One of the most exciting steps in starting your own backyard chicken flock is trying to decide which chicken breed to get.
There are hundreds of chicken breeds to choose from, but you will likely come across one of the 60 different breeds recognized in the American Standard of Perfection, the official breed standard of the American Poultry Association.
As a beginner, you want a chicken breed that meets the following characteristics:
- The chicken breed should be friendly, relatively docile and easy to tame
- The chicken breed should be relatively easy to care for
- The chicken breed should excel at laying eggs, if you’re raising chickens for eggs; gain weight quickly, if you’re raising chickens for meat; or both
- The chicken breed should be common enough that you can find it in most hatchery catalogs or at most local feed or farm supply stores
In this online guide to raising chickens, you’ll discover the top five chicken breeds for beginners. Each backyard chicken breed possesses one or more of the above characteristics and is popular among both beginners and experts.
Barred Plymouth Rocks
The Barred Plymouth Rock is a dual-purpose bird, meaning people raise them for both eggs and meat. It traces its lineage back to the 1800s.
Egg-laying hens will typically lay approximately 200 brown eggs every year.
If you’re raising chickens for meat, females reach a weight of approximately 7.5 lbs. while male Barred Plymouth Rocks can average up to 10 lbs. in weight.
This chicken breed is very docile and friendly, and also lends visual interest to your backyard chicken flock thanks to its distinctive black-and-white feathers.
The Cornish chicken breed does not lay very many eggs. However, its quick growth rate and large size makes it popular for people raising chickens for meat.
Male Cornish birds can hit close to 11 lbs. while the smaller hen can weigh as much as 8 lbs. A popular variety is the Cornish Cross.
Another advantage that this breed has over others if you’re looking for a good meat bird is its white plumage, which doesn’t leave pigment in the skin like dark-feathered chickens do.
Rhode Island Reds
The Rhode Island Red is the quintessential backyard chicken breed and is very popular among beginners.
Rhode Island Red chickens are very easy to care for and very hardy, which is ideal if you make a few mistakes along the way. They are also very friendly birds, although the male Rhode Islands can become aggressive and may pose dangerous to both pets and small children.
The rate of lay is excellent for this dual-purpose breed, with hens averaging around 300 eggs per year.
If you’re raising backyard chickens for their eggs, few breeds do better than the white Leghorn. They have an exceptional rate of lay of more than 300 eggs a year.
Leghorns are also very lightweight birds, averaging around 4 lbs. in weight, because they expend so much energy on egg production. While excellent egg layers, Leghorns are not very docile and are prone to being flighty, nervous birds.
If you’re raising chickens as pets, the Silkie is a great choice. Unlike traditional chicken breeds, the Silkie has a different feather structure which gives it a puffy, hairy appearance. It even has a puffy plume of feathers on its head and feet.
This chicken breed stays relatively small, are very tame and are also known for their ability to make great mothers when broody, should you decide to incubate some fertile chicken eggs or want a foster mother for your new chicks.
Additional offline reading:
1. Chicken Coops: 45 Building Plans for Housing Your Flock
2. Feeding Poultry: The Classic Guide to Poultry Nutrition for Chickens, Turkeys, Ducks, Geese, Gamebirds, and Pigeons
3. Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens