Are you one of many people getting into raising backyard chickens?
If so, you’re not alone–but it can be a little bit overwhelming to get started if you’ve never had chickens before. There are so many different kinds of chickens and places to get them from, so you might be unsure of what to look for.
Get your perfect flock of backyard chickens by following this guide to point you in the right direction.
Great Backyard Chicken Breeds to Raise
No matter what you’re looking for, there are chickens out there to help you keep the perfect backyard flock.
Here are some more common breeds you’re likely to see and be able to bring home. There are so many more to choose from, but the breeds below are a good place to start for most backyard chicken keepers.
1. Easter Eggers
If you’re looking for a rainbow egg basket, Easter Eggers are a great choice!
They’re technically a mixed breed with the goal of a variety of egg colors, so their adult appearance and egg color are not guaranteed,
They can lay eggs that are brown, pink, cream, blue, or green, and each hen will lay the same color eggs for her entire life.
Easter eggers are usually good layers and tend to have calm personalities, so they’re suitable for families. They typically tolerate the cold well and don’t struggle in the winter months.
2. Rhode Island Reds
The Rhode Island Red is a classic heritage breed and the state bird of Rhode Island.
They have beautiful deep red plumage and lay lots of medium to large brown eggs. They can also be used as meat birds.
Since they originate in New England, they’re typically hardy birds that are well adapted to colder temperatures in winter and warmer temperatures in summer. They’re good foragers and like to free range.
Rhode Island Reds do have a reputation for being less friendly, so they’re not as ideal for families with kids.
For classic white eggs, and lots of them, you can’t go wrong with leghorns (usually pronounced “leggerns”).
These white chickens are a very common breed and are successfully kept in a variety of climates. Just be aware that they tend to have large combs, which are more prone to frostbite in the winter. Some hatcheries have also bred leghorns in other colors.
Leghorns are excellent foragers and love to free range. They can be a bit more flighty and less friendly, but this also helps them avoid predators.
4. Cornish Cross
If you’re looking to fill your freezer with home-grown chicken, the Cornish cross is the way to go.
They’re voracious eaters to help them gain weight quickly and they grow very big very fast, usually reaching harvestable age by around 8 weeks old. They are specifically bred to get large for more meat per bird.
They don’t make great pets since they are meant for harvesting at a young age, and they usually have a difficult time getting around beyond that. You should only purchase Cornish crosses if you intend to harvest them.
For great personalities and unmatched looks, you can’t go wrong with silkies.
They have special feathers that give them a more fluffy, furry appearance and they’re very soft. Silkies come in a variety of colors, and they make great pets. Their personalities are more friendly and willing to interact with humans for attention.
Silkies are not known for egg laying, and lay smaller eggs less frequently than other breeds. They’re also definitely not a good meat bird.
They’re not as hardy in colder wet climates. If you have colder or wetter weather and want to keep silkies, just be prepared. Make sure you have plenty of covered space without drafts for them where they can stay clean, dry, and warm when the weather isn’t good.
Silkies make great mothers and often go broody, a major plus if you want to let your hens hatch their own babies.
This is a breed that does it all!
Orpingtons are large birds that lay lots of large brown eggs and are known for being calm and friendly. They’re a classic breed that’s easy to find just about anywhere and very common among backyard chicken keepers.
Orpingtions come in several colors, the most common of which is buff, a golden tan. They also come in more unusual colors like lavender, an almost purple grey.
These birds do well in a variety of climates and conditions and can be harvested for meat as well. They are great mothers and are happy to sit on a nest of eggs or chicks.
The Ameraucana, also sometimes called Araucana, is a heritage breed that’s sure to give you plenty of blue or green eggs.
Ameraucanas can be a bit more expensive, and beware of imposter breeds. It’s common to see similar breeds labeled as such when they aren’t true Ameraucanas.
They are frequently used as part of breeding other colorful egg layers, including Easter Eggers. They have a very distinct appearance with feathery beards and cheeks.
These chickens come in a variety of colors. They’re very hardy in a lot of different climates and have very small combs, lowering their risk of frostbite.
Ameraucanas tend to be friendly and are very good foragers.
8. Olive Eggers
Seekers of rainbow eggs won’t want to miss out on Olive Eggers.
Like Easter Eggers, they are a mixed breed to achieve deeper green or olive colored eggs. This is the result of one parent with green or blue egg genes and the other with dark brown egg genes. The blue shell is overlaid with a dark brown bloom, creating an olive green color.
Since they’re a mixed breed, their adult appearance can come in a wide variety of plumage patterns. Depending on the breeding program and generation, there is a chance they will lay brown eggs instead of olive green.
Olive eggers are usually a hardy bird that is comfortable in most climates.
9. Black Copper Marans
Another great heritage breed with unique characteristics, the Black Copper Marans is known for its chocolate brown colored eggs.
This is often the breed that lends its brown bloom to olive eggers, and they can also lay fun speckled eggs.
They are beautiful birds that lay consistently, and they’re generally known to be good mothers with nice personalities. They can withstand most types of weather.
The Big Considerations for Backyard Chickens
To find the best backyard chickens, you’ll have to think about a few things first.
Not all chickens are right for everyone, so before you choose what chickens to bring home there are several factors to consider. No matter what you’re looking for, there are chickens out there you can find to balance out all your needs.
Why Do You Want Backyard Chickens?
Probably the most important factor is what made you decide to raise backyard chickens in the first place.
A lot of people raise backyard chickens for delicious fresh eggs. If you go through a lot of eggs or want to sell eggs, look for breeds that are prolific layers or opt for younger birds with a longer laying period ahead of them.
Eggs also come in tons of different colors, so if you’re looking to get a rainbow egg basket, opt for the breeds that lay in the colors you want for a variety of colorful egg layers. There are breeds that can lay eggs from white, pink and pale blue to vivid blue, olive green, and deep chocolate brown. Some chickens even lay speckled eggs.
Maybe you want to be more self sufficient and closer to your food by raising backyard chickens for meat. There are specific breeds that are faster and larger growing so you can harvest them sooner. There are also dual purpose breeds that lay well and also make good meat birds.
You may also just want backyard chickens for companionship and to enjoy their fun personalities! There are many breeds that might appeal to you for their looks and antics. If your chickens are meant to be pets, you probably won’t need to focus as much on other things like egg production.
Some people like to raise heritage breeds, types of chickens that have existed for a long time with long bloodlines. They might just appreciate certain breeds or be interested in helping to preserve them.
Your Local Climate
Just like any other outdoor animal, it’s important to be prepared for your specific weather conditions.
It’s a lot easier to keep your backyard chickens happy and healthy if they are naturally adapted to there you live. Some chickens thrive in colder weather but struggle in the heat, while others don’t tolerate the cold well at all and prefer warmer temperatures.
There are ways you can keep your backyard chickens more comfortable all year long, but they’ll be much better off if you focus on certain breeds. These are chickens that won’t be especially vulnerable to unavoidable conditions where you live.
One big factor you can easily see is their comb size because their combs help them regulate their bdy temperature. Chickens with bigger combs are more prone to frostbite and may need some extra care in the winter, while birds with smaller combs are more comfortable in the cold.
Your Backyard Chicken Setup
Start envisioning how you want your backyard chicken coop to come together. How much space will you be able to dedicate to your chickens?
You don’t need to have a huge farm, but it will determine how many chickens you keep and what kind of coop you have. Some people like to free range their chickens on their property, and there are some chicken breeds that are known for their foraging abilities as well as their alertness to potential predators. Others are perfectly happy in a safe enclosed run where they’re protected from wildlife looking for an easy meal.
Free ranging is often easier with a rooster to help warn and protect hens, but roosters can also be difficult to deal with and may bother your neighbors with their crowing. Consider how close your neighbords are so you don’t run into problems later on.
How You Acquire Your Backyard Chickens
Depending on your needs and where you live, there are several ways to get your backyard chicken flock started.
You can start by incubating eggs, purchasing chicks, or buying adult birds, and in nearly all of these cases you can find them locally or have them shipped to you in the mail.
Eggs are so much fun to hatch and it’s an amazing experience to watch them emerge from their shells in the incubator. Downsides to hatching are that some eggs may not hatch successfully, and you also have no control over how many roosters and hens you end up with.
Buying chicks is a great option for a lot of people. They’re adorable and fun to raise as they grow.
You can typically get chicks that are sexed so you know what you’re getting. Just know that it’s not an exact science and there’s always a possibility that you end up with more roosters than you wanted. Feed stores often carry chicks in the spring.
Finally, buying adult birds is preferable for many backyard chicken keepers. Finding adult birds is easy. You can seek out local farms, head to a livestock auction, have them shipped to you, or even rescue hens from bad situations and give them a happy home.
Buying mature chickens is the only true way to know for sure if you’re getting hens or roosters. Depending on their age, they may be less prolific egg layers.
You may also want to have your hens continue hatching out more birds, and some are better mothers at brooding their own chicks then others.
Have Fun with Your Backyard Chickens
No matter what chickens you start with, you’re sure to fall in love with your backyard flock.
Backyard chickens are so much fun to keep and they have lots of benefits as well, including fresh delicious eggs every day. You can find so many different breeds to fulfill your wants and needs, and they’re relatively easy to care for.For other great tips on fun and functional things you can do at home, check out our Backyard Living page!