Choosing a Chicken Breed for the Homestead

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When planning a flock of backyard chickens, you need to consider each breed carefully. It is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the chicken breeds that you are considering. Do plenty of research before purchasing your birds to make sure that you are choosing the best chicken breed for your homestead.

What to Consider When Choosing a Chicken Breed

The first thing to think about when choosing chicken breeds for your homestead is their purpose. Are you looking for egg laying breeds? Do you need meat for your family, but no eggs? Or are you looking for a breed that can provide both eggs and meat?

If you need egg layers, you will want to know: 

Average number of eggs per year

Some breeds lay as much as 364 eggs/year/chicken (about one egg/day) and some breeds lay 150/year or less. 

Color of the eggs

You can find egg laying chicken breeds that lay light-dark brown, green, blue, and white eggs… some even lay an occasional pink egg! 

Laying Age

Most chicken breeds begin to lay eggs around 6 months, but some breeds start earlier and some start later so it is important to know the average for the breeds you are considering. 

If you need meat chickens, you will want to know: 

Amount of Meat

You will not only want to know the average live weight of the meat breeds that you bring onto your homestead, but you will also want to know the processed weight… This is the weight of the bird after being processed… so you will have an idea of the amount of meat each bird could provide to your family. 

Process Age

Most meat birds are processed between 16-20 weeks, but some (like the Cornish Cross chickens) need to be butchered much earlier and some require a longer grow out time. 

Consider this information no matter the breed purpose: 

Broodiness of the Hens

If you want to be more sustainable and hatch your own chicks, you will either need your hens to have an inclination to be broody or you will need to know how to hatch chicks using an incubator.

Average Mature Size 

The average mature size of the birds is important if space is limited on your homestead. If you choose a very large breed, you may not be able to keep as many chickens as you could if you chose a smaller framed breed. 

Country of Origin

The origin of the breed may or may not be important to you, but it is always good to know the history of the animals that you bring onto your homestead.

Temperament

The temperament or disposition of a chicken breed is important to know. While you will find that most breeds are gentle & calm, some breeds are very active,noisy, and some can even get aggressive. This is especially important if children will be around the birds. 

Is it a heritage breed?

This is another factor that may or may not be important to you, but it is always a good idea to know the facts about your chickens. You can find heritage breeds on The Livestock Conservancy. 

Flightiness

Think about the area where you will be keeping your chickens. If they are able to fly will that be an issue for you? If so, you will need to consider building a fence, keeping them in a run, choosing breeds that don’t fly well, or clipping wings.

All of the information listed above should be considered for dual purpose chickens.

What are Heritage Chicken Breeds?

According to The Livestock Conservancy, a heritage chicken breed must be:

  • An APA Standard Breed, able to be traced back for generations
  • Reproduced via natural mating
  • Able to live long lives (hens 5-7 years and roosters 3-5)
  • Slow growers reaching market weight in a minimum of 16 weeks

Heritage chicken breeds are sometimes referred to as old-fashioned, old timey, true American, heirloom, and antique. They are usually slower growers and they may take longer to lay than hybrid chicken breeds.

17 Common Chicken Breeds

Chicken Breeds for Eggs

1. Ameraucana

Ameraucanas came from the Araucana breed to keep the beautiful blue eggs while getting rid of the lethal tufted gene that the Araucana carry. Some people consider this a dual purpose breed. 

This breed of chicken is cold hardy, great at foraging (so best as a free-range or pastured bird), and they are predator savvy. Ameraucanas come in recognized colors: Black, White, Blue, Blue Wheaten, Wheaten, Buff, Brown Red, and Silver. They have pea combs as well as muffs & beards.

Be sure to check the spelling of the birds when purchasing chicks. Americana and Americauna are used sometimes to help sell hybrid Easter Egger chicks that do not breed true. 

Ameraucana chicken breed
Ameraucana Quick Stats
  • Purpose: Eggs
  • Eggs per Year: 180-200
  • Size: 4-7 lbs
  • Egg Color: Light blue
  • Origin: USA
  • Temperament: Good 
  • Broody: No
  • Laying Age: 6-7 months 
  • Flighty: Yes
  • Heritage: No

2. Cream Legbar

This is an auto-sexing breed, meaning that you can tell the males apart from the females at hatching. The female Cream Legbar chickens have salmon colored breasts and crests on their heads. Female chicks also have a dark stripe down the back. Males have dark gray barring. 

Cream Legbars are excellent foragers and they are alert to predators. This makes them ideal for a free range setup. These birds have a single comb and they come in creams and grays.This breed isn’t currently recognized with the American Poultry Association.

cream legbar
Cream Legbar Quick Stats
  • Purpose: Eggs
  • Eggs per Year: 150-230
  • Size: 5.5-7.5 lbs
  • Egg Color: Blue
  • Origin: United Kingdom
  • Temperament: Friendly & Alert
  • Broody: Sometimes
  • Laying Age: 6 months 
  • Flighty: Yes
  • Heritage: No

3. Leghorn

The Leghorn chicken breed is a prolific layer of white eggs. These birds are excellent foragers and they do not require much feed especially if they are free ranged. The feed-to-egg ratio is one of the best of the egg laying chicken breeds. 

Leghorns are active birds that have been known to be a little flighty and nervous around people. They are great backyard birds, but don’t expect them to be pets.

These birds can have the traditional single comb or a rose comb. While the White Leghorn is the most well-known, this breed does come in 5 APA recognized colors: black, buff, dark brown, light brown, white, and silver.

white leghorn
Leghorn Quick Stats
  • Purpose: Eggs
  • Eggs per year: 280-360
  • Egg Color: White
  • Origin: Italy
  • Temperament: Active & Noisy
  • Broody: No
  • Laying Age: 4-5 months
  • Flighty: Yes
  • Heritage: No

Chicken Breeds for Meat 

These broiler breeds aren’t the best options for farm fresh eggs, but they are excellent for meat production!

4. Big Red Broiler

If you don’t want to jump into raising Cornish Cross, McMurray’s Big Red Broiler is a great fast growing alternative!

The Big Red Broiler chicken is a great forager so they work well on pastured and free range systems. This breed takes a few more weeks to grow out than the Cornish Cross ( 12 weeks vs. 8 weeks), but less time than most other meat breeds. 

If you are wanting a self-sufficient flock that allows you to hatch your own chicks, this breed may not be the best because the hens aren’t known to go broody and many of the eggs are infertile. 

big red broiler chicken breed from Murray McMurray Hatchery
Photo from Murray McMurray Hatchery
Big Red Broiler Quick Stats
  • Purpose: Meat
  • Size: 7-10 lbs
  • Meat: 3-8 lbs
  • Origin: USA
  • Temperament: Calm
  • Broody: No
  • Process Age: 12 weeks 
  • Flighty: No
  • Heritage: No

5. Cornish Cross

The Cornish Cross is the most popular, and possibly the most controversial, of the meat breeds. These birds are a cross between the Cornish and Plymouth Rock breeds. 

They grow out to butcher weight in 8-10 weeks which is incredibly fast. This quick turnaround time is enticing (and very efficient), but there are some things to consider before jumping on the Cornish Cross boat…

This hybrid breed is not recommended to live past 10 weeks. If they continue to grow, they start to have health issues due to the growth rate. Because of this, they are not able to reproduce and you will not be able to sustain your own flock. 

Cornish Cross chickens tend to be lazy and not cold or heat hardy. These birds are also not recommended to be kept at high altitudes. They do best on pasture, but they do need an overhead enclosure to protect them from predators. 

The fast growth and large amount of meat really do make up for these considerations, however.

Cornish Cross chicken
Cornish Cross Quick Stats
  • Purpose: Meat
  • Size: 9-12 lbs
  • Meat: 5-10 lbs
  • Origin: USA
  • Temperament: Docile and Lazy
  • Broody: No
  • Process Age: 8-10 weeks
  • Flighty: No
  • Heritage: No
>>Read more about raising Cornish Cross meat birds here.<<

6. Ginger Broiler

The Ginger Broiler from McMurray hatchery gives you the fast growth of the Cornish Cross without the health issues. They will provide you with a good amount of meat, but not quite as much as the Cornish Cross birds. 

These birds, unlike the CC, are active foragers, can be raised at high altitudes, and do not have the leg issues that the Cornish Cross develop as they age. 

Ginger Broilers are ready to process between 8 and 10 weeks, but they are able to be kept longer since they do not have the heavy breed health issues common in CC. They are still not recommended for breeding because they are a hybrid. 

Ginger Broiler from Murray McMurray
Ginger Broiler Quick Stats
  • Purpose: Meat
  • Size: 5-6 lbs
  • Origin: USA
  • Temperament: Good
  • Broody: No
  • Process Age: 8-10 weeks
  • Flighty: No
  • Heritage: No

Dual Purpose Chicken Breeds

Dual Purpose Breeds are recommended for both egg laying and meat production. You can keep the most productive layers and butcher out the rest for meat. 2 birds, 1 stone…

7. Black Australorp

This has been my go-to chicken breed for the last few years. The breed was developed in Australia from Black Orpingtons to increase egg production while keeping a heavy size for meat.

The Black Australorp (Australian Orpington) is a heavy breed with excellent egg laying abilities. They do well in confinement setups, but they also thrive when free-ranging. If free-ranging, they do need access to the shade as their dark coloring makes them a bit more prone to heat stroke.

The black feathers of this bird have a shiny green tint to them. Currently, the APA recognizes only the Black Australorp, but they can also come in blue and white. 

black australorp
Black Australorp Quick Stats
  • Purpose: Dual
  • Eggs per year: 281-364
  • Size: 5.5-8 lbs
  • Egg Color: Light Brown
  • Origin: Australia
  • Temperament: Gentle and Friendly
  • Broody: Sometimes
  • Laying Age: 5-6 months
  • Process Age: 16-20 weeks
  • Flighty: No
  • Heritage: Yes

8. Rhode Island Red

Rhode Island Red is one of the most well-known chicken breeds. They are great foragers and prefer being pastured or free-ranged, but they do tolerate confinement.

This breed is hardy. They can do well in most climates and they are considered low maintenance birds.

Rhode Island Red chickens can lay up to 300 eggs per year and they are a decent source of meat. 

These birds typically have a single comb, but a rose comb RIR does exist.

Rhode Island Red
Rhode Island Red Quick Stats
  • Purpose: Dual
  • Eggs per year: 200-300
  • Size: 6.5-8.5 lbs
  • Egg Color: Brown
  • Origin: USA
  • Temperament: Friendly, Roosters can be aggressive
  • Broody: No
  • Laying Age: 4-6 months
  • Process Age: 16-20 weeks
  • Flighty: No
  • Heritage: No

9. Barred Rock

The Barred Rock, one of the oldest breeds in the U.S,  was developed as a cross between Dominique x Black Java chickens. 

This was a dominant broiler breed up until WW2 when more production breeds were developed. For a long time they were used interchangeably in shows with Dominique, but they were finally distinguished by their combs. Barred Rock chickens have a single comb while Dominiques have a rose comb.

The overall breed is the Plymouth Rock with barred being the most popular color. The APA also recognized Buff, Partridge, Silver Penciled, White, and Columbian Plymouth Rocks.

Barred Plymouth Rock is a cold hardy breed of great layers that can also provide good meat for a small family. This breed loves to forage, but they also do well in confinement. 

They have a great disposition making them good birds to have around children, but, as with any breed, be careful of roosters around kids as they can be very protective of their hens.

Barred Plymouth Rock Chicken Breed
Barred Rock Quick Stats
  • Purpose: Dual
  • Eggs per year: 220-280
  • Size: 7.5-9.5 lbs
  • Egg Color: Brown
  • Origin: USA
  • Temperament: Calm & Loveable 
  • Broody: Sometimes
  • Laying Age: 4-5 months
  • Process Age: 16-20 weeks
  • Flighty: No
  • Heritage: Yes

10. Wyandotte

The Wyandotte breed was developed in the U.S. as one of the first dual purpose breeds. The APA recognized 9 different colors within the breed: Black, Blue, Buff, Columbian, Golden Laced, Partridge, Silver Laced, Silver Penciled, and White.

Wyandotte chickens are cold hardy due to their rose combs and feather covering. These birds tolerate confinement, but they enjoy being active and foraging as well. 

This heritage breed is docile which makes them great for beginners and children. As always, watch the roosters around children as they can get aggressive.

Wyandottes are a great option if you want to raise eggs and meat for your family. 

Wyandotte chicken
Wyandotte Quick Stats
  • Purpose: Dual
  • Eggs per year: 200
  • Size: 6.5-8.5 lbs
  • Egg Color: Light Brown
  • Origin: USA
  • Temperament: Docile
  • Broody: Sometimes
  • Laying Age: 4-5 months
  • Process Age: 16-20 weeks
  • Flighty: No
  • Heritage: Yes

11. Orpington

The Orpington chicken breed was developed in England by William Cook who wanted to have a better dual purpose bird. The original orpington was black. Now the most common is the Buff Orpington. There are 4 APA recognized Orpington colors: Buff, Black, White, Blue. 

Chickens in the Orpington breed are not active foragers and do well in confinement. They can be free ranged, but don’t expect them to fill a large portion of their diet with insects and plants. They will still be at the feeder waiting for you. 

Orpingtons typically have a single comb, although there are some that have rose combs. They are cold hardy and can live in warmer climates as long as they have access to shade. Be sure to give them a safe space from predators because they are not very alert to predator threats. 

These birds are excellent for young children to be around! They are gentle and LOVE attention.

*Always keep an eye on the kiddos especially if there is a rooster in the flock.

Orpington chickens can lay up to 280 eggs per year and they are a heavy breed ready to process between 18-22 weeks. The hens are known to go broody and to be excellent mothers to their chicks. This is one of the best chicken breeds for homesteaders and small scale farmers.

If you need backyard birds in an urban setting, Orpingtons are a great choice as they are quiet and do well in confinement. 

Buff orpington
Orpington Quick Stats
  • Purpose: Dual
  • Eggs per year: 250-280
  • Size: 8-10 lbs
  • Egg Color: Brown
  • Origin: England
  • Temperament: Calm, Friendly, and Quiet
  • Broody: Yes
  • Laying Age: 5-7 months
  • Process Age: 18-22 weeks
  • Flighty: No
  • Heritage: Yes (Black, Blue, White, and Buff)

12. Black Copper Maran

Black Copper Marans aren’t as common as the rest of these chicken breeds, but they are very sought after in the U.S. They are a French breed that is harder to find and more expensive. 

Birds in this breed are desired because they lay a deep, dark, chocolate brown egg. The issue is that the more the hens lay, the lighter the eggs are…so in order to get the darkest eggs, you need hens that aren’t prolific layers. 

BC Marans have a single comb and beautiful black and copper colored plumage. These birds are good foragers and they do well in a free range environment, but they can also thrive in confinement. 

Black Copper Marans are a great option if you are looking to add a depth of color to your eggs, but they are not great for production purposed.

Black Copper Maran hen and chicks
Black Copper Maran Quick Stats
  • Purpose: Dual
  • Eggs per year: 150-200
  • Size: 4.5-7.5 lbs
  • Egg Color: Dark Brown
  • Origin: France
  • Temperament: Gentle
  • Broody: Sometimes
  • Laying Age: 5-6 months
  • Process Age: 16-20 weeks
  • Flighty: No
  • Heritage: Yes

13. Brahma 

The Brahma chicken breed was developed in the US with imported birds from China and India.

This is a very cold hardy breed thanks to its thick feathering, pea comb, and large size. However, the feathering on their feet can cause frostbite if they get into mud or snow. They are not ideal for southern states because they don’t handle heat as well.

The APA Recognized 3 colors of Brahma: Light, Dark, and Buff. This breed is generally quiet, calm, and kid friendly. 

Birds in this breed are easily contained because their size keeps them from flying over low fences. They can forage & free-range or live in confinement as long as they have adequate space to move around.

Brahma birds are known to go broody, but you will need to protect the chicks from trampling after hatching because the hens are so large. They also lay in the winter (October-May) when most chicken breeds are winding down.

The downsides to this breed are:

  1. the large birds require more feed to maintain
  2. there can be an issue with lice, mites, & frostbite due to the feathering
  3. they take about 7 months to start laying eggs
  4. and the coop and run may need to be expanded to accommodate their size
Brahma chickens
Brahma Quick Stats
  • Purpose: Dual
  • Eggs per year: 150-200
  • Size: 9.5-12 lbs
  • Egg Color: Brown
  • Origin: USA
  • Temperament: Quiet & Friendly
  • Broody: Yes
  • Laying Age: 6-7 months
  • Process Age: 16-20 weeks
  • Flighty: No
  • Heritage: Yes

14. Delaware

The Delaware chicken breed was developed in the U.S. out of the Rhode Island Red. 

This is a curious breed that is a good layer for a backyard flock as well as a good table bird. Delaware chickens enjoy foraging and they are alert to predators.

These birds have a single comb that is prone to frostbite in cold weather so it is a good idea to add some vaseline to the comb when it is cold out.

The APA recognizes one variety of Delaware having an overall white plumage coloration with  black barring on hackles, wings, and tail.

Delaware hens aren’t known to be broody so have an incubator on hand if you want to hatch your own chicks.

Delaware hen
Delaware Quick Stats
  • Purpose: Dual
  • Eggs per year: 200
  • Size: 6.5-8.5 lbs
  • Egg Color: Brown
  • Origin: USA
  • Temperament: Curious & Calm
  • Broody: No
  • Laying Age: 5-6 months
  • Process Age: 16-20 weeks
  • Flighty: Moderately
  • Heritage: Yes

15. Dominique

Growing up, I remember hearing all about Dominicker chickens and I always wondered if that was the actual name of the breed or if that was just the Southern way of saying it. Turns out, that name comes from a possible origin story of the Dominique breed. The exact origin of this breed is unknown.

The Dominique birds and Barred Plymouth Rock chickens were used interchangeably in show for a while until it was determined that the Dominique breed would have the pea comb, and all Dominique birds with a single comb would go into the Barred Rock breed standard.

They are cold hardy birds due to their rose comb and tight feathering, but they also do well in warmer climates.

Dominique chickens are also auto-sexing. They are born with a white spot on their heads. The female will have a distinct white spot while the male’s spot will be scattered. Females also have brown legs at hatching while males have yellow-orange legs.

Dominique chicken
Dominique Quick Stats
  • Purpose: Dual
  • Eggs per year: 230-275
  • Size: 5-7 lbs
  • Egg Color: Brown
  • Origin: USA
  • Temperament: Friendly
  • Broody: Sometimes
  • Laying Age: 6 months
  • Process Age: 16-20 weeks
  • Flighty: Moderate
  • Heritage: Yes

16. American Bresse

The Bresse breed is raised in the Bresse region of France, but some U.S. breeders have imported these birds to raise here as American Bresse. 

The marbling throughout the muscles of these birds has earned this breed the title of the most delicious chicken in the world.

Traditionally the chicks are fed dairy and the mature birds are dairy & corn fed. U.S. breeders try to replicate the environment and diet of French Bresse as closely as possible.

American Bresse chickens have a large single comb and thin bones making their meat to bone ratio unlike most other meat and dual purpose chicken breeds. 

American Bresse
American Bresse Quick Stats
  • Purpose: Dual
  • Eggs per year: 200-260
  • Size: 4.5-7 lbs
  • Egg Color: Light Brown
  • Origin: USA
  • Temperament: Good
  • Broody: No
  • Laying Age: 4-5 months
  • Process Age: 16-20 weeks
  • Heritage: Yes

17. Jersey Giant

The Jersey Giant is the largest U.S. purebred chicken breed with mature birds weighing between 10 and 13 pounds. This breed was developed in New Jersey in an attempt to produce a chicken that would produce as much meat as a turkey.

The heavy breed has a single comb and the birds make good foragers. They grow out between 10-15 pounds and one bird can feed a medium sized family.  Jersey Giant chickens lay huge eggs. When hatching eggs from this large bird, be aware that they may take a couple of extra days due to the size.

The APA recognizes three colors of Jersey Giant: Black, Blue, and White.

Jersey Giant Quick Stats
  • Purpose: Dual
  • Eggs per year: 150-200
  • Size: 10-15 lbs
  • Egg Color: Large Brown Eggs
  • Origin: USA
  • Temperament: Gentle
  • Broody: Sometimes
  • Laying Age: 5-7 months
  • Process Age: 20-24 weeks
  • Flighty: No
  • Heritage: Yes

Chicken Flock Record Keeping

Grab my Chicken Record Book to keep up with all the details of your flock!

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