One of the biggest decisions you will make about your flock is your choice of chicken breeds. When choosing a breed, first things first, what are you going to use your chicken for? Chickens generally have two purposes in life. Laying eggs or being eaten.
Personally, our flock is mainly comprised of dual purpose breeds. What is a dual purpose breed you may be wondering. They are capable of fulfilling both roles. They take longer to feed out than a strictly meat chicken, however they are just as tasty! Also these girls can lay eggs just as well as any layer.
The first category we’ll tackle is meat chickens. The most popular breed of meat chicken is a White Cornish or a white Cornish hybrid. They are a rapid growing breed with wide breasts and a heavy build. Broilers (meat chickens) generally take 7-10 weeks to reach appropriate weight to butcher.
When you enter the world of laying hens, the flood gate of breeds opens. Chickens and eggs come in every color of the rainbow! Before you get carried away picking breeds it is always important to make sure you have a breed that is going to do well in your environment. Some varieties are more cold or heat tolerant than others. Also temperament is important if you will be having kids help you tend your flock. Example: while a leghorn will lay piles of eggs for you, she is also flighty, loud and generally none to friendly. But red sex-link love attention, are very docile and have very comparable egg production.
Here are some great dual purpose breeds I would recommend for a flock:
Plymouth Barred Rock
These gals have characteristic black and white stripes. They are a calm, friendly breed that has good egg production (3-5 eggs per week). A Plymouth Barred Rock will lay large brown eggs. It is also a cold hardy breed that will have little problems in the winter. Barred rocks are on the larger side, as most dual purpose, with a mature hen weighing 7-8 pounds.
Rhode Island Red
Rhode Island’s are a very popular breed amongst backyard chicken raisers. They are excellent egg layers, laying 5-7 very large brown eggs per week. Hens are a dark red color. Rhode Island Reds can be a little flightier than some breeds, however they are generally not hard to work with. A mature hen will weigh 6-7 pounds.
I must admit these ladies are one of my favorites. Our 3 simply LOVE being held. Now loving on a chicken may seem odd to you if you’re new at this, just wait. Back on topic…
Delaware’s are medium sized hens that weigh 6-7 pounds. They have white feathers with black ‘highlights’ on their neck and tails. Not only are they cold hardy, they also take the heat well. They are excellent egg layers, making 5-7 large brown eggs a week.
The New Hampshire’s are fairly similar to a Rhode Island, in my personal opinion. The only difference is they may be a little more relaxed. Hens weigh 6-7 pounds and will fill your nesting boxes with eggs. Unlike the hens listed previously, New Hampshire hens tend to lay a more medium sized egg. Like the Delaware’s they do well in the cold and heat.
A few other dual purpose breeds to consider are Welsummer’s (the chicken kid and I have decided this is our next breed when our chick buying ban, enforced by her father, is lifted). Welsummer’s eggs are a very dark brown, almost red. Jersey Giants, Sussex and Australop’s also are nice dual purpose breeds to consider.
Now let’s talk girls who are only bred to be laying hens. A lot of these breeds are slightly smaller than a dual purpose breed, but they can pump out eggs.
These are my favorite ladies! They go by a variety of names, golden buff, red star. But the hens are the same and you will LOVE them. These ladies are calm, easy going hens who will lay you buckets of very large, brown eggs almost, if not daily. The hens top out around 5 pounds but are very cold and heat hardy.
Kids love these hens! No two hens look the same and their eggs range from blue to green. They are basically ‘mutt’ hens that have become their own breed. They’re very similar to Ameracauna hens. Some interesting characteristics about their visual appearance is the hens have very small pea combs and puffy cheek feathers. They weigh around 5 pounds and excellent little egg makers. They’re very calm, also making them a great breed for young poultry lovers.
Some other layer breeds to look in to include Black Sex-Link and Marans (gorgeous, rich brown eggs).
If you’re still undecided consult with a hatchery. They can often steer you in the right direction. Hatchery websites also have great descriptions of breeds. If you have to order your chicks and you don’t live near a hatchery, they will ship them to you. We use Meyer Hatchery. Their website can be found at www.meyerhatchery.com
Hobby Farms Chickens, 2nd edition, Sue Weaver, 2005.