Chicken Breeds: How To Make The Right Choice

Now that you decided to have your own backyard flock of chicken, you are probably asking yourself the following questions: how do I choose from the infinity of chicken breeds available? What chicken breeds are most suited for me? What differences are there between this multitude of choice?

To answer those questions, you need first to specify you actual need. Are you looking for chicken breeds for eggs? for meat? Ornamental chickens?

In fact, it all comes down to why you decided to get you flock of chickens in the first place.

Depending on whether you are enthusiastic about getting fresh eggs every morning, addicted to food waste recycling or simply attracted to  beautiful pets, your choice might significantly differ.

For sure, you won’t be a specialist in chickens’ breeds after reading this article. This is not actually our aim. Instead, we present here some useful insights for our beginner readers through which we hope they will be able to recognize the main differences between breeds. You’ll also be able to have your own opinion about what specific breed suits best to your situation. As your experience widens, you’ll get to know more about the unlimited choices out there.

As a first step, let’s discover what types of chickens are there, and in what qualities do the breeds actually differ.

Laying chicken breeds

laying chicken

Here is some useful information about this type of chickens.

Laying hens begin producing eggs around 5 or 6 months of age. From the age of 3 years, their production starts diminishing until it stops at the age of 8 years. At this point, you’ll choose either to enjoy a delicious family chicken meal or simply offer your hen a couple of happy years of retirement until the age of 10 years, at which they generally pass away.

A typical laying hen produces approximately 150 to 250 eggs per year. Don’t expect eggs on a daily basis as hens need some days of rest.

Laying hens are most productive between springtime and summertime. During the winter, the production naturally drops (or stops if the hens are suffering from cold). The production diminishes as well during molting periods.

Time now to discover the most productive laying hens.

Red hens

red hens

Technically, this is not a pure breed as it originated from several crossbreedings.

It originated initially in England. We identify many type of red hens: Shaver, Bovan, Warren, and Rhode Island. Red hens are known to be tough and productive. You can expect up to 250 eggs per year.

Sussex

This breed also originated in England, particularly in the Sussex County. It’s a very old breed that derives from the crossbreeding of indigenous poultry and the Brahma hens. This breed is also famous for its high egg laying capacity as a Sussex hen is able to lay up to 250 eggs per year as well.

Marans

maran hens

This is a also a very good laying breed. It is known for its laying capacity of about 250 eggs per year. Unlike the previous breeds, it has a good character and is always calm. The eggs the hen produces are of a very good quality and are easily digestible.

Hamburg

hamburg hen

Photo credit: jacilluch via Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

We can consider Hamburgs as ornamental as they are one of the most beautiful breeds. Laying approximately 200 medium sized eggs per year, many appreciate their egg production ability. Nevertheless, they can seem to be quite aggressive in small areas. They prefer to jump around in more open spaces.

Vorwerk

vorwerk hen

This is a German breed created by Oskar Vorwerk in 1919. Vorwerk is a quite rare breed as it could have extinguished after World War II. It has a beautiful black and tawny feather. It is an excellent layer  with productivity similar to that of the Sussex and the Red hens. Its cool character makes it a very suitable breed for amateur farmers.

Gournay

Along with Reds, Marans and Vorwerk, Gournays are a very good laying breed. Originated in Normandie in France, it could have extinguished after World War I and World War II. In 2000, many local associations included it in a safeguarding program. Nevertheless, it is robust and resists quite well to bad weather. Gournays are able to produce 170 excellent quality eggs per year as a minimum.

Ornamental chicken breeds

ornamental chicken

Unlike for laying and broody hens, you can use Ornamental chicken to decorate your backyard . They are very attractive and can live in relatively small spaces. They are generally purchased for the sake of their beautiful feathers but not for their meat and eggs production. The most fascinating ones participate in beauty contests. Like other types, you can feed them food wastes, especially vegetables.

An ornamental chicken lives well in backyards and has a very good character.

You can raise them in pretty much the same way as the other chickens. Nevertheless, their admirers make sure that the ground in which they walk is not too muddy so that their beautiful legs don’t suffer.

If you aim to embellish you backyard or simply to benefit from some good company, you might want to take a look at the following breeds.

Brahma

brahma chichen

Brahma is famous as the king of poultry. Maybe because is a very big chicken from Asia. Many appreciate the breed for  its ornamental characteristics and its esthetic stature. Brahmas can be in wide variety of feather colors. Besides its decorative value, the breed is also considered to be a laying breed. In fact, it can produce up to 150 per year.

Brabanters

brabanter

Brabanters have another name : Brabaconne. They originated in Netherlands. It is a very rare breed and was even declared extinct. Experts appreciate Brabanters for the large choice of feather colors they offer. Even if they generally don’t go broody, they still are very good layers. They also resist to different weather conditions.

Naked neck

naked neck chicken

Naked neck chickens have different feather colors. The most available are the black ones. As their name suggest, their neck is completely naked. They have a large red neck and a slightly inclined back. Even if it is an ornamental chicken, its excellent meat and its decent laying capacity make it more of a polyvalent breed.

Bantam

Bantams are not a specific breed of chicken. The term designs all the small ornamental hens. It includes a large number of breeds such as the Belgian bantam, the Pekin bantam and the Dutch bantam. There’s also a Brahma Bantam, a small sized Brahma.

The bantams are miniatures of bigger chicken breeds. This makes them the optimal solution for those who struggle with small backyard problems. They also lay smaller eggs.

We present here some of the best breeds of these bantams:

Belgian Bantam

belgian bantam

There are many types of Belgian bantams :Barbu d’anvers, Barbu d’Uccle, Barbu de Watermael and Mille Fleur (the picture above is of a Mille Fleur hen) are the most known and available. This breed is known for having a beard and whiskers. It is one of the most famous bantams. Some types have their own clubs in Europe.

The breed is an excellent choice for chicken competition lovers as there are as much as 14 feather pattern. The Belgian bantams are also layers and good brooders.

Pekin bantam

This is a Chinese breed. Queen Victoria  imported them to Europe in 1840. It is a true bantam, meaning that it is not a miniature of another bigger breed. For this reason, you can also call them Pekin chickens (as opposed to bantams). This emphasizes the fact that they are not related to a larger fowl.

Pekin Bantams have a large stature and tight wings which makes them very bad at flying. They are unique in their elegance and their beautiful and varied feather options. They are also excellent layers (250 eggs per year).

The pekin bantam is kind and well adapted to backyard life which makes it perfect for amateur farmers.

Dutch bantams

dutch bantam

This is also a true bantam from Netherlands. Unlike Pekin bantams, they fly pretty well thanks to their larger wings and lighter weight. Like all true bantams, Dutch bantams have many feather colors variations. They also are good layers.

Known for their kindness, you can easily raise them. For that, they are another excellent choice to include in a backyard flock.

Brahma bantams

This is the bantam version of the Brahma we presented earlier. Therefore, it is not a true bantam.

Brahma Bantams present numerous advantages: they are pretty hardy and can handle all weather conditions. Furthermore, they are known to be very kid friendly. Also, Brahma bantam are decent layers.

Broody hens

broody hen

If you are interested in natural incubation, you should go for broody hens. A broody hen can handle up to 15 eggs of its own. It can also go broody on other breeds’ eggs. If these eggs are bigger, the number it can handle will be of course smaller. For example, a typical broody hen can go broody on 10 duck eggs or 4 goose eggs.

The hen waits to have a significant number of eggs before going broody (approximately one week). When she settles down, she has to be separated from other hens to prevent her from rivalries. Indeed, in this period, the other hens can go and lay their eggs in its nest.

The brooding lasts 21 days before the little chicks go out from the shell.

To test if your hen is a good brooder, just put some eggs in her nest and see how she reacts. A good broody hen will hurry to go broody on them while taking all the precaution necessary.

All breeds of hens can go broody of course, but some are better than others in this specific practice. Good broody hens belong to all types of breeds. So don’t be surprised if you notice that the best laying and ornamental chickens are also excellent at brooding.

As such, the Sussex, the Marrans, the Gournays and the pekin Bantams we presented earlier are also amazing at brooding.

To avoid redundancy, we present here other breeds that are as good in brooding.

Faverolles

It is a French chicken from the Faverolles region. It is the result of a number of cross-breeding operations that involved Brahma, Houdan, Cochin, Langhsan and Dorking. Although we put it in the broody hens category, this chicken is really polyvalent. It is an excellent layer, an excellent brooder and the meat is irreproachable. Since it is very beautiful, it can also serve as an ornamental chicken.

The bantam version exists and has pretty much the same characteristics.

Wyandotte

wyandotte

Wyandotte has a concave back, and a rounded solid chest. Her feather can be in many colors including white and black. A good layer, a good brooder with very much appreciated meat. All are qualities that make it –like the Favorelle- and excellent polyvalent chicken.  Wyandottes are not bad  as ornamental chickens either.

Wyandottes are backyard friendly, and can be an excellent choice for beginners.

Serama

Serama is really special : it is the smallest breed of backyard chickens all over the world. It is Malaysian. It was imported to the US in 2000.

This miniature chicken has short strong legs and her body is inclined to the back. The feather can be either smooth or curly. Given its small size, it is well adapted to small chicken coops.

It is of course a great brooder and can lay eggs even during winter. The only weakness of this breed is that it is somewhat sensitive to cold and bad weather. A well isolated shelter is therefore a must.

Silkie

slikie

Silkie is a Chinese bantam chicken used as a brooder and as an ornamental chicken. Some breeders use it for eggs as well. As its name suggests, it has a silky abundant feather. So silky that it looks like hair.

Silkie is known for a number of particularities: has a fifth toe, lives quit a long time (10 to 12 years), and can’t fly.

It is of course an excellent brooder and is also kid friendly. Also cute as hell, this breed is an inevitable choice.

 

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