Whether you’re considering raising chickens in your own backyard or have an established farm suitable for free range chickens, you’re probably wondering how to choose between the vast numbers of chicken breeds available. Beyond choosing whether you will raise chickens for eggs or meat, there are a few things you’ll want to consider before settling on a particular breed.
Here are some helpful tips to narrow your choices, along with a few suggested breeds that do well in a variety of environments.
What to Look For When Choosing a Chicken Breed
Each breed of chicken has its own climate tolerance. Be sure to select breeds for the area of the country where you will raise them. While most birds can adapt to cold conditions, many have trouble in hotter climates. Heavier birds tend to do best in cooler areas of the country, while lighter birds do better in hotter climates. Some breeds do well in both cold and hot climates.
Consider how much space you have to devote to your flock and choose birds accordingly. Active breeds are best raised on open farm land with lots of space. They do not handle confinement well. However, many chicken breeds have calm temperaments to handle close confinement in backyard or urban settings.
If you’re just beginning your chicken raising adventure or want your children to interact with the birds, choose breeds with docile temperaments. Choosing docile birds is also a good idea when raising chickens in smaller spaces or in an urban or suburban environment.
If you are raising chickens primarily for their eggs, be sure to choose a breed with good to excellent egg production. Good egg production ranges from 125 to 175 eggs per year, per hen. Very good production ranges from 150 to 200 eggs per year, per hen. Excellent production exceeds 230 eggs per year and some can yield as many as 300 eggs a year under the right conditions.
Egg Size & Color
While this is a minor consideration, if egg size or color is important to you, you’ll want to choose your chicken breed accordingly. Most breeds produce brown or white eggs, but some, like Easter Eggers, can produce eggs in multiple colors. The size of the eggs can make a difference in your yield as well. Generally, smaller breeds produce smaller eggs, so if you want large eggs, look for larger, heavier breeds.
If you are raising chickens for meat production, you’ll want to look at the maturity rate of birds that interest you. Meat breeds are generally bred for fast growth to maximize meat production. Maturation rate can also be an important consideration when raising laying chickens. Some breeds mature more rapidly than others, producing eggs at an earlier age.
To compare the characteristics of a variety of heritage chicken breeds, check out The Livestock Conservancy Quick Reference Guide.
Egg Laying Breeds
Egg laying breeds are bred to maximize egg production. Many do well in both free range environments and urban backyards. Here are some of our favorite egg laying breeds, available at Freedom Ranger Hatchery.
Developed in France, Novogen Browns are the resulting combination of Rhode Island Red and Leghorn genetics. Prolific egg layers, Novogen Browns can lay up to 395 eggs in 72 weeks of lay and reach 50% egg production by week 20. This breed is easy to manage with a calm disposition and has been adapted to live in housing or to thrive in free range environments. Eggs have excellent shell strength with a dark brown coloring.
The Easter Egger is not a breed defined by the American Poultry Association. These chickens are hybrids made up of any number of mixed breeds. The distinguishing factor is their inheritance of the blue egg gene, which results in chickens capable of laying eggs in a rainbow of colors. Easter Egger hens lay eggs in hues of blue or brown in many combinations. Each hen lays eggs in a single color, though a flock of Easter Eggers can produce eggs in a variety of colors. Prolific egg layers, Easter Eggers typically lay 280 eggs per year. A hearty breed, Easter Eggers are active foragers and do well in backyard flocks.
Champion Pearl Egger
The result of a 2-way cross between Partridge males and Sussex females, the Champion Pearl Egger is small to medium in size with a calm, friendly disposition. An excellent egg layer, Champion Pearl Eggers produce 260 to 280 large or extra-large, cream, or white-colored eggs per year.
Blue Plymouth Rock (aka Barred Rock)
A cross between native Andalusian and Plymouth Barred breeds, the Blue Plymouth Rock has been bred to thrive in harsh or primitive conditions. Fully-grown hens weigh in at around 4.7 pounds and feature stunning plumage and a calm, friendly temperament. Excellent egg layers, Blue Plymouth Rocks can produce 280 to 300 eggs per year and reach 50% production at 23 weeks.
The Rustic Rambler is the result of a cross between Black Copper Maran and Barred Rock breeds, providing an excellent balance between beautiful, dark eggs and excellent egg laying production. Rustic Ramblers are both quiet and hearty birds that grow to around 5 pounds and produce 260 to 280 large to extra-large eggs per year.
Dual Purpose Breeds
Dual purpose breeds can be raised for eggs or meat and are a great choice for free range farms or backyard environments. Freedom Ranger Hatchery offers a number of dual purpose breeds including:
Known for their striking plumage and docile, friendly disposition, Delawares were first developed in 1940 by George Ellis. Originally named “Indian Rivers,” Delawares resulted from the cross breeding of Barred Plymouth Rock roosters and New Hampshire hens.
Delawares are excellent dual purpose birds. When raised as layers they produce jumbo brown eggs at a rate of four per week under ideal conditions.
An elegant heritage breed, New Hampshires originate from the state of New Hampshire and are well-known for their fast feathering and rapid growth, making them ideal dual purpose birds. New Hampshires are average layers with a calm, friendly disposition. They lay large eggs that are light brown in color.
Rhode Island Red
First introduced in Rhode Island and Massachusetts in the late 19th century, the Rhode Island Red is derived from ancestors that include Malay, Shanghai, Java, and Brown Leghorn chickens. The Rhode Island Red has become one of the most successful dual purpose birds and can lay 200-300 eggs per year. Hens of this breed typically weigh over 6 pounds, with roosters weighing in at over 8 pounds. Most hens are peaceful, while the roosters can be aggressive in nature.
Meat breeds are bred to maximize meat production, though some grow more slowly than others. Here are some of our favorite meat producers, suitable for free range environments.
Kosher Kings originate from heritage breeds such as the Barred Rock and Sussex. Around 80% of the Kosher Kings are barred while 20% are a mix of silver and red. The Kosher King is a cousin to the Freedom Ranger chickens described below and exhibits the same growth rate, body confirmation, and personality. Kosher Kings are excellent foragers.
Originating from the Label Rouge Program in France, these tri-colored or red feathered chickens grow at a moderate rate and reach 5-6 pounds in just 9-11 weeks. This makes them a great alternative to fast-growing white broilers or slow-growing heritage breeds. Active and hearty, Freedom Rangers work well in free range, foraging, or pasture environments.
Freedom Ranger Black Broiler
Hearty and robust, the Freedom Ranger Black Broiler chickens share many of the same features as the tri-colored and red rangers mentioned above, while providing higher meat density and more flavor. Suitable for established farms or backyard enthusiasts, Black Broilers grow to 5-6 pounds in 11 to 13 weeks.
In the end, choosing chickens for your flock is a decision you’ll make based on a variety of factors from the space you have available to the results you want to achieve. But if you still have questions, Freedom Ranger Hatchery is always here to help!
We offer baby chicks for sale each week through our family-owned and operated, NPIP-certified chicken hatcheries located throughout Lancaster County, PA. We ship our chicks direct to you, nationwide. We’re happy to answer your questions and help you choose the chickens that are perfect for your needs!