So you have decided you want hens.
You have been leafing through catalogs, trawling the internet and buying magazines that feature chickens and visiting farm stores almost daily- it has become an obsession!
But the big question remains… which breed to choose?
There are so many different breeds out there. There are chickens that are eye candy, plain ones, speckled ones, birds large and small.
Some are docile and friendly, others can be flighty and difficult to handle. There are several breeds that require special attention for one reason or another, how do you know which to choose?
As a beginner it’s usually best to get to know the basics of chicken care with forgiving hens before you launch yourself into the world of specialized needs, exotic plumage or show breeds.
Keeping hens isn’t rocket science, but it does require some knowledge and attention to the birds in your care.
They have very basic needs, but thrive with love and attention. The breeds we have chosen for you are best known for their egg laying and pleasant dispositions.
It might sound ridiculous to some, but every chicken will have its’ own personal temperament. Some love to be cuddled, others are a bit more stand-offish.
The more time you invest with your birds while they are young, the friendlier they will be.
We are showcasing five breeds today that are easy to care for, easy to find and give you lots of beautiful eggs- and all have personalities of their own!
So here they are our fabulous five!
This is possibly the most popular chicken in the US right now! It is a superb bird for beginners.
They are very friendly, gentle and curious about everything. Often they will follow you… everywhere, but they do tolerate confinement quite well. If allowed out they are good foragers.
These hens are easy to care for and can be easily tamed. They can lay eggs of many different hues- from pink and brown to blue! They will lay in excess of 200 eggs per year.
They can be inclined to go broody but make good mothers.
In terms of weather endurance, the fact that they have a pea comb and small or no wattles, means they are very winter hardy birds. They are also tolerant of heat.
They aren’t truly a ‘breed’, but more of a hybrid mix. They are from the same base stock as the South American Araucanas and US bred Ameraucanas, but they will not breed true to standard.
Their feathers can be multi-colored, leading to some stunning ‘lookers’ and often their legs will have a greenish hue.
The most popular size is standard, but these pretty birds come in a bantam size too.
The Easter Egger is an excellent breed for the beginner who wants a free-range flock. Not only are they savvy foragers, and expertly avoid predators, they also look like a predator.
Some enthusiasts swear that their Easter Eggers look like hawks, due to their eye color and feather colors. Thus, they are said to deter other hawks and small predators.
This lovely bird was developed in Australia in the 1920s by crossing Orpingtons, Rhode Island reds and a few other breeds. They were originally developed as a dual purpose breed for meat and eggs.
This hen is the National Chicken Breed of Australia.
You can expect 250+ eggs per year from these hard working girls.
As a meat bird the hen will weigh in at around 6.5lb and cockerels at 7-8lb.
They are gentle and quiet, known to be good mothers, calm and are tolerant of children. However, they do have a tendency to be broody.
They tolerate confinement well, but enjoy free ranging and are good foragers. Australorp’s can live in both hot and cold climates although a rooster might get frostbite on the tips of a large comb.
The black feathers give off a beautiful beetle green/purple glow in the sunlight. There are several other color varieties of Australorp, but black is the most common.
They come in two sizes, standard and bantam. The bantam size is much more difficult to find though.
Sex links are not truly a breed, but more of a cross breed/hybrid. They have numerous variety names such as: ISA Brown, red sex links, golden comets, cinnamon queens, red star, black star, shaver browns and black sex link.
They are called sex links because it is easy to determine the sex of the chick at birth. For example a Rhode Island Red (or New Hampshire) rooster bred with a barred rock hen will produce male chicks with a white dot on their head.
The benefit of crossing two good laying breeds is more eggs- these ladies can put out 250+ eggs a year! However, the downside of the enhanced egg laying is that they tend to drop production dramatically after their second year.
They are definitely not prone to broodiness. I have found no references to them as far as mothering chicks go, so I assume they are not good mothers.
Their temperament though is dependable, sweet, docile, perfect for a beginner, friendly and not too smart!
Also, they tend to not perform as well in very cold weather, but otherwise can withstand a variety of climates.
Rhode Island Reds
Generally they average around 260 eggs a year- so they will keep you well fed!
They have beautiful, brown glossy feathers ranging from reddish brown to a mahogany color and are tolerant of both hot and cold climates, performing consistently through cold winters.
Rhode Island’s are docile and friendly, do not mind being handled and can be very talkative! They are always first at the gate for any treats!
Active foragers, they will follow you around the yard hoping for a handout. They can be pushy with other hens, but generally co-exist peacefully unless food is involved.
The Rhode Island Red was the barnyard bird in the US. It suffered a huge decline in numbers a few decades ago, but is making a large comeback now.
There are two strains of this bird; the first is ‘production’, built for heavy egg laying over a shorter time period. The second is a heritage hen, who lay slightly less eggs but produces for longer.
RIRs also come in a white color, these are more difficult to track down. Bantams are also available but not frequently seen.
The Sussex chicken is an ancient breed. It was first mentioned by the Romans when they invaded Britain (A.D. 43).
There are eight known color patterns, light, speckled and coronation being the most well known in the US.
People who own them say they are dependable, docile, friendly and can adapt well. They are quiet birds, not pushy or loud.
They are a dual purpose breed. The meat from these birds is said to be superb. Their egg laying ability is also very good, producing on average 200 eggs a year. They will lay well through winter when others have stopped laying.
Sussex’s do well in confinement, but if allowed to free range will be actively foraging for most of the day. They will follow you if they think there might be a reward or treat!
Some varieties such as the Speckled, have a tendency to broodiness, but make great mothers.
The Buff Orpington is a distant cousin of the Australorp. And while she may less a few less egg per year, she’s a fantastic beginner bird.
The Buff Orpington is said to be the golden retriever of the chicken world. She is friendly, fluffy, and extremely docile.
She will lay about 180 eggs per year, is heat hardy, and an excellent 4-H project.
Her only downfall is her broodiness. The Buff Orpington loves to be a mom, and if you don’t have a rooster to fertilize her eggs, or if you’re not ready for chicks, you’ll need to keep an eye on her.
Doubtless you will find that our five don’t match with someone else’s choices. It was quite difficult to narrow down the field to five, we all have favorites!
Our goal has been to show you five breeds of chicken that are easy to handle, will be friendly and lay loads of eggs.
If you pick any one of these breeds for your first hens you will be off to a perfect start and they will reward you with lots of eggs!
Let us know in the comments below- which are your favorite breeds and why? We love hearing from you…