SinDelle runs the Georgia Herb & Egg Co. on her homestead in Dublin, GA.
With homesteading on every level and scale becoming more and more popular, many people want to know which are the best chicken breeds for a small farm or backyard flock. Of course, different families' needs will vary, but here are a few guidelines to help you first decide what your needs are.
Different Chicken Breeds for Different Purposes: Meat or Eggs?
Before you can decide what breed is best, you have to decide what you want your chickens to do.
- Do you want them just for eggs?
- Do you want them to feed your family?
- Do you want birds that will set eggs and raise chicks?
Not all chickens will do this last one, so that is a very important consideration, especially if you are on a primitive homestead and powering an incubator 24 hours a day for 21 days is not an option.
Many specialized production breeds are best for one purpose only. Many egg-layers are small, and meat birds generally become very large very quickly, making them an unsustainable option for anything else. Because of this, most homesteaders raise dual-purpose birds. This means that the chickens are excellent at egg production but still large enough to dress out well on the table. Heritage breeds are great for this.
Which Chicken Breeds Will Survive in Your Environment?
Where you live is an important consideration when choosing a breed for your homestead. Some breeds are better-suited to certain climates. For example, the Wyandotte is a very cold-hardy breed. They are large, have a comb that is generally not at risk for frostbite and they will often lay straight through the winter as well.
Here are a few great dual-purpose breeds that are wonderful on the homestead or in any backyard chicken flock.
The Plymouth Rock
The Plymouth Rock chicken comes in a few different varieties. The most common are the white and barred types. This is a hardy American breed that has been around for a long time. Rocks are part of the “heavy” class of poultry, weighing around 7-8lbs when grown, which makes them excellent dual-purpose birds. Some get quite large. They lay between 200-300 large brown eggs a year. Most breeds of bird have had the broodiness bred out of them over the years, but Plymouth Rocks have been known to become broody and sit on eggs.
Plymouth Rocks are smart and tolerate confinement very well. They are happy foraging or living in a pen, making them particularly suited to life on a homestead or in a backyard flock. They are social and talkative.
Extremely popular among homesteaders and backyard chicken enthusiasts, Orpingtons come in many different varieties and colors, from English to Lavender. They are a medium to heavy bird and lay up to 200 large brown eggs a year. They are social, calm and very pretty, making them a favorite with small children. These birds are great foragers and will often lay well into the winter, but the biggest advantage of the Orpington is that they are extremely broody. Orpingtons need no encouragement to set eggs. Simply let nature take it's course and in spring you will have new chicks!
If you are looking for a breed that will ensure your flock is self-sustaining, Orpingtons are the way to go. Even just one or two on your homestead can guarantee that your homestead or backyard flock is able to grow without the need of an incubator -- Orpingtons will set and hatch any eggs you give them!
The Rhode Island Red
Remember the story of the little red hen? She was a Rhode Island Red! The Rhode Island Red (RIR) chicken is a cold-hardy heritage breed that has been around for a very long time. RIRs are part of the “heavy” class of poultry, weighing in at around 7-8lbs when grown. These are excellent dual-purpose birds. They lay between 200-300 extra-large brown eggs a year. Some types of Rhode Islands are known to become broody or sit on eggs.
Rhode Island Reds are calm and generally non-aggressive (though males have been known to be aggressive), making them great in any backyard flock. The RIR rooster can be crossed with a barred Plymouth Rock hen to make the next bird on this list.
The Black Star
Technically not a breed, these heritage hybrids are also known as Black Rocks, Red Rocks and simply black sex-links (because you can tell what sex they are when they're born). These birds are some of the best brown egg layers you will find! They will lay more than 300 large brown eggs a year -- more than both heritage breeds they are crossed with! Considered part of the “medium” class of poultry, weighing in at around 5-6lbs when grown, Black Stars are good dual-purpose homestead birds (although their specialty really is egg-laying). They are not known to go broody, though any chicken certainly can.
Black Rocks are very friendly and docile, very easy to handle. If you are looking for a serious egg-laying bird that can also be a pet, you can’t go wrong with a few Black Star hens.
Named after the Native American tribe that created them, Wyandottes come in a variety of types and colors. Part of the "heavy" class of poultry, they are a cold-hardy American breed, excellent for homesteaders in colder climates. Wyandottes will lay right through the winter in many cases, even when your other chickens have stopped for the season. These tough ladies will lay up to 200 large brown eggs a year or more (around 4 a week) and some are known to go broody.
The Wyandotte chicken has a docile and easygoing personality. They are easy to handle and great fun to have in any backyard flock. They are also very beautiful.
A few breeds or hybrids that deserve honorable mention are:
- The Silkie
- The Cinnamon Queen
- The Australorp
- The Easter Egger
- The Leghorn
- The Barnevelder
Keeping chickens is fun, fulfilling and a must for any self-sustainable lifestyle. With a little bit of research and planning, your flock can be healthy, happy and sustainable for years to come!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Florence on July 31, 2020:
One of my favorite breeds is the Ameraucana. They are friendly, good layers, and in my opinion quite pretty.
Chook on October 27, 2017:
That looks like my rhode island red and Plymouth rock!
Ashley Threadingham from Durham, NC on July 25, 2017:
Thanks for the great article! I enjoyed the lovely pictures of the hens and dream of the day I can own backyard chickens. :)