chicken Coop

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.
  • Ventilation. Chickens give off moisture and so does chicken poop. If a coop is sealed up tight, the humidity can build up inside and cause illness in your chickens. If you live in a cold climate, this can also cause frost bite and other cold-related problems. With proper ventilation in your coop, you can avoid these problems.

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.  

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

> 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.

> 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.

> Oyster shells are essential for backyard chickens. It provides much needed calcium for the chicken that is used in the production of the egg shell. Without replenishing the calcium lost in egg production, the chicken begins to lay eggs with weak, thin shells that break when you try to pick them up.

> If not free ranged, chickens need dust baths to keep away mites and other parasites. Having a designated spot with dry dirt may keep them from digging holes everywhere. You can also add in diatomaceous earth to aid in parasite prevention.

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.

Be warned… after getting experience with chickens, you just might feel the urge to branch out into different kinds of poultry.

If you are just getting started with backyard chickens, check out Easy Coops for Free PDF chicken coop plans.

What is your favorite beginner chicken breed?

Last update on 2024-04-13 at 20:50 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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8 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. ☺️ Thank you!! It’s good to hear that others have the same observations (especially in a buff-loving world!)

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

    1. 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…