big rooster walking or stepping

How to Choose Backyard Chicken Breeds

How to Choose Backyard Chicken Breeds

With so many chicken breeds, how do you decide which are the best for your backyard flock? Here are some factors to use when making your choices.


I have a prediction to make.

I predict that sometime in the next few months you’re going to find yourself casually strolling through the farm and garden store, when suddenly like the Siren’s from mythology you find yourself within earshot of a familiar sweet sound that lures you in for just a peek at the sweet little balls of downy fluff that are making the peeps. You’re already a goner. It won’t be long till you have a box at your feet on your way back home.

It’s ok. It has happened to all of us.

In our home, I combat the temptation by knowing that our chicks are already on order and I don’t need “that many.” (Or do I?) We let the children get the chick catalog and circle their favorite chicken breeds. Not always a good idea if you are limited on space, but we let them run free with the Sharpie and then discuss with them why they should make a different choice if the one they picked isn’t a good fit for our homestead. We still end up with a few birds that aren’t necessarily the best decision, but for a few bucks, I’m willing to indulge them.

Of course, the question isn’t “Should I get backyard chickens?” That has long been settled. We all know that you only need one reason to get a flock of hens. The question is, and oh is it ever a difficult one, “Which chicken breeds should I get?” There are several factors that go into choosing the best chicken breeds for your backyard which you should keep in mind whether you find yourself in the farm store, circling breeds in a catalog, or shopping online.

How to Choose Backyard Chicken Breeds

How to Choose Backyard Chicken Breeds

Purpose

What are you looking for in a chicken? Do you want eggs, meat, or both?

Selection for meat chickens has really increased over the last few years thanks to consumer demand for hardier breeds than Cornish Cross. Some of the new varieties can even thrive solely on forage and lay a moderate amount of eggs. We have had Ranger Broilers live for years (solely on forage during the summer) and lay eggs.

Breeds to Consider:
Cornish Cross
Freedom Ranger

Dual-purpose birds are those that will lay bountifully and yet have a bit meatier frame than many other layers. (Especially the roosters will make good meat.) It will take them at least 6 months to reach maturity and get to the point where they are large enough to harvest, but typically you would allow these birds to lay for two years until their production really begins to wane and then harvest them for your winter meals. At this point, those birds will be best for soup, stews, Chicken & Dumplings, but if you’re harvesting an older bird, you simply MUST try my Old Hen in Parsley Sauce recipe. It will take that tough old bird and make it fall-off-the-bone-tender and full of rich amazing flavor!

Breeds to Consider:
Jersey Giants
Brahmas
Orpingtons
Turkens

Production

Some hens lay more than others. Though we all love our heritage birds, the fact is that most heritage breeds won’t lay as well as some of the sex-linked crosses. And in my experience, the higher production heritage birds aren’t as hardy and long-lived. I always have a couple Gold Comets or Black Stars in my flock to fill in the gaps when the egg production of the heritage breeds I love begins to wane.

Breeds to Consider:
Black Star
Gold Comet
Isa Brown
Leghorn

How to Choose Backyard Chicken Breeds

Hardiness

Not all of us live in a temperate climate and many breeds of chickens are not well suited to cold climates or extreme heat. If you live in an area that has temperatures below freezing, choose breeds with smaller combs and wattles. Wyandottes, with their rose combs, make a great choice.

Breeds to Consider:
Wyandottes
Barred Rock
Buckeye
Speckled Sussex
Australorp

Friendly

Some folks just want eggs, and some folks want a pet with perks. Some breeds simply won’t tolerate being handled, are flighty, or simply don’t want to get to know the hand that feeds them a little better. There are many breeds however that love their people or make great chickens for children to care for.

Breeds to Consider:
Australorp
Brahmas
Black Star

How to Choose Backyard Chicken Breeds

Broodiness

For years we wanted to get a more sustainable flock. (In other words, we wanted care-free baby chicks!) Chicks that are hatched and cared for by their mama are amazingly resilient. No brooder lamps, no medicated chick feeder, we finally have mama hens that will go broody and hatch and care for their eggs with remarkably little input and expense. We found that once we had broody mamas, their mama-raised babies were more likely to go broody and be good mamas themselves.

Breeds to Consider:
Australorp
Sussex
Cochin
Maran

Confinement

Free-ranging has its pros and cons. (Bird poop on the front porch ya’ll. It ain’t for everyone.) For the urban or suburban homesteader, confinement raised hens are your only option. Thankfully, some of the highest producing hens also do really well while being cooped up. This means you can have fewer hens and still get the same amount of eggs!

Breeds to Consider:
Leghorn
Orpington
Rhode Island Red

How to Choose Backyard Chicken Breeds

Appearance

Sure I love production and efficiency, but I’m inspired by pretty. Whether it’s their beautiful speckled or penciled feathers, feathered feet, hooded face feathers, or full bodies, I love a beautiful, varied flock of hens.

Breeds to Consider:
Frizzle
Silkie
Wyandottes
Cochins
Cream Legbar

Free-Ranging

Eggs from free range chickens are proven to be healthier. Most likely, this has to do with sunshine and a varied diet (chickens are omnivores, not vegetarians). Some breeds forage better than others, though I find that most breeds do really well on their own. Others, while they may range well, aren’t able to be as wary of predators as other breeds because of their feathers. If you’re going to have a free-ranging flock, avoid hooded birds that can’t see overhead predators and run for shelter.

Breeds to Consider:
Ancona
Minorca
Araucana
Buckeye

How to Choose Backyard Chicken Breeds

Egg Color

Some hens are beautiful on the outside, some on the inside. (Some both!) Baskets and cartons of rainbow colored eggs are stunning and I find that they encourage the children to go looking when free ranging hens hide their eggs. (Remember when I said free ranging had cons? That’s one of them.)

Breeds to Consider:
French Maran
Ameraucana
Araucana
Olive Egger

Price

As more of us are drawn towards rarity, beauty, and colorful eggs, prices are beginning to rise. (Some shockingly so.) If you’re on a tight budget, there are many breeds that are financially friendly and thankfully they’re also high producers.
Breeds to Consider:
Black Star
Golden Comet
Rhode Island Red

How to Choose Backyard Chicken Breeds

More Resources:

Comprehensive Chicken Breeds Chart

Chicken Breeds Review

The Essential Homesteader’s Guide: Animal Husbandry

What are your favorite chicken breeds & why do you love them so much?

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

6 Comments

  1. My favorite chicken is the Brahmas.They are calm, friendly and make great pets for families.They are good for meat .

    1. I love Brahamas too! The nicest rooster we’ve ever had was a Buff Brahma and I always try to have one or two in the flock 😀

  2. I just picked up some Ameraucanas and Brahmas to join my white Orpingtons in the backyard (I live right in the middle of town), chickens are addictive. They are so sweet though, ours come running to be petted when anyone sits down on the grass (which scares people the first time, several 7lb chickens running at them).

    1. It’s surprising at first how friendly they can be! Certainly adds to the enjoyment. Good luck with your additions (and keeping the addiction under control-lol!)

  3. One of my favorite breeds is bielefelder. They are docile, and will be good dual purpose. We will be trying lavender orphingtons later this year too.

    1. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of those before. I had to look them up- what stunning markings! “large meaty carcasses, huge eggs, autosexing function, gentle temperaments, and beautiful feathers” I’m adding these to my must-try list. Thanks for sharing! Lavender’s are so gorgeous! Last year we had a farm-hatched hen come out that soft, beautiful lavender color. She’s my new fave 🙂