BackYard Chickens › Member Pages › Pickin' the Right Frickin' Chicken: Guide to Picking Backyard Chicken Breeds

Pickin' the Right Frickin' Chicken: Guide to Picking Backyard Chicken Breeds

 

Pickin' the Right Frickin' Chicken: Guide to Picking

Backyard Chicken Breeds

 

                                                1000

                                                                                         My Lovely Wife Feeding Our Flock

 

 

 

          As a chicken farmer noobie much thought and research has went into finding out what breeds of chickens will be best suited for the intended purpose and the area that I live in. This guide was intended for people that don't know much about chicken breeds and will help them narrow down what options there are to fill their needs.

          When it comes to chickens there are many options that are available, and some are rather important to keep in mind when selecting a breed because this could mean the difference between a happy health flock and a stressed, non productive, and illness stricken flock. There are several things to consider when choosing a breed for your backyard farm and they include the following:

 

Climatic Hardiness

 

Rooster Vs. Hen

 

Egg Production

 

Meat Production

 

Foraging Capability

 

Predator Awareness

 

Handling Ability and Flightiness

 

Broodiness

 

Ornamentablity

 

 

Climatic Hardiness

 

          This is probably the most important factor to consider when determining what breed of chicken is right for you. Climatic hardiness is the simple question of can this bird survive the temperature of my area without being placed under more than usual stresses. For instance, if you lived in Alaska and you know that temperatures get down into the -20's or -30's you wouldn't want to buy a Naked Neck breed (Picture 1). Another example, is if you lived in Southern Texas and the temperatures get well above 100 degrees you wouldn't want to buy a Brahman (Picture 2) that has feathered legs. These options are often an issue for owners that live in areas with extreme temperature swings but some areas are lucky enough that there mild temperatures allow for a more diverse flock.

          There are several adaptations that chickens have developed in order to cope with various temperatures swings. Some examples include comb and wattle type, body size, feather color, and leg feathers. These options are important because they could determine whether your flock thrives or dies. Following is a chart that should help when determining what breed of chicken is right for your geographical location and climate.

 

700

                   Naked Neck Breed - Picture 1

          

700

                    Brahman Hens - Picture 2

 

1000

 

 

 

Rooster Vs. Hen

 

          The sex of a bird is usually not a question to most owners as they hands down prefer hens over roosters. There are a couple reasons for this as roosters don't lay eggs well (Joke- Non at all!), they are also noisy, and love to fight amongst themselves (Picture 3) for competition to see who can rule over the females. The hens however are very functional by themselves as they don't need their counterpart in order to lay eggs, become surrogate mothers for chicks (Picture 4), and may be used as meat birds after they become older.

          Roosters do have some uses and don't always have to be a burden to flock owners. For instance, there would be no chickens if it weren't for them as they are needed to produce viable fertilized eggs. They are also great protectors of their hens in a flock and will lay their life down as a protector. They are also loved in poultry shows as a result of their brilliant colors and essence of proudness. It is best to limit the number of roosters that are designated to each flock as they have a tendency to fight over hens.

 

700

            Roosters Fighting over Territory - Picture 3

 

700

             Silkie Mother Hatching Ducklings - Picture 4

 

1000

                Roosters or hens can be purchased for each of the above breeds

 

Egg Production

 

          Lets face it, some chickens are just better egg layers than others and this is a major factor to consider when choosing a breed. For me an abundance of eggs is one of the most important reasons to have a backyard flock. However, if you do not choose the correct breed you could be out of luck when it comes to having a multitude of eggs.

          Over the centuries there have been many breeds of chickens that have been genetically selected and bred for there ability to produce eggs almost on a daily basis, and others not so much, as they are intended for other purposes. There is much debate as to which breed is the best layers and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Two of my favorites are the Rhode Island Red (Picture 5)and the Austrolorpe (Picture 6). The table below will help you decide which breed is right for you.

 

700

                       Rhode Island Red - Picture 4

 

700

                        Austrolorpe Hen - Picture 5

 

1000

 

 

 

Meat Production

 

          My Grandfather often tells me of how his Sunday job was to go out and pick an older slower egg producing hen from their large flock. He would then have to kill, pluck, and prepare it for Sunday dinner with the family. He said that their entire flock was made of White Leghorns (Picture 7) and nothing else. He might be surprised today to see some of the heavy meat birds, such as the Cornish Cross (Picture 8), in action as hardy meat producing birds.

          Some owners only intended purpose for keeping a backyard flock is so that they can have organic chicken that is fresh and not from a poultry farm. They never intend to have pet chickens or even egg laying chickens but are bred in numbers to feed their family. Others allow their flock to live out their days as egg producing hens and when egg productivity goes so do they. It is important to know what your family is eating and this is one way that it can be done. All chickens can be used as meat but some are much better than others and are listed in the chart below.

 

700

                      White Leghorn Hen - Picture 7

 

700

                Cornish Cross Meat Bird - Picture 8

 

1000

 

Cornish Cross' are usually the standard meat bird however all chickens can be used as meat

 

Foraging Capability

 

         Foraging capability is a birds ability to find food naturally while free ranging. This is popular because it cuts down on feed costs and allows the birds to eat what they need to have a balanced diet and produce eggs that are high in vitamins. To some degree all chickens can do this, but some are just better at it than others, similar to athletics among people. Game birds (Picture 9) are supposed to be particularly good at foraging techniques but are not notorious for their steady egg production. Some breeds would rather just sit and wait for their feeder to be filled and not move from their pen, however this is only a select few breeds and usually any chance a bird gets to walk about they will take the opportunity. This sedentary lifestyle is true for the Cornish Cross (Picture 8) and some hybrid breeds. The following is a comparison of foraging capability among poultry breeds.

 

700

           Game Hen Foraging with Chicks - Picture 9

 

1000

 

                                         The X's designate excellent foragers

 

Predator Awareness

 

          Predator awareness is a chickens ability to recognize predators and protect itself against death from other animals that consider chickens prey. This can be very important when deciding what breeds to allow into your backyard flock as it can result in loss of money and loss of birds. Predator awareness is something that is built into a bird's nature and is important when free ranging a flock of birds. Some birds are fighters and will lay down their life for others, some are escape artists and can elude danger (Flighty), and some do not try to escape and essentially try to go unnoticed which often ends in undesirable results.

          Although predator awareness is built into their natural instincts other physical features of breeds may also play into a breeds survivability. For example Polish breeds (Picture 10) have large tufts of feathers on their head that often cover their eyes making it hard for them to see predators. Color is also important as it determines how well a breed is camouflaged to hawks and falcons from above.

         What type of landscape the flock has to forage on is also important as it can determine survival rate. For example, if you have wide open prairies light colored birds would probably not do well. As opposed to forested areas where they are under the cover of bush or tree canopies. Below is a table comparing predator awareness among poultry breeds.

 

700

                         Polish Breed - Picture 10

 

1000

 

                              The X's designate excellent predator awareness

 

 

Handling Ability and Flightiness

 

          This aspect of handling ability and flightiness can be important when picking a breed that is confined to a required space or yard. For instance you wouldn't want a Spangled Hamburg (Picture 11) on a 1/4 of an acre in city limits. This is a result of their flighty nature or willingness to fly and be spooked easily. Other breeds that some consider to be flighty are the Anconas or Campines (Picture 12). All these birds are flighty as a result of their predator response instincts. Lets face it, some breeds just see us as predators more than others. Others like sex link breeds or Orpingtons are often oblivious to predators and become easy prey for the hungry.

          Flightiness also plays into the ability to handle a bird. Some birds don't like to be touched or even have someone near them others don't mind and consider humans as friends and a good food source. The below table compares non flight to flighty breeds of poultry.

 

700

                    Spangled Hamburg - Picture 11

 

 700

                      Campine Breed - Picture 12

 

1000

 

 

 

Broodiness

 

          Broodiness (Picture 13) is either a trait that is desired or not. Some owners consider it to be a hindrance from normal egg laying and others consider it to be a blessing as they can let the broodies hatch their chicks instead of babysitting an incubator for days. However, there are some breeds that are better at going broody than others. Broody behavior is not something that can be taught nor implemented as it is a natural instinct that some hens have and some don't. Broody behavior has been selectively bred out of some breeds so that they will continue to lay eggs and not go broody or hatch chicks but give eggs daily. Hens do experience broody behavior after they have laid several eggs that are worthy to be hatched, usually 8-12. They will also hatch other hens eggs and even other species of fowl such as ducks, geese, and turkeys. The chart below compares hens that tend to go broody compared to those that don't.

 

700

                Broody Hen on the Nest - Picture 13

 

1000

 

 

 

Ornamentability

 

         In all seriousness, I think that all chicken breeds are cool and beautiful (except for naked necks...Just kidding!). Most people however have certain breeds that appeal to their tastes and favor. Poultry breeds come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors (Picture 14 & 15). Their are some that have unusual traits and you wouldn't even consider them a chicken and others that bring about a standard image of a hen or rooster. This makes for diverse choices that can be made for whatever breed or type strikes your fancy. Some owners keep flocks just as yard ornaments to look at and others only care about function-ability. Others keep certain breeds of poultry as the last of a certain heritage breed and others keep them to show in poultry shows. In the end, it is all up to what you like and can keep in a healthy setting and be able to provide a good life for your flock. The chart below shows some breeds that have unique characteristics.

 

700

      Splash Sumatra Ornamantal Chicken - Picture 14

 

700

     Phoenix Rooster Ornamental Chicken - Picture 15

 

1000

 

 

 

 

A Word on Size...

 

          Size is also a matter of opinion as breeds of poultry come in all different sizes. Many breeds have what is called a bantam breed or miniature version of the larger fowl. This can be ideal if available space is limited but you would still like to have a backyard flock. Bantams are usually about half the size of their full grown counterpart and still lay eggs though they are smaller.

 

 

Where To Buy

 

          There are many places where you can buy chicks or full grown birds. One of the more popular places are hatcheries that ship day old chicks to your local post office, and www.mypetchicken.com is very popular. These can be great for people that would like to have all different breeds. You can also go the route of full grown birds or pullets that can be found in you local trading paper or online at www.craigslist.orgwww.backyardchickens.com is also a great place to look for hatching eggs or anything in between that you might want. See the Chicken Breeders & Hatcheries and the BYC Buy Sell Trade (BST) forum sections. The people that use this site are very friendly and would help any chance they get. Explore your options and be selective in your process of picking your backyard flock.

 

 

Get a Flock

 

           If you are looking at this page you are obviously interested in a backyard chickens and are researching the idea. The important lesson here is that all chickens are awesome and they are a great way to live more sustainably and self sufficiently. They are great livestock, pets, and are just plain funny to watch. Each one has unique personalities and they may however not fit perfectly into the niches as described. If you have any doubts about owning a flock think of the good things that they will bring to your life and to your family. In the end, the choice is yours and always remember to have fun with your flock and happy farming.

 

 

References

 

All pictures are references to the page from where they were taken. Just click on the picture and it should take you to the site where it was found. Information was gathered from the www.backyardchickens.com website. Related articles and sections:

 

http://www.backyardchickens.com/products/category/chicken-breeds

http://www.backyardchickens.com/f/14/breeds-genetics-showing

http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/the-8-comb-types

 

 

 

Free Counters
Free Counters

Comments (47)

If I may ask, where did the charts come from?
I made them myself...
Congratulations! Your article is now featured on the homepage carousel! Thanks for submitting it to our BYC Article Writing Contest.
Love the charts!
I like the article. I am a noob but your chart does not match Ideal's for the speckled which says they are only good layers and the orpingtons that are listed as good but not poor layers by Ideal. What I would like to see is a chart lists every layer in relation to eachother for all non bantam breeds with color cross bars for major groupings. Even more useful would be a feed conversion chart.
Great article! I love the charts and pictures!
well its a wonderful article anyways who cares if there is a little mistake who ever made this took a lot of time and effort to make it so enjoy
How come the Americauna (easter egger) is on the chart but no info for pure bred Ameraucana's?
Great article I enjoyed reading it. I feel bad people are being so critical about your chart. I do disagree with some it, like that orpingtons are poor layers, but this is obviously a "homemade" chart of what you have experienced in the past. Thank you again for taking the time to write it.
Look, I give great credit to the writer of the article! We purchased our first chicks April of this year and its our first winter with the birds. Back Yard Chickens has been our encyclopedia. Tons of information from soup to nuts can be found if you only ask and explore. We have yet to scratch the surface with "Fricken chickens"!! A lot of chicken breeds such as Delawares, Sex links and or Hybrids and many other breeds do not always appear on standard charts per say. Your personal experience with different breeds may not be what the chart says its going to be like at all! Some are and some arent. All I am saying is that the beginner needs to do some real exploring before getting his or her feet wet. The real life experience is worth the time and money being spent.
Very well put together. People need to remember these are generalizations about the breeds. With any generalization there are going to be "exceptions" on both sides. Even comparing charts between hatcheries show inconsistancies and they should know the "facts".
Dear NIc, Thanks for your comments. I just feel that if anyone takes the time to help others that they should be commended for the effort before they are corrected. I have found many Post that speak about the same topic and have different viewpoints and information. Who knows for sure which is an absolute in fact there are probably no absolutes. Even patients need to see a second doctor before making a decision about their health. Maybe neither was wrong just had different experiences. I thought it was wonderful to hear from someone who passed on her knowledge and think that people can do more research. Okay, I will Post at some point. LOL Bought my Pullets this Summer and love having them. Lost four to Hawks so am in the process of changing that. No suggestion or solution worked to protect them as far as shiny things, owls, etc. so I just have to go the route of a Run with a roof. No doubt those that suggested the other things worked for them, I do not fault those Posters. I wish it had worked for me and for my lovely ladies:>( You are a Poster I would like to hear more from. Thank you
from BYC. 143 pages of real world experience. Read it and see. This is the type of information that is important. Info from breeders of the birds in question .http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/394129/sumatra-thread/1390 . FYI I've been on BYC for years and had no idea this area existed until someone pointed out what this article said about Sumatra's.
I found most of the information in the “Breeds” tab at the top of the page here on BYC. You can go there and click on the classifications to the left of the page and it will sort based upon what you have checked. As yo burrill stated these are generalizations and are not meant to be taken as cold hard facts for every breed. The classifications of different breeds are not always consistent for all birds and can vary. I'm sure we can all see different personalities between in our flocks so it is hard to pin down specific characteristics (especially if you have never owned each individual breed). This article was written by a new flock owner for new flock owners. If there are problems with the "breed" classification systems maybe they need to be taken up with BYC because that is where the majority of the information came from. I do hope at least some people were able to gain some valuable information from this article. However, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and thanks for reading.
Great Article! I wish I had found something like this when I first started my flock! :)
Great Article, very helpful, though some of the breed information on the charts wasn't accurate
This was a great article and nicely presented. I think what happened is that the article exposed the fact that a chicken super chart simply does not exist. And that is a shame considering the number of users on this site. Someone (not me lol) should step up and put such a chart together; including all known breeds; groupings by ornamentality vs utility vs duo purpose vs meat and then specific rankings within those broad groupings. What are the best triple purpose breeds? [looks/meat/eggs] One chart on the web also has an egg visual [one egg for bantam japs, 6 for white leghorns] which would be a nice inclusion. The chart should then be presented to the users for fine tweaking.
Spifflove:
http://www.ithaca.edu/staff/jhenderson/chooks/chooks.html
Though some of the chart is off here as well. It has a whole lot of breeds.
I do agree this article was well written, and just because there were some errors that were pointed out, does not mean we were putting down the author. I think the errors should be rectified. Especially about the foraging capabilities of Sumatras. They are "the breed developed through living wild and being shaped by its environment." According to the American Livestock Breed Conservancy. Meaning they forage better than all the birds listed on this chart.
I do not have sumatras. This is from hearing so much about them from others, and reading about them on the link I gave above.
Congrats on making the front page, and I hope those little errors can be corrected as to not misrepresent any breed a new hobbiest is considering.
BackYard Chickens › Member Pages › Pickin' the Right Frickin' Chicken: Guide to Picking Backyard Chicken Breeds