Guide to Choosing Chicken Breeds: Pick the Best Breeds for Your Flock

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Thinking of starting a flock or adding to an existing flock, and not sure which chicken breeds to get? The options are dazzling. Chicken breeds differ in many ways, such as productivity, appearance, temperament, etc. There is no “best” chicken breed, but after reading this, I’m sure you’ll find that certain ones  will be better for your particular needs. This guide to choosing chicken breeds will help you sort through the options.

Want backyard chickens for eggs? Meat? Beauty? Calm companionship? For a cold climate? For a hot climate? For children? For showing? How about the best breeds are for a very small space? Here's a great guide to choosing chicken breeds to help you choose just the right breeds for your needs.

Two popular breeds for the backyard flock: Barred Plymouth Rock hen on the left, and Easter Egger rooster on the right.

Guide to Choosing Chicken Breeds

Notice I said “breeds” and not “breed”. That’s because many people, even those with small backyard flocks, keep multiple breeds. If you aren’t going to breed them, you’ll probably be happier with a mixed flock, as explained in 4 Benefits of a Mixed Flock of Backyard Chickens. However, if you are going to breed them, consider the first item carefully.

“Show Quality”

While showing chickens is not a priority for most backyard flock masters, you should think about whether you might want to breed and/or show your chickens, somewhere down the road, before you start your flock. If you do want to get serious about showing and breeding, you will want to buy your birds from a breeder who strives for the American Poultry Association Standards of Perfection. Hatchery breeders are more concerned with quantity than quality, but keep in mind that “quality” here refers to the APA standards. Hatchery chickens might not match the standards very well for plumage pattern or body type, but many are healthy, vigorous, productive, and even tempered birds, well suited to the backyard flock. Hatchery birds are also less expensive. I’ve purchased most of my chicks from hatcheries, and generally I’ve been pleased.

Utility

To choose the right chicken breeds for your flock, you need to know what you want from them. Most people want eggs, some people want meat, and some people want both meat and eggs.

Dual purpose breeds

Before the days of factory farming, many families kept chickens for two purposes: eggs and meat. They wanted chickens that could produce a lot of eggs, and could also flesh out to produce a nice roaster for the dinner table. Because these birds roamed the barnyard, a calm temperament and an inclination to forage were desirable. A tendency for some of the hens to go broody (set on eggs to hatch them) was also desirable, to ensure future generations. These breeds are excellent for today’s backyard flocks, even though many backyard flock masters don’t butcher any of their chickens. The other traits make them well suited to the home flock. Most of my chickens have been dual purpose breeds. Here are some examples:

  • Plymouth Rock
  • Wyandotte
  • Orpington
  • Sussex
  • Rhode Island Red
  • New Hampshire Red
  • Australorp

Egg production

When egg production is the primary goal, breeders develop chickens which are extremely efficient at converting feed into eggs, without “wasting” it on flesh. Some (but not all) of these breeds were developed for factory farms. Laying breeds tend to be slender. They can be suitable for the backyard flock, but they do tend to be nervous, and because they are light weight, many can fly well. If your birds are to be contained by a fence rather than a complete enclosure, you might want to avoid these breeds. I’ve had two laying breeds (a Hamburg and a Leghorn), and they were too nervous and flighty for my taste. The Hamburg could fly onto the roof of the house even in her old age. Layers are also less likely than dual purpose breeds to go broody, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your goals. Some examples of laying breeds and hybrids:

  • Leghorn
  • Hamburg
  • Campine
  • Fayoumi
  • Dominique (historically a dual purpose breed, but a very small body for meat, by today’s standards)
  • Golden commet
  • Red star
  • Black star

Meat production

When meat production is the primary goal, breeders aim for birds that grow large thighs and breasts, without “wasting” calories on a lot of eggs. They are larger and plumper than dual purpose breeds. Cornish and Brahma are some of the old fashioned “meat breeds”. But the modern hybrid, Cornish-Rock cross, trumps them all. The big 7 pound roasters you can buy at the supermarket are Cornish-Rock crosses. Chickens raised for meat include:

  • Cornish-Rock Cross
  • Freedom Ranger
  • Red Ranger
  • Cornish
  • Brahma
  • Jersey Giant

Size

When selecting chicken breeds, think about the space you have available for them, and whether or not young children will be involved.

Standard sized chickens

Also called large or full sized, standard sized chickens lay the familiar sizes of eggs available in stores. Most standard sized chickens weigh 4-8 pounds, depending on breed.

Bantam chickens

Bantam chickens are miniatures, weighing about 1/4 of the size of standards. There is a bantam version of many standard sized breeds (e.g., a bantam Wyandotte, a bantam Brahma, etc.), but some bantams have no large counterpart. The Dutch and Serama bantams, for example, exist only as bantams. Bantam egg size depends on the size of the particular breed. The bantam versions of dual purpose breeds lay eggs about 1/2 the size of a standard large egg, even though the hens themselves are only about 1/4 of the size of their standard counterparts. This sounds like a great deal…except for the fact that most bantams lay far fewer eggs than their standard cousins. This is because they are bred more for appearance than utility.

Given the smaller quantity and size of the eggs, why would anyone want bantams? There are actually several good reasons:

  1. They require less space than standard sized birds, and can be the perfect choice for people on small lots, or for people who need to keep their chickens locked up at all times.
  2. Their small size and typically calm temperament make them an excellent choice when children will be involved in their care.
  3. They can make wonderful show birds.
  4. Certain bantam breeds are quite broody prone. Some people keep a few of them just to raise the chicks of their standard hens who don’t go broody. Bantam breeds particularly prone to broodiness are Cochins and Silkies. And while I’ve never seen this written anywhere, bantam Easter Eggers are, in my experience, inclined to broodiness. My bantam Brahmas, on the other hand, rarely go broody.

If you’re really short on space, consider the smallest bantam breeds:

  • Serama – 1 lb or less
  • Nankin – about 1.5 lbs
  • Dutch – about 1.25 lbs
  • Bearded D’uccle – about 1.5 lbs
  • Bearded D’Anver – about 1.5 lbs
  • Booted Bantam – about 1.5 lbs
Want backyard chickens for eggs? Meat? Beauty? Calm companionship? For a cold climate? For a hot climate? For children? For showing? How about the best breeds are for a very small space? Here's a great guide to choosing chicken breeds to help you choose just the right breeds for your needs.

Cochin hens (here, a bantam mottled cochin) frequently go broody. Mine goes broody every summer.

Egg Shell Color

As you’ve seen in stores, chicken eggs come in white and medium to light brown. Egg shell color is breed dependent, and some breeds which are not used in commercial egg production lay eggs of other colors: dark brown, pinkish, cream, shades of blue, and shades of olive. Egg shell color does not influence flavor or nutritional value, so feel free to go wild and keep a mixed flock of backyard chickens if you want a variety of egg colors. Here are examples of breeds and the color egg they lay:

  • Brown – many dual purpose breeds, such as Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire Red, Wyandotte, Brahma, Sussex.
  • Dark brown – Marans, Welsummer, Penedesenca
  • White – many slender egg laying breeds, such as Leghorns, Campines, and Hamburgs.
  • Cream to light brownish-pink – Easter Eggers (occasionally), Salmon Faverolles, Dorking, Cochins, Old English Game Bantams
  • Blue – Easter Eggers, Ameraucanas, Araucanas, Cream Legbar
  • Olive – Olive Eggers

Plumage Choices and Considerations

Flip through a book on chicken breeds, or click around some of the hatchery websites, and you’ll notice a dazzling array of plumage colors and patterns. Black, white, buff, red, “blue” (really more of a blue-gray), and all shades of brown find their way into poultry plumage. Get whatever varieties delight your eyes, but consider more utilitarian factors, as well. If your birds will spend some or all of their time free ranging, think about camouflage:

  • Colors and patterns which mimic the appearance of the surroundings offer some protection from the searching eyes of predators.
  • Disrupted patterns, such as stripes, speckles, lacing, etc. tend to blend better and evade predators better than solid colors.
  • Neutral tones are better than white or yellow.
  • Except in snow, white plumage is most easily seen by predators.

White, however, has its advantages. If you will be raising chickens for meat, white plumage is desirable because it leaves no dark spots when plucked.

There are plumage options beyond color and pattern:

  • Silkies have modified feathers that look like fur. Some sources say these modified feathers afford less insulation and make the bird more vulnerable to cold weather, but other sources say Silkies are actually quite cold hardy.
  • Both Silkies and Polish have exotic head feathering which can obscure vision. This makes them vulnerable to aerial predation. You can clip the head feathers to improve vision, but do you really want that extra task? If you plan to let your birds free range, you would do well to avoid these breeds.
  • Some breeds have feathering on their legs. This could be an advantage in cold climates, but on the other hand, birds with feathered legs are more prone to scaly leg mites (or perhaps it’s just more difficult to treat for these mites, once a bird with feathered legs gets them).

Climate Suitability

Many chicken breeds are suitable for a range of climates, but if your winters are extremely cold or summers are extremely warm, you might want to opt for breeds which are best suited to that climate. I live in zone 5, which means are winters can be quite cold, but summer temperatures are rarely above 90 degrees, so I generally keep breeds which are best adapted to the cold.

Want backyard chickens for eggs? Meat? Beauty? Calm companionship? For a cold climate? For a hot climate? For children? For showing? How about the best breeds are for a very small space? Here's a great guide to choosing chicken breeds to help you choose just the right breeds for your needs.

This Wyandotte pullet has the flat rose comb typical of her breed. The rose comb is less vulnerable to frostbite than a single blade comb.

Cold Tolerance

Rounder bodies and body parts lose heat much more slowly than long, slender, or flat ones. On a practical level, you already know how quickly long, slender, or flat objects lose heat. You can touch a piece of aluminum foil right after it comes out of a hot oven, because that thin material loses heat so quickly. Similarly, fingers, toes, and earlobes lose heat quickly, and are more likely to suffer frostbite than other body parts.

Chickens with long, slender bodies will lose heat more quickly, and all else being equal, they will not tolerate extreme cold as well as chickens with roundish bodies. Large flat combs and large wattles are more vulnerable to frostbite than short thick combs and small wattles. The upshot? Chickens with rounder bodies, short thick combs, and small wattles are best suited to extreme cold. Note that some breeds traditionally labeled “cold hardy”, do have roundish bodies, but also have single blade combs susceptible to frostbite. I think this is a carry over from the days when people thought of livestock as objects with no capacity to suffer. Frostbite is painful, but livestock breeding is focused much more on production than on comfort of the animal. Read more about frostbite and chicken combs.

Chickens kept in cold climates should also have full feathering for excellent insulation. Leg feathering is also a nice feature. Some of the most cold hardy and frostbite resistant breeds:

  • Chantecler
  • Buckeye
  • Brahma – (Has leg feathering. Males may have large wattles which are somewhat susceptible to frostbite.)
  • Wyandotte – (Males may have large wattles which are somewhat susceptible to frostbite.)

Heat Tolerance

The most heat tolerant breeds have the opposite traits. If chickens will be subject to extremely warm temperatures, get slender breeds with large single blade combs. Those slender bodies and large blade combs will lose heat more quickly, helping to cool the bird. Some good choices for hot climates:

  • Leghorns
  • Andalusians
  • Campines
  • Lakenvelder
  • Black Faced White Spanish
  • Catalana
  • Naked Neck

Temperament and Behavior

Each breed tends to be associated with certain behavioral traits. Dual purpose and “meat breeds” tend to be mellow, while slender layers are inclined to be anxious. Breeds originally developed for cock fighting tend to be feisty and aggressive. Some breeds, such as Cochins and Silkies, are more apt to go broody, while others (most dual purpose breeds) tend to be excellent foragers. While there are many exceptions, I have found these traits to be mostly true. Breeds known for calm temperament include:

  • Orpingtons
  • Australorp
  • Cochin
  • Faverolles
  • Sussex
  • Plymouth Rock
  • Wyandotte
  • Brahma

Would one ever want a more aggressive breed for a backyard flock? It’s not a bad idea to go feistier birds if you will be adding to an existing flock. The reason is that the incumbents always have the upper hand, at least temporarily, and if the newbies are very mellow, they may be subject to a lot of bullying. Birds that are able to hold their own might fare better during the integration period. The following are breeds originally developed for cock fighting. They are often used for showing now, but to some degree they still have the feisty attitude of their ancestors.

  • American Game Bantam
  • Cubalaya
  • Modern Game
  • Old English Game
Want backyard chickens for eggs? Meat? Beauty? Calm companionship? For a cold climate? For a hot climate? For children? For showing? How about the best breeds are for a very small space? Here's a great guide to choosing chicken breeds to help you choose just the right breeds for your needs.

The Brahma (here, a bantam buff Brahma), is reputed to be calm and easily handled, but some of mine have been standoffish. Expect variability within a breed.

Confounding a Guide to Choosing Chicken Breeds: Variation within Breeds

While each breed is associated with certain physical and behavioral traits, there is a lot of variation within a breed. That can lead to disappointment, especially if you’re dealing with small numbers of each breed. Most Hamburgs do not go broody, but you might get one that does. Most Leghorns lay a lot of eggs, but the occasional individual doesn’t. Most Golden Laced Wyandottes have large, roundish bodies with deep gold within black lacing, but one of mine is small and slender with pale gold. Most Easter Eggers lay blue to green eggs, but a few lay brown eggs. Most Orpingtons are mellow by nature, but the occasional bird may be feisty. What to do? Use this guide to choosing chicken breeds to select what will likely work well for you, but do be prepared to accept the eventualities of Nature.

New to chickens? Ask your questions below. Are you an old hand? Tell us about your experience. What do you think are the best chicken breeds? What are the most important factors in a guide to choosing chicken breeds? 

Sources

  1. Damerow, G. A Guide to Raising Chickens. 1995. Storey Communications, Inc. Pownal, VT.
  2. Ekarius, C. Storey’s Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds. 2007. Storey Publishing. Pownal, VT.
  3. Henderson’s Handy Dandy Chicken Chart

Want backyard chickens for eggs? Meat? Beauty? Calm companionship? For a cold climate? For a hot climate? For children? For showing? How about the best breeds are for a very small space? Here's a great guide to choosing chicken breeds to help you choose just the right breeds for your needs.


Comments

Guide to Choosing Chicken Breeds: Pick the Best Breeds for Your Flock — 42 Comments

  1. Hi there this was an interesting article. I live in the UK so our choice of breeds is slightly different and climate is temperate.
    I would like to keep a cockerel (rooster) with our little flock but over the years have never found a breed I could live with. They always ended up attacking me and now we have grandchildren I gave up on the idea.
    We currently have 5 oldish hybrid layers rehomed after life in a barn system plus 2 similar pullets given to us.
    I’d quite like a trio of dual purpose birds so we can rear one or two for meat but am nervous of the cockerel issue.
    Any thought would be appreciated.

    • Hi Sue, I’d go with a breed that is best known for mild temperament, but with the understanding that there’s a lot of individual variation within a breed, and you might end up with an aggressive roo no matter which breed you choose. Orpingtons, Faverolles, and Cochins are among the most mild mannered. Of those, the Orpington hen is probably the best layer, and the Cochin the worst layer, but they all are big birds which should give you a nice roaster. Stay away from Rhode Island Red and New Hampshire Red. Some people say they are calm, but I’ve heard about more problems with aggression in those breeds than with other dual purpose. Barred rocks might be ok, calmer than the Reds, but not as likely to be as calm as the other 3 I mentioned. Brahmas have the reputation of mellow temperament. I’ve had about 5 different bantam Brahma roosters, and none were aggressive, except for one, which only became aggressive after a child got into my coop and began chasing the hens around. The rooster took this as a threat, understandably, and was aggressive towards kids from then on. Since you are in a mild climate, I don’t think there are limits for you on climate adaptability. Hope that helps!

      • I have a Rhode Island Red that is actually the sweetest one I have. She lets the kids pet her like a dog was raised sleeping next to the cats and sneaking their food. I think she would follow me around all day like a puppy if I let her lol. Maybe we’ve been lucky with her. She is smart too she has the feeding schedule down and knows my next move like clockwork!

        • Yes, that is why I put in that section about variation within a breed. If you look at a lot of chickens within a breed, you can see “typical” traits for that breed, but it’s always easy to pick out individuals who are different from the “average” one. I have a normal sized leghorn who lays small eggs, even though most leghorns lay large eggs.

          • I enjoyed reading all the articles, I was wondering if you could help me with a couple questions. I am very much a homebody due to my dissability. Ive had 11 back surgeries I am able to walk I just can’t lift weight. My husband does what I cant. I have 2 horses, a pony and a miniature, I also have 4 small older indoor potty pad trained shitzus that go out occasionally, but wouldn’t be near the chickens. My animals, all of them help me because I don’t leave my home much. They bring me happiness I need in my situation. With all that being said would a couple chickens be a nice addition or am I taking on more than I can handle. I want to be the main caregiver if I can. Not fair to add to my husband. What type would you suggest as the friendliest, able to pick up, like to be touched, I know there’s no guarantee in any litter but having no experience what would you suggest to me. Thank you for your time.

  2. So much good information in your article. Thank you.
    I have a few questions.
    What do you mean by broody? Secondly, let’s say that I have several chickens of one breed and several chickens of another breed and then introduce a rooster of a different breed for the purpose of mating and raising chicks. Wouldn’t the chicks then be cross breeds? And if you continued this for several generations wouldn’t you have then a new species of chicken?
    Thank you so much for wonderful article.

    • Glad you enjoyed the article! Broody refers to a hen’s persistent sitting on a nest to hatch eggs. Wild female birds normally “go broody” in spring, after they have laid a “clutch” (group) of eggs. A broody hen sits on the eggs (“broods”) to keep them warm so they will hatch. While broody, she leaves the nest only a few times a day to eat, drink, and poop. She does not lay any more eggs while broody, and for that reason, people who want lots of eggs from their chickens do not want the hens to go broody very often.

      Yes, chicks from a hen and rooster of different breeds are hybrids. Many generations of hens and roosters of different breeds mating, does not lead to a new species. All chicken breeds are the same species. The different breeds are merely different varieties of the one chicken species.

      If you selectively breed chickens to create offspring with certain characteristics, and if those characteristics persist through future generations, you have created a new breed of chicken.

      If you allow many different breeds of chickens to randomly mate over many generations, you’d probably eventually end up with a “breed” which is adapted to whatever environment they live in. For example, feral chickens of Hawaii appear to be slender, single comb breeds, which are adapted to their warm climate.

  3. Hi, I would love to get about 6 or 7 good layers. We love in northern colorado and we have young children that I want to have involved in the care as well. What would you recommend?

  4. Hi Jessica, if good egg production is very important, than I’d avoid bantams, most of which lay far fewer eggs than larger breeds. And because kids will be involved, you’ll want a mellow breed. Therefore, I would go with a standard sized dual purpose breed, because they are usually calmer than chickens bred solely for egg production. If your winters are cold (zone 6 or colder) I’d lean towards those with low, thick combs, which are less vulnerable to frostbite. Good dual purpose, standard sized breeds with low thick combs that lay well are Wyandottes (particularly the silver-laced or golden-laced Wyandottes) and Dominiques. (Above, I listed the Dominique as a laying breed, because they are much better at producing eggs than meat, but they are generally calm, like dual purpose breeds). The other birds well suited to cold winter climates that I listed in the article above, don’t lay as well as Wyandottes or Dominiques, but they are good options, if you don’t mind more modest egg production.

    Bantams are great for young kids, especially when the kids will be doing a lot of the care taking. Most kids are fine, though, with calm, dual purpose breeds. It really depends on your kids. If they are the type who jump right in and bond with animals, I’d go with standards. If they are a bit nervous around animals, I’d go with bantams, but be prepared to get far fewer eggs. As long as you don’t keep a rooster (which have much larger combs) you should be OK with bantam hens with single blade combs, because bantam hens tend to have tiny combs. Good dual purpose bantams that produce fairly well are Rhode Island Reds and Barred Plymouth Rocks. Both have single blade combs.

    If you’re in a zone warmer than zone 6, I’d consider standard sized buff Orpington hens. They are very docile, and easy for kids to handle.

    Finally, be aware that there is a lot of individual variation within a breed, and some birds don’t behave or produce like the “typical” member of their breed. Some members of a generally calm breed are skittish, but you can help make them calm by handling them a lot when they are young.

  5. Thank you for your article! It was very informative! My daughter is in her first year showing for 4H, and we are really excited, as we love our chickens! We are planning on adding to our flock in the spring. We live in zone 5, and we are looking for chickens to show and who are docile. What would you kindly recommend?

    • Hi Katelyn, first off, if you think your daughter is serious about showing, wants to win, and may eventually breed chickens, I’d get them from a breeder rather than a hatchery. That they conform to the APA standards is very important. It doesn’t matter which breed, but the birds need to be good examples of their breed. If she’s going to show just for fun, though, as many kids do, then it really doesn’t matter.

      Docility and cold hardiness don’t always overlap, so you will have to decide which is more important.

      The most docile breeds include brahmas, cochins, buff orpingtons, salmon faverolles, and silkies. Of those, the brahma is the most cold hardy, with its chunky body, pea comb, and feathered legs. Personally I think bantam Brahmas are an excellent choice for a child to show, though they are a little more standoffish than the standard sized brahmas. My bantam buff brahmas are the prettiest little things to ever wear a beak, imo!

      Bantam cochins and silkies are great favorites for kids to show, in my neck of the woods. Bantam cochin hens are very pretty birds, very docile, and are fine in extreme cold because their single combs are small. BUT if she will eventually breed them, beware that male cochins have large single blade combs which tend to suffer frostbite. Silkies are docile and probably cold hardy (though people disagree on that), but have head feathering that obscures vision, making them hawk bait unless they are always confined.

      So there’s no easy answer, as you need to decide which factors are most important to you. Good luck! I love to see kids involved with chickens!

  6. Pingback: Essential Guide To Choosing Chicken Breeds

  7. I live in the Florida Keys and will be raising my small flock under Hardwood Hammocks. What breeds would be quiet, friendly and good layers.
    Thank you for any suggestions.

    • HI Jo Anne, you could choose a egg laying breed such as leghorn or campine, both slender breeds with single combs, which make them well suited for hot weather. But your desire for “quiet, friendly” makes me think a dual purpose breed might suit you better. Barred Plymouth rock, buff orpington, and speckled sussex come to mind. All are calmer and tamer, in my experience, than laying breeds, and lay well but not as well as laying breeds. They are plumper than laying breeds, but as long as they are under the shade of the hardwoods, they should be happy. They all have single combs, which will help them lose heat and stay cool. Hope that helps!

  8. Hi Anne, We got chickens before we finished our structure and tried keeping them fenced during day , in dog carriers at night. Small owls went through the holes and killed 3 before we reinforced with rabbit wire. Then coyotes found us. We had to keep them in their carriers. So we added some , made them deluxe by adding wood chips for bedding, dirt for grit and alfalfa for greens. With crumbles and water they are happy layers!

  9. We live in the country with plenty of land and have always thought about getting chickens. Recently we were at our local Tractor Supply store and they had chickens so why not. Didn’t really know much about any breeds, ended up with Polish Chickens. After doing some research these will be very interesting looking girls, cute actually. Any suggestions with this breed or helpful hints? Is it wise to mix another breed with them.

    • Hi Sandy, the head feathers of Polish chickens obstructs their vision, so the biggest problem is that they are hawk bait if allowed to roam. You could either clip some of the head feathering to improve their visual range, or keep them confined. I would mix them with other breeds only if you have a lot of space and diversions for them, because chickens often pick at each other’s feathers when/if bored, and fancy head feathering is a most attractive target.

    • Polish roosters are aggressive[in my experience]and the hens don’t lay well. One of the sexlinks would be a good choice. They don’t produce true to their breed,as they are hybrids,but I’ve had good luck with them. I have a brown sexlink that still lays an egg almost every day after 4 years.

  10. Hi Janet,
    I loved this article and your responses to other comments. My big question is how many eggs will a layer produce vs a dual purpose? We live in Central Florida, so zone 9 or 10 depending on which map you use, and want 1 or 2 backyard chickens for personal egg consumption. We are not interested in meat as we are vegetarians. We are looking for more of a pet. We do have a 5 year old little girl who loves animals. So most important for us is a breed (size) that does great with children, can handle the heat, won’t fly into the neighbor’s yard and can give us eggs (maybe 1 every other day?). Also, if we get 2, do most breeds work well with others/get along?
    Thank you so much in advance for your help!

    • Hi Joey, there’s no question that layers like leghorns outproduce dual purpose breeds. The former probably lay around 300 eggs in 1st year, while dual purpose lay something like 200-250 per year. Those are just guestimates. Egg production declines with age, so if space is limited, if you want good egg production for the long haul, and you cannot get a few new chicks every couple of years, you have to decide what to do with older hens.

      But let me back up and say you should start with at least 3 chicks or hens. Chickens are strongly social, so unless it’s going to be a pet allowed indoors with the family, they need companions in the coop. Also if you’re starting with baby chicks, it’s not unusual for one or 2 to die, so it’s better to start with a few more than what you want.

      At some point you will have to decide which traits of the ones you mentioned, are most important, because the top layers happen to be the most flighty and nervous. Also bantams don’t lay as well as full sized hens, so what is more important, getting lots of eggs, or having a small, mellow pet for a young child?

      Some kids are totally fine with large chickens. If your daughter is used to living with dogs and cats, she’ll probably be fine with full size hens. If that’s the case, I’d choose one of the better laying dual purpose breeds, which would be calmer than laying breeds, though not as easily handled as bantams.

      Some good dual purpose breeds for your area would be speckled sussex, barred rock, and maybe buff orpington. The latter is super calm, typically great with kids, but tends to be roundish so perhaps less tolerant of your not summers. (For that breed, and any breed, really, you must be able to provide shade and constant access to cool drinking water). All 3 those breeds do have single blade combs, which will help them stay cool.

      Rhode Island reds are wonderfully productive dual purpose birds with single blade combs, but some are aggressive.

      Hope that helps!

  11. What an interesting article! We are interested in having a couple chickens, mostly for eggs, but have 2 small children and a dog and 2 acres. Looking for a smaller coup setting, but can roam a little as we are surrounded by farm fields with very little road traffic (mostly farm equipment). Is there a breed you would recommend for cold Wisconsin winters, produce a dozen eggs a week, and are good with small children and possibly be able to run around a little in the yard?

    • Hi Andrea,

      hens lay 1 egg a day, at most, so you will need at least 2 hens for a dozen per week. Also be aware that laying stops when they molt (usually in fall). It may start up again when the molt is complete, but will either slow or stop again when day length is short, unless you provide supplemental light.

      I would never start with fewer than 3 chickens, because they are social creatures. Let them roam only if your outdoor set-up is predator resistant (see my post on Limited Free Range). For a cold winter climate, you need a larger coop because chickens don’t go out much in snow, so they’ll be mostly confined in winter. They may become aggressive toward each other in winter when bored in confinement.

      What comes to mind for a good layer in a cold climate is the Wyandotte, a very cold hardy breed with a low thick comb that is less susceptible to frostbite. They are also reasonably calm, on average. If you want bantams, you could try bantam Wyandottes or perhaps bantam Brahmas, but they don’t lay nearly as many eggs as their large counterparts.

      Hope that helps!

  12. Thank you for all the info. I am a bit overwhelmed but I have read your article several times trying figure out my priorities for my chickens. I never knew there were so many factors. How big of a co-op would you recommend for six chickens during winter?

  13. I live in Reno, NV. 100°+ in the summer and down to the teens with snow in the winter! We want chickens but who do we get?

    • Hi Shawn, I would choose heat tolerant breeds (see list under “heat tolerance” above). Even though it freezes in Reno, the humidity is very low, which reduces risk of frostbite (cold temp. plus high humidity creates highest risk for frostbite). 100+ degree temps will be more of a problem for chickens than your winter weather. The coop and runs should be shaded, and cold water always available in summer. In winter, make sure they have protection from wind and snow.

  14. Hi my mother and I are looking into getting some chickens that have a good temperament, and produce a good amount of eggs. One of our biggest concerns is their tolerance to the heat and rain as we live in southern Florida, and if they would stay in our yard that isn’t fenced which has 2 1/2 acres. We were also wondering where the best place to get chickens would be? Also, our yard is fertilized periodically, and we were wondering if this would effect the chickens? Basically, we’d like to know which breed is right for our environment.

    • Hi Kerri, all chickens, regardless of breed, need shelter to protect them from rain and wind. They do go out during rain, but when rain is heavy or when wind is severe, they need shelter. Also, all breeds are vulnerable to predation, more or less. And, having spent time tracking wildlife in south FL, I know you have a wide range of predators that would love a chicken dinner. If you let them range completely freely, it won’t be long before the local predators snatch them. So you need a coop, and some sort of run and/or fenced yard to contain them. See my other posts on chicken coops and on limited free ranging.

      I personally would not fertilize in a chicken yard. If they do have access to a fertilized area, I’d confine them in the coop until the fertilizer has been thoroughly washed into the soil with rain. Organic fertilizer is probably safer than chemical fertilizer. Don’t use pesticides where chickens range. If you do, keep them out of the area until the pesticide is considered no longer harmful (you can find that info on the package and/or on internet)

      As for breeds, you need a heat tolerant breed — a slender breed with a single blade comb would cope best with the heat. See the sections above on heat tolerance and temperament for specific suggestions. There will be a trade off, however. The most heat tolerant breeds are not the calmest, but since you have extreme heat down there, I’d go with the most heat tolerant breeds.

  15. What would be a good breed to have in Wisconsin, since it can be really cool in the winter and really warm in the summer?

    • You’re in the same boat as me, since Wisconsin weather is similar to Massachusetts weather. It gets hot, but nothing like it does in south FL. I’d go with the cold tolerant breeds — short thick combs, and medium to plumper bodies. Wyandottes, dominiques, and easter egger are some good choices. Wyandottes are my favs for this climate, and they lay well, too, and they’re reasonably calm.

      You don’t need to go with the MOST cold hardy breeds, such as buckeyes and chanteclers. I’d get them if I lived in the coldest parts of Canada, but they don’t lay all that well, so I wouldn’t limit myself to those breeds in WI or MA.

  16. What would be a good breed to have in Wisconsin, since it can be really cool in the winter and really warm in the summer, but I can’t tell what would the best breed.

  17. In the last set of photos there are 3 photos. What kind of chicken is the top right? We have a rooster that looks like that (we got it from a hatch at a local private school).

  18. We live in North Florida on an acre mixed trees and grass areas. We have 3 chickens given to us a rooster and two hens. At the present they are Free range, Roost in trees at night. My question is what to do when it gets cold in winter. We do get to freezing at times and worried about the chickens. Can they stay healthy living the way the are or do we need to build a shelter for them.
    The chickens look like polish hens,the rooster I don’t know.

    • No, they will not stay healthy, but the cold is the least of your problems. They are easy bait for predators, of which there are many in north FL. You need a predator proof coop for them at night, which is the most dangerous time for them to be outside. You should also consider some kind of daytime management which will deter predators. Search my index for articles on designing a chicken coop, limited free ranging, predator proofing chicken coops, etc.

  19. What a great informative tutorial,,, I long to have chickens,,, I found your site while doing a search for Homesteading Bloggers, I was glad to see you listed with 9 others, you may not remember me but we used to message about blogging a few years back…

  20. I didn’t realize there were so many breeds of chickens, including lots of smaller breeds for people who don’t have as much space available. Thanks for this informative post! I’ve always wanted to have chickens at some point, but I haven’t done as much research as I should have. This article will be a good starting point, thanks again!

  21. I’m from Minnesota and have a mixed flock. I bought 3 Australorps thinking they were boring black, but have come to appreciate them. I would recommend them to almost everyone who wrote to you .Bigger but not too big, friendly but not overbearing, best foragers in my flock ,smart, excellent layers. Simply all around excellent choice. I also like Wyandottes,On a separate note I had no idea roosters might attack have a huge freedom red rooster he does not attack hope that doesn’t change. Am planning on keeping a wellsummer rooster as well.What do you think of that temperament for a rooster? We had a neighbor dog attack when we first had a flock,i had three whites which were a breed crossed with a gray Delaware rooster,they were so naughty even as baby chicks,would not stay in enclosure. When my son called to say I had lost a few I said I bet all the whites are fine and I was right. very agile good flyers the bad boys cant catch them just like me!

  22. Pingback: Want backyard chickens for eggs? Meat? Beauty? Calm companionship? For a cold cl… – Pot Gardening Info

  23. what type of chickens do you have in your mixed flock… We are looking to have a mixed flock and it seems like yours went really well.

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