So hopefully our post on 5 Reasons to Keep Chickens did it’s job and persuaded you to keep chickens. The next step is picking the breed of chicken you want.
Picking the right breed of chicken as a beginner can be the difference between thoroughly enjoying every moment with your chickens or questioning why you ever wanted chickens in the first place.
Most people when they start out looking at breeds don’t know exactly what they want or need, so that’s why we’ve decided to write this article today.
We’re going to address exactly what you need to think about before you decide on your breed, explain what characteristics beginners should look for, then recommend our top 5 picks for the best egg laying chicken breeds.
Why Do You Want Chickens?
Before we go any further we’re going to ask you some questions- be sure to either write your answers down or keep them in your head.
First of all, why do you want to keep chickens? Are you looking to keep chickens for eggs, meat, pets or a combination of these reasons (although the meat and pet options probably don’t go too well together!)?
Certain chickens are exceptionally good egg layers (Rhode Island Reds and Leghorns) and lay a high amount of eggs whereas other breeds (Broilers) are better for meat but don’t lay many eggs.
The second question you need to answer is, how much time are you expecting to spend with, and caring for, your chickens? Certain breeds require much more maintenance and time from you. Whereas other breeds (such as Buff Orpingtons) are very self-reliant and won’t require much time from you at all.
If you are wondering how much time you need to spend with your chickens, read my plan here.
Thirdly, you need to think about your climate/weather and make sure that it is suitable for the breed you are interested in.
Most of the time you don’t need to worry too much about this, as most breeds will be fine in all climates. Also, if the chicken is being sold to you locally then unless the chicken has recently been imported it will be fine in your climate. However if you’re buying rare breeds (which we wouldn’t recommend to you as a beginner, but more on that later) and are travelling a long distance to get them, you need to make sure that the climate you are taking them to is suitable. For example Minorca chickens require very warm climates so they wouldn’t be suitable in certain areas of Russia.
The fourth question you need to think about is how much room you are going to give your chickens? Before you answer this make sure you read how much room do chicken need.
Are you planning on keeping your chickens in a coop or free range?
Certain breeds require more room than others and if they don’t get this room they can get violent and even start pecking and attacking each other. So make sure you match the breed to what you can offer in terms of roaming space and coop sizes.
The final question to think about is what’s your budget?
Most breeds cost a similar amount per chicken however more exotic and rare breeds can be very expensive – in fact they can cost thousands of dollars.
However as we mention later on in the article, we wouldn’t recommend beginners purchasing rare or exotic birds for their first chicken.
Typical Chicken Characteristics Beginners Look For
We’ve found that most of the time, when people email us asking what breed of chicken they should start with, they are all looking for the same thing.
Most beginners are looking for chickens which are easy to keep, lay lots of eggs, are docile and aren’t very noisy.
This is why we always recommend what’s known as dual purpose birds to begin with. Dual purpose birds are normally great egg layers and very calm- we will discuss specific breeds later on.
Some beginners email us and ask for rare breeds or breeds which produce a lot of meat. We don’t recommend either of these for beginners simply because they require much more time, and are harder to look after. We always recommend avoiding meat and exotic birds until you gain more experience.
Best Egg Laying Chicken Breeds
So if you are like us and want to start keeping chickens for eggs, which breed would we suggest?
Bear in mind that the suggestions below are ideal for people with little experience who are looking for backyard chickens, which are easy to manage, require small amounts of maintenance and most importantly… lay lots of eggs!
1. Rhode Island Red
Rhode Island Reds are synonymous with backyard chicken keeping and one of the most popular chicken breeds around (source).
They are friendly, easy to keep and very tough.
Eggs: Should produce upwards of 250, medium-sized, brown eggs per year.
Character: They are very easy to keep, don’t require too much space and lay all year round.
Hybrid breeds such as Golden Comets have been bred to consume small amounts of food and to lay as many eggs as possible. Whilst this is great for you, this can be detrimental to the hens health as their body never rests.
Eggs: Upwards of 280, medium-sized, brown eggs per year.
Character: Hybrids tend to make excellent layers, consumer less food, and aren’t very likely to become broody. They make a great choice, however make sure you source your hybrid from a sustainable breeder and ensure that it hasn’t been overbred.
3. Buff Orpington
Buff Orpington’s are one of the easiest and most popular egg laying chickens around. They originate from Kent, England and are renowned for their good looks and sturdiness.
Eggs: Should produce at least 180, medium-sized, light brown eggs per year.
Character: Orpington’s make great pets as they are extremely friendly and soft. However they do get broody during the summer months hence why their egg production is slightly lower than some of the other breeds mentioned here.
4. Plymouth Rock
The Plymouth Rock, also known as barred rocks, originates from the US and is one of the most popular dual purpose chickens.
Eggs: Should produce 200, medium sized, brown eggs per year- they also lay during the winter.
Character: They are a very active bird who performs best as free-range and would make a perfect backyard chicken. They are also extremely friendly with humans so great if you want to train them to eat from your hand!
The leghorn breed originates from Italy and was first introduced into the US during the 1800’s. They don’t get broody often and are an ideal pick for year round egg laying.
Eggs: Should produce upwards of 250, medium sized, white eggs per year.
Character: Leghorns will be happy in gardens as they are a very active chicken however they aren’t very tame so aren’t ideal for people with children wanting them as a pet.
If you’re hoping to make friends with your new flock, then the Dominique is the way to go. This compact heritage breed is as friendly and docile as they come.
The Dominique is a threatened breed of chicken, which means it was almost extinct until Dominique lovers stepped up and started conservation efforts.
Eggs: Around 180 medium-sized, brown, eggs per year.
Character: Dominiques are a gentle breed and a perfect pet for children interested in chickens. While they are people-friendly, they are also prone to predator attacks due to their laissez–faire attitude around the coop. So if you’re hoping to free-range, make sure your Dominiques have enough protection from predators.
7. Easter Egger
The name on every chicken lover’s lips lately is the Easter Egger hybrid chicken. These are the hawk-like, bearded, birds that lay greenish, or blue, eggs.
Eggs: The Easter Egger is known to lay around 200+ medium-sized eggs per year…and yes, they are the colorful ones.
Character: Easter Eggers range from flighty to friendly. When you have a hybrid bird, you may get fairly unpredictable traits. Many tout the Easter Eggers friendly nature, and others will swear they are the most nervous bird on the planet. As with most chickens, there is always room for an exception to the rule when it comes to breed behavior.
With these suggestions made its important to remember you always get ‘bad-chickens’ and even the most docile breed can produce occasionally problematic birds.
All of these breeds above should be available from a local hatchery and we’d recommend at the start not to mix breeds within your flock.
Pick a breed and start off with them. This will help reduce pests and stop them attacking each other.
Remember the breed you purchase will require varying amounts of food in their diets, read what should I feed my chicken for more info.
Let us know which breed you’ve picked below, we’d love to see some of your pictures…