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Pickin’ Chicken: The Best Chicken Breeds For Your Needs

If you’re considering raising chickens, one of the first questions to pop into your head will undoubtedly be: Which are the best chicken breeds for my specific needs?

The answer depends completely on your reasons for getting chickens in the first place. Is it so you can enjoy farm fresh eggs every day? Is it to provide organic, pastured meat for your family? Is it because you want some cute pets for your kids? Is it to show off their fancy feathers at the local fair?

These questions are important, and your answers will guide your chicken breed choice.

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We’re going to lay out the different types of chickens, their purpose in a backyard flock, and which chicken breeds within those types are considered stellar choices.

So, you want to get some chickens, but how do you decide which chicken breeds suit your needs? We've got it covered for you! #chicken #breed #backyardchickens #homesteading #selfsufficiency #chickenbreeds #poultry

The Best Chicken Breeds For Your Needs

Consider Climate First

The very first thing you need to think about when picking chicken breeds is climate. If you live in an area that frequently sees very hot summers or extremely cold winters, your breed choices need to reflect that.

There are certain breeds that are known for thriving in different extreme climates. This isn’t to say these are the only breeds for these areas, just those that are well known for their abilities to thrive in these climates.

Cold Climate Chicken Breeds

Cold climate breeds have very small combs and wattles. Hens and roosters with rose, cushion, strawberry, or pea combs tend to fare better in freezing weather. Small combs and wattles are closer to the body and are less likely to get frostbite.

Cold hardy chicken breeds also tend to be a bit heavier. They put on a nice layer of fat in the autumn that helps keep them warm through the winter.

Best Cold Hardy Breeds

  • Wyandotte
  • Orpington
  • Dominique
  • Easter Egger
  • Australorp
  • Ameraucana
  • Chantecler
  • Buckeye
  • Cochin
  • Black Copper Maran

*These breeds are just considered to be the best cold hardy breeds, not the only cold hardy breeds. There are many more breeds that will fare perfectly well in cold weather.

Warm Climate Chicken Breeds

Warm climate breeds will tolerate heat better than other breeds. These chickens are usually lighter in weight and have larger combs. Blood circulates through the comb and wattles to help dissipate the heat and keep them cool in summer, so the larger the better for warm climates.

Best Heat Hardy Breeds

  • Easter Egger
  • Leghorn
  • Silkie
  • Plymouth Rock
  • Ancona
  • Black Sumatra
  • Naked Neck
  • Blue Andalusian
  • Welsummer

*These breeds are just considered to be the best heat hardy breeds, not the only heat hardy breeds. There are many more breeds that will fare perfectly well in hot weather.

Egg Layers

Good egg layers have several unique qualities. They lay more eggs per year than other breeds, and continue laying long after other breeds have given out. Egg layers are also not known for going broody, which means they don’t have the desire to sit on and hatch eggs. This is a good thing, because during the time hens decide to brood and raise babies, they stop laying eggs.

Best Egg Layers

  • Leghorn
  • Rhode Island Red
  • Black/Red Star
  • Black Sex Link
  • Golden Comet
  • California White
  • Barred Rock
  • Ameraucana
  • Plymouth Rock
Leghorn: How to Choose the Best Chicken Breed
Leghorn, a great egg laying breed

Meat Chicken Breeds

Sure, you can eat any chicken that crosses your path, but there are some breeds that are designated as meat breeds due to the amount of weight they can put on, and how fast they can do so. Meat breeds come in two basic categories, commercial and heritage.

Commercial Meat Breeds

These breeds have been bred over the years to very quickly convert feed into muscle mass. They can transform from a cute one day old chick to a full grown bird ready for the dinner table in just eight weeks. For comparison, egg layers tend to take six months to reach maturity.

Commercial meat breeds have their benefits and drawbacks. The biggest benefit is the fact that they grow fast, which saves you time, money, and labor in their care. The drawback: Due to the fact that they put on weight so fast, meat breeds tend to have weak hearts and bad bone structure. They’re so heavy that they can’t stand on their own two feet for long. If they aren’t butchered when they reach their maximum weight, they are likely to suffer.

Many chicken keepers consider this to be cruel and unnatural, and instead choose to raise heritage meat breeds, which we’ll cover next.

Another reason many chicken farmers don’t raise commercial meat breeds is because they must be purchased from a hatchery every year. They aren’t a sustainable choice because they won’t breed true if you try to reproduce them.

Best Commercial Meat Breeds

  • Cornish Cross
  • Freedom Ranger

Heritage Meat Breeds

Unlike commercial breeds, these are birds that haven’t been bred to go from egg to dinner table in eight weeks. They’re old breeds that have been carrying the same genes for centuries. These breeds are slower to mature, but in general are healthier birds. Unlike their commercial meat breed cousins, these breeds can reproduce naturally, making them a more sustainable choice.

The downside to these birds is that they don’t grow as fast or large as commercial meat breeds, and their meat doesn’t taste the same as your average grocery store chicken (which can be good or bad, depending on your outlook). Heritage meat breeds generally also make great dual purpose breeds, which we’ll cover next.

Best Heritage Meat Breeds

  • Delaware
  • New Hampshire
  • White Rock
  • Jersey Giant
  • Brahma
Golden Comet: How to Choose the Best Chicken Breed

Dual Purpose Chicken Breeds

These chickens give you the best of both worlds. They are great egg layers, and put on enough muscle to be great for the dinner table as well. These birds can be ordered as a straight run, and when they reach maturity, many can be sent to the soup pot, while extras can be kept as egg layers.

Best Dual Purpose Breeds

  • Delaware
  • Buckeye
  • New Hampshire
  • Golden Comet
  • Plymouth Rock
  • Wyandotte
  • Orpington
  • Jersey Giant
  • Cochin
  • Australorp
Buff Orpington: How to Choose the Best Chicken Breed
Buff Orpington, a great dual purpose breed

Pet Breeds

These are the best chicken breeds for young children or adults looking for a cuddly, loving pet. There are a number of breeds that are known for their friendliness and affection toward their owners. Look into these ones if you’d like chickens as companions with benefits.

Although these breeds are widely considered to be the most friendly, they need lots of handling and affection from you as they grow up in order to be the best pets they can be!

Best Pet Breeds

  • Silkie
  • Orpington
  • Dominique
  • Easter Egger
  • D’Uccle
Dominique: How to Choose the Best Chicken Breed
Dominique, a great pet breed

Bantam Breeds

Bantams fit into their own tiny category. At full maturity, bantams are half the size of their standard counterparts, and produce tiny eggs. Many standard breeds come in bantam varieties. Bantam breeds are great for people raising chickens in smaller spaces, like city lots, or for people with small children who need an easy to handle breed.

Best Bantam Breeds

  • Cochin Bantam
  • Buff Orpington Bantam
  • Barred Rock Bantam
  • Silkie Bantam
  • Rhode Island Red Bantam
  • Wyandotte Bantam
Silkie Chicken
Silkie, a great bantam breed

Rare and Fancy Breeds

These are the birds that you can show off to your friends or bring along to poultry shows to take home the blue ribbon. These birds are less utilitarian and more ornamental. They are fascinating to look at, but generally more expensive to purchase.

Best Rare and Fancy Breeds:

  • Black Sumatra
  • Gold Duckwing Kraienkoppe
  • Houdan
  • Polish
  • Spitzhauben
  • Swedish Flower Hen
Polish Chicken: How to Choose the Best Chicken Breed
Polish Chicken Photo Credit: Forge Mountain Photography

Choosing the best chicken for your needs is a big decision. Hopefully our chicken choosing guide helped you along the way!


Chicken Breed Guides

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Kristi Wheeler

Wednesday 17th of April 2019

Great list! I would add that Red Sexlinks are good egg layers as well. They lay big brown eggs with a thick healthy shell!

The Trouble with Dual Purpose Chicken Breeds - ImaginAcres

Wednesday 13th of March 2019

[…] we got our first batch of chickens, we spent months trying to decide which breeds of chicken would be perfect for our situation.  We wanted to raise our birds for eggs and for meat. We knew […]

Rayother

Tuesday 27th of January 2015

That was a good personality profile of the breeds, but "climate raised in" is pretty important to me here in Alaska as I am sure it is to people living in other challenging environments, hot or cold.

Meredith Skyer

Tuesday 3rd of February 2015

Thank you so much for the comment, I meant to put that information in this post and completely forgot to! It's been edited to add climate information.

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