How to Choose the Best Chicken Breeds
Choosing chicks for your flock can be exciting whether it is the first time you are raising chicks, or whether you are a seasoned chicken owner. Baby chicks are cute and it’s hard not to be tempted to take some home when you see them for sale at your local feed store. Before you do, there are a few things to think about.
Laying Hens vs. Meat Birds
Why do you want chickens? Do you want egg layers? Meat birds? If you slaughter and try to eat your laying hens, you will be in for a big disappointment. Chickens bred to be layers and chickens bred to be meat birds are very different. If you want to raise chickens for meat, you will choose either a pure breed or a hybrid breed. Some breeds have been altered so that these birds can be slaughtered for meat in only 44 days. We are skeptical of any type of “enhanced” anything around our homestead, so when we choose meat birds, they will be pure breeds.
Some good breed choices for meat birds include:
- Leghorn (think of the white chicken “Foghorn J. Leghorn” from the Looney Tunes cartoons)
- Jersey Giants
- Cornish Cross
Do your research because these breeds vary in “hatch to table” time.
Practicality vs. Aesthetics
Do you want birds to add to your food source on your homestead? If so, you will choose breeds for your flock that are “good layers” versus breeds that look fancy. There are so many different breeds out there that it can become quite addicting purchasing, raising, and getting to know the personalities and characteristics of each breed.
When looking to choose the best breeds for your flock that will be consistent laying eggs over time, you will want to look into the following breeds:
- Rhode Island Reds
- Plymouth Rocks
Personality vs. Practicality
This sounds funny but it’s true: we have noticed over the last decade that the different breeds have different personalities. Americaunas generally are very intelligent, personable and inquisitive birds. Our bird, Clory (named by our daughters) was the hen that was always by my side as I worked on fencing, coop upgrades, or other homestead maintenance projects. She would inspect my work and “talk” to us with her approval. Our other Americaunas have been, and are, the most intelligent birds in our flock. A bonus for owing Americaunas is that they lay the “Easter egg” colored eggs, which many people are amazed by.
Our Speckled Sussex birds are very similar to the Americaunas and they, too, lay about four to five light brown eggs a week. Our hen, Stella (pictured above) is the most intelligent, bravest bird we have. She is the last to roost at night and is the matriarch of the flock.
Rhode Island Reds are very good laying hens and are fairly intelligent birds, however, our Rhode Island Reds seem to be the most prone to broody behavior. We once had a hen go missing and we thought she had been taken by a predator. Weeks later we saw her emerge from underneath my workshop. After a check with a flashlight, we noticed that she had built a little nest of sorts and had laid almost 30 eggs before we noticed that she was there. Apparently she only came out to eat and drink when no one was around, and went right back to sitting on her “nest.” Sometimes broody hens don’t understand that those eggs won’t hatch!
If you are only looking for hens to produce eggs for you, and you aren’t really interested in having a chicken who will supervise your work or hang out with your children, we have found that these breeds are a a good choice:
- Black Australorps
- Speckled Sussex
- Plymouth Rock
Quiet vs. Noisy
It is amazing how some breeds can be quite vocal, whereas other breeds are very quiet and hardly make a sound. When we had our first flock, we technically lived inside the city limits although it was quite rural, and were not really supposed to have hens. Our neighbors had hens and no one minded, so we went ahead with the purchasing of our chicks, promising not to get any roosters. We wish knew then what we know now!
While we love our Buff Orpingtons because they are very beautiful and friendly, they seem to want to shout from the rooftops whenever they lay an egg. When you get a chorus of them going at once, it can be heard for miles around!
If you are interested in getting your first flock of backyard chickens and don’t want your neighbors to be bothered by the noise, then Black Australorps are the hens for you. While not the smartest hens in the coop, they are quiet birds and very consistent layers.
You can get into all kinds of fancy breeds, and even create breeds of your own, given the right rooster and hen. We will discuss roosters at another time. For now, you can learn more about the pros and cons of many of the more popular breeds here.
What are your favorite breeds, and why? If you don’t have chickens yet, what breeds would you like to start with?
Tell us a below!