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Best Backyard Chickens
Many cities across America have loosened their restrictions on small livestock as the urge to pick up homesteading skills has surged. While you probably can’t have a goat or a duck in your backyard if you live within city limits, you may be surprised to learn that your city now allows chickens! Furthermore, if your community doesn’t currently allow for chickens, you may be able to change their mind. Most communities don’t mind citizens having a hen or two in the backyard, and the supply of eggs is a major reason why some suburban homeowners choose to pick up a pair of birds. Don’t be surprised, however, if they stay firmly ‘no roosters.’
Thankfully, hens are ‘no roosters necessary’ egg providers, which means any hen can be the best backyard chicken breed.
Here’s our list of the best chicken breeds for backyard homesteaders. These ladies’ breeds are known for high egg production and a distinct lack of aggression, making them safe around kids and pets.
These heritage chicken breeds are ideal for backyard homesteaders, and choosing one of these breeds helps ensure that heritage breeders are encouraged to continue working with them. A heritage breed is a chicken breed that’s commercially unpopular but whose bloodlines are important to preserve. Some regulations limit what can be considered a genuine ‘Heritage,’ “Heirloom’ or ‘Antique’ chicken.
Plymouth Rock – The Plymouth Rock hen is a dual-purpose chicken which means it can be raised for meat or eggs. It is considered a ‘very good’ layer and lays up to 200 eggs a year! These ladies are very docile but are also excellent setters which means they tend to go broody, and you must be sure to pick up eggs daily. This breed does well in both hot and cold climates. The most common variety is the Barred variety though other colorings may be available depending on the breeder.
Fun Fact: Until World War II, this All-American breed was the most popular in the USA, with no other breed being extensively bred and kept. It became a foundation for the broiler industry in the 1920s.
Orpington – Made popular by the ‘Hen Fever’ of the 1800s, the Orpington is a larger, dual-purpose meat and egg hen. They are considered excellent layers and lay nearly 300 eggs a year! Orpingtons are calm, friendly but, like the Plymouth Rock, also tend to be excellent setters which can make them broody. Buff Orpingtons are the most common coloration – though my personal favorite is the Blue Orpington. They do well in warm and cold climates; however, their combs can be at risk of frostbite in extreme cold temperatures.
Fun Fact: The Orpington was considered endangered until 2016, at which point it graduated from the Livestock Conservancy’s list of ‘at risk’ and endangered breeds!
“Buff Orpingtons and Rhode Island Reds have been a part of our family. During my childhood my mother had a lovely Rhode Island Red hen named Lucy. When we moved further south she purchased a Buff Orpington and Rhode Island Red named Lucy and Ethel. Upon moving to the PNW, the Buff Orpington overtook the Rhode Island Red as Grammie’s favorite with a large, fat hen named Daisy. Daisy was an excellent setter and tended to brood every spring. Grammie took advantage of it and snuck chicks under her two different springs. Daisy took right to them and raised them as though she’d hatched them herself!”
Rhode Island Red – One of the more popular breeds available today, the Rhode Island Red is an All-American breed and dual-purpose hen. These ladies lay large brown eggs at a fantastic rate of more than 250 eggs a year! They are very docile and tend not to be prone to setting, though this can vary by chicken, especially among older bloodlines. They do well in both hot and cold climates, but like the Orpington, single-comb varieties must be watched for frostbite.
Fun Fact: The Rhode Island Red is the best-known breed in America, possibly the best-known fowl in the entire world! They are the best backyard chicken breed for many people.
Warning: Tempting though it may be, if you want a heritage Rhode Island Red, you probably can’t buy the chicks your local farm store is selling. Heritage chickens cannot be sex-links, and most farm stores sell this variety almost exclusively.
Dominiques – Though similar in appearance to the Barred Plymouth Rock, the Dominique is a completely different hen. This is another dual-purpose bird with an egg production of between 230 and 275 eggs a year. They are active but friendly and do well in any climate. They don’t tend to be setters and therefore are not prone to brooding in most cases.
Fun Fact: Known as America’s first chicken breed, the Dominque has narrowly evaded extinction twice and is once again facing difficulty maintaining numbers. Breeders are desperately needed. https://livestockconservancy.org/index.php/heritage/internal/dominique
Hybrid – This isn’t so much a breed as it is a selection of chickens developed from the heavy cross-breeding of the high egg-production heritage breeds. These hybrids can lay more than 300 eggs a year, and their personalities and appearance can be very variable. They are, however, more often than not, very docile and friendly.
Easter Egger – Often lumped together with Araucana and Ameraucana, the Easter Egger is neither of these breeds. This is a popular hybrid known for having been bred for laying bright blue eggs. Their appearance can be a bit variable, but in general, they are a friendly hen. You might even be able to teach one how to sit on your lap!
Jersey Giant – While the feed to egg production rate on the Jersey Giant may not be the best, these big ladies are such a fun addition to the flock. They grow to be no smaller than a very large Buff Orpington, and their egg production is 175-185 extra-large eggs. Our Jersey Giants produce hen eggs the size of duck eggs! They are docile and do best in cooler climates.
Fun Fact: This breed was originally intended to take the turkey’s place at the holiday table. Their large size makes it difficult for them to set on their eggs successfully; despite this, however, they tend to set rather often.