ISA Brown: All You Need To Know

The ISA Brown, is a fairly recent introduction to the poultry world, and is a very popular girl. She can lay lots of beautiful eggs for you and has a great personality.

They are a medium sized, affectionate, docile hen which is suited to family living.

The usefulness of the breed cannot be denied – such a high egg output is hard to argue with when you compare to heritage chickens that are more modest in their output.

In today’s article we are going to discuss this breed in detail giving you some information on their history, appearance,  temperament, egg laying ability and finally if the they are the right breed for your backyard flock.

History and Background

ISA Brown CollageThe ISA Brown is a fairly recently developed hybrid chicken designed by man to lay eggs.

Originally developed in France around 1978, the ISA stands for Institut de Sélection Animale. In 1997 the Institut was merged with Merck and Co and the breed then became the Hubbard ISA.

The company has since merged again multiple times and is now part of the Group Grimaud La Corbière SA.

Their exact genetic make-up is a closely guarded trade secret, but speculation has been pointed at the Rhode Island Red and white breeds with input from White Leghorns. What other breeds may be involved is a mystery.

Breed Standard and Appearance

As this is a hybrid there is no ‘standard of perfection’ in place from the American Poultry Association or any other Club or Association.

The hen is however, ‘copyrighted’. You cannot call your look-alike chickens ISA browns or sell them as such.

If you desire to show your ISA brown at the local poultry show, there is nothing to stop you from doing so, but it will not be accepted in the larger more prestigious shows.

ISA Brown Purchase Isa Brown Chickens

Appearance

At a quick glance, you could be forgiven for mistaking them for Rhode Island Reds. When you look more closely you will notice their red/brown is lighter in shade – more of a light chestnut brown.

The ISA brown is a medium sized bird with a rectangular body and a slight dip to the back. The tail is held upright, they occasionally have some white tail feathers.

The comb and wattles are red in color with the comb being single and upright. Eyes range from a yellow to a bay red color. They are classified as a small to medium hen weighing around 5lb.

Breeding

As a hybrid bird, they will not breed true. Whatever you may get in the way of chicks is not likely to live up to its’ parents abilities.

It has also been noted that offspring are highly prone to suffer from kidney ailments, so they aren’t the healthiest of chicks. It is probably better to not try to breed them yourselves. ISAs’ come from a white rooster over a red hen therefore they are a ‘sex-link’ chicken; meaning chicks at birth can be immediately sexed – white chicks are boys and tan chicks are girls.

ISA Brown Temperament and Disposition

The ISA brown is of a friendly, sweet and docile nature. They are a fairly quiet hen and so suit backyard living well.

They are known to be affectionate with their owners and enjoy being held and cuddled; often jumping into your lap unannounced to enjoy some affection and treats.

ISAs stand confinement very well but enjoy foraging for bugs and other tasty morsels!

Egg Laying Ability

ISA Brown Egg ProductionThese hard working girls can lay in excess of 300 large brown eggs per year! They barely pause for the molt and get right back to it, making them one of the best breeds for egg laying around.

Since they work so hard using all the protein and calcium available in their small bodies, it is wise to feed them a slightly higher protein base (+18%) and make sure they have oyster shell available at all times (especially after the first molt).

They rarely go broody, they have been bred not to, but occasionally you will get a broody girl. They will sit well and they make great Moms.

Common Health Issues

ISA’s have been ‘engineered’ to lay eggs, and with that has come a profusion of ailments when they live to be over 2 years old.

A bird that can lay 300+ eggs each year without rest is not going to live into a healthy old age.

It is usual in the commercial world to cull chickens after their second year, as their egg production does drop noticeably here. It is at this point they are considered ‘spent’ and sent for slaughter. Thanks to the work of the British Hen Welfare Trust and other such organizations worldwide, many of these hens are rescued and go to live with ordinary people like us for the rest of their lives.

Although their ‘best’ laying years may be behind them, they will still lay eggs for you, just not as prolifically and they will bless you with their affection and presence.

When hens are bred to lay eggs in such huge quantities they will often suffer with reproductive tract issues such as prolapse, tumors and cancers. They can also suffer from kidney problems too.

Is It Right For You?

ISA BrownThe ISA brown is a great ‘starter chicken’ as they are very low maintenance, so they are ideal for those just starting their chicken addiction!

They are suited to family life as they are affectionate and non-aggressive hens. They certainly love to be held, which makes them an ideal chicken for kids.

Their egg production is unmatched. They will lay you lots of eggs – perhaps too many if you are a small family, but then you can always give them away or perhaps sell your excess! They are winter hardy and tolerate heat fairly well, although shade and water should of course be provided. They can tolerate a wide variety of climates – ISAs’ are very popular in Australia and the US.

The ISA was bred to last for about two years, however in a good, caring environment they can live from 5-8 years.

Summary

They are most certainly a prolific layer of large brown eggs; she is a ‘working girl’ par excellence!

As always, the high egg yield is detrimental to the long-term health of the hen. The ISA is one of several breeds developed for high egg yield at the expense of longevity and natural reproduction.

If you need a hen that will lay loads of eggs for your family I think the ISA brown would be eminently suitable for the job.

Do you keep ISAs? Let us know your experience with them in the comments section below…

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Comments

  1. Brenda Foster says

    Sounds creepy, like a GMO chicken. I prefer not participating in “engineering edibles. Understanding all the pros which the manufacturers will list, I prefer to side with mother nature. She certainly has given us a varied selection to choose from. Think I will pass.

    • Christina says

      I agree just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Like Spider-Man says “with great power comes great responsibility ” in general humans excel in ability and fail miserably in the responsibility department. The price is beyond us to fathom. These poor chickens are prone to ailments because we have pushed them beyond a chickens natural ability. And the most ridiculous thing is that if the chicken is not healthy then the egg is going to be lacking. We loose more then we gain in our efforts to do it better then nature.

    • Dawn says

      GMO? Really? Might want to read up on selective breeding. It’s been going on for centuries. “Mother Nature” gave you two chickens. Selective breeding gave you the rest.

      • Linda Bullis says

        Dawn, I agree with you. I can’t think of any animals that are ‘used’ by humans, that have NOT been bred for a purpose. And of course, natural selection in the wild does the same thing! However, I think it is a valid point to say that humans sometimes go too far, to the detriment of the animal involved. If there weren’t so many humans to feed, maybe that wouldn’t be the case!

    • Doc Tim says

      You are confused. Virtually every form of critter used as livestock has at some point been bred to enhance their purpose….Angus beef is a perfect example. Nothing could be further from “GMO”. That assertion is simply ridiculous.

  2. Karina Hilterman says

    When I lived in Australia, I had two of these lovely chooks, who were ‘ex-battery’ rescues.
    They were a breeze to handle, wonderful temperaments & fantastic layers.
    Now, I’m back in New Zealand, I’ve got four rescue chooks, of ‘unidentified breed, but look so much like ISA-Browns & they behave like them too.
    When I got them, sadly, they were unwell, anaemic & scared, now they are very happy & well & mostly, they each lay an egg a day…

  3. Ray Letourneau says

    After having two flocks of hybrid hens my suggestion is not to go this route. Go with heritage chickens that will last longer and over time lay more eggs. Too many health issues to deal with and haven’t experienced consistent egg laying.

  4. Laurie says

    My ISA Brown was my first foray into chickens (along with a Leghorn). She’s my favourite – very friendly and a lot of fun. When I bring them fresh fruit and vegetables she literally dances. When I’m out in the garden .. she’s right there with me. I’m sad to read she will most likely not be long living. She’s around 2 so I guess her egg production will drop, so she’ll have to be happy just being a pet.

  5. Lynn Prevost says

    Great article and very interesting. I live in France and am presuming I acquired 2 ISA browns two years ago when we first decided to keep hens – although we had no idea which breed they were. We just asked for laying hens. They were three months old when we got them.
    As I say, I have enjoyed the great pleasure of their company for two years now and what a delight it is. They are gorgeous girls, friendly, happy and a moment of joy every day when we go to the do their “housework”, for which, by they way, they pay their rent very regularly.
    The girls have laid generously for two years now, have not had enormous moults and are in great health laying at full steam again after the Winter. We love eating their eggs and giving them to our friends are equally delighted at receiving “home/garden-made and raised eggs”!!
    We have become very attached to our girls – I’ll keep you posted on their longevity!! But for the moment after two years with us they are bouncing with health.
    Thanks for the article Claire, you do a marvellous job.
    Lynn

    • Holt says

      I’ve had my Isa, Goldie for 3 years. She’s sweet, likes to be held, and loves to sit on the horse feeder and grab a few bites of grain. Blueberries and watermelon are a favorite snack. Her health is excellent. If she stops laying that’s ok, this is her forever home.

  6. Jean Barnicoat says

    I had acquired 7 of these lovely girls A few years ago, they were X factory girls and they were the best chickens ever, even without the eggs I would’ve love them to pieces. They were everything this article says that they would be , Sweet, loving, and friendly. It is true they do not live long but the time that I had them was simply delightful and I miss them so much

  7. Graham James Perkins says

    I have 3 chickens which look exactly like your picture of ISA browns but was told they were “Goldline” being a cross from R.I.Reds and Light Sussex, but which way not known.They match your description of ISA’s in every way except they are no overly keen on being handled.

  8. Debbie Judice says

    After reading this article, which I greatly appreciate you distributing, I am almost certain that we were sold some ISA’s instead of Rhode Island Reds, which we usually purchase. I have noticed a huge difference lately in our girls. They are at the 2 & 1/2 yr mark. Have laid lots of eggs, above average in size. I even have taken pics and posted on face book bc they were so large. So thank you so much for the information. I am going to investigate. I was so afraid I was doing harm to my girls.

    • John says

      Hi Debbie, you’ll find that they respond well to supplemental light. If you get the lighting schedule correct they’ll come back into lay and they’re off again like a high speed train. Give them about 6 hours of darkness and light the rest of the time and you should see a difference in a month or so.

  9. Annie Neville says

    I am really disappointed that you are promoting this as a breed. As you have said, they are genetically engineered to breed. They don’t have long healthy lives.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Annie,

      We recently received an email from a reader asking about the breed so I decided to write an article on them, that’s all 🙂 I’m not promoting them.

      Even heritage breeds have been selectively breed and ‘engineered’ from wild jungle fowl to some degree.

      As ISA Browns are such popular breeds I think it’s important that people know the positives and negatives of the breed 🙂

      Claire

    • John says

      Hi Annie, they are not genetically engineered. They are selectively bred, just like all farm animals. Genetic engineering and selective breeding are two completely different things. I have kept ISA Browns for nearly 10 years and they behave exactly like heritage breeds, except they lay a few more eggs. They also live much longer than this article would have you believe. Mine are 6 years old and still laying (not as often as they used to, but that’s normal). They’re great, affectionate and healthy birds.

  10. jennie Hoskins says

    So glad this was in my inbox today! I have 3 of these growing up in my bathroom (sure will be glad when the weather is warm enough for full time outdoors) and have been afraid the one was going to turn out to be male. Relieved to know that isn’t possible, as I suspect my neighbors would complain about a rooster in the mornings.

  11. Laurie says

    Four of my six hens are ISA browns. I love them and have had no health issues. My oldest is a little over 4 years old. She lays an occasional egg but layed every day for 2 years! My other 4 year olds lay thin shelled eggs but not Goldie! I have 3 one year old ISA browns also. They are my favorite breed. Friendly and smart. They are escape artist and come to my back door to see me.

  12. Tom says

    I have Isa Browns never heard a lot about them prior to getting them, they have a good size to them, once they started to lay regular it’s an egg a day and they’re are for the most part large- extra large. I’m in Jersey, they’re great in the cold, rain and snow, very docile. They have full range of 11 acres and follow us like a dog.

  13. Gina says

    We bought 4 “Golden Sex Link” chicks that are now about 6 weeks old and look just like the ISA Brown in the pictures – is it the same breed with a different name? This is our first flock and didn’t know what we were buying really – just wanted all female to start out with.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Gina,

      No they aren’t the same breed, but they can look similar to ISA Browns 🙂

      Claire

  14. Dawn says

    I’ve got an ISA that laid an egg a day for the first 18 months and now hasn’t laid one for 2 months. She’s about 2, suspected she was “laid out.” Sorry to hear she won’t live much longer but she will enjoy her retirement being spoiled rotten as one of my six chickens. 🙂

  15. Peggy S Johnson says

    I have 4 of these hens that I bought from a local man that raises them every yr. and sells them at point of lay.Because they were not handled, and I wonder how they were fed and cared for: They are o.k. chickens. Lay only a medium to large egg. One is twice the size of the others and very odd. She has only laid a small egg and at 10 months molted and is not back to laying yet at 3 months. They do not like being handled. All that being said, they are gentle, quiet, and have laid steady through their first Wyoming winter with no additional lighting. I do like them but would not go this route again. However, Mable, Scarlet, Ruby & Pearl have a nice safe home to be a chicken.

  16. Laura says

    I just purchased 5 ISA browns and can’t wait to see how they produce. They are no different than if your white rooster breeds a barred rock, you get a different looking chicken, I would hardly call it genetically modified! 🐔🐓

    • clifford says

      Easy to find out parent stock of any chicken, Breed it to a different roster that is a cross breed of several different breeds. Hatch out eggs from the hen you want to test. Watch her chicks close. Out of 25 eggs hatched you will see several chicks that look like pure breed chicks. These pure breed chicks are the hens mother stock. the chicks that the roster produce will be different and not favor any pure breed. But the mothers stock will always favor the pure breed stocks the mother came from.

  17. Robert Hayton says

    I just purchased 2 chicks to add to my 3 Rhode Island Reds and 3 Australorps. Do you think there will be any compatibility issues? I know the RI Reds can be aggressive. Thank you!

  18. John says

    There’s a lot of misinformation going on here. I’ve had flocks of ISA browns for nearly 10 years. I can tell you that they are not genetically engineered. Genetic engineering and selective breeding are two completely different things. These chickens have been selectively bred, just like all farm animals, not engineered. They live long healthy normal chicken lives, their production will reduce *slightly* after 2 and half years but they continue to be wonderful, affectionate birds who will provide your family with plenty of eggs for many many many years. I recommend them whole heartedly.

  19. Jamie DesChenes says

    I recently purchased four ISA Brown chicks,and yes they are all females.I’m looking forward to raising them.I know they do well in cold weather,but how do they take the heat?It can get pretty warm here in the summer time.

    • Jeffrey Scott Thomas says

      They do very well in warm weather. I speak from the official studies and personal experience. I live in Costa Rica. Have used the ISA Brown for 20 years. I have had many breeds over a life time. She is the best layer I can account for. She is medium sized, does not over eat, is docile and noble. For 2 years she has an awesome rate of production.

  20. Julie Brown says

    We acquired 2 of these beautiful birds with our required 6 from our local big box store. Our first group after moving to the south. Our other 4 are RIRs. I’m sad to say, yesterday, I awoke to let my girls out, and sadly one of our ISAs named “Dale” had passed away. They are all only just over one year old. After inspection, we found nothing out of sorts. Not egg bound, just looked normal but no longer with us. I was shocked. To me she was so young but I guess half her life was already over. Probably with the issues listed above. She was my sweetheart. Such a nice lady! Heartbroken but I’m a softie.

  21. Ellen says

    I am getting 3 dozen eggs a week from 6 birds that are 30 weeks old. Friendly, easy keepers that don’t eat a lot and love to forage.I bought them at 23 weeks and within just a few days they would come to me when called. I can pick them up and carry them easily and had them coop trained quickly. Never found an egg outside of the nest boxes. I get multiple double yolks a week. I would recommend them for a beginner. Only problem- they like to stick their heads through the fence when my dogs come to visit. Not the smartest move they can make.

  22. Nurse / Beginner Homesteader says

    I love these girls! A co worker bought them for her kids & at about 9 wks wanted to give them away. I took them to my little 5 acre farm (as a 1st time chicken keeper) I sat in a stall with them – much like you do in a ring or pasture with a new horse waiting for them to join up. They are so friendly and loving. I free range them during the day & keep them safe at night. I call out ” chick chick chick chick chick” & they come running, they follow me everywhere like I’m their momma. No health problems so far they & are almost a year old. And Boy Oh Boy they are great layers of nice large brown eggs. I feed them organic feed, meal worms, everything from my garden, and oyster shell. My co-workers LOVE their eggs! which is good b/c I can’t eat as much as they lay. I give the eggs away but have been offered $3-5 a doz.. Tractor Supply sells these sweeties & I highly recommend them for backyard flocks & childrens pets! Can anyone recommend a breed with comparable temperament that lays white eggs?

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