Choosing Chicken Breeds For Backyard Flocks

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Choosing Chicken Breeds For The Back Yard Flock

Choosing what breed of chickens to get for your first flock can be confusing.  There are a lot of different kinds to choose from and how will you know which ones are going to be right for you?

Start off by answering the following questions:

How many chickens will you have?

Are you raising chickens for meat, eggs, or both?

Are you planning to butcher your hens when they stop laying?

How important is it that your hens be friendly?

The number of chickens you will have can influence your choice of breeds.  For example: if you are on a city lot that only allows three hens then you will want to make sure you get breeds that are known to be excellent layers.  If you are able to have more hens than you strictly need to keep your family in eggs you might want to choose a few excellent layers and also choose a couple of heirloom breeds for the enjoyment of variety.  In my own flock I have three excellent layers and one that isn't as prolific but is much prettier than the others to look at and this gives me pleasure every day.

It is important to know what your purpose in raising hens is.  If you plan to raise them just for butchering you will want to purchase only game breeds such as Old English Game or Cornish Game.  If you want to have hens that lay well but can be butchered after they slow down you will want to be sure to get a dual purpose breed because these are breeds that not only lay well but make good table birds.

Most people who are starting back yard flocks of chickens, especially in urban environments, are doing it for both eggs and family enjoyment, not usually for butchering.  If this is your purpose then it's important to choose poultry breeds that are known to be friendly.  I am going to make some personal reccommendations but it's really important that you understand that a breed description is only general and that hens, like people, can be highly individual.  I have heard stories of Rhode Island Reds being mean but the two I've had weren't at all mean, though they are both fairly shy.

The specific suggestions I'm going to make are suitable for families who are wanting great egg production from friendly birds.  If you need more information on game breeds or layer breeds I am going to include links at the bottom of this post to some great breed information sites that can help you pick what birds you want.

My favorite picks for small(ish) back yard flocks:

Buff Orpingtons- these are a golden colored dual purpose breed that lays well and has a sweet docile disposition.  Cora, our Buff Orpington, was so sweet you could pick her up and carry her around.  She was huge and funny and we loved her.  Lays large pinkish-brown eggs.

Ameraucanas*-this breed is an excellent layer of green eggs (only the purebred ones lay blue eggs) and is a very strong forager.  They are friendly and curious to people but bossy to other birds.  Our Easter Egger (see footnote), Claudine,  was great at foraging, leading the flock, and loved her sun baths.  Lays green medium sized eggs, often with double yolks.

Black Sex Links- this is a hybrid breed that is sexable at birth so you aren't at much risk of ending up with a rooster.  They lay incredibly well, are friendly, pretty, sturdy, and not skittish.  Lays large brown eggs.

Golden Sex Links- this is the same as the Black Sex Link but is golden in color.  Excellent layer of large brown eggs.  friendly, curious, loves kitchen scraps, not bossy.  Ours has been a great addition to our flock.

Plymouth Barred Rock- this black and white striped breed is very pretty.  They lay moderately well.  In general the breed is known to be docile, easy to handle, and friendly.  Ours (Flower-bud) is quite shy and skittish but we love how pretty she is and she lays medium sized pinkish-brown eggs so how can we really complain?  I love having at least one striped or dotted hen in the flock.

Rhode Island Reds- this is an excellent layer of large brown eggs.  They are active but generally docile, though the cocks in this breed are notorious for their aggressiveness.  Our own experience is that ours are a little shy but will not be mean if you are quick enough to pick them up and they will come around and be calm if you spend some time with them quietly.

Most of the breeds I've just mentioned are readily available in feed stores.  If you get confused when faced with choices at the feed store never hesitate to ask for advice from whoever is the chicken expert.  And be sure you already have their nursery set up before you bring them home!

Here are some fantastic on line resources for reading about poultry breeds:

Henderson's Chicken Breed Chart


Backyard Chickens

*Also known as Araucanas.  The truth is that mostly what you find in the feed stores are mixed breed versions of these birds, not purebreds.  Which is fine by me since I don't need papers on my chickens.  Just so you know, if you're buying a bird by either of these names, what you're really buying is what is known as an "Easter Egg" hen.

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from Caring For Chicks: The First Six Weeks « Stitch And Boots on June 2, 2009 10:46 AM


We're going to get Buff Orpingtons for our first time with chicks. I'm excited, now if we can get their coop finished we can get things moving!

I love your new (additional) site. I have been compelled for several years to learn to grow my own food and make things for myself. Fortunately I have an aunt who was a member of the first back to the land movement that began in the late sixtys. She is a wealth of information. Having a mentor is a huge advantage. I am glad you are offering that opurtunity to people who cannot call up their aunt.

hey A, nice article. You're so right about them being completely invidual. Our 2 red stars (golden sex links) hang out together but their personalities are really different. Marge, the one we found on our street, is extremely friendly, to the point where she'll pretty much jump in your lap! Gladys, the one we raised from a chick, pecks at our legs and sometimes rears up with her claws. We think she thinks she the cock of the flock. Our Ameraucana is the most skittish of them all. We had a Buff Orpington named Lucille, years ago when we lived in the city. She was the sweetest of them all!

Good looking site and intersting content, thank s for dropping by my site, keep it going

Thanks for checking my site out!

Hi Denis! Thanks for coming and reading my article. Yeah, I'd say Gladys sounds a bit cockish! I love the Buff Orpingtons. Philip won't agree to get any more though because she is the one that got us in trouble with evil neighbors in SR and forced us to give our flock to friends. I didn't know the gold sex links were also called Red feed store just called them Gold Sex Links. Thanks- I'll have to do a little more research it seems.

I'm still getting the hang of my new blog format and commenting and all that...patience with me! Anyway- so happy you all are stopping in! So many of you from my other blog- it makes me happy to see you here.

Kathy- the Buffs are such great birds! The chicks can't live in the coop for the first six weeks anyway- why don't you get your chicks and just make sure you get the coop done in the next couple of weeks. Next up I'm going to cover the topic of caring for baby chicks!

Great advice!!

We purchased 3 of the Araucauna - Easter Eggers, as I've learned, and 3 of the Plymouth Barred Rock.

Any advice on getting them used to handling? How often should we be messing with them?

Karmyn- as often as possible about the handling. Chickens are never (to my knowledge) cuddly creatures but the more you handle them now the more used to you and the kids they'll be as they grow. Try getting them to perch on your fingers. I was going to email you to ask what you ended up getting. I love both those breeds! You'll have such pretty birds and eggs.

Love at first post! (Or rather, the first one I've come upon - I see I've got some catching up to do...)

Buff Orps are my very favorite... very mild-natured and so fluffy and pretty. LOVE them.

Hi! It's so good to see you here!

Oh- Buff Orps are really wonderful, aren't they? Some friends of mine got two of them in their flock so I'll get to see them again. I miss our Cora. Do you have your own chickens?

I am planning to get 4 chicks. I called the nearest feed store (about an hour away) and they will be getting Ameraucanas, Buff Orphingtons, and Barred Rocks this Thursday. I would like to have a friendly little flock of fairly good egg layers for my backyard. I would like to have one of each breed and am not sure which breed the 4th chicken should be. Will the Ameraucana or Barred Rock pick on the Buff Orphington and should I therefore get two? Or will I get more eggs if I have two Barred Rocks? Will my little flock be more interesting if I get two Ameraucanas? Also, how should I best transport the chicks home in my car? I am looking forward to your article describing how to care for chicks!



Thank you for commenting, Linda! In my experience all of the breeds you are planning to get are good layers. The friendliest hen I ever met was our Buff Orpington Cora. I don't think you can go wrong picking any of those breeds as your 4th hen but I am inclined to suggest you get two Orpingtons. They lay really large eggs and are both pretty and really calm and sweet. Good thing reminding me I need to post about chick care! I'll get on that this week.

As for transporting them, the feed stores usually give the chicks to you in a cardboard box with some litter in the bottom. If it's hot where you are and you don't have air conditioning just make certain the top of the box is open so they can get enough air circulation. They like to be warm. When you get them home immediately provide feed and water (you can add a little bit of sugar to the water to give them a boost.) Let them rest in a quiet place without being handled for an hour or two once you have them set up with water, a heat source, and food. After their rest you can have fun holding them and watching them!

I'm still in the city but want to move to do homesteading in about a year. I hope to start with 6 to a dozen girls of mixed breeds. Buff Orpingtons sound great.

We just received 2 Buff Orpingtons about 6 weeks ago. They are now about 12 weeks old. Should the sex be obvious by now? One of them has a more pronounced comb and wattle (sp?) than the other. I'm hoping I don't have a rooster since we are in the city and really want eggs and not chicks. Help!

Yes, it should be pretty clear by now if you have roosters or not. The size of the comb is not a reliable way to tell, hens can have really large combs too. A more reliable way to tell (besides crowing, which is obviously the surest way of all!) is to observe their behaviors. Roosters will run at hens with their chest puffed out and generally round them up constantly and basically act like a big egocentric bully. Also you can sometimes tell by three months by their neck and tail feathers which should begin to elongate more than with the hens. Though that may be clearer in another month.

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Recent Comments

  • stitchy1: Yes, it should be pretty clear by now if you read more
  • Sandy: We just received 2 Buff Orpingtons about 6 weeks ago. read more
  • Dragonlaurel: I'm still in the city but want to move to read more
  • stitchy1: Thank you for commenting, Linda! In my experience all of read more
  • Linda Griffin: I am planning to get 4 chicks. I called the read more
  • stitchy1: Hi! It's so good to see you here! Oh- Buff read more
  • ToilingAnt: Buff Orps are my very favorite... very mild-natured and so read more
  • ApK: Love at first post! (Or rather, the first one I've read more
  • stitchy1: Karmyn- as often as possible about the handling. Chickens are read more
  • Karmyn R: Great advice!! We purchased 3 of the Araucauna - Easter read more